If you have ever had the pleasure to meet Chef Zach Engel of Galit in Chicago and his co-owner and general manager Andrés Clavero, you know that this dynamic duo is not a pair to sit on their laurels. And laurels they have aplenty. Engel was the chef de cuisine of Shaya in New Orleans when they took home the 2016 James Beard Foundation Restaurant & Chef Award for Best New Restaurant, and the following year he won Rising Chef from that same institution, which went to chef aged 30 and younger. Since opening Galit in Chicago in 2019 the restaurant has earned a Michelin star and recently received the Restaurant of the Year prize at the local Jean Banchet Awards. Galit is Engel’s and Clavero’s love letter to the food of the Middle East, with impeccable seasonal offerings in a set-menu format. Their unique beverage and wine program celebrates the flavors and producers of that region to give their diners a truly complete experience. The restaurant attracts clientele from around the world as well as loyal diners from around the corner.
The team recently announced an addition to the brand with the acquisition of a new space next door. Adding both expanded prep and storage to serve both spaces, as well as an ability to broaden their thinking about how they connect with their customers. They recently shared their plans for this upcoming expansion.
What was the impetus for expansion, and how do you envision the new place?
Andrés Clavero: Think more all-day versus just dinner. We've always tried to focus on our community and neighborhood. During the COVID closures, we were forced to think of ways to feed our community any way we could. This meant shifting to more casual options available for to-go, serving food all day rather than just dinner, doing catering and events. Now that Galit has reopened as this 4-course destination, we can no longer do all of those things — we're simply tapped out with prep and storage space and spend all our energy on executing dinner service only. The building becoming available next door gives us more flexibility to offer more to the neighborhood that has supported us since day one. The extra space next door will also benefit Galit.
Zach Engel: We're thinking more of a wine bar that serves great neighborhood café/bistro type food. Some old favorites will be back, but the chef team really wants to cook more freely and more eclectically. I plan on changing the menu a lot, trying out new dishes, but we'll always have some staples.
You won Restaurant of the Year at the Banchet Awards this year. Why is that local acknowledgment special to you?
AC: Neither Zach nor I were born here but Chicago has treated us like home. Since I moved here in 2010, I fell in love and admired all of the hard-working people that made this a great food city. It's a community that welcomes you in and has your back. It's an industry that gives opportunity to those willing to put in the work themselves. I'm never really lost for words, but standing in front of a room with so many people I admire was surreal. Team Galit does so much to help share the stories Zach and I try to share through food, and to be recognized within this community is overwhelmingly humbling and appreciated. I'm still shook.
ZE: Winning Restaurant of the Year for Jean Banchet this year means a whole lot to me. I see Chicago as a place where we restaurant folks really celebrate each other for their hard work. No other city celebrates its own and truly cares for one another like Chicago. We're a tight-knit, respectful community. I thought maybe we'd get acknowledged by a Jean Banchet award years down the road. I feel a sense of honor and duty to our great city, to continue to welcome people in to Galit and serve them, with the same hospitality this community has shown us over the last five or six years.
Anything new at Galit you want people to know about?
AC: Our beverage program continues to shine. Aside from the development of our team, I'm most proud of the wine we've been able to source, particularly from the Levant. Our beverage director Scott Stroemer, Zach and myself have personal connections with winemakers that have never had their stories told in the U.S. It's not only an honor to showcase their wines, but to share their stories with our guests. We have this "Wine Journey" which is essentially a tour of discovery throughout the Middle East. We showcase a wine from four different regions to accompany the four-course choose-your-own-adventure menu. We like to call every service a dinner party. Our team is all in on our direction, and our guests trust us to provide them with a dinner party experience unique to anywhere else. It's special.