Split-Rail Opens in Chicago's West Town
Drawing its name from the iconic fences that spread across America’s heartland, Chef Zoe Schor’s Split-Rail celebrates Americana, both its cuisine and culture. Formerly the executive chef of DMK Restaurants’ Ada Street, Chef Schor realized her dream of owning her own restaurant after finding an ideal venue in West Town, housed in a former donut factory.
“There is such a great community of restaurants in this neighborhood, so we’re thrilled to be a part of it,” says Schor. She brings some of the city’s brightest talent to her team, with Michelle Szot as general manager and Michael Knutson as chef de cuisine.
Split-Rail’s menu focuses on nostalgic fare that evokes a sense of comfort but Schor’s use of modern technique and local, seasonal ingredients help reimagine these childhood favorites for Chicago’s contemporary diner. A standout on the menu, the loaded baked potato gnocchi elevates the classic dish with fresh potato gnocchi, house bacon, sour cream, Hook’s 5-year cheddar, and crispy potato skins. A necessity on a holiday potluck menu, green bean casserole gets a refresh with crispy local green beans, oyster mushrooms, house-fried onions, and fresh herbs, while every picky eater’s standby chicken nuggets are served with a house-made honey mustard. On the sweet side of things, a very Midwestern dessert called Aunt T’s Pretzel Surprise draws inspiration from a family recipe that usually includes an unorthodox combination of Jell-O, Cool Whip, and pretzels that Schor replaces with panna cotta, strawberry/pineapple gelatin, and pretzel streusel with flavors that are just as surprising as the original.
Crafted by General Manager Michelle Szot and team, Split-Rail’s cocktail menu features rotating, seasonal drinks, low proof/no proof cocktails, and riffs on classics. Each cocktail’s name ties back to classic Americana through cultural or historical reference. The low-proof Freedom From Want refers to a famous Norman Rockwell painting and combines elderflower liqueur, gentian liqueur, grapefruit, and cinnamon tincture with a rosemary garnish while the Operation Paperclip (a reference to a bit of post WWII history) riffs on a Martinez cocktail with lapsang souchong-infused vodka, dry vermouth, Punt e Mes, and maraschino. Zoe Schor curates the wine list herself, focusing primarily on American wines with a large spread of old world wines as well as some more unconventional wines.
A special focus Split-Rail takes into account is guests’ dietary restrictions and allergies. Chef Schor has a nut allergy, so her goal was to make the restaurant a safe space for anyone with a similar allergy or dietary restriction. The restaurant is completely nut-free and offers separate vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menus for guests as well as flexibility for guests who may be allergic to a component in a dish.
Split-Rail is housed in the former home of Clyde’s Donut Factory, so most of the space’s industrial elements like exposed brick and ceiling beams are preserved in its design. Reclaimed items like ornate iron doors and American art salvaged from a local pawn shop adds to the vintage feel of the space while oriental rugs and brightly patterned banquettes creates an inviting atmosphere. Large windows flood the restaurant with natural light while drop bulb lights provide a gentle glow during the evening. A fixture in the restaurant is its raised open kitchen which looks out on the dining room and features a large chef’s table that serves a unique tasting menu. The dining room itself seats 60 while a decorative metallic bar seats 15, and the private dining space seats 30. Chef Schor and her team share a special passion for music and art which plays a large role in the restaurant. They have amassed a collection of records that rotate some of their favorite artists, ranging from Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones to Ella Fitzgerald and Florence and the Machine. The team also promises the Dirty Dancing soundtrack will be in heavy rotation.