Death in the Afternoon
A lively new lunchtime destination shakes things up in Citygarden.
Death in the Afternoon's namesake cocktail may never make it onto the menu, and that’s probably a good thing. Our server at Citygarden’s new lunch-only restaurant joked that the bartenders are working on a way to make Ernest Hemingway’s absinthe-Champagne concoction palatable, but we can’t imagine that drinking it would add to anyone’s afternoon productivity. The setting, on the other hand, is guaranteed to send workers back to the office refreshed. Located in the northeast corner of Downtown’s renowned sculpture-and-fountain park, the glass-walled restaurant overlooks the reflecting pool and tree-shaded flowerbeds of Citygarden. While it’s a lovely view in any season, this is a particularly pleasant time of year for enjoying the outdoor terrace seating.
For owners T.J. Vytlacil and Adam Frager, Death in the Afternoon is a chance to expand on the success of their first venue, Blood & Sand, which offers members and their guests fine dining and an extensive cocktail program. Frager says it’s also a chance to give the “incredibly creative people” on their team new opportunities on both the culinary and management fronts.
Around the World
The menu is deliberately eclectic—a wise choice in an era when food trucks regularly bring any number of cuisines to the Downtown streets. Some of the dishes are upscale variations on classic street food, like the Chicago-style beef hot dog with its own smorgasbord of toppings: tomatoes, pickles, mustard, neon green sweet relish and jalapeños. There are also Japanese steamed buns, Italian subs, Asian salads and French cheeses, but our favorite is the falafel. The chickpea patties have a perfect texture, simultaneously crispy and tender—and alongside the expected tzatziki and tomato is a little bowl of tasty black tahini.
Sandwiches are anything but standard. The grilled fish—in this case, mahi mahi—comes topped with tartar sauce, fennel fronds and pickles, and leaves just enough room for a finger-licking side of crushed fingerling potatoes with a trio of ketchup, Japanese mayo and sriracha-based dipping sauce. Other options range from a cheeseburger (available as a single, double or triple) to hot pastrami or chicken spiedie.
The kitchen makes most of its ingredients in-house. Case in point: the housemade sourdough pita, which is delicious with both the hummus and the falafel. It’s easy to devour—as is the lamb spiedie.
Meats are another house specialty. The charcuterie plate includes lonza (cured pork loin), coppa (a traditional Italian cold cut) and bresaola (salted air-cured beef ) with condiments like fruity mostarda. And any hot dog connoisseur would be impressed by the extra-long housemade sausage placed inside a delectable bun.
Recognizing that not everyone can make it Downtown for weekday lunch, the restaurant often opens on weekday holidays. On July 4, for example, the barbecue platter special with three variations of pork sold out midway through a very busy lunch. Vytlacil and Frager also book evening and weekend events in the space, to keep business buzzing during non-peak times, which was a challenge for its predecessors in the space, The Terrace View and Joe’s Chili Bowl.
The good-natured staff patiently answers a constant stream of questions about the name Death in the Afternoon. Working in a picturesque spot probably helps, but you also get the feeling that they’re having fun on the job—and that’s certainly a good vibe to surround yourself with when escaping the office over lunch.
Where to Go
Death in the Afternoon
808 Chestnut St.,
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg