Anyone who's eaten at Charlie's on a Friday or Saturday night may recall a sharp shift in the vibe of the restaurant around 9 p.m., as the 20-something crowd came in to start their night. The Elmhurst College students who routinely frequented Charlie's on weekends will have to get used to a slightly different traffic pattern now that Charlie's has become Embers Fire & Smoke restaurant.
While the younger crowd is still more than welcome to enjoy the DJ music they've become accustomed to upstairs, a quieter atmosphere downstairs will encourage the older crowd to sit and stay awhile over a delicious meal.
"It's a whole new concept," said Executive Chef Tom Eckert. "(Embers) is much more family friendly. We're heavily focused on food. I'm sure we'll still draw the college crowd on the weekend—and we want to. The main difference is, we're trying to focus on dinner … and we're much more focused on parties and catering."
Dinner will also be served upstairs before 10 p.m., allowing seating for larger parties. The couches are gone so it's not as "loungy."
While the interior of Embers looks similar to Charlie's—no major buildout was needed—a crew has been hard at work over the past couple of weeks applying new paint and decorating, and the menu has been completely revamped. It builds on one of the favorite dishes from Charlie's: smoked beef brisket.
Most entrees are either prepared over a mesquite wood-burning grill or smoked in house. Patrons will find smoked ribs, pulled pork, chicken wings, grilled veggies and fish.
Eckert highlighted one "pretty cool dish" that you won't find anywhere else in town.
"We take a baked potato, pour melted butter all over it, then completely cover it in our spice rub. Then we roast it for a half-hour, smoke it for an hour, then top it with brisket, pulled pork, cheddar cheese, onion strings and barbecue sauce," he said. "I think that will go over pretty well."
Elmhurst doesn't have any other barbecue restaurants, Eckert said.
"That shocks me. Any town I go to, a barbecue restaurant is always successful."
Eckert's background is fine dining. He attended the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, and worked as a chef downtown, most recently at Cafe 103. That restaurant has since closed, but it was highly acclaimed, Eckert said.
"We were rated the Best New Restaurant in Chicago, averaging a 3-star rating," he said. "That was fine dining. Very high end. I parlayed that into what I do now. I use all the techniques from what I learned in fine dining to create a much more family focused, friendly and affordable restaurant.
"Honestly, you can't beat smoked food. I had always wanted to branch off into this when I had the opportunity."
His partner and general manager, Chris Dodsworth, handles the front of the house. They're best friends, having grown up together in Naperville.
"I used to make fun of him for watching cooking shows when we were kids," Dodsworth said. "I didn't know then that he'd become a chef and I'd become a restaurant manager. It turned out pretty well."
Dodsworth has spent his career managing bars and restaurants, mainly in downtown Naperville. Both he and Eckert worked at Charlie's, but Embers is their gig now—and quite a departure from Charlie's, they said.
"We're doing it very differently than it was done before," Dodsworth said.
Eckert reassured the college kids at Charlie's before it closed that they still will have a place to hang out. Wednesday will be country night, with country music upstairs. Johnny Don't performs acoustic cover songs by request on Thursdays. And at 10 p.m. on weekends, the DJ livens things up. The younger crowd, who will have a separate entrance to the upstairs club, will still find weekly drink specials.
But downstairs, it's all about the dinner hour.
"We used to play the music through the first floor—and loud," Dodsworth said. We still will have the upstairs DJ for the kids, but we're going to keep the downstairs more mellow—not as loud, different music."
Of course, it's not exclusive either way, he said.
"Some of them may want to come down where it's a little more mellow, and some of the adults may want to go upstairs where the action is."
Embers, 122 S. York Road, officially opened Tuesday, Sept. 25. Hours are 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
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