Red Poppy Bistro, the latest eatery coming to downtown Elgin, has special meaning for the couple opening it.
Matthew Habib and his wife, Jennifer Polit, said they hope to open in late January or early February their new breakfast and lunch spot at 109 E. Highland Ave., the site of the short-lived Highland Cafe, and before that Domani Cafe.
They described Red Poppy Bistro as an "eclectic eatery with an Old World European flair" and "a hearty menu of home-cooked food."
The cozy space with wood paneling and beams will be the second restaurant venture for the couple, who owned the former Legit Dogs & Ice in Elgin that closed in August, much to the chagrin of fans who attended concerts there. The couple attributed the closure to problems with their landlord. They said the experience taught them valuable lessons and made them stronger as a family.
And family is the inspiration for Red Poppy Bistro, they said. Growing up, Polit's family used to own Red Poppy delicatessen on the Northwest Side of Chicago, and when Polit and Habib started dating, she used to bring him food from there.
"He thought I cooked it," Polit said laughing. "There's a question about whether Jen intentionally did that," Habib deadpanned.
The red poppy also is a symbol to commemorate veterans, which ties in to Habib's service as a U.S. Marine, said Polit, who works as executive national vice president for Arbonne.
Red Poppy Bistro's menu will include staples such as eggs, sausage and bacon, plus breakfast sandwiches, croissants and burritos, as well as oatmeal bowls, quiches, eggs Benedict, pierogies, waffles with "crazy toppings" and crepes. Daily lunch specials will vary, such as lobster rolls and baked sweet pumpkin filled with beef stew. There will also be items for people on ketogenic or gluten-free diets.
Drinks will include coffees, Italian-style hot chocolate and a variety of teas, such as infused with fresh fruit. "I'm really excited about the teas," Polit said.
In September, with their new eatery in mind, the couple did a sort of "culinary tour" of Poland, where Polit's family is from, they said.
The Highland Avenue space only has electric appliances, Habib said, so he will rely heavily on prep work and his experience running a food truck. He's also renting space in a building on Douglas Avenue where he eventually plans to hydroponically grow herbs and vegetables, he said.
The story of Polit's family's deli didn't have a good ending: It was a big stressor for her parents, who got a divorce, and eventually her mother sold it. "Reopening (as Red Poppy Bistro) is continuing the legacy, but rewriting it to have a positive ending," Polit said.
And that's not all: Habib and Polit said they hope to reopen Legit Dogs alongside a new Mediterranean eatery, also in downtown Elgin, but declined to disclose more for now. At one point, they were on the verge of signing a lease for Legit Dogs to reopen in St. Charles, they said, but decided their heart is in Elgin, where they live. "Coming from Chicago, we never had a sense of community in a town like this," Habib said.