At Chef Art Smith’s Reunion in Chicago, Family-Friendly Southern Fare Takes Center Stage

Fried chicken at Reunion. | Credit: Reunion

Though Chicago’s Navy Pier is one of the Windy City’s many claims to fame, it’s largely remained a tourist destination. But this scenic stretch of the Lake Michigan shoreline is now determined to woo locals thanks to a crop of enticing bars, exhibitions, and restaurants.

The newest addition to Navy Pier, Reunion, which opened doors in July, comes from James Beard Award-winner, chef Art Smith. Chicagoans are familiar with Smith, who once served as Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef; his other restaurants in the area include Blue Door Farm Stand (previously Table Fifty-Two) and Chicago Q. Smith’s latest promises family-friendly dining options for those searching for something beyond hot dogs on the boardwalk. “It’s not a fried shrimp shack and it’s not a fancy restaurant,” says Manolis Alpogianis, one of the restaurateurs behind the concept. “It’s exactly who Art is. It’s very good food done casually and executed impeccably.”

Reunion’s mac & cheese features a blend of aged cheddar, white cheddar, and Havarti. | Credit: Reunion

Reunion’s menu is a riff on Smith’s already successful Homecomin’, a down-home Floridian spot at Disney Springs in Orlando. At Reunion, expect southern spins on midwestern comfort foods such as fried green tomatoes, chicken and dumplings, and a fried chicken sandwich that gets the schnitzel treatment. Smith is also bringing back a Table Fifty-Two favorite: “Twenty-some years ago we were famous for these biscuits made of goat cheese, which we no longer make, and they’ll reappear,” he says of his iconic buttermilk drop biscuits, which round out a comforting sides selection that also features creamy cucumber dill salad and artisan grits. Midwestern flavors surface on the dessert menu in the form of a classic Shaker lemon pie; the chef’s famous hummingbird cake, a pineapple and banana-based creation with cream cheese frosting, also makes an appearance.

Hummingbird cake at Reunion. | Credit: Reunion

At Reunion, nostalgia comes in a glass thanks to whimsical concoctions such as blueberry frozé and adult juice boxes. The drinks are designed to offer “signature cocktails with a Midwest feel,” according to Alpogianis, best exemplified by the frozen banana pudding cocktail made with bourbon, whipped cream flavored vodka, and bananas. In addition to the extensive cocktail list, Reunion also serves a handful of local brews and a wine list that leans heavily on American offerings.

Reunion’s farmhouse chic interiors. | Credit: Reunion

The calming interiors, a countryside-inspired palette of soft yellows, greens, and blues, pay homage to Smith’s birthplace in Jasper, Florida. They’re enhanced by rustic details such as a ceiling fashioned from reclaimed barn wood and booths upholstered in denim. A spacious bar and a 200-seat patio, overlooking the lake, fuel an ultra comfortable vibe. “There’s lots of places where you can go up to a counter and grab stuff, but here you can actually bring your family and sit down at a nice table,” Smith adds. “It’s exciting to be able to have a larger stage at one of the midwest’s premier entertainment destinations [Navy Pier], which would give families an opportunity to make that experience even better.”

Reunion is now open Sunday through Thursday from 11 am to 9 pm and Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 10 pm.

Sarah Freeman is a food and drink writer by day and the host of one of Chicago’s most popular pop-up markets by night.