Staff members at Tremont's La Bodega are known to shout orders across the counter when they spot repeat customers walking in the door. They might recognize a regular in for their customary #45, a Cajun turkey sandwich that is the menu's most popular item. Or it could be Susan, a customer who ordered the special cranberry, walnut and bleu cheese salad so many times it became a permanent addition to the menu.
After 13 years in business, one gets to know who's who, including their quirks and tastes. It's the same bond that owners Mike Weigand and Jeff Eisenberg hope to establish at their newly minted La Bodega outpost (3859 Superior Ave., 216-331-3001, labodega-tremont.com) in MidTown. To assist, they've enlisted Weigand's niece, Nicole, a former La Bodega Tremont manager and ex-Peace Corps member, to oversee operations of both locations.
Serial restaurateurs, this duo has held the reins at Heck's Café, Duck Island and, most notably, Hi & Dry. Weigand, a corporate world dropout, and Eisenberg, with a background in real estate, operated on faith in the emerging near-west neighborhoods — pre-culinary boom — in spite of naysayers. It's a principle they relied upon when researching MidTown's bourgeoning vitality.
"That's what led to this location," says Weigand from the spacious new café. "We'd already been looking in this neighborhood and we found that a lot of our customers were driving from here to Tremont to grab lunch and come back. When it went on the market, we knew it was the right place at the perfect time."
They've transplanted their original menu, an expansive 64-item smorgasbord. While some items are the result of customer demand, Weigand and Eisenberg credit some of the more adventurous creations to their avid globetrotting.
"When we're traveling, he's the one stopping at different restaurants and grabbing menus, saying, 'We could do this, we could do that.' And I'm the one saying, 'We have too much already!' laughs Weigand. "I try to rein him back and he tries to throw more in."
"I usually win," interjects Eisenberg.
While they've established a rapport with purveyors at the West Side Market, where they've sourced for the past decade, Eisenberg relishes his newfound access to Asian Town Center, where he picks up ingredients like the wasabi cucumbers that top their smoked salmon sandwich.
The Asian accents join an already eclectic menu, including such pairings as curry and raisins (#32), Southwestern peppers and black beans (#31), and hummus and feta (#19).
But they haven't forgotten their roots. The walls of the roomy twin dining areas are lined with local artistry, a hat tip to Tremont's popular monthly gallery hop.
"We have Tremont in our bones," Eisenberg comments. "We're so used to the art walks that we wanted to carry that over here. This is such an artistic neighborhood."
The new 1,800-square-foot space also houses an expanded kitchen which will support the catering orders coming in from the area's legacy businesses and budding startups.
A good sandwich, they hope, can appeal to all sectors.
"We never tried to be overly trendy; we always shot right for the middle," says Weigand. "From the businessmen who are multi-millionaires to the people who are stopping in for their once-a-month meal outside of their home, there's something here for everyone."