One Chicago chef is bringing Mexico to Locust Walk.
Chef Rick Bayless, a nationally renowned chef of Mexican cuisine, is opening a cafe in the ARCH building, which is currently going under renovations.
“Philadelphia has really come on to the scene as one of the great restaurant cities,” Bayless said, explaining his choice of Penn’s campus. He also mentioned that he has been exploring the idea of working at college campuses because the college years are “formative” and he wanted the chance to “educate students’ palettes.”
Bayless made his culinary fame through an intensive study of Mexican cuisine beginning in the late 1970s. He’s hosted several cooking shows, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time” on PBS, now entering its ninth season. He’s also received accolades for his many cookbooks and in 2009, was champion in the first season of Top Chef Masters.
The cafe will offer tortas as its main dish, which are “like Mexican sandwiches,” Bayless said. “They’re crispy on the outside, so they’re usually made somewhat like a panini.”
“The flavors that we offer, obviously, are all Mexican flavors, and they represent a range of styles you could find around Mexico … It’s the only kind of food service things I do,” he adds. “I cook other things at my house, but you’d have to come over for that.”
While his restaurants are popular in the Chicago area, the ARCH Cafe is his first opening on the East Coast.
Aside from the tortas, the new cafe will offer full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Soups and salads will also be featured on the menu, along with a guacamole bar. Like in Houston Market, there will be a grab-and-go area featuring several different non-Mexican cuisines. The cafe will also offer vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Calling it “an entirely new concept,” Bon Appétit’s Resident District Manager, Stephen Scardina, said in a statement that the new addition promises “a welcoming communal gathering space on campus.”
In spite of the rush that characterizes many Penn students’ routine, Bayless is sure that the restaurant’s made-to-order cuisine will go over well.
“We feel pretty confident,” he said. “We have two of these Tortas [cafes] in O’Hare Airport, and they’re super popular. In spite of the fact that you can’t just walk up to the counter and say, ‘I want that torta right now,’ because we make everything to order, it’s become the most popular place in the airport.”
Though he has a busy schedule, Bayless wants to be on the ground when he can. “I wouldn’t accept a place if I couldn’t get there regularly, and I’m very hands-on,” he said. He plans to help open the cafe and help get it off the ground.
Despite the pedigree of the restaurant’s chef, students should not worry about high prices. The pricing will be pretty consistent with everything else on campus, said Marketing Manager for Bon Appétit Beth Bayrd.
The cafe will open along with the larger ARCH building when it completes renovations around the start of next semester.