It’s hard to believe that the Lucky Platter, one of Evanston’s favorite hangouts, will turn 30 this year. We moved to Evanston shortly before it opened, and it’s been our go-to since the beginning, when we would place our baby’s car seat on the table as we ate our meal. That little baby is now 6’3” and 29 years old, and we’re still lining up for weekend brunches (and those insanely delicious apricot cheese flakeys).
Owner Derek Gaspar bought the Lucky Platter in 2014 after working closely with founding owner Eric Singer. “I had so much to learn from him,” says Gaspar, who had worked front of the house in many restaurants but had not spent much time in a commercial kitchen. “There is definitely a specific ‘how and why’ to the Platter. We wanted to make some changes, but it was important to be respectful of our regulars’ expectations, to help it evolve without changing everything people loved about it. Happily, we maintained most of our regulars and brought in lots of new customers with the addition of the bar, and a reconfiguring of the space.”
Owning a restaurant is not for the faint of heart — especially in the midst of a pandemic. But Derek Gaspar and his staff quickly made the pivot to take-out only dining with admirable aplomb last March and have made adjustments as pandemic requirements have seesawed back and forth between outside-only, limited inside, take-out only, and every permutation in between. Happily, indoor dining is back, and while the restaurant is currently open only for dinner and weekend brunch, Gaspar is hoping to reinstate weekday breakfast and lunch sometime in the near future.
That’s a good thing, because Platter regulars and fans — and they are legion — are not only missing their favorite meals (hello, Fried Green Tomato Benedict and Platter Hash, Tandoori Salmon Salad and Tuna Melt on Cornbread), but the warm neighborhood vibe of this eclectic diner where absolutely everything is made fresh, from scratch. In the meantime, Gaspar has taken over the small space next door that used to house Amanacer Tacos (and The Alcove before that) and created the Platter Pantry, which is curated “like a neighborhood bodega.” So, you can pick up Platter favorites from the reach-in (salads, sandwiches) or freezer (quiches, empanadas, soups) to reheat at home, grab a pint of Jeni’s Ice Cream and a few of the afore-mentioned apricot cheese flakeys, or snag some fabulous locally sourced groceries or some of the Portuguese specialties (tinned fish, olive oils, sweets, etc.) that Gaspar delights in offering, a nod to his own heritage (don’t miss the biscoitos, classic Portuguese tea cookies made from his grandmother’s recipe).
Gaspar originally hails from Boston, the son of Portuguese immigrants who were part of the wave of immigration from the Azores back in the 1960s. Food was very important in his home, and everything was always made from scratch, and with love. After moving to Chicago to pursue the fabulous theatre scene here, Gaspar met his wife, Mary when they appeared in a show together. She has since gone on to pursue a career in the visual arts, and they live in Wilmette with their three daughters. Gaspar had some real success in theater here and got his Master of Fine Arts at DePaul in 2011. But the pressures of fatherhood are real, and show business is off and on for just about every actor. After his last role — starring in an exquisite production of Matthew Lopez’ The Whipping Man at Northlight Theatre — he made the move to restaurant ownership.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship between restaurants and artists, especially actors,” shares Gaspar. Stopping by each table, chatting with the regulars, trouble shooting, and thinking on your feet come naturally to a performer, and Gaspar loves that part of the gig. “I know my guests well, and they have been so generous during the pandemic,” he says. “I love the story of food, and how it connects people, brings them together. And now, with the opening of the Platter Pantry, I get the chance to share a little bit of my own story with my guests. The Pantry feels like me.”
The Lucky Platter, 514 Main St., Evanston, 847-869-4064