Anything but Ordinary

January 2022 View more

The impetus for St. Charles’s newest restaurant actually starts with a love story: Chris and Megan Curren met 10 years ago while working in Chicago hospitality. When they later moved to the Fox Valley to raise their family, they set their sights on downtown St. Charles to open a restaurant together one day. In November, the Currens saw their vision come to life with the opening of the Graceful Ordinary (3 E. Main St., 331.235.5803,

In case you’re wondering why anyone would call their business “ordinary,” a little history lesson is in order: In colonial times, the town tavern was called an ordinary. It was where you’d go to eat, drink, and socialize. “All the goings-on of the community resonated in that one space,” says executive chef and owner Chris Curren, who opened his first restaurant in Chicago, Blue 13, in 2008 and most recently worked at Fulton Market Kitchen and restauranteur Alpana Singh’s Seven Lions. 

In addition to dinner service, the Currens hope to host a lot of socializing here, from corporate lunches to rehearsal dinners. With owner Megan Curren—who ran events for Entertainment Cruises and Bonhomme Hospitality Group in Chicago—serving as event manager, they’re well equipped to do so. The space is designed for gatherings of various sizes, from the cozy fireplace lounge in front to a semiprivate dining alcove in back. The outdoor space, which Megan aptly describes as “a fun little oasis off the river,” includes a terrace wrapping around the back of the building and the west side along the Fox River. A combination of enclosures and radiant floor heating should extend the alfresco season beyond its natural limits.

Start with the Snacks 

Though the Graceful Ordinary is definitely worthy of a special-occasion dinner, the Currens hope that diners will feel equally comfortable dropping in for a drink and a bite before heading elsewhere in downtown St. Charles, perhaps to a concert at Arcada or a play at Steel Beam. The snacks section of the menu—a series of petite portions with minute prices to match—is designed for just that. “My original idea behind that was it’s kind of like a build-your-own cheese and charcuterie board, if you think of it that way,” Chris says. “But I also wanted them to stand alone. … That’s why each is a well-thought-out composed dish in and of itself.”

There’s grilled bloomy rind cheese with blueberry beet jam or whipped blue cheese with pistachio granola and poached pear, but I zeroed in on the bread cheese from Carr Valley, one of Curren’s favorite Wisconsin cheese makers. Its rich, salty character is well-matched with light toppings of Greek yogurt, fresh parsley, tomato, and cucumber, with honeycomb for sweetness and balsamic for tang. Another fantastic snack is the octopus carpaccio. Not the usual raw preparation, this cooked octopus is sliced paper thin and dressed with dabs of lemon purée, pools of pickled mustard seeds, and the spicy, garlicky goodness that is Chris’s take on the popular Chinese condiment: chile crisp. I’d happily make a meal out of just the snack section, but alas, there’s more. 

The Mains

If a colonial-era ordinary was the heart of a community, then the heart of this ordinary is the hearth—that is, the wood-fired hearth visible inside the open kitchen. 

“We try to make every dish have at least one component that comes off of the hearth,” Chris says, from the smoked grapes on the Waldorf salad to the 36-day dry-aged rib-eye steak in a clever play on surf and turf. That rib eye is sliced and fanned over smoked cauliflower puree, accompanied by a seafood croquette crowned with bright orange pearls of salmon roe. Each bite of beef is smoky from the wood-burning hearth and is drizzled with an aji amarillo pepper sauce that has just the right hit of heat and acidity. 

Leaving room for dessert is difficult, but try as you might, because pastry chef Martina Preradovic—who also bakes the cheesy, flaky rolls that kick off the meal—has some sweet treats in store. Options include Irish cream cheesecake or spiced apple cake with chai mousse made with tea from the Irie Cup, a family-owned tea maker in Hampshire, where the Currens reside. Chris’s personal favorite is the butterscotch pot de creme, which clinched the gig for Preradovic during the tasting portion of her job interview. 

“As soon as the spoon left my mouth, I was like, ‘This is my pastry chef,’ ” Chris says.

Reflecting on the couple’s vision for the restaurant, Chris says, “We want people to be comfortable but we also want to be very refined.” 

They’ve succeeded. The food is near flawless and the space is truly lovely. The only glitch: After an initial mask-optional policy resulted in a November shutdown, the restaurant reopened with a commitment to follow mask regulations and test staff weekly.

Hopefully, the temporary closure will be just a blip in the Graceful Ordinary’s long life as a destination-worthy restaurant in the Fox Valley. 

Photos by Matt Reaves