The Gillies Brothers go fast-casual.
From the May, 2019 issue
"After doing Logan the last fifteen years, we're still going strong," says chef Thad Gillies. But "we wanted to do something that was the exact opposite" of the W. Washington St. restaurant's fine dining and "new American cuisine." He and his brother, Ryan, have accomplished that something different with Chow Asian Street Food, their new Asian-inspired fast-casual eatery.
Like Logan's bright mustard facade, Chow's newly red-painted building on Liberty west of Ashley is hard to miss. The onetime union hall used to be a similar shade of Logan yellow, but, says Ryan, "We didn't want to repeat it!" According to Thad, the red was inspired by an illustration of an ancient Chinese castle.
The name comes from China, too. "Chow is a Cantonese word: 'to cook,'" says Ryan. "And obviously you go to 'chow down.' We just thought it was kind of snappy."
Also snappy is Chow's choose-your-own-bowl grain/protein/veggie format. While that's not unlike many fast-casual places, including Kosmo's Bop Shop around the corner on Ashley, their selection of rou jia mo sandwiches is unique.
Thad's labor of love, "they've been around since the year 200 [B.C.]," he says.
called the "Chinese hamburger," rou jia mo consists of a pocket of unleavened bread stuffed with a seasoned, chopped filling. The Gillieses offer four varieties: Szechuan chicken, sesame garlic tofu, pork belly, and coconut beef. You can order the same four proteins on top of rice or noodles.
Though Chow operates in typical fast-casual fashion--order at the counter, serve and bus yourself--the brothers bring a hands-on approach to the recipes, design, and service. "Chef-driven fast food is what we're calling it," says Thad. All dishes are assembled on-site from their raw ingredients--nothing arrives precooked. Alongside the grains and meats, a rotating selection of soups and complementary vegetables is available. Some of the early choices include a creamy purple mashed Murasaki sweet potato and a lemongrass ginger coleslaw. Thad pickles carrots and onions with Asian flavors in the back.
Though he's focused on China right now, he plans to continue learning about other Asian cuisines and expand the menu. "I want to do a tour of the Spice Road," he says.
Ryan's friend Michael Murphy, who created the popular children's characters the Octonauts, drew the smiling food mascots on the menu. Cartoon bowls of rice, rou jia mo pockets, and classic Chinese egg tarts all sport friendly smiley faces similar in style to Japanese kawaii characters.
The interior is minimalist modern, with a polished cement floor and simple stools, but bright red accents give it a warm, fun feeling. The Gillieses have been as hands-on with their design as they have with the recipes. The long wooden tables, meant to be shared between parties, are made of a tree that Ryan cut down on a friend's property. A blacksmith in his spare time, he also created the tables' metal bases.
The two acknowledge that they've taken on a lot of extra work to sell food at a fraction of the prices that they do at Logan, but they're optimistic and excited. Many business professionals who frequent Logan for dinner are already picking up lunches there, plus "a lot more kids!" says Thad. "It's a cool place for teenagers to come. It's cheap, it's fun, it's interesting, it's different."
Chow, 208 W. Liberty. (734) 369-6942. Daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m. chowannarbor.com
[Originally published in May, 2019.]
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