There are French fries. And then, there’s Friistyle’s answer to the fancier European-style pommes frites.
The Bronzeville fast-casual spot — pronounced “free-style,” not “fry-style” — is the brainchild of entrepreneur Corey Gilkey, who after traveling to Belgium and the Netherlands realized there were no local restaurants specializing in the hot potato snack.
Gilkey, who is known as the founder of Leaders 1354, a Chicago-based streetwear brand favorited by Chance the Rapper and Common, said venturing into the food business was a given since he and his team are always thinking outside the box.
“Remember I’m an operator, so I always hire the best creatives,” said Gilkey, who grew up in Hyde Park and Calumet Park. “We always want to add surprises for the customer.”
At Friistyle, 5059 S. Prairie Ave., the fries are not side dishes, but full-scale meals topped with a hefty choice of protein, including seafood, lamb, beef and chicken wings. Vegetarians need not fret. There are also roasted seasonal vegetables, herbs and micro greens that can top off the fries.
One of the more popular toppings is lobster meat sautéed in a butter sauce with red peppers and celery and seasoned with an Old Bay aioli.
“[Lobster] was initially a special but we sold so many of them we kept it on the menu,” said Executive Chef Oscar Cardona.
Other fresh seafood options include jerk-seasoned butterflied jumbo Gulf shrimp [garnished with pineapple salsa] and jerked six-ounce salmon fillet [garnished with dill aioli and mango salsa].
The chicken wing topping retains a smoked flavor after being crisped in the fryer and tossed in a sweet and tangy barbecue house sauce named “boughetto”— a playful combination of the words bougie and ghetto.
For fans of the Chicago-style Italian beef, the shaved beef is smothered with an asiago and G=giardiniera cheese sauce with au jus on a bed of fresh pomme frites.
Other popular toppings are the grilled chicken alfredo and hand-shredded roasted lamb shank with gyro-like flavors.
The potato skins are left on for taste and texture.
“They’re fresh cut, every day, all day,” said Cardona of the hand washed and prepped Idaho Russet potatoes that are soaked in water, blanched and fried to order in vegetable shortening, resulting in a crisp exterior and a soft and tender interior achieved by the double-fry.
Gilkey said he wanted to open the shop in Bronzeville because “it’s Black Metropolis. … We wanted to come back and spread that love [and it’s important to] keep our communities with our own platforms.”
A few feet away from the year-old Friistyle is Boxville [named for the boxy, colorful shipping containers that house the small businesses], a seasonal retail marketplace and food market incubator village Gilkey’s founded with others under the 51st Street Green Line CTA station.
Gilkey, who played Division One baseball, worked as a Chicago Public Schools teacher before starting his businesses.
“There are no limits or boundaries if you have a concept. Go out there, you know failure is a part of life. I’ve failed before. … You got to get up and keep going and believe in your dream and vision,” Gilkey said.
Call (773) 548-5375 or visit www.friistylechicago.com for more information. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.