Food without rules

What if eating at a hotel could be more like grabbing a quick snack from your own kitchen or relaxing with a cup of coffee on your living room couch? This is the premise behind Ferris & Jack, a new eatery at MileNorth, A Chicago Hotel, which aims to provide a space for guests to eat, drink, work and socialize without the “rules” of more traditional F&B spaces.

Ferris & Jack — named for the Ferris wheel and Cracker Jack snack, which both debuted at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair — comprises three fairly loosely defined areas, a three-meal restaurant that seats 60, a marketplace and a lobby bar that serves both coffee and cocktails.

All three areas offer a residential feel, and the idea is to help guests feel comfortable staying a while. There’s also the familiar emphasis on “local” throughout, with menu items such as the Streeterville Skillet (US$14) with Wisconsin cheddar cheese and Slagel Family Farm sausage or the Sausage Trio (US$10) featuring Polish sausage, a Chicago hot dog and a Sheboygan bratwurst. The marketplace, meanwhile, sells local fare including Homer’s ice cream.

Ferris & Jack has been open only a couple months, but regardless of this particular venue’s success, it represents an important trend. Guests — whether they’re traveling for business or for fun — want to be able to customize their dining experience, much as they might in their own homes. Except in increasingly rare instances, the stuffy, formalized restaurant is just not appealing. Guests want to make their own rules — and they want to have a fun, delicious time doing it.