When you walk into Giant, your first thought will be that it is anything but. The small Logan Square storefront fills every corner of space, with tables packed so tightly together that the host must slide one to touch another to create enough space for a diner to slip onto the banquette. It’s easy to catch snippets of your neighboring table’s conversation, though it’s sometimes hard to hear the servers.
Yet the space is far from claustrophobic. Quirky art and bright geometric patterns on the wall infuse warmth into the scene, a casual vibe that soothes any anxiety about the close quarters. Eclectic music filters through the chatter, and scents from the kitchen waft through the air. Take a moment to appreciate the details, and you begin to get a sense of what chefs Jason Vincent and Ben Lustbader are trying to create.
“I was thrilled to discover I really love being in this space,” Lustbader said. “I find it super comfortable – bright, happy. I hate dim restaurants.” Vincent concurred: “It’s a very familiar space. I can’t think of anything I don’t like about it.”
That sums up the chefs’ feelings about their entire concept. Giant is a clear labor of love. Along with beverage director Josh Perlman, they have made the restaurant a vessel for their passion and creativity, following no set theme or structure.
Extending that freedom to their diners was central to their vision. “If we treat people like numbers, that’s a problem,” Vincent said. “Let’s allow people to eat the way they want without pressure.” That means less emphasis on turning tables and a more flexible way to order. Looking for six courses? A bite and a drink? It’s all good at Giant, and the formula is working. Even on a weekday, months after opening, the 40 seats are full.
The food plays no small part in that success. Vincent and Lustbader’s menu comes from the same fun inspiration as the décor. Instead of sticking to a cuisine or flavor profile, the dishes span a multitude of ingredients and cooking styles as the chefs play to their whims. It results in an intriguing selection with some surprising standouts.
The fried uni shooter is one of the most talked-about dishes, a hot and crispy ball of dough filled with the umami funk of sea urchin and soy. Jonah crab salad, served with golden waffle fries, puts the focus where it should be by not masking the flavor of the crab itself. The cannelloni doesn’t skimp on the smoked lamb, loading the pasta with a hearty helping. The eggplant stands out the most — marinated slices of eggplant served cold and accompanied with house-made pita, hot and fluffy, and impossible not to gobble right up.
The creativity and depth of the menu is the result of a team that works. Vincent and Lustbader not only have the freedom to add or take away dishes as they see fit; in each other, they have a partnership that supports and challenges them to bring the best. “We just complement each other,” Vincent said. “We are each other’s sounding board. When I say something to him [about a new dish], I want it to sound good.”
As heads of their own kitchen, they can get an immediate response to their ideas, from each other and from the diners. “I took a dish off just yesterday that I came up with because I felt it was a complete flop,” Vincent said. That nimble reaction means patrons can expect a menu that is constantly evolving and never boring. The shackles are off, the red tape is gone, and experiencing what the chefs can do when let loose is what makes Giant so special.
Get cozy — those tables are going to stay packed. But the small space is worth every bite of the Giant flavor.