The Roosevelt Road business community could use a little extra pepper, and Oak Park resident Joel Nickson is more than willing to supply it.

This past April, Nickson opened Wishbone southern reconstruction cooking on Roosevelt Road, right next to FitzGerald’s in Berwyn.

“I thought it was a neat little space and I liked the idea of being next to FitzGerald’s and near Oak Park,” he said.

Nickson, 52, in the restaurant industry since he was 15, first launched Wishbone in 1989. The menu is infused with North Carolina taste, where he was born, using a pepper vinegar barbeque sauce, which he uses on their smoked meats.

The sauce is served on the side because he feels the smoked flavor should stand out by itself. Their beef brisket, smoked for six hours, is also popular. The tender meat is slathered with horseradish or barbeque sauce and served as a sandwich or dinner plate.

To Nickson, the key to any barbeque is the smoking, not the sauce, although Wishbone also offers a thick, Tennessee style slathering and Lexington style sauce too.

“I see a lot of people, they call what they serve barbeque, but it’s just roasted meat with barbeque sauce all over it,” he said. “In my opinion, it has got to be smoked.”

Wishbone also showcases everything from salmon, to crab cakes, crawfish, pork chops and chicken (smothered with gravy, celery, onions, chicken stock and sherry). Wishbone makes a special point of using free-range chickens, free of hormones and antibiotics, Nickson said.

“We put just as much effort into our side dishes like sweet potatoes, collard greens and butternut squash, as we do into feature items,” Nickson said.

The Berwyn spot is the third location in the family-owned line of restaurants, with others in the West Loop and the North Side of Chicago. Nickson said not much is different between this and the first two locations, just that its smaller.

Crawfish étouffée and jambalaya seem to be more popular on Roosevelt than the other spots, which Nickson believes is because of a local perception that Wishbone is strictly a Cajun concept, rather than only a portion of the menu.

Saturday brunch seems more popular in the city than Roosevelt, just because he feels suburbanites are busier with families aver the weekend.

The Berwyn Wishbone is open for lunch and dinner every day but Monday, when it is closed. Catering is also available. Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday.

Nickson worked in hotels and restaurants since he was 15, eventually deciding he needed to open his own place. He envisioned a place with an every day type of food, that customers would feel comfortable eating three days a week instead of just on special occasions. He wanted Wishbone to focus on scratch-cooking at value prices.

Wishbone’s items are a combination of his family recipes growing up in North Carolina, along with what he learned while working at French and soul food restaurants.

He still uses his mother’s homemade coleslaw recipe, and even decorated the walls with pictures his mother painted.

“She was a good cook, but also an artist,” Nickson said. “She was one of those people that painted our whole life.”

Fair Share plans growth

Fair Share Finer Foods, 6226 Roosevelt Road, was supposed to go before the village’s zoning board of appeals this month, seeking to expand its store space, but has asked for a continuance to do further work on its applications, according to Mike Bruce, village zoning administrator.

The grocery store wants to expand 10 feet north into what is currently an east-west alley, but that would violate village setback rules. Overall Fair Share wants to add 2,000 square feet on the northwest corner of the building to expand its services.

Bruce said the ZBA will possibly hear the grocer’s case the first Wednesday of December, after the OPRF lights case is “hopefully” settled.

Numerous calls to Fair Share owner Joe Salamone, over the course of several weeks, were not returned in time for this story’s deadline.

-Marty Stempniak

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