The Scene

‘Always homemade, never pretentious’: Red Poppy Bistro is back, this time in South Elgin

Matthew Habib and his wife, Jennifer Polit, are reopening their European-inspired restaurant Wednesday, at 322 Randall Road in South Elgin.

The owners of Red Poppy Bistro are nothing if not resilient.

Matthew Habib and his wife, Jennifer Polit, are reopening their European-inspired restaurant Wednesday, at 322 Randall Road in South Elgin.

It will be the third incarnation of Red Poppy, which first opened in March 2020 in downtown Elgin. The restaurant closed briefly in 2021, reopened with a prix fixe menu, and closed again in September 2022.

“This is a dream we love, and we couldn’t let it die,” Habib said.

The restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving what they describe as European-inspired comfort food with an Americana twist.

Red Poppy Bistro in South Elgin will have a robust breakfast menu.

“Always homemade, never pretentious,” Habib said.

Red Poppy will retain many elements of the old menu. But now that the owners have moved into a kitchen at least four times larger than their old one, they will have more varieties of their staple dishes such as pot pies and quiches. In addition, they will add new items, including paczki, beignets, poutine and schnitzel.

Habib believes you should be full when you leave and have leftovers to take with you.

Entree choices include hearty fare such as braised beef short ribs, pierogi, shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles. The menu also includes sandwiches and salads.

Highlights of the breakfast menu include a variety of French toast preparations, avocado toasts topped numerous ways and more than a dozen different crepes.

“We’ve had most of these items on menus. We know they’re successful,” Habib said. “These are the ways our moms and grandparents cooked this food.”

Red Poppy also will offer a kids’ menu for the first time.

The opening is a welcome, if unexpected, surprise for followers of the couple’s journey.

After closing Red Poppy, they transitioned the space to Rogue’s Corner, a steampunk-themed pizzeria in June 2023.

Red Poppy Bistro is reopening, this time on Randall Road in South Elgin.

But the pizzeria closed in January after a confluence of adversities. Habib’s friend and longtime employee, John Kiley, was diagnosed with cancer, and Habib suffered serious injuries in a car accident that still slow him down.

Just a few weeks after closing Rogue’s Corner to focus on his recovery, Habib learned from their longtime Realtor about a property on Randall Road that wasn’t yet on the market.

“We thought we were completely done after Rogue’s,” he said. “But we came in and saw it, and it was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is everything we want.’”

His former employees, some of whom started with him three restaurants ago at Legit Dogs and Ice, were quick to jump back in. Kiley is doing well in his recovery and is joining in on the endeavor.

“They all said we’ve got to keep going. We didn’t come this far not to keep going,” Habib said. “So here we go for the fourth time.”

The couple have spent the spring adding Old World charm to what was once a Panera and then a breakfast spot.

“My concern was translating the historical, cozy nature of the old (downtown Elgin) building, which really inspired the ambience for Red Poppy, to a strip mall,” Polit said. “That’s the biggest hurdle because we want this place to be like something you would find in Europe.”

They’ve embraced some of the design left by Honey Berry Pancakes and Café, which closed in November. But they’ve added warmer colors with brick veneer and numerous antiques to give the space more character.

While being on Randall Road provides them much more visibility, Habib said it also comes with a certain amount of pressure.

“The location gives us more people to share our food with. But trying to maintain the quality at a much bigger scale is what keeps me up at night,” Habib said. “I don’t want to let anyone down. I hope we’re still as good as everyone remembers.”