David and Anna Posey of the Chicago-based restaurant sensation, Elske, take Danish culture seriously. Not only did the spouses get engaged in the country’s capital, but they’ve also built an entire dining experience around the Danish principles of minimalism and hygge—a mood of coziness and comfort.
While the Poseys are somewhat obsessed with the tiny Scandinavian country—“Elske” itself means “love” in Danish—their love for food and culture doesn’t end there. The multi-faceted duo is also endlessly passionate about their home base: Chicago. From Italian beef to hot dogs to, of course, Elske, the Poseys have got you covered.
To learn more about David and Anna, Journy co-founder Leiti Hsu stopped by their restaurant, or their “baby”—a gorgeously decorated space which boasts two cozy fireplaces, a thoughtful menu and three James Beard nominations. The trio sat down to talk about everything from their magical engagement in Copenhagen to Danish hot dogs to the charms of the Windy City.
[Interview edited for clarity]
Leiti Hsu: So this is a Scandi place and very much inspired by Copenhagen and your heritage. So, I just have to know how you proposed. Copenhagen sounds like a fantastic place to do it!
David Posey: We went on a walk. We were right by the park. I did my research and there's a nice Hans Christian Andersen statue in the park, so we went to go look and I was like, "Hey let's go check it out."
Leiti: Like the fairy tale guy?
David: Yeah, the fairy tale guy. I proposed in front of a Hans Christian Andersen statue!
Anna Posey: I honestly didn't think anything of it, and then he got down on one knee and I just started—we both started—crying. It was very romantic. There was nobody in the park; it was cool out. So it was very special.
David: Then after I proposed, we went to lunch at Noma.
Leiti: All right. Nice job.
Anna: It was our first time at Noma! And you know how they are… they're out there welcoming you. You're not sure if they're doing this for everybody or just you, so I was like, "What is this?" That meal was insane, but yeah. The whole day was crazy. It was really nice.
Leiti: What's your travel guilty pleasure?
David: I love going to McDonald's in other countries, to know what their hot dog situation is. If it's not a hot dog, it's a sausage in a bun. It's kind of universal.
Anna: I mean last time we were in Copenhagen I feel like we honestly ate 10 hot dogs.
David: Yeah. It was like two a day.
Leiti: So, what is the best McDonalds in the world? What is the thing to get?
David: A Big Mac is pretty spectacular. We went to the one in Tokyo and I was kind of disappointed by how similar it was to our menu. I think just because they like everything American, so they didn't make it too “out there.”
On Chicago food...
Leiti: Favorite hot dogs?
David: Not to sound cliché, but my favorite is a Chicago dog from Portillo’s. I grew up in the suburbs until I was seven, so our treat from soccer practice on the way home was stopping by Portillo's and getting a hot dog. To me, that's just straight nostalgia. Whenever I'm really stressed or I'm in a sad bout or whatever, I stop by Portillo's and get a couple hot dogs. It immediately brings me back.
Leiti: What's a tip for Chicago? Because I'm here for a couple of days. What food shouldn’t be missed?
David: You have to get an Italian beef from either Mr. Beef or Al's on Taylor Street—the one on Taylor Street is the only good one. You also have to get a Chicago dog. I think you could live without deep dish pizza.
If I was to get pizza, though, I would send somebody to a tavern-style place where it's really thin and cut into little pieces—like they're the size of Saltines, so you get a slice of pizza in like a bite. There's Vito and Nick's, which is half an hour from here. I think it’s the best.
Leiti: So what makes Chicago so Chicago?
David: I think it's just full of hard-working, genuine people that are real. I don't think they're afraid to be themselves, I think nothing's really superficial. It's just a real city with real people.
Leiti: The "people thing" came up again and again and again and again; it was like everyone's on script here!
Anna: Oh, interesting. I mean, it is, yeah, just Midwestern people.
On Chicago neighborhoods...
Leiti: Okay, Chicago tips. What's not to be missed?
Anna: Definitely going to the neighborhoods. I would recommend staying outside of downtown and spending your time in Logan Square, Ukrainian Village. It's kind of like New York how actual Chicagoans aren't going downtown ever. Maybe we go once a year to Eataly.
The neighborhoods are where some of our favorite restaurants are, like Lula Café and Parachute—that's where I think people who come visit should go.
Leiti: And what neighborhood are we in right now?
Anna: This is West Loop, which I love. It's a great neighborhood and actually, people who live in the West Loop have lived here, a lot of them, for 10, 15 years—which is rare in this city.
Leiti: Do you feel like the food has evolved very quickly in the last five to 10 years [in Chicago]?
Anna: For a while it was sort of this balloon that kept growing. It was like—how many steak houses can one city have? And they're all great, but it seems like people are trying to get back to neighborhood spots or maybe some places that are a little bit smaller and not so huge. Which I think is hard in Chicago because the prices keep going up and the buildings themselves are all old meat packing factories. Space isn't an issue here so a lot of buildings are very large. But that’s also hard if you want to open a small restaurant because you're kind of forced to open a 100-seat restaurant instead.
We're only 54 seats [at Elske] and that was more than we wanted, but when we found this space that chance to have the garden drew us in. We still kept it small—we could definitely pack in more people if we wanted to—but that [garden] was important to us.
Leiti: For folks coming here for the first time, how would you experience Elske if you were not yourselves?
David: If it was Anna and myself we would order the tasting menu, but if we came with friends we would probably just get the whole à la carte.
Anna: If you had just an hour you’d go sit by the fireplace and get the cheese plate and a cool bottle of wine and hang out.
If ordering a bottle of wine and hanging out at Elske sounds like exaaaaactly what you want to do this summer, turn to Journy. We'll handle the travel planning to make it happen.
For more chef-recommended Chicago restaurants, check out our ultimate guide to the Windy City.