Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Chef Recommends: Mariela Bolaños of MAD Social

New American, West Loop No Comments »
Mariela Bolaños and her Chicken & Waffles/photo: Lauren Knight

Mariela Bolaños and her Chicken & Waffles/Photo: Lauren Knight

Need a recommendation when scanning the menu at MAD Social (1140 West Madison)? Take a hint from executive chef Mariela Bolaños.

Bolaños came to the kitchen on a whim. When she was eighteen, a commercial for the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago piqued her interest. The scenes of culinary students looked interesting and fun. Her parents encouraged her to go check the school out. “’It might stick,’” she recalls them saying. They were right. Read the rest of this entry »

Opening Soon: Billy Lawless Takes On Southern Italian Cuisine with Coda di Volpe

Italian, Lakeview, News etc. No Comments »
Billy Lawless, Chef Chris Thompson, and Ryan O’Donnell

Billy Lawless, Chef Chris Thompson and Ryan O’Donnell

The cranes and forklifts navigating construction at the corner of Southport and Henderson in Lakeview aren’t toting flooring or brick just now. Instead, they’re hoisting a massive Italian-made wood-fired oven into the basement kitchens at Coda di Volpe, the Southern Italian restaurant that Billy Lawless is opening this summer with partner Ryan O’Donnell (of Gemini Bistro and the now-closed Rustic House) and San Francisco chef import, Chris Thompson. Read the rest of this entry »

Restaurateurs of the Moment: The Family Zaragoza

Archer Heights, Mexican, The Big Heat No Comments »

 

The Zaragoza family–Jonathan, John-Juan and Norma/ Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

The Zaragoza family–Jonathan, John-Juan and Norma/ Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

By David Hammond

Driving south on Pulaski, between 48th and 49th, even if you’re looking hard for Birrieria Zaragoza, even if you’ve been there before, you might drive right past it. It’s a small, family-run restaurant, seating around twenty. This well-kept, humble place doesn’t have any flashy signage. It probably doesn’t need it, judging by the crowds inside who regularly chow down, elbow-to-elbow, on what might be the finest birria tatemada you’ll find anywhere (except, perhaps, Jalisco, Mexico).

The birria is prepared and served up by John-Juan, his wife Norma, and their children Jonathan, Erik, Tony and daughter Andie.

The hungry horde that comes to eat at Birrieria Zaragoza is frequently so large that a storefront next door is opened up for people to sit in several rows of chairs, like at the DMV, patiently waiting for a table or take-out.

In early 2016, the Zaragozas accepted the Jean Banchet award for “Best Ethnic Restaurant,” the first time this award was given to anyone. We strongly suspect this category was created specifically to honor the family’s work in perfecting birria tatemada in Chicago. Birria tatemada is goat meat, steamed for hours, slathered with mole sauce, and then roasted to create a beautiful blend of textures, crunchy crisp in places, lushly soft in others, with good spice but not so much that the goodness of the goat is obscured.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chef Recommends: Joey Beato of Community Tavern

American, Portage Park No Comments »
Joey Beato/photo: Dirk Matthews

Joey Beato/photo: Dirk Matthews

While still in high school, Chef Joey Beato of Community Tavern taught himself how to make breakfast food, though not much else. “Breakfast for dinner” was common, and he became a master at omelets. He discovered the kitchen was where he wanted to be. He enrolled at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (now Le Cordon Bleu).

Studies complete, he went straight to work at Quince in Evanston. Right away, the chef “gave me a case of rabbits and a case of beef chuck and was like, ‘Do this.’ And I had no idea what I was doing, but I did that for a month. It was the first thing I did there.” Butchery became one of the first professional skills Beato mastered, helping to develop his skill and respect for meat that would become a cornerstone of the Community Tavern menu. Read the rest of this entry »

Love and Jamón: Spanish Square

Lakeview, Spanish No Comments »

 

Manuel Moreno and his seductive jamón/Photo: Rosemary Lane

Manuel Moreno and his seductive jamón/Photo: Rosemary Lane

Enter the Spanish Square (1358 West Belmont), and you’ll walk into a love story that began in—where else?—Spain. Mara Baer and Manuel Moreno, owners of this new restaurant/tapas bar/market in Lakeview, met seven years ago in southern Spain. Mara was teaching English at a local high school. One night, her friends brought her to a housewarming party at Manuel’s, a native who lived above the city’s main plaza.  Read the rest of this entry »

Of Vice and Vegetables: The Fulton Market District Furiously Builds on Chicago History

Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »
Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished hi-rise/Photo: MKRogers Features & Photography

View from Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished high-rise/Photo: MKRogers.com

By Monica Kass Rogers

“The last thing any of us wants is to see this neighborhood Disney-fied”

Riding the elevator to the top of developer Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished high-rise at the corner of Halsted and Lake, I’m fussing with the Velcro on the front of my neon yellow construction vest. The lift-operator, who looks uncannily like former mayor Richard M. Daley, has just confided that he’s afraid of heights. Somewhere between levels twelve and twenty-three—six floors shy of the top—Shapack quietly says, “This is the tallest building I’ve done yet.”

Standing in the open air looking out at the booming Fulton Market Innovation District that stretches from Halsted to Ogden below us, the Shapack Partners, Sterling Bay and other developer-owned vacant lots stand out, white blanks among the rubble and splintered timbers of demolition, as do signage-wrapped new construction sites and just-finished restaurants with so-new-it-sparkles HVAC and ductwork.

Randolph runs along the southern edge of the scene. Elevated-train-topped Lake Street is in the middle and Fulton Market sits to the north. Right now, each thoroughfare is lined with the mix of meatpackers, light industry, grunge and gleam that defines the city’s last remaining market district, which is now also its hottest restaurant neighborhood. Next year, there will be another dozen restaurants and bars down there, plus retail, new residences and hotels.

As for the industry and grunge? Says Shapack: “The last thing any of us wants is to see this neighborhood Disney-fied.” The “any of us” Shapack refers to—developers and restaurateurs, meatpackers and wholesalers, politicians and planners—have all been racing to keep up with unprecedented change without losing the essence of a neighborhood they love. Read the rest of this entry »

Fulton Market Transformation: When Google Comes to Dinner

Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »
Google HQ/Photo: Lauren Knight

Google HQ/Photo: Lauren Knight

By Lauren Knight

Once gentrification starts, it’s hard to stop. When the shift occurs between small businesses seeking new ground to full-scale land grabs by large companies, how do the little guys prepare for that transition? Take Fulton Market. What was once the bastion of meatpackers has swiftly become one of the hottest dining and drinking destinations in Chicago. As Randolph Street blossomed into “Restaurant Row,” a few pioneers trekked just a few blocks further north to take advantage of empty storefronts and warehouses.

The neighborhood is now Chicago headquarters to Google.

At the corner of Morgan and Fulton Market, an old cold-storage facility is being transformed into a beacon of new development. The 550,000-square-foot building will house other companies as well, such as SRAM International and Sandbox Industries, but Google’s 500 employees will fill the bulk of the updated structure.

One Off Hospitality Group was one of the first to see the potential in the Fulton Market neighborhood; the transformation that has occurred since opening The Publican in 2008 is an affirmation. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Dining Preview 2015

Lincoln Square, News etc. No Comments »
Composing/Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

Composing/Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

By Iliana Regan

Fairy tales are the theme of the autumn menu at Elizabeth. This theme will be reflected in some of the ingredients we plan to use, including pumpkins and apples, both of which have well-known connections to Cinderella and Snow White.

One of the great things about the fairy tales of Mother Goose and the Grimms is there’s the cultural and geographical background of the writers—Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm—who were French and German, respectively. The cuisine we serve will reflect both of those rich culinary traditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Better Than Fresh: The Super-Frozen Fish of Wixter Market

Seafood, Wicker Park No Comments »
Photo: Rebecca Holland

Photo: Rebecca Holland

By Rebecca Holland

“The whole goal is to get people to eat more seafood, ” says Matt Mixter, the Chicago native whose seafood shop Wixter Market opened in Wicker Park on June 2. “I want to make it delicious, convenient, affordable and sustainable.”

Wixter Market (2110 West Division) is the only seafood market in the country promoting one-hundred-percent frozen fish and the only place in Chicago where consumers can purchase super-frozen fish products.

Mixter spent ten years traveling the world, processing the catch, distributing seafood for large retailers, and learning about different freezing technologies. Super-freezing, or freezing fish within twenty-four-to-seventy-two hours at minus-seventy-six degrees Fahrenheit, stops all decomposition in fish, increasing shelf life and preserving flavor. “These technologies were developed to cater to large companies, and I realized nobody was offering it in the small format, so I took the opportunity to do just that,” says Mixter. Read the rest of this entry »

Still Falling In Love: Romantic Fondue Classic Geja’s Changes Hands at Fifty

Lincoln Park, News etc. No Comments »
Jeff Lawler, new owner of Gejas Cafe

Jeff Lawler, new owner of Geja’s Cafe

After two decades of working for venerable Chicago romantic dining destination Geja’s Café (340 West Armitage), Jeff Lawler will succeed John Davis as owner of the restaurant, just in time for Geja’s fiftieth anniversary.

Lawler, who has been in the restaurant business since he was seventeen, came to Geja’s in 1994 as general manager. He spent a few years working for Davis’ Wine of the Month club, but soon found himself drawn back to managing Geja’s day-to-day operations, a job with which he says he continues to “fall in love.”

“My responsibilities won’t really change all that much [as the owner],” Lawler says. “I got into the restaurant business because I love to serve people, and at Geja’s in particular I love working with staff to create special experiences for our guests.” Read the rest of this entry »