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What’s Coming, What’s New, and What’s Cheap in Chicago Dining

THE BUZZ: Gaztro-Wagon’s Matt Maroni opens Mörso; 2 Sparrows offers tony brunch; SmallBar’s sandwiches dazzle

Smallbar’s smoked chicken club and skinny fries
SmallBar’s smoked chicken club and skinny fries

BRICKS AND MORTAR: Mörso

In December 2009, Matt Maroni’s plans to open a casual Italian restaurant fizzled. Instead, Maroni launched a mobile “naan-wich” shop, Gaztro-Wagon, and an Edgewater storefront with the same name. But the industrious chef kept the Italian concept on the back burner; now he has teamed up with the Terragusto crew for Mörso, a shared-plate spot focused on game and seafood, like local whitefish with peaches, pecans, and yogurt sauce. But the naan-wich faithful need not fret. “Both [projects] are equally important,” Maroni says. “Gaztro-Wagon is not going anywhere.” 340 W. Armitage Ave. —CB

 

TONY BRUNCH: 2 Sparrows

Chefs and longtime friends Greg Ellis and Steve Fladung think the greasy-spoon-saturated Lake View/Lincoln Park border needs a refined morning meal. “Our research found that the average area resident has an income to support fine-dining brunch,” says Ellis. He and Fladung drew from their resumés, which include stints at L20, Ria, and Charlie Trotter’s, and aim to create an experience similar to brunch at The Bristol. On the menu is Ellis’s breakfast standby—a slab of house-cured pork belly and a sunny-side-up egg atop a homemade biscuit. To drink, there’s booze from Midwest breweries and distilleries—a fine idea, since our unscientific research suggests that area residents enjoy booze. 553 W. Diversey Pkwy.; 773-234-2320. —CB

 

BUDGET BEAT: SmallBar

A rube where beer is concerned, I had never really considered becoming a barfly until I discovered this hospitable spot. But now I’m thinking, Why not? The bar, which isn’t small at all, is known for its seriousness about craft beers, but the food is as artfully wrought as the bevs. And who doesn’t love a bar kitchen with an actual honest-to-goodness chef—Justin White, formerly of Custom House—involved? Knowledgeable staffers guided us through beer choices; those decisions made, we settled into snacks of grilled fava beans ($4), addictive spiced pumpkin seeds ($3), and some astonishing bacon-fried almonds ($4), which are more refined and less life threatening than they sound. All went down easy with our cold, crisp New Belgium Somersault Ale ($5). We segued into a nice roasted beet salad ($9) and a lovely plate of lemon and rosemary porchetta, drizzled with salsa verde and sprinkled with airy chicharrons, served with crusty bread ($9). Two sandwiches also dazzled: a smoked chicken club ($10) and the full-throttle cheeseburger with its mountain of superb skinny fries ($10). Thank you! 1415 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-525-2727 (also 2049 W. Division St.; 773-772-2727). —JT

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