The South Loop teems with newly built condo skyscrapers, but somehow, fancy restaurants have materialized much more slowly. Into this breach steps Ryan McCaskey, who sports lines on his resumé from Tuttaposto, Vivere, Rushmore, Courtright’s, and Tizi Melloul (which now seems to be like the Taxi of Chicago restaurants, with alumni going on to ambitious projects left and right). In late summer or early fall, McCaskey plans to open a “contemporary classic American” spot at 1639 South Wabash Avenue. “It will be a very seasonally influenced menu,” he says. “Most of the stuff I am getting will be direct. I have a lot of friends out east in Maine who forage mushrooms and catch everything.” Diners will spend $60 to $70 apiece, he estimates, and five- and eleven-course tasting menus will be offered. Coyly, McCaskey says he’ll announce what the place is called in a month or two. “My parents hate the name,” he says. We bet they tell him to cut his hair and turn down his rock ’n’ roll music, too.
“Most vegetarians I ever see looked enough like their food to be classed as cannibals.” —Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936), Chicago journalist
Nacho Father’s Tortilla Chips
“What we are trying to teach is the variety of tortilla chips,” says Dudley Nieto, a consultant and the executive chef at the imminently opening Totopo (3041 Butterfield Rd., Ste. 117, Oak Brook; 630-573-8686), an 80-plus-seat counter-service Mexican spot in Oak Brook Promenade. “It’s a restaurant that reflects the food flavors from antojerías. Like market food stores in Mexico,” says Nieto, also a chef/partner at La Fonda del Gusto in Wicker Park. Tamales, tortas, tacos, and other things that do not begin with T feature on the menu, alongside myriad types of guacamole, salsa, and tortilla chips. Why don’t we see myriad types of nacho cheese on this list?
Only 23 Days Until the Best Corned Beef Hash Ever Disappears
“Right now I’m going to take a break, and then I’m going to think of what I’m going to do. . . . I just want to breathe a little bit and then I can think.” —Patty Tunk, the chef/owner of Patty’s Diner (3358 Main St., Skokie; 847-675-4274), who, after 20 years, will close her self-named restaurant on December 31st.
A Cupcake in Every Pot
Bringing us one step closer to Herbert Hoover’s dream that every man, woman, and child in America might someday have their own cupcake store, Crumbs Bake Shop is slated to open the first of multiple Chicago locations (there are already 29 on the coasts) at 303 West Madison Street between Christmas and the new year. “We have about 50 [cupcake] varieties,” says Mia Bauer, a Crumbs cofounder. “We use a ton of frosting and mix in everything you can imagine. There are a lot of cupcake companies out there, but no one is doing what we are. If they are, they are copying us.” Each Crumbs city has a plant that supplies the nearby storefronts to prevent variation among locations. With so many stores, Bauer recently had to break down and hire another person to help her with quality assurance. “It’s been me all this time, eating cupcake after cupcake after cupcake,” she says. We kind of feel that way, too.
And lest you worry that Evanston is cupcake-deprived, Tiny Dog Cupcake! (616 Davis St., Evanston; 847-563-8680) opened the day after Thanksgiving. “It’s named after my Jack Russell terrier, who is fun and feisty like a cupcake shop should be,” says the owner, Rob Mockard, a graduate of Northwestern’s business school. The feisty Tiny Dog sells 15 varieties of cupcakes—including the Chocolate Minty, a cupcake without a noun—and La Colombe coffee, available in Philadelphia, New York, and California, but not until now in Chicago. A percentage of Tiny Dog’s profits goes to charity, which we have to admit does put a dent in our cupcake cynicism.
• If Paul Kahan thinks artisan butcher shops are cutting edge, it must be true.
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Things to Do
1. Take a break with French Virtual Café, a food-and-wine blog that reads like a collection of thoughtful letters between a French father in Illinois and his son in California. The pair is working on a series of thorough posts about the history of Chicago’s French restaurants—nicely timed with the upcoming openings of two new Frenchies: Paris Club (59 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0800) and Maude’s Liquor Bar (840 W. Randolph St.; 312-243-9712).
2. Take the wee ones to Koi (624 Davis St., Evanston; 847-866-6969) or Chens (3506 N. Clark St.; 773-549-9100), where they can order from the kids’ menu free of charge—with the purchase of equal numbers of adult-size entrées—any day in December except the 31st.
3. Plan for a charitable trip to the market (or a pass through the cupboard) to collect your donation for a food drive on December 18th sponsored by The Publican (837 W. Fulton Market; 312-733-9555), where kindness is repaid with complimentary Goose Island brews and bites from The Publican and Hannah’s Bretzel (180 W. Washington St.; 312-621-1111).
Dot Dot Dot . . .
With four openings—including two that expand his empire in Little Italy—in half as many weeks, Scott Harris is proving to be the kind of guy who gets what he wants: “I’m German-Irish, but I love Italian culture and everything about it. I want a Little Italy, dammit.” Apparently he’s a guy who changes his mind, too: Gennaro’s, set to reopen mid-December in the old Aldino’s space, is hereby renamed Salatino’s (626 S. Racine Ave.; 312-226-9300). . . . Italian is not the only game going in Little Italy: The owner of Sabor do Brasil (801 E. Algonquin Rd., Schaumburg; 847-925-9100), a Brazilian steak house in the northwest suburbs, opened Sabor Express (1230 W. Taylor St.; 312-733-4800), a fast-casual Brazilian BYO, in November. Then again, we don’t recall ever hearing of a Little Brazil. . . . On December 16th, John des Rosiers, the owner and executive chef of Inovasi (28 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff; 847-295-1000), opens Wisma (24 E. Scranton Ave.; 847-234-1805) next door to offer organic takeout meals and snacks, as well as cheeses, charcuterie, and Red Hen Bread baked goods. . . . “I put it together in eight weeks,” says the chef/partner Roger Herring (Socca) of Redd Herring (31 S. Prospect Ave., Clarendon Hills; 630-908-7295). The American-comfort-food restaurant (which we first heard about on Eater) will serve Allen Brothers prime cuts, macaroni and cheese, and pizzettas—but not big pizzas. You’ll have to get those from Herring’s pizzeria in the back, Redd Take Out. . . . Zagat enlisted a nutritionist to estimate that the 20-course tasting menu at Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St.; 312-867-0110) has more than 3,000 calories. And some people say small plates leave them hungry.Dining & Drinking