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Chef Changes, Tamales, and a Barbecue Pitmistress

Water Works
Blue Water Grill (520 N. Dearborn St.; 312-777-1400) expects to take a step up when its new exec chef, Joel Dennis (Tru), begins on June 25th. A grad of the Culinary Institute of America, Dennis worked as Alain Ducasse’s sous-chef for four years in New York, and he realizes he’s being tapped as the savior of a restaurant that has fallen off the radar. “I’m hoping to breathe some new life into it,” he says. “My background is very suitable for that type of environment. I am firmly rooted in four-star dining.” He plans to add some intricate dishes to the menu, such as roasted dayboat cod with a chickpea purée, pipérade-style with peppers, onion, chorizo, and a little bit of espelette pepper. Perhaps BWG, owned by New York–based B. R. Guest Restaurants, will be more daring than it was in the past.

Hot Prospect
Chad Starling, a 33-year-old Tennessee native who recently moved to Chicago with his girlfriend, worked briefly at Tru and Blackbird before taking the executive chef position at Mediterranean/Asian Saltaus (1350 W. Randolph St.; 312-455-1919). “Tru wasn’t my style of food,” he explains. “A lot of emulsifiers and chemicals and starches that I don’t really like to use in my food.” Bold words for a former home maintenance business owner with no culinary schooling; we look forward to trying his filet with sweetbreads at Saltaus.

Scariest First Sentence of a Press Release This Week
“Last night, we received a phone call in the middle of the night to inform us that our restaurant was on fire.” –Anthony and Nick Gambino, owners of Cucina Paradiso (814 North Blvd., Oak Park; 708-848-3434), whose entire kitchen was destroyed on Tuesday. They hope to reopen within four to six weeks.

Kosher Pickle
Remember Shallots Bistro (4741 Main St., Skokie; 847-677-3463), the upscale kosher spot that Laura Frankel founded in 1999 and moved from Lincoln Park to Skokie a few years back? Frankel parted company with the place’s current owners, Beth and Gershon Bassman, last fall, and Gustavo Restrepo, a native of Colombia, is the chef. (Note: it’s still kosher.) Meanwhile, Frankel will head up Wolfgang Puck’s kosher café/catering department when it opens in November in the Spertus Institute (618 S. Michigan Ave.).

Almost Blu
We’re curious about Bluprint (222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, Suite 135; 312-410-9800), a 192-seat spot opening in mid-July with chef Sam Burman, (Tru, Avenues, and most recently exec chef at Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood), running the show. Burman, 27, brashly calls his cuisine “imaginative American. I’m open to avant-garde, traditional, Italian, and Spanish,” he says, “but ‘imaginative American’ is a good way to describe it.” How imaginative? Burman can’t wait to start serving the “bloody mary burger,” a wagyu patty garnished with salami, peperoncini, cocktail olives, pickled onion, provolone, and celery, with bloody mary ketchup ($13).

Quotable
“Tastes change. We have recently seen the horse on the verge of replacing the ox, which would be quite just, since the ox had replaced the donkey.” –Alexandre Dumas (1802-70), French writer


Do One Thing, Well
Tamalli (2459 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-276-1441) will specialize, basically, in one item. (And it ain’t tacos.) Carlos Reyna, the owner of Humboldt Park’s Maiz, is planning a tiny BYO tamale shop for mid-July. “This is a concept that I have been trying to do for a long time,” Reyna says of his upcoming spot in Logan Square. “Tamales will be about $2.50, and we will have our Mexican coffee and Mexican hot chocolate, as well as our very popular fresh fruit waters.”

Chicago Dreamin’
Sweet Dreams Organic Bakery and Cafe (1107 Waukegan Rd., Glenview; 847-657-1092), an all-natural two-year-old North Shore spot, is planning a city outpost at Madison and Western. “Most of the work will be done in the kitchen in Glenview,” says Lou Sopcic, whose mother, owner Mary Sopcic, has been cooking organic at home for nearly 15 years. “Mom is 62,” he says. “This is something she always felt very passionate about.” One of the most popular items at the Glenview location, a Croatian-style strudel with homemade ricotta cheese, should land on the Near West Side by early fall.

Good, Honest Food Alert
Another quiet opening last month: Jenny’s Hoffbrau (20 Kansas St., Frankfort; 815-464-2685), a friendly 150-seat all-American spot owned by Carl Courtright and a group of investors. Chef Oscar Cruz (Beverly Country Club) presides over the affordable menu; his signature steak is a grilled eight-ounce tenderloin marinated in garlic and herbs and topped with bleu cheese sauce ($20). “It’s just good food that’s been a family tradition for a lot of years,” says Jean Braun, one of the partners.

5 questions for Grace Delcano, 38, the self-proclaimed “barbecue pitmistress” of catering company Galewood Cookshacks’ “pitmistress pork truck”

D: Your barbecue has become legendary at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market (the first Sunday of the month). Where else can we find you?
GD: The Hunnert Car Pileup in Morris, Illinois. And I am trying to do some of the neighborhood street festivals. But I’m very open to expanding my market. 

D: What style barbecue do you do?
GD: I was born and raised in Chicago, but I never understood the big deal about barbecue until I went down to Memphis in 1996. I couldn’t find that kind of barbecue back in Chicago, so I decided that I had to learn how to do it myself.

D: In a nutshell, how is Memphis barbecue different from Chicago’s?
GD: Memphis is slow-cooked over real wood, as opposed to in Chicago, where it’s generally baked, parboiled, or steamed, and then finished on a grill. That’s what I grew up eating.

D: How did you wind up doing this?
GD: I’m into old motorcycles and scooters. I go to a lot of swap meets. The food there is pretty terrible. A friend of mine and I said, “We can do a lot better than this,” and we decided to open this catering company [Galewood Cookshacks] together.

D: What are you known for?
GD: Pulled pork. A pulled pork sandwich and a pulled pork nachos (both $7). More than one person has cursed me for inventing the pulled pork nacho. I didn’t really invent it but it’s something you don’t see much in the Chicago area.

Things to Do
1. Hit Viand (155 E. Ontario St.; 312-255-8505) on any Wednesday in July and get a half-pound burger and a regional beer for $5.
2. Watch Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven, 111 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-263-6443) cook something yummy on NBC’s Today Show on June 26th.
3. Go to Allen’s New American Cafe (217 W. Huron St.; 312-587-9600), Allen Sternweiler’s River North favorite, before it closes for good on August 18th.

Dot Dot Dot . . .
As reported on The Stew, Chris Jones is already out as chef at the upcoming Otom (951 W. Fulton Market St.; 312-491-5804), and Daryl Nash, another Moto vet, is in. . . . Al Primo Canto (5414 W. Devon Ave.; 773-631-0100), Edgebrook’s Brazilian chicken spot, opens on June 22nd. . . . Off the Vine (5823 S. Madison St., Hinsdale; 630-455-0968), a wine boutique and lounge, has its grand opening on June 23rd . . . . Sunshine Cafe (5449 N. Clark St.; 773-334-6214), after a long hiatus during which owner Joni Ishida recovered from health issues, plans to reopen by June 27th. Andersonville rejoices. . . . Salad Spinners, a Chicago-based restaurant company that just opened its fourth Loop-area location (300 S. Wacker Dr.), is on the verge of franchising nationally. . . . Steven Alexander, the former purchasing manager in the Italian wine department of Sam’s Wine and Spirits, has taken over the hallowed wine program at Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-280-2750).

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