Frank Brunacci Leaves Sixteen for the Love of Truffles
Yesterday a press release announced that Frank Brunacci had left Sixteen, the high-end restaurant in the Trump Tower, but the release coyly left his destination unstated. Brunacci gave us the story, the full version of which goes beyond the length of a Dish item, so we’ve posted that on our blog. Here’s the précis, in Brunacci’s own words:
[I’m leaving] for the truffle business that my wife incorporated about a year and a bit ago now. We were approached probably two years ago by The Wine & Truffle Co. of Australia: “We are looking for somebody to distribute our product.” My eyes just popped out of my head. I am a truffle lover. . . . They wanted four people in the U.S. to import and distribute. New York, California, Tennessee, and us. We started the business last year. When we got the first shipment, I walked into the house, opened up the door, and this aroma hits me, like, What the hell is in my house? It was the true Périgord smell. The aroma of Périgord was in my house, but it was from Australia. . . . We are going to find a location here in Chicago where we are going to produce a high-end retail ingredient [outlet]. Once you’ve got your pasta and sauce, you can buy your truffles and go home and make a dinner that would probably cost you $450 for two [at a restaurant] for less than a hundred bucks. . . . Then behind that, we will have a separate restaurant with maybe 35 or 40 seats. The price per head will be up there a bit because it’s all truffle-inspired. . . . Next to that is a new concept that [might] be called Rolls. A quick-service concept at lunchtime. . . One big kitchen that supplies all three. . . . I want a lot of high-end foot traffic. River North, South Loop, or Gold Coast. . . . It’s not official, but I want to call it Dirt.
About a year ago, the chef Mark Mendez left Carnivale to work on opening a Spanish wine bar. Now the 68-seat Uva (1023 W. Lake St.; no phone yet) is on track to open this fall. “After Carnivale, it’s awesome. Carnivale has 600 [seats],” Mendez says. He is partnering with his wife, Liz, a sommelier whom he met at Carnivale, to construct an affordable selection of Spanish and global wines, some of which will be on tap. “Small-batch wines. Oddball grapes. Just have fun,” Mendez says. The small-plate menu, still in development, may include a rabbit-chorizo paella and tripe madrileña, with prices ranging from $3 to $32, and averaging around $8 to $12. Fittingly, the restaurant is named after the Spanish and Italian word for “grape”—no connection to the University of Virginia.
Nine Questions for Leah Koch
Koch operates The Alexander Beetle Bakeshop, a food truck that launched last week, selling salted brown-butter Rice Krispie treats, ladybug bars (raspberry streusel), and the requisite assortment of cupcakes.
Dish: Who or what is Alexander Beetle?
Leah Koch: Alexander Beetle is a character from a poem by A.A. Milne, who also wrote Winnie-the-Pooh. The poem is actually called Forgiven. In the poem, Alexander tries to make a bid for freedom. My mom used to read it to me and my sister when we were kids. And when I was ten years old, I decided that was what I was going to name my bakery.
D: How old are you now?
LK: My 19th birthday was [Sunday].
D: And you’ve always wanted to be a baker?
LK: I’ve been baking as long as I can remember. It was something my mom taught me how to do. We used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen together. She died when I was 12, and so it’s sort of a way that I stay connected to her. I felt closest to her when I was in the kitchen.
D: How does an 18-year-old launch a business?
LK: It was quite an adventure. Getting licensed as a food truck in Chicago is a battle in itself. It’s so brand-new that people are still figuring out exactly what the rules are. And throw into that that the person sitting in front of them is an 18-year-old kid that you might not want to take too seriously. But, as with anything else, you kind of persevere through it. It’s one of those things that if you at any point throw in the towel, you will never make it. You seek out those people who are willing to help you.
D: But you made it.
LK: Yes, I did, and the day I got my license, I felt quite proud.
D: How long did it take?
LK: Probably, from start to finish, about two months. I called City Hall, like, every day. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not so bad.
D: What did you learn from your first week in business?
LK: The biggest thing that we learned is that foot traffic is key to everything. And also that [city officials] don’t lie when they tell you not to park in an illegal parking space. The Chicago Police Department will kick you out.
D: Did you get any tickets?
LK: We got one ticket on our second day. We have since learned better, and it will never happen again.
D: Are you going into this full-time, or are you going to school in the fall?
LK: This is just for the summer. I am going to the University of Southern California in the fall.
“Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”
—Mark Twain (1835–1910), American author and humorist
Rollin’ on the River
Keeping up this season’s trend of riverfront openings, Chicago Riverwalk Cafe (117 W. Lower Wacker Dr.; 773-616-0070), a sister restaurant to Irving Park’s Little Bucharest Bistro, welcomed its first customers last week. The May-to-October restaurant offers sandwiches such as a smoked salmon club and a homemade Romanian sausage pita, and entrées such as chicken schnitzel and vegetarian goulash, as well as live entertainment. “It’s like in Hawaii,” says Branko Podrumedic, the owner. “Friday night people were here until 1 a.m. We had Hungarian strolling minstrels on Saturday night. Starting next week, we will have French cabaret and jazz.” Both Little Bucharest and Chicago Riverwalk Cafe offer an unusual perk. “There is a free limo service for both locations,” Podrumedic says. “No joke. No gimmick. There has to be six or more people. That’s all.” He says the limo will take customers both to and from the restaurants, from anywhere in the Chicago metro area. You still have to book your own babysitter, though.
They Might Have to Call This Big Italy
Scott Harris, the mastermind behind Francesca’s, Davanti Enoteca, and a tutti-frutti of other Chicago-area restaurants, is on the record about his love for the idea of Little Italy, especially for a future version even more infused with tricolor. He waxed rhapsodic in describing his vision:
“I want signs at each of the streets saying Historic Little Italy, or something like that. I want cobblestone from Halsted to Ashland, just like in Rome and Florence. I want to do a Sicilian fish restaurant; The Ballroom, a meatball shop [“shop” means “restaurant” in Harrisese]; a porchetta shop; Bombolini’s, an Italian doughnut shop; an old Italian butcher shop, meaning a great sandwich shop with charcuterie and salamis; Mio Modo, a small, sit-down spot where there’s no menu and you eat whatever I feel like feeding you; a Neapolitan pizza place; a Caputo Cheese shop; and a tchotchke store, like an “I Love Little Italy Chicago” store. I met the two aldermen of that [area]. I met with all the bigwigs in the neighborhood. They almost wet their pants. The vision is unbelievable.”
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Things to Do
1. Skip the lunchtime food-truck chase and get your mobile meal at Food Truck Tuesdays (West North Avenue at North Halsted Street), held each Tuesday through July from 4 to 7 p.m., or at Truckin’ Thursdays, launching this week at the omnipresent Scott Harris’s latest joint, Ethyl’s Beer & Wine Dive (324 S. Racine Ave.; 312-433-0007), and taking place Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. Both weekly powwows feature at least four trucks, and you’ll find picks like the newbie The Slide Ride.
2. Indulge in a three-course, stick-to-your-ribs dinner at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (25 E. Ohio St.; 312-329-9463 and 960 Milwaukee Ave., Lincolnshire; 847-793-0333). Each Sunday night through August they’re dishing up salad, 12 ounces of prime rib, and your choice of side and dessert (the custardy frozen lemon-gingersnap pie sounds tasty to us) for $29.95.
3. Book a table for Jason Hartley’s Lovefood, an Amsterdam pop-up brunch sensation coming to Chicago July 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Vincent (1475 W. Balmoral Ave.; 773-334-7168). Hartley, a British chef, will step into the Vincent kitchen and whip up eats—such as hand-smoked organic bacon—that his Dutch devotees line up for. Call Vincent for reservations.
4. Plot your gastronomic course for Yelp Eats! Restaurant Week, which kicks off July 11. For seven days, 16 restos, including Branch 27 and Vie, will offer special half-price menus to Yelpers and non-Yelpers alike.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Deep-dish heavyweight Lou Malnati’s is expanding more than just waistlines; they’ve opened a new location at 1120 North State Street. . . . Jury’s has changed ownership, and thanks to new, extended hours beginning July 15, Lincoln Square folks can nosh their beloved burgers until 2 a.m. . . . As of today, Green City Market sets up shop at a new Lincoln Park location (complete with wider walkways and better drainage for rainy market mornings), near the intersection of North Clark Street and North Lincoln Avenue, just north of its previous spot. . . . Foodlife, the grab-and-go dining destination at Water Tower Place, will triple in size, morphing into Foodease Market this fall, and adding features like a wine bar stocked with Alpana Singh’s picks and a chocolate room filled with local artisanal sweets. . . . Chicago Sport Cafe—a dual storefront in west Lincoln Park that’s half coffee shop, half European-style sports bar, and has the former Dublin’s chef in the kitchen—opens Saturday, serving light breakfast and tapas-style lunch and dinner. . . . Central Kitchen & Tap has soft-opened for dinner only, serving American comfort food in Jefferson Park. Lunch service rolls out July 6. . . . “We looked for a void in the fast-casual market, and we felt that pizza was that void,” says Jeffrey Zucker, one of the owners of Pizza Persona, a build-your-own pizza restaurant in Lake View that now plans to open in early August, whether or not its liquor license has gone through. . . . The Webster’s Wine Bar team plans to uncork Telegraph (which they planned to call Smith until they ran into name duplication issues) on July 8. The Logan Square spot will feature European wines alongside fare inspired by Europe’s wine-producing regions. . . . After a bit of a rocky start, Tribute is ready to roll with a July 7 opening.
Team Dish will be gone fishin’ next week. We’ll be back in your inbox July 13.