That’s Their Baguette, Baby
“I was four generations of a family business. This bakery was 110 years. And I sold it,” says Pierre Zimmermann, whose half-French, half-German name betrays his Alsatian origin. Although Zimmermann’s father felt sad at first about the end of Bakery Zimmermann, he came around. “For me, the story of the Zimmermann bakers will continue in another city,” he said to his son. “You will do a great job there, and that will make me happy every day.” “There” is here, at La Fournette (1547 N. Wells St., 312-624-9430), an authentic bakery and café Zimmermann plans to open in July in partnership with his friends Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sébastien Canonne of the French Pastry School. The café will serve open-faced sandwiches, tartines, crêpes, croque monsieurs, soups, and salads, and the bakery’s offerings will run along the lines of baguettes and croissants. “We will have the best croissants in town,” Zimmermann says. “You will have crumbs all over your hands and your clothes.” He’ll prepare the baked goods in several small batches throughout the day to combat the short shelf life that results from their sensitivity to temperature and humidity. Sounds like the right strategy—it seems like a family with 110 years of baking experience would know a thing or two about shelf life.
I, the Pizza
Open since June 1, Armitage Pizzeria (711 W. Armitage Ave., 312-867-9111) bears an unassuming name, but based on its pedigree and oven type, you could call it Gasfire. The man behind it is James J. Spillane, a founder of Coalfire who sold his stake there ten months ago, and there’s no one else behind him. “I’m working it alone. I do everything,” he says. “Get in in the morning and clean, make my pizza all night, and do the same thing the next day.” The puffy, foldable crust shares its dough recipe with Coalfire but has less char. Unlike Coalfire, the sauce goes on the pizza before the cheese, and the toppings—all traditional—are cooked on the pizza rather than added at the end. White pizza and New Jersey–style tomato pie are available, as well as a couple of salads. For now, it’s only takeout and eat in, but don’t count on eating in. “I have one whole table with four whole seats,” Spillane says. “I make Great Lake look big.”
“What I say is that if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.” —A. A. Milne (1882–1956) English author and creator of Winnie the Pooh
Stand and Deliver
When Brendan O’Connor was 14, he and a friend started a once-a-year hot dog stand on the lawn of one of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses on Forest Avenue in Oak Park during its annual open house. They called it Wright Lloyd Franks. “We would make a couple of hundred bucks each and walk out like we were millionaires,” O’Connor says. The grown-up, all-year-round version, Big Guy’s Sausage Stand (7021 W. Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn, 708-317-5213), is scheduled to open in early July in an old Parky’s location. The no-seating sausage counter’s menu will include:
• Cheddar brat with homemade cheese sauce, chimichurri, pickled onions
• Bone-in pork chop sandwich (“You start on the opposite side and end up gnawing the bone,” O’Connor says.)
• Hot link with homemade barbecue sauce and homemade coleslaw
• Italian sausage on char-grilled garlic bread
• Bacon-beer-cheese soup
Meanwhile, we’re swiping the Wright open-house sausage-stand idea, but ours will be called Prairie Dogs.
The Prost with the Most
After two years of closure, it’s time to toast Prost! (2566 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-880-9900), the German beer hall that reopened in late May, with an occupancy of 290 (it was 50) and an updated menu from Ian Flowers, typified by a short-rib sauerbraten. Flowers braises the short ribs for three hours in a liquid similar to sauerbraten marinade, then lets them rest in the braising liquid overnight and plates them with horseradish whipped potatoes. A giant pretzel served with the Bavarian beer cheese called obatzda pairs with any one of the 24 German and Austrian draft beers. The general manager, Vincent Baratta (formerly of Old Town Social), recommends a rauchbier called Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen he says tastes like Scotch, campfire, and bacon, which together sound like they might violate the city smoking ban.
Erwin on Erwin’s Closing
Erwin Drechsler announced he would close his 19-year-old namesake restaurant, Erwin (2925 N. Halsted St., 773-528-7200), after service on July 1. Here, condensed and edited, is what he told us about the decision.
“Of course the economy has a lot to do with it. But last summer, my 17-year-old, Isaac, was diagnosed with stage III lymphoma. That whole experience turned our world upside down. I found that I needed to be much more present with my family and with Isaac, and yet I had this restaurant to take care of, too. Now that Isaac is out of the woods, my whole perspective of what it is to be both a parent and a restaurateur has shifted. Not that I want to get out of the business, but the model that exists now is not working for my lifestyle. I have been exploring a lot of different options, including a healthy high-end Italian food concept that would be more focused on breakfast and lunch, and wrapping it up at 6 p.m. Closing Erwin was an agonizing decision because I am also responsible for 25 employees and their welfare. I did not want to say on a Saturday night, ‘That’s it, folks.’ We wanted this to be more of a celebration than a funeral.”
Updated Reviews: MK and Elate
New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. MK’s rating decreased from three to two stars; Elate’s rating increased from one and a half to two stars. Both updates appear in the July issue, on newsstands tomorrow.
MK (868 N. Franklin St., 312-482-9179). Contemporary.
★★ (very good)
$$$$ ($50-plus per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
The cavernous multilevel dining room is still packed after nearly 14 years, even if time has dulled the kitchen’s edge—or maybe the competition has just gotten sharper. Brightest of the bright spots is the grilled baby octopus enhanced by endive, preserved lemon, golden raisins, and aïoli. But there’s also well-handled gnocchi with fava beans and a poached egg, as well as fresh fluke with Brussels sprouts and salsify. Desserts are essential, especially an intense dark chocolate bombe with Mexican chocolate ice cream. Cocktails include the boldly seasoned and aptly named On Top of Old Smoky: Hirsch bourbon, chipotle, and orange bitters.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.
Elate (Hotel Felix, 111 W. Huron St., 312-202-9900). Contemporary.
★★ (very good)
$$ ($30–$39 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
The loungelike space might look like just another comfortably hip hotel bar with TVs tuned to sports, but look again. Better yet, settle in for a meal. Offerings (including many small plates) are creative and well executed, with fresh flavors achieving a good balance: not too plain, not overgussied. We recently dug crisp-crusted flatbread topped with figs and Asian pear, skewered spinach artfully transformed into a salad, parsnip risotto with pistachios and dried cherries, a sophisticated platter of country-style pâté, and decadent pot de crème. Plus, get this: Oysters are $1 each (instead of $18 for six) on Wednesday nights.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.
Sometimes a Cuban Is Just a Cigar
The first Chicago branch of the suggestively named Naked Pizza (953 W. Diversey Ave., 773-857-6000), the New Orleans–based healthful-pizza chain funded in part by the outspoken billionaire Mark Cuban, opened on May 30 near the Brown Line. “We kinda just turned the light on and didn’t tell anyone we were opening,” says Aaron Leavitt, a partner. Naked’s crust contains ten grains, including quinoa, amaranth, and teff, held together only by water—no oil—and can be topped by a no-sugar-added red sauce, a natural-sugar barbecue sauce, or a garlic-infused olive oil. Pre- and probiotics (healthful bacteria) also reside in the crust. The chain’s success elsewhere suggests the pizza tastes better than other self-styled healthful pies, so Dish’s own Carly Boers stopped by for lunch. “The crust isn’t weird,” she says. “It’s actually pretty tasty, believe it or not.” Naked Pizza’s gluten-free version (cooked on the top rack of the oven so nothing falls on it) and the dairy-free cheese, still untasted by us, will have to wait for another day.
· A quick turnaround yields the soon-to-open Bar Umbriago, an Italian joint on Hubbard Street.
· Pollack is onboard with the soltani from Caravan.
· Pollack cozies up to a plate of gnocchi at Maison.
· Best to play it safe at Avli Estiatorio.
Follow Pollack on Twitter.
Things to Do
1. Spruce up while drinking up at State Street Barbers (1545 N. Wells St., 312-787-7722), which plays host to a one-day Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack BARbershop tomorrow. From 3 to 8 p.m., the shop will offer complimentary cocktails made with Jack Daniel’s whiskey Gentleman Jack, as well as light manscaping services, such as beard and hair trimming and nail buffing (also for free). Attendees must be 21 with a valid ID, and must RSVP.
2. Treat Daddy to some ’cue at The Smoke Daddy (1804 W. Division St., 773-772-6656), which will smoke two whole hogs on Saturday for its seventh annual pre–Father’s Day pig roast. From noon to 3 p.m., partygoers can devour all-you-can-eat pulled pork sliders for $15 and wash them down with $3 pints of Samuel Adams’s new lemon- and lime-infused wheat ale, Curious Traveler.
3. Stick with the barbecue theme—’tis the season, after all—at Lillie’s Q (1856 W. North Ave., 773-772-5500). During June, customers who donate $10 to the Katherine McKenna Brothers Scholarship Fund (a charity that provides money for students at Brenau University in Georgia, named in memory of the late aunt of Lillie’s Q chef Charlie McKenna) will receive a pink silicone gel bracelet marked with the name of the restaurant, the initials of McKenna’s aunt, and the image of a pig. On future visits, the bracelet entitles the wearer’s entire party to a 10 percent discount, a deal that never expires. In addition to the 10 percent lifetime discount, a $50 donation also secures a one-time reservation at the bustling Bucktown joint, which otherwise doesn’t accept reservations.
4. Hoof it to the Buffalo Grove Farmers’ Market (951 McHenry Rd., Buffalo Grove, 847-459-2517), which kicks off its 2012 season on Sunday at 8 a.m. Opening day regalements include free reusable shopping totes for the first 750 market goers and performances by the singer-guitarist Whitey O’Day and the balloon artist extraordinaire Ryan Freeman.
• Pecking Order (4416 N. Clark St., 773-907-9900), a casual spot where Kristine Subido (Wave) and her mom will serve up rotisserie, grilled, and fried chicken prepared with Filipino touches, opens Saturday.
Dot Dot Dot…
Eater reports that Big Star will join the pop-up frenzy, periodically hosting a lunchtime taco stand at 2 North Riverside Plaza. . . . We also learned from Eater that Craig Schoettler was fired from The Aviary. . . . After being let go from his post (as pastry chef at Blackbird) as well, Bryce Caron has joined Andrew Brochu and the Graham Elliot team. . . . The 20-plus-year-old downtown location of the Chinese standby Sixty-Five Restaurant & Bakery is closing its doors on June 15. . . . The 300-seat pan-Chinese River North concept coming in November from Tony Hu (Lao Sze Chuan, Lao Beijing) has acquired a name: Lao 18, after its location at 18 West Hubbard Street. Hu promises dim sum. . . . Gregory Thomas (Orlando’s Kahuna Grill, Chicago Cut Steakhouse) is the new chef at the North Center Cuban spot Cafe 28.