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Urban Chowboy

Of Dust and Dough
The partners at Mod Pizza (1222 W. Madison St.; 312-666-1222), an upcoming pizzeria/smoothie bar in the West Loop, are obviously optimists. The 68-seat spot with an outdoor café is still under construction, but they plan to open on May 20th. “The plumbing is in, and we are hanging ductwork as I speak,” says Madison Drake, former partner at Phil & Lou’s. “The kitchen flooring will be in by end of next week.” Mod’s executive chef, Marco Aguirre (recently of Maggiano’s), has been working with Old California Pizza Dough, a San Francisco–based company, to develop the mix that will go into the sourdough-based flour for his predominantly thin pizzas. But the food is the least of Drake’s worries…

Of Dust and Dough

The partners at Mod Pizza (1222 W. Madison St.; 312-666-1222), an upcoming pizzeria/smoothie bar in the West Loop, are obviously optimists. The 68-seat spot with an outdoor café is still under construction, but they plan to open on May 20th. “The plumbing is in, and we are hanging ductwork as I speak,” says Madison Drake, former partner at Phil & Lou’s. “The kitchen flooring will be in by end of next week.” Mod’s executive chef, Marco Aguirre (recently of Maggiano’s), has been working with Old California Pizza Dough, a San Francisco–based company, to develop the mix that will go into the sourdough-based flour for his predominantly thin pizzas. But the food is the least of Drake’s worries. “After going through this buildout, this 50-year-old body is tired,” she says. “I’ve run 15 marathons in Chicago but they’re weren’t as tough as this has been.”

Quotable

“Gentiles are people who eat mayonnaise for no reason.” –Robin Williams (b. 1951), American actor/comedian

5 Questions for Michael Lachowicz

Lachowicz, of Restaurant Michael (64 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka; 847-441-3100) fame, has opened Wally & Agador’s Gourmet Café (3310 N. Halsted St.; 773-325-9664), a 16-seat sandwich place/gourmet takeaway in Boys Town. BTW: Wally and Agador are his two dogs.

D: Where did this idea originate?
ML: Everybody is budget conscious. The best thing to do is take what I know and put it in bread. The Wham Sammich has the same slowly braised lamb shank that I use for ravioli at Restaurant Michael. The beef tenderloin medallions for The Divine Miss M. sandwich is the same tenderloin that I use at Restaurant Michael. This is a great way to get myself introduced to the city without killing myself.

D: Where are you cooking everything?
ML: Everything is produced at Restaurant Michael. I personally bring everything in temperature-controlled coolers, hooked up by battery in my car, three times a week. Right now, I’m in Winnetka putting together all the entrées that I’m going to sell at Wally and Agador’s tomorrow.

D: What are you making?
ML: This week I’m doing medallions of Chilean sea bass in lobster broth. It will be a regular rotation of three or four entrées a week based on the menu at Restaurant Michael.

D: Is the sea bass frozen?
ML: No. It’s fully cooked and refrigerated and has a shelf life of three days. I don’t hold onto anything for more than three days. We also have some retail items, little finishing items for the entrées like raw arborio rice, crimson and green lentils, truffle oil, capers.   

D: Where do you see this going?
ML: I would love to have five of these things in the next ten years. I see less and less Restaurant Michaels and more and more Wally & Agador’s. Restaurant Michael will go merrily along for at least another five years; then the escalation in rent will cause it to be unprofitable, and I will have to make some hard decisions.

Transformer

Merló Ristorante (2638 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-529-0747) is in the process of  morphing into Merló La Salumería, a neighborhood restaurant/shop with a cheese cave, homemade pastas and sauces, and imported meats such as prosciutto, speck, and mortadella. “Our menu has changed,” says Loman Gardner, the general manager. “We have simple product-based appetizers, like prosciutto di parma. Stuffed pastas. Hand-cut, hand-rolled pastas. Signature osso buco. Straccetti di filetto.” Merló’s prices have dropped across the board, and in addition to the recently installed deli case, the space has new banquettes and tables.

Vegan Central

Delicious Café (3827 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-477-9840) is just the kind of honest little coffee house everyone wishes was in their neighborhood. North Center landed the 19-seat spot, run by Chelsea Waldrop and her pro BMX-riding hubby, Kevin Porter. Both are vegans, and the menu is all-vegan—except for the cheese on some of the sandwiches. “Our grilled cheese sandwich is popular for people who eat cheese,” says Waldrop, who doesn’t. “But lots of people seek us out because we are vegan.” Other selling points: homemade goodies; slow-brewed Intelligentsia coffee; pastries from Fritz Pastry, soon to open at 1408 West Diversey Avenue; and a vegan breakfast sandwich involving an English muffin, veggie sausage, a fried tofu “egg,” and soy “Cheddar” cheese ($4.25).

Cheap Things to Do

  1. Celebrate the tenth anniversary of Little Italy’s Chez Joël (1119 W. Taylor St.; 312-226-6479) with $10 entrées from May 9th through 20th.
  2. Experience all four KDK Restaurants (Marché, Opera, Gioco, and Red Light) for $50 on May 7th, when a trolley will take diners to each for a specialty cocktail and signature dish. The crawl begins at 6:30 p.m. at Marché (833 W. Randolph St.; 312-226-8399).
  3. Buy a beverage during story time (3 to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, or Friday) at Smash Cake (2961 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-281-2353), the new café from Michelle and Vinny Garcia of Bleeding Heart Bakery, and get a free cupcake for your kid.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Garry Applebaum, who is happiest while tailgating at Soldier Field before Bears games, has opened Tailgate (1811 N. Clybourn Ave.; 773-857-6644), a 20-seat barbecue restaurant in the U.S. Beer Co. space. . . . In June, Garrett Popcorn Shops plans to open a location in the Merchandise Mart (222 Merchandise Mart Plaza) next to the second-floor el platform. . . . Takashi Yagihashi of Takashi (1952 N. Damen Ave.; 773-772-6170) will appear on NBC’s The Martha Stewart Show at 11 a.m. on May 12th, cooking recipes from his new cookbook, Takashi’s Noodles (Ten Speed Press). . . . After 15 years, Cucina Roma (800 E. Ogden Ave., Westmont; 630-654-9600) ran its course and the new owners are shifting gears from Italian to Latino, and changing its name to Guava. Expect a June reopening. . . . Chicago chefs and journalists had a rough go of it at the James Beard Awards earlier this week. . . . Ballo (445 N. Dearborn St.; 312-832-7700), the Italian restaurant run by the Rosebud group, quietly changed its name to Rosebud Trattoria. “It was a nice name, but it was very hard to market that name off Rosebud,” says Alex Dana, Rosebud’s owner. “It’s working out much better for us now with all the hotels that send us business.”

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