CooKoo Room Out, Gennaro’s In
Just Like Mama Used to Make
After Aldino’s fizzled within four months, the owner, Scott Harris, flirted with the idea of a college bar, The CooKoo Room. Now, he’s determined to bring tradition back to Little Italy, teaming up with Mary Jo Gennaro to revive Gennaro’s (626 S. Racine Ave.; 312-226-9300), the family restaurant her parents opened in 1959, which shuttered last year. The atmosphere may be less cozy, with about 100 seats, but the food will be the same—which is exactly how Harris, a long-time customer of the original, wants it. “These are all my mother’s recipes,” says Gennaro, referring to a menu that will be chock-full of veal and eggplant Parmesan, braciola (rolled beef stuffed with meats and cheeses, served over pasta), and from-scratch cannoli. The partners are shooting for an early November opening, and Gennaro, who will be in the kitchen as well as at the front of the house, can hardly wait. “I love the business,” she says. “It’s all I know.”
“Sauce, n. The one infallible sign of civilization and enlightenment. A people with no sauces has one thousand vices; a people with one sauce has only nine hundred and ninety-nine. For every sauce invented and accepted, a vice is renounced and forgiven.” –Ambrose Bierce (1842–1913), American satirist.
Beer with David Rekhson and David Blonsky
The dudes behind River North’s Bull & Bear, which always seems to be packed, plan to open Public House in late October, an ambitious tavern at 400 North State Street (the old Redfish space).
D: In one sentence: What will the Public House be?
DR: It’s a beercentric gastropub concept with a heavy emphasis on barbecue and smoked and rotisserie items.
DB: Essentially, we are taking American comfort foods that people grew up on and we are turning them upside down—deconstructed mac and cheese, mini corn dogs with a beer crust.
D: You guys love your beer.
DR: We’re infusing beer into many of the food items: beer-roasted mussels, beer-cheese fondue. Beer will be an ingredient in some of the barbecue sauces in-house.
DB: I’m doing a milk stout root beer float served with house-baked cookies.
D: You’ll have a massive beer list, I take it?
DR: It’s going to be very, very unique and abundant. When all is said and done, we will have close to 100 brands in-house, including a personal house brew made by Goose Island.
D: And the look of the place?
DR: We’re incorporating beer into the design elements as well.
DR: Not in a hokey way but in an interesting way from a design perspective. It will have chandeliers made from Pilsner glasses and an interesting beer wall feature. But I’m not going to get into that.
All Fired Up
The former Sepia chef, Kendal Duque, shelves dreams of a restaurant all his own (for now, at least) for the opportunity to modernize the decidedly old-school Chicago Firehouse (1401 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-786-1401). We were surprised when Duque left Sepia, but he says that he felt the itch to keep challenging himself once he’d reached the top. After a brief stop at Cuna (1113 W. Belmont Ave.; 312-224-8588), where he coached the business-minded owner on how to run a restaurant, Duque now plans to make his mark at the ten-year-old steak house—Chicago named the Firehouse one of the 20 best steak houses in November 2008—with bright flavors and fresh cooking. The restaurant is also considering aging its own meat, using more game, and butchering in-house, as well as adding more spices, seasonings, and flavored butters. Expect to see Duque’s influence on the seasonal menu by early October. “At the moment, I am acclimating to the way the kitchen operates,” he says. “I have a lot of energy and am raring to go.”
Pollack’s First Impression of Vincent in 124 Words
There is something oh-so-charming about a bistro tucked away on a neighborhood side street. Take Vincent (1475 W. Balmoral St.; 773-334-7188), formerly La Tache. With its few cosmetic changes, the year’s most original menu—maatjesharing shot (crab salad), snert (pea soup), borenkool met worst (kale with smoked sausage)—and the city’s friendliest staff, this new Dutch boîte had me at “Are you too cold under this vent?” My bowl of zaansemosterdsoep recalled the signature mustard soup at Ludens in Amsterdam, so I expected more from the moules frites portuguesa (plentiful but puny mussels). The straightforward grilled lamb burger stuffed with roasted garlic and mint butter, however, reeled me back in. Best of all: I can’t think of another place where the owner double-checked to make sure we were warm enough.
He Said It
We are installing some soundproof ceiling tile. Should be done by the end of next week. –Giuseppe Scurato, upon hearing that people don’t want to come to his wonderful Italian restaurant, Ceres’ Table (4882 N. Clark St.; 773-878-4882) because it’s too noisy.
On the Blog
The mobile food trend keeps on trucking.
• Penny tries grilled chicken skins and yuzu cake at Chizakaya.
• Think outside the bone at Chicago Q.
• Aaay! Double thumbs-up for Urban Burger Bar, whose patties are worthy of the Fonz himself.
• At least one Gold Coast restaurant—in this case, Feast Restaurant and Bar—has figured out fair pricing.
• Go to Vincent for the party, stay for the mustard soup.
Follow Penny on Twitter.
Things to Do
1. Put “brinner” in your lexicon at Wave (644 N. Lake Shore Dr.; 312-255-4460), where the chef, Kristine Subido, offers a five-course breakfast-for-dinner tasting menu with wine pairings for $35 on September 16th. Reservations are required; diners leave with a full stomach and a homemade Pop Tart for the next morning.
2. Score big every Wednesday (starting today) with a $38 four-course prix fixe menu at Takashi (1952 N. Damen Ave.; 773-772-6170). The menu changes weekly, but the savings should always be around $15.
3. Order mussels at any of the 15 independent restaurants—including Café Matou (1846 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-384-8911) and Mizu (315 W. North Ave.; 312-951-8883)—that are adding bivalves to their menus for the sixth annual Mussel Festival, which runs September 17th through 30th. Visit chicagooriginals.com for a list of participants and to purchase a $25 coupon that’s good for $50 of food.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Fred’s (15 E. Oak St.; 312-596-1111) introduces an after-5 bar menu, including a trio of mini drumsticks with dipping sauces, salmon rillettes, and layers of grilled veggies topped with goat cheese and balsamic—all for $6 each or three for $15. . . . It’s a girl! M.Henry (5707 N. Clark St.; 773-561-1600) has a new little sister named M.Henrietta (1133 W. Granville; 773-761-9700), and she’s serving up not only the much-raved-about brunch but also a full-fledged dinner menu. . . . David Carrier tells Dish that he is mulling his options after parting company with Kith & Kin (1119 W. Webster St.; 773-472-7070) last weekend. . . . Evanston gained a leg up on Chicago on the food-truck front Monday. . . . WaterShed (601 N. State St.; 312-266-4932) opens in the basement of Pops for Champagne (312-266-7677) on September 16th, offering craft beers, regional spirits and wines, and $3 small plates.