Chicago has no shortage of Southern cuisine, but a new restaurant opening in Wicker Park this June will highlight a rarer strain of down-home cooking: The Delta (1745 W. North Ave.) will mine the eponymous Mississippi Delta region for inspiration.
It’s the brainchild of Eldridge Williams, a veteran Chicago restaurant manager (Girl & the Goat, The Promontory, Bangers & Lace) with roots in Memphis. Williams has been developing the concept for several years and will bring it life with the help of two men named Adam: chef/partner Adam Wendt and beverage director partner Adam Kamin.
The intrepid trio is currently in the process of transforming their North Avenue space (formerly occupied by Monarch) into a refined antebellum dining room. Expect around 40 seats, with 30 more on the back patio. Kamin’s drink program will include a rotating roster of eight craft beers on tap, plus some cheaper brews in bottles and cans, a vintage whiskey list, and a small selection of wine and Champagne. The other Adam, meanwhile, is developing a compact menu that draws on classic Delta dishes.
The Mississippi Delta is known primarily for two foods—hot tamales and catfish—and both carry with them an interesting history lesson on the region. Hot tamales were born from an overlap of two cultures. During the Civil War, Mexican migrants came to work the fields of Mississippi so that the local men could go off to fight. Their cuisine later became popular with black laborers in the area, who created their own take on the tamale by subbing in grits or corn meal for masa and simmering them in hot chilies. Wendt’s version will consist of corn milled in the Delta, stuffed with house-made beef brisket. Classic hot tamales can be ordered in threes, while a fancier, garnished “chef-driven” version will be available à la carte.
As for the fish, Wendt has a special dealer to provide him with an authentic, native species from the region. An invasive Chinese catfish dominates the river these days, and these new bottom dwellers have a muddier flavor and oily meat—fine for deep-frying, but not exactly delicate. “True Mississippian catfish—called Mississippi Blues—can only be found pond-raised,” says Wendt. “They’re so light and flaky you can just grill them up with herbs and butter.” And that’s just what he intends to do.