Brik Layer

The well-loved West Rogers Park Italian spot La Cucina di Donatella closed in 2008, but the chef/owner, Donatella Majore, is back, this time with a partner, Paolo di Costanzo, for the upcoming Donatella Mediterranean Bistro (1512 Sherman Ave., Evanston; 847-328-7720), slated to open in May. The most popular dishes from La Cucina will resurface, including the lasagne, white ragù with lamb and turkey, and pasta with white mushrooms and Savini truffles. In addition, some new items demonstrate why “Mediterranean” is in the name: vegetable couscous, and brik, the Tunisian breakfast of eggs wrapped in phyllo. German pancakes and Key lime pie muddy the Mediterraneanness of it all, but who wants to be a stickler? “It’s time to have fun,” Donatella says.


“If I go down for anything in history, I would like to be known as the person who convinced the American people that catfish is one of the finest eating fishes in the world.” –Willard Scott (1934- ), American catfish advocate and weatherman

Swine Wave

In case you thought the pork trend was over, think again: The Piggery (1625 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-281-7447) opened April 22nd on the outskirts of Lake View. “Ribs are the key,” says Ken Pospiech, a co-owner who also was a partner in The Lucky Platter in Evanston until recently. The slow-cooked, falling-off-the-bone baby back ribs recipe originated with Biasetti’s, the iconic neighborhood spot at the same location two restaurants ago (between was Cordis Brothers Supper Club). The Piggery also serves a mushroom cap stuffed with Asiago and pork sausage, jalapeño poppers wrapped in bacon, pork pot roast, grilled pork tenderloin, and “pigs on a stick,” which are barbecued pieces of rib meat, roasted and grilled, and on a stick. Hogmania sits well with us, but we’re still waiting for our dream pigstaurant, the perfect terminological confluence of talented chef and porcine parts: Trotters.

Victim of Success

Follia (953 W. Fulton Market; 312-243-2888) closed April 26th. Bruno Abate, the chef and owner, on the closing:

“I think since I opened [Follia], a lot of people started to understand that Italian food is completely different than the chicken parmigiana and all the chicken Vesuvio. . . . We bring in the oven, then everyone came out. Spacca Napoli, all those people, now [Chicago has] over ten pizzerias with those ovens. Piccolo Sogno, Quartino, Ciao Pizzeria. And look at Nella Pizzeria. All these people, they are growing now. . . . I am sad. Follia was my baby for my wife and me, but it’s good to move on. A good run. Eight years. . . . I’ll concentrate on Tocco and my future gastronomia. I will be probably in the Loop, about 2012, with Momento.

He Said It

“On Alineas fifth birthday [May 4th], we plan to announce two new projects that we will open this year. I can’t say more than that now.” –Grant Achatz, the chef of Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St.; 312-867-0110), which was recently named the best restaurant in North America on the influential S. Pellegrino list

Sweet New Gig

“I was just looking for something with a little more work-life balance,” says Suzanne Imaz, who this week started working as the pastry chef at Labriola Bakery Company, after stints with Martial Noguier at both Café des Architectes and One Sixtyblue. (At CdA, she created the dessert pictured on the cover of Chicago’s November 2009 issue.) Imaz will make sweets mainly for the café (3021 Butterfield Rd., Oak Brook; 630-574-2008), says Rich Labriola, but she’ll also consult for the wholesale arm of the business, now well known for its bread. Take note, suburb-phobes: Imaz’s creations will also be available at an upcoming Labriola Bakery Café somewhere near Wabash and Chicago avenues—he hopes to open it early next year.

Vintage 338’s Inventory

What you’ll find at Vintage 338 (338 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-525-0521), a wine bar near Lincoln Park, the park, that opened April 13th:

  • A wine list restricted to 20 picks from Spain, Italy, and France, all available by the glass. “We’re trying to keep it small, simple, and easy,” says Christopher Barkulis, who co-owns Vintage 338 with his father, Tom.
  • A small-plates menu of meats, cheeses, salads, and sandwiches
  • A chef with the outstanding name Blaze Correia. He’s a former sous at the Rockit in Wrigleyville.
  • Seating for about 38
  • Eventually, a patio. “That’s my next call after you,” Christopher told us.

Overhaul Monitor

We’ve noticed the lack of stories about restaurants reinventing themselves in the recession, so it was a surprise when, in a recent interview, we heard “The check average has decreased probably 25 percent at dinner.” The speaker was Russell Bry, a Lettuce Entertain You alumnus brought on at Balagio Ristorante (17501 Dixie Highway, Homewood; 708-957-1650) to give customers a reason to come in more often. Bry’s new pastas and chicken dishes joined the steaks, chops, and marinara-sauce standbys on the menu, and the lower-average-check strategy has succeeded in raising the number of customer visits. “Gross sales are not up yet,” Bry says, “but we will trade more visits for gross sales any day, because that’s what you build off of.”

And Another Thing . . .

It’s curious how change can snowball once it gets set in motion. Ark Café in Wicker Park closed in December 2008 to square things up for a liquor license, then re-emerged this past February as Blue Star Wine Bar (1209 N. Noble St.; 773-278-2233) with new construction, new cuisine, a new name, and all new people, except for the owner, Chris Melody. The chef is Samantha Lysinski, who owned a deli in Park Ridge called Une Petite Marché. Blue Star’s full dinner menu is available Thursday through Sunday until 9 p.m., when the gears shift to tapas. Oh, and they did get that liquor license—20 reds and 10 whites are available by the glass.

Things to Do

  1. Celebrate the French Labor Day on May 1st with a free chien chaud (our term—not actually how the French say “hot dog”) at Brasserie Jo (59 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0800), in the bar area between 5 and 6:30 p.m.
  2. Queue up for the new Sicilian-style slices from Great Lake (1477 W. Balmoral Ave.; 773-334-9270), which Tasting Table reports will be available “when the weather stabilizes.” Might be a long wait.
  3. Watch the Hearty Boys, owners of Hearty (3819 N. Broadway; 773-868-9866) and Hearty Boys Catering, on their YouTube channel.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Rockin’ Taco [1467 W. Irving Park Rd.; 773-975-8226] is basically a non-traditionally authentic casual Mexican short-order place,” says Christian Saenz, a co-owner. The counter-service spot opened February 1st. . . . Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Portillo’s plans to open Honey-Jam Café, a breakfast and lunch spot, later this year in three locations: Downers Grove, Batavia, and Bolingbrook. . . . Aldino’s Market (626 S. Racine Ave.; 312-226-9300) opens today, selling gourmet grocery items and prepared food. . . . Also opened: Pizzeria Serio (1708 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-525-0600), today, and Fountainhead (1968-70 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-697-8204), plans to open today. . . . Reopened in a new location: Sweet Cakes Bakery (901 N. Damen Ave.; 773-772-5771), April 26th.