Tim and Rebekah Graham are obsessed with old spiral-bound cookbooks, the kind sold at church bake sales and ladies’ club fundraisers that are full of recipes for classic Midwestern fare (and, occasionally, a lot of Jell-O and cottage cheese). That shared love, plus a desire to strike out on their own after two careers working for large restaurant groups, fuels Twain (2445 N. Milwaukee Ave., Logan Square), their new spot opening later this month.
The Grahams bring impressive resumes to Twain: Tim ran kitchens at Tru and Travelle, while Rebekah spent the last several years as the beer and wine director at The Publican. “I kept mentioning to Tim that we should do our own place—it took a lot of prodding,” Rebekah says. They were finally inspired by both an extraordinary meal at Joe Beef in Montreal and a eureka moment on the couch one night. “On our second or third date, he pulled down this 1950s cookbook from an oven company, with a note on the cover saying ‘Almost anything can be wrapped in bacon and enjoyed,’ ” Rebekah says.
Not everything at Twain will be wrapped in bacon, obviously, but that old-fashioned sensibility is sprinkled throughout the menu, as are some of Tim’s puns. Dishes like “Pigs in a Blanquette,” made with braised pork cheek, shoulder and tongue, or Clam Casino, comprised of a single large clam, or a take on a sloppy joe made with roasted bone marrow show off the spirit of the place. “We always knew we wanted to do traditional Midwestern food,” said Rebekah. The name comes from the famous author, inspired by Tim’s Missouri roots.
The drinks also take a page from those cookbooks, albeit a bit non-traditionally. “Those spiral bound cookbooks don’t have a lot of recipes with alcohol,” Rebekah says, “but there are a lot of recipes for jam. Anything you can think of, someone has turned into jam.” Recipes like rose, violet, and Queen Anne’s Lace jams inspired the “Jam Jar” cocktail, which will be served out of a jam jar and always rotating (the opening version blends aquavit and marmalade). There’s another punny drink, the “Shrimp Cocktail,” a take on a gimlet garnished with a giant shrimp. “Shrimp is always good with lime,” says Rebekah.
The beer all comes from breweries either in Chicago or running along the Mississippi, and the draft list is almost entirely Chicago breweries. And the wine program is geared towards providing the neighborhood with some bargains on some vintage bottles, with a rotating list of about 70 wines. “A lot of the food we consider Midwestern is German, Swedish, and French, things that have been brought over by the immigrant populations and got passed down without any real recognition,” Rebekah says. With Twain, hopefully some of those Midwestern ancestors will finally get their due.