“People from New Orleans cook with a certain level of passion,” says chef Brian Jupiter. “A lot of people can cook New Orleans food, but to do it the right way, you kind of have to be from there.” Luckily, Jupiter has the proper roots, and he’s showing them off at Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods (1415 N. Wood St., Wicker Park), which started serving New Orleans classics last week.
Jupiter is probably best known for his work at Frontier, the game-focused restaurant in West Town from Pioneer Tavern Group. But this concept has been brewing for a long time; he’s been thinking about a New Orleans–inspired spot for eight years. Some construction issues (a wall collapse, among other things) delayed the project, but it’s now open for business.
The menu intends to take guests on a tour of Bayou cuisine. There are seven different po’ boys, including shrimp, roast beef, and fried oysters, and Jupiter is very particular about how they are made. Not only must the bread be stuffed with protein, but it must have the right texture. “It can’t be a baguette,” Jupiter says. “It has to have a flaky inside but rip away at a bite.” At Ina Mae, the po’ boys are also thoughtfully cut into three portions, so guests can order more than one and share.
Fried seafood is a huge part of New Orleans cuisine, and Jupiter has come up with what he’s calling the Po’ Man’s Seafood Tower, a huge pile of fried shrimp, oysters, crawfish, catfish, and hushpuppies that’s already a best seller. “Fried seafood, to me, is easy to do but hard to do right because you can’t just bread the shit out of it,” says Jupiter. Instead, you have to lightly dredge it, and the chef has created a special breading mix that is on sale behind the bar. Fried chicken is another signature dish on the menu, because, as Jupiter says, “I’ve been cooking it my entire life.”
Beyond these familiar treats, the bar will offer something that hasn’t really hit Chicago before: a New Orleans-style snowball. Its closest cousin from around these parts is a Sno Cone, although Jupiter insists they are not the same thing. “What separates it from a Sno Cone is that the ice is very fine…almost Italian ice-fine,” he says. His kitchen sweetens it with flavors like bubble gum, wedding cake, and strawberry with condensed milk (Jupiter’s favorite). The restaurant is even opening a walk-up window just to serve these refreshing treats.
As for its name, “Packaged Goods” isn’t just there to add some old-timey flair. Jupiter does want to evoke an old-fashioned corner store, but he’s also selling items like homemade hot sauce, alligator jerky, honey, mixes for frying and boiling seafood, and other condiments. He’s also planning to launch a line of canned cocktails to sell.
“Things get so gimmicky when people talk about New Orleans,” says Jupiter. “It’s so much more than Bourbon Street and beads.”