Via Italy, Scotland, London, Northern Ireland, a cruise ship, and the line at Charlie Trotter’s, the peripatetic Isacco Vitali arrives in the western suburbs at Isacco Kitchen (210 Cedar St., St. Charles; 630-444-0202), which opened at the end of January. Vitali describes his cooking as “more of a fusion cuisine than a real Italian.” For example: “Last weekend, I had frog legs with polenta. I had venison stew, bolognese style. I had snails that were spicy, made with a little habanero and jalapeño peppers. I have homemade ravioli stuffed with veal stew and Parmesan and wild boar bacon, sage, and vodka sauce.” Vitali seems to be settled now in St. Charles, where his wife has a business. He met her when she was a passenger on the ship he was cooking on, bringing new meaning to the word “cruising.”
“A last course at dinner wanting cheese is like a pretty woman with only one eye.” –Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), French gastronome
By day, Knead Marketplace (13 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange; 708-482-7909) is a bakery and deli, serving breakfast and lunch. By night (at least on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays since December), it’s a café. “We change the ambiance a little bit,” says Christopher Spagnola, who owns the place with his wife, Mary Libsch. “We put up café curtains at night in the front window, and we cover the deli coolers, dim the lights, and put little candles on the tables.” The couple snagged La Grange’s first BYO license for the bistro, and they change up the “blue plate specials” on the menu weekly. The permanent dishes include a steakburger, to which you can add pastrami and a fried egg. Remember the old days, when people put lettuce and tomato on their burgers?
Six Questions for Kareem Abdullah
Abdullah operates Dee’s Place (2114 W. Division St.; 312-348-6117), a restaurant and performance space that he hopes will open in about two weeks.
D: Are you the chef and the owner?
KA: Yes. I also have a bachelor’s in music education, and I used to do musicals and operas. I stopped doing it, but all of my friends are in the arts: singers, actors, dancers, choreographers. They are always looking for venues to do stuff.
D: What kinds of performances are you planning?
KA: We are featuring open mic, jam sessions, jazz, poetry, comedy, blues, karaoke, and Motown Mondays. We have private events booked every weekend until we officially open.
D: Are you trying out your cooking on them?
KA: Yes. [On a recent weekend,] we had whole catfish, fried chicken, and ribs. We did green and jambalaya rice and homemade mac and cheese on the side. I made peach cobbler and banana pudding. All from scratch.
D: And all that will be on your menu?
KA: Absolutely. That and then some.
D: Who’s Dee?
KA: My mom’s name is Doris. Denise is my fiancée. To keep confusion down as to whom I named it after, we just called it Dee’s Place. If my mom is here, it’s named for her, and when my fiancée is here, it’s named for her.
D: What if they are both in the building?
KA: Then it’s named after my two wonderful people that I love so much.
The Red (Pepper, not Meat) Planet
We wonder what the fish-eating Norwegians who populated the Logan Square of yesteryear would make of Life on Mars (2910 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-489-6277), a new vegan takeout place—a sliced seitan and hot pepper sandwich probably wasn’t part of their everyday diet. “A lot of vegetarian and vegan places try to do fake meat,” says Adam Paul, the owner, who used to run Atomix, a vegan-friendly coffee shop in Ukrainian Village. “We are not trying to emulate meat. Just going for food that tastes good.” The 1,000-square-foot storefront changes its offerings (black bean hash, garlic eggplant, orange sesame tofu) often, and, says Paul, “We are basically willing to try anything if anyone has any suggestions.”
Three (Floyds) Things to Do
- Clear your calendar for March 17th to maximize the time you’ll have to go online to buy a golden ticket that entitles you to purchase Three Floyds’ Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, a beer available only one day a year at the brewery (9750 Indiana Parkway, Munster, Indiana; 219-922-3565). This year, the day is April 24th.
- Get your Three Floyds with a burger—specifically, one made of beef from Dietzler Farms in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The beer-burger combo costs $10 every Wednesday at Province (161 N. Jefferson St., 312-669-9900).
- Make the banana brioche monkey bread, featuring butterscotch made with Three Floyds Moloko Milk Stout, that Mindy Segal of HotChocolate (1747 N. Damen Ave.; 773-489-1747) demonstrated with Martha Stewart. Or just make the butterscotch and put it on ice cream, which would be way easier.
Three Other Things to Do
- Shift your beer gear to the New Belgium Brewing Company at Quince at the Homestead (1625 Hinman Ave., Evanston; 847-570-8400) on March 12th at 6:30 p.m., when $35 will get you three courses with beers, including their well-known Fat Tire.
- Pair cheaply with $12 bottles of wine at 312 Chicago (136 N. LaSalle St.; 312-696-2420) from now until March 20th. The deal includes 12 different bottles, as well as some $12 entrées at lunch and dinner.
- Thank your lucky stars that diet food has made some major strides since 1974.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The second restaurant from George Vlahakis, the owner of Georgie V’s (1137-1139 Church St., Northbrook; 847-753-9638), is slated to open next Monday. It’s called Greek Feast (2784 Dundee Rd., Northbrook; 847-559-1901), and it will be a counter-service spot serving Greek classics. . . . Longman & Eagle (2657 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-276-7110) will now take reservations for parties of six or more from Sunday to Tuesday. . . . At 600 West Chicago Avenue, The Fifth has closed, Kitsch’n River North has been subsumed into the counter-service K-Cafe, and weekend brunch has been discontinued. . . . The Stew reports that the second location of Letizia’s (2460 N. California Ave.) should be open by June. . . . The phone at Horan’s Snug (7218 Madison St., Forest Park; 708-366-5190) has been disconnected. . . . Same for Maple Tree Restaurant (1034 Lake St., Oak Park; 708-848-8267). . . . Congrats to Cibo Matto (201 N. State St.; 312-239-9500), which was named one of Food & Wine’s best new Italian spots. . . . Mina Restaurant (1724 W. Golf Rd., Mount Prospect; 847-364-9400), a new northwest-suburban Egyptian place named after the patron saint of Egypt, is open. . . .This morning, a top FOD knocked on the door of J. Wellington’s (2045 W. North Ave.; 773-687-9142)—which, bafflingly, is nowhere near Wellington Avenue—and was told they were open for business starting today at 11:30 a.m. . . . M Burger (161 E. Huron St.; 312-254-8500) opens tomorrow.