Category: Italian Food

The New Normal

While no one can accurately predict what the long range economic effect of the Coronavirus will be on the restaurant industry, individual owners and restaurant groups agree that change is a certainty. After a career in banking, Julia Zhu, together with partner and veteran restaurateur Howard Davis, opened Bar Roma, a casual Italian restaurant in... Read more »

Dough and More Dough

Dough Carbohydrates are taking a hit. And so, as a veteran contrarian and long-time aficionado of artisanal loaves and crispy crusts, I'm  planning to celebrate  the dough-focused expertise of as many local bakers as possible. At a time when thin (as in pizza) is in, Labriola Cafe is making waves with the introduction of a “white” deep dish pizza. It’s topped with béchamel sauce-as opposed to tomato sauce-and even if you normally favor a thin—crust pizza topped with a flawlessly seasoned tomato sauce, Labriola Cafe’s newest addition is definitely a “don’t miss.”  In my not-so-humble opinion, a pizza is only as good as the dough used to make the crust, and Rich Labriola, the owner of Stan’s Donuts, Labriola Bakery & Cafe Oak Brook, Labriola Chicago, and  two La Barra restaurants (Riverside, Oak Brook),  knows dough. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say he’s been knee deep in dough since he was a kid, first in his father’s carryout pizzeria and then in his own bakery, restaurants and donut shops. Labriola’s pizza dough, which is similar to a bread dough, typically ferments for 48 hours, ample time to develop  the dough's flavor and elasticity. What’s especially interesting about the crust used for the new deep dish pizza is the relative airiness of the bottom crust.  [caption id="attachment_3241" align="aligncenter" width="300"]the new white pizza the new white pizza[/caption] “Deep dish pizzas are usually made with a veritable mountain of dough,” Rich observes. “ An airier dough gives diners an opportunity to focus more attention-and appetite- on the toppings.” Labriola’s newest pizza is topped with béchamel sauce (cream, butter, flour- lest you’re thinking ‘light’), apple-smoked bacon, shredded chicken, caramelized onions and a mix of Romano and mozzarella cheeses that trails after the slice when it’s lifted out of the pan. [caption id="attachment_3250" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Stan's Donuts don't leave without one Stan's Donuts
don't leave without one[/caption] Good as it is, deep dish is only one of the varieties served at Rich Labriola’s restaurants. The “Signature Artisan Pizza” has a “crispier” crust complete with “large air bubbles,” while the “Chicago Thin Crust” has a “perfect” ratio of crust, sauce and cheese.” The restaurant also does deep-dish, red sauce-topped pizzas finished-like all of the other pizzas- with a choice of veggies, cheeses  and proteins. Should you have any room left after sampling Labriola's pizza, stop in at the adjacent Stan's Donuts. As always,  I'm especially partial to any variety topped with chocolate. Labriola Chicago, 535 N Michigan Avenue  312.955.3100, LaBarra-Riverside, 2 E. Burlington Street, LaBarra-Oak Brook, 3011 Butterfield Road, Oak Brook More Dough Delightful Pastries and Sicilia Bakery, the first Polish and the second Italian, are virtually neighbors. Both supplement their baked goods with savory specialties, but their repertoires rarely-if ever- overlap.  Delightful Pastries [caption id="attachment_3243" align="aligncenter" width="300"]paczki just out of the fryer paczki just out of the fryer[/caption] Paczki is a Polish, must-have pastry traditionally eaten on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which was two days ago. Not a problem. Delightful Pastries makes paczki year 'round, so fans can indulge their craving even in May or October. [caption id="attachment_3245" align="aligncenter" width="300"]paczki filled with whipped cream and strawberries paczki filled with whipped cream and strawberries[/caption] Paczki is made with a rich, yeast-raised dough that's deep-fried rather than baked. The warm pastry is dipped in a light glaze and then filled-much like a donut or Bismarck - with custard, curd or fruit jam.  [caption id="attachment_3247" align="aligncenter" width="300"]glazed paczki glazed paczki[/caption] At Delightful Pastries, owner/ head baker Dobra Bielinski likes to tweak tradition, so fillings like salted caramel and coconut are frequently available, as are  filling made  with a splash of Bacardi rum, Jameson whiskey, or Neilsen-Massey vanilla. img_6706In addition to paczki, Delightful Pastries does blueberry cake, German chocolate cake, and a Polish-style cheesecake (all sold by the slice), along with cookies, pastries and wonderful breads made-at least in part- with rye flour. Most of the breads are made without dairy, eggs, or sugar, and some are also gluten-free and vegan. [caption id="attachment_3266" align="aligncenter" width="300"]blueberry cake blueberry cake[/caption] The bakery's refrigerator and freezer cases are packed with pierogi and various fillings  soups, conserves, jams, and a lot of specialty breads. While all of these items obviously freeze well, paczki are best eaten the day they're made, so shop accordingly. And FYI-if you're buying paczki, buy an extra one or two to eat while you drive home. Trust me;  you'll be glad you did. Delightful Pastries, 5927 W Lawrence Avenue.  773.5457215 Sicilia Bakery [caption id="attachment_3259" align="aligncenter" width="300"]the pastry case at Sicilia Bakery the pastry case at Sicilia Bakery[/caption] Sicilia Bakery opened in 1968, three years after owner Joe Pecoraro  emigrated to the United States. Already a veteran baker, he opted to feature baked goods from all over Italy, favorites like cannoli (filled with cream and pistachios or cream and chocolate chips), biscotti, almond cookies, and lemon knots. [caption id="attachment_3257" align="aligncenter" width="300"]the deli at Sicilia Bakery the deli at Sicilia Bakery[/caption] On the savory side, there's arancini filled with beef and peas, spinach and ricotta, or  ham and cheese, in addition to a deli stocked with sliced meats, salumi, and cheese. Sicila's pizza, which is available by the slice, is made with a sturdy crust that travels well and can easily be reheated. [caption id="attachment_3262" align="aligncenter" width="300"]arancini and pizza arancini and pizza[/caption] Sicilia  Bakery, 5939 W Lawrence Avenue  773.545.4464 *** Bits Harbor Harbor restaurant's new Happy Hour menu, available Sundays through Thursdays from 4-6pm, includes wine ($5), beer ($5) and Tom Collins and Daquiri cocktails ($6), along with a menu of munchies ranging from empanadas and ceviche to falafel and sliders. Harbor, 1312 S. Wabash Ave. *** III Forks On Wednesday, March 4, III Forks Prime Steakhouse in Lakeshore East, is hosting a "Sommelier for a Day" wine tasting featuring a sampling of six Spanish wines paired with select hors d'oeuvres. The event, which runs from 5-7 pm, is $25. III Forks Prime Steakhouse, 180 N. Field Blvd. 312.938.4303 *** Le Sud Le Sud, a French-Mediterranean restaurant in Roscoe Village, is hosting the first in a series of monthly movie nights on Wednesday, March 25 from 7-9 pm. Screenings ($20), held in the restaurant's second floor private dining space, will include a glass of wine and popcorn. The films, typically French, will be presented with subtitles. On Wednesday nights, the restaurant also features a three-course prix-fixe menu ($36), which moviegoers can sample before, during, and after the movie. Le Sud, 2301 W. Roscoe Street. 773.857.1985 *** Torali, Italian Steak Torali, Italian Steak at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago is celebrating this year's extra day -Saturday, February 29- with an entree and a glass of wine for $29. Torali, Italian Steak at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago *** Pilsen Restaurant Week is March 1 -7.      ...

Graze, The French Market, North Pond and Bits

Graze Until I tasted the oat milk cappuccino with vanilla at Graze (1632 W Division), I’d summarily dismissed all of the alternative milks, juices and waters. But as I reminded myself, there’s a growing market out there that embraces these same options, and if I’m going to write about the current food scene, I have... Read more »

Add This To The List

l’Aventino Forno Romano Chicago used to have two kinds of pizza: thin crust and deep dish. Anywhere that isn’t Chicago still refers to deep dish as “Chicago-style,” but that’s a misnomer. Thin crust pizza in more variations than you can count on two hands is where the now-crowd is, and the newest of the new... Read more »

Anatomy Lessons

Anatomy of a Wine Dinner Italy produces and exports more wine than any other country. There are more vintages (a year or period of origin) in Italy than there are in any other country. Terroir (climate, elevation, terrain) varies, and the wines from one area won’t be the same as the wines from another region,... Read more »

The World's Second Cuisine

After an excellent weeknight dinner at Coarse Italian, a new, locally owned restaurant in Glenview, I started to think about the steady increase in the number of Italian restaurants. The following weekend, I had dinner at Bacchanalia in the old Italian neighborhood on Oakley on Friday, followed by dinner at Gusto Italian Restaurant in suburban... Read more »