Further adventures in free lunch:
I had eaten at Quartino once before, and for a place that fell pretty heavily on the concepted/Disneyfied side at first glance— an imitation old school meat market type place inside a brand new skyscraper, serving as a different sort of meat market for expense account types— I was pretty impressed by the food. And, for that matter, the decor; the thick white tile design and the well-crafted charcuterie and pastas seemed to be doing an equally good job at convincing you there was some genuine heritage to a place that was a hole in the ground five minutes earlier.
This time, it was a lunch PR event for chef John Colletta’s new book, 250 True Italian Pasta Dishes:
In addition to a platter of their house charcuterie, which is very nicely made, we were served a number of dishes allegedly from the book. I say allegedly because, well, there was a definite disconnect between the mass appeal, Better Homes and Garden-ish look of the book and the dishes we were served, which included a lot of ingredients like guanciale or oddly shaped pastas you don’t readily find at the Piggly Wiggly in Huntsville, or even Whole Foods. In fact, the whole affair seemed a bit of a strange meeting of different worlds; the chic, masters-of-the-universe big city restaurant producing a cookbook for an audience that clips recipes from Sunset and Parade, promoting that book by feeding its food to writers from The Onion (that’s who we sat with) and other urban-hip publications. (And sure enough, close examination suggested that the recipes bore only modest resemblance to the dishes we were served— the best of them, a complex bolognese-like pork ragu that bespoke many hours of stewing, seemed to be an entirely different dish from the quick, tomatoey thing pictured, for instance.)
Having attended two of these events (thanks to Mr. Hammond) with roughly the same crowd of local food niche media, I continue to wonder, does this kind of PR make sense? Is a message reaching any sort of target market for this book (obviously the kind of urban-hip people who buy chic-looking Italian cookbooks like this one will judge Colletta’s by its middle-America cover)? It seems like these folks get invited out for things like this because they are the folks you can get to turn out for an event like this (and I saw many of the same hearty eaters from my last adventure in PR events). But with the media changing so rapidly, I really wonder if the way of really reaching the audience for this book, whoever they are, hasn’t changed too— or should, anyway.
But to return to me heartily stuffing my face… authentically from the book or not, several of the dishes were outstanding, particularly that pork ragu with orrechiete. I came home with the book, but mainly it made me interested in returning to Quartino sooner than the next Super Bowl with Chicago in it.
The Hearty Boys are caterers. The Hearty Boys had one restaurant, HB, now sold to somebody else. The Hearty Boys are gay. The Hearty Boys had a TV show for one season. One of the Hearty Boys introduced me at the Printer’s Row Literary Fest earlier this year.
That concludes a complete inventory of my knowledge about the Hearty Boys, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, before I was invited to a party at their house for 1) an artist who used to work for them, Matt Lew, and 2) their new upcoming restaurant, Hearty. They knew even less about me, I’m sure.
In any case, I had a pleasant time chatting with assorted food industry and food media folk while noshing on assorted catering stuff that, again, was alleged to represent what was going to be offered at the restaurant when it opens on November 4. Hard to tell from such little noshes what entrees will really be like… but I gotta say, they’re very good caterers. The stuff was all fresh and lively, not merely generic alcohol-soaking stuff, nasty little puff pastry bites or stuffed mushrooms or whatever. (The most interesting item: an assortment of hardboiled eggs stuffed with various things like beets; this actually will be an item at the bar, a rather ironically named egg “flight.”) And nothing wrong with the alcohol either… they were primarily mixing Aviation and Brown Derby cocktails, and I like the idea of focusing on classic retro cocktails a lot.
So: I wouldn’t say I came away with too clear an idea of what they’ll be serving, but I will be interested to see when they open next month. As for the social side of the party-Hearty… I remember reading a book where a Russian emigre to the hipster scene in early 80s New York comments that “American men were all so neatly dressed that I thought they were all gay!” At this party, I definitely felt like I was standing up for the traditional heterosexual values… of rumpledness and schlubdom.
Edzo’s Burger Shop
Eddie Lakin, LTH poster, blogger here and here, and chef here and there, is opening a burger place in Evanston. You can read all about it at the second of those two links. No, really, you should. It’s pretty interesting, reading all the mundane but nerve-wrackingly necessary stuff that goes into making a restaurant happen. I talked with Eddie about the possibility of chronicling his progress toward Burgerdom as a Sky Full of Bacon podcast, but we were both too busy to be in each other’s faces for the amount of time it would have taken to do that, so go read his blog and gain a new appreciation for what it all takes.
Anyway, by now he may just be a few days from opening, but last week I went up to his place to try what he was making and offer feedback as he worked at training his staff (Mexican cooks he inherited from the space’s previous incarnation as a pita and hummus joint) in the finer points of burgerdom. What’s going to be really cool about Edzo’s is that he’s really studied the different classic burger styles that exist around the Chicago area and is aiming for, yes, exactly the kind of fresh meat, thin patty burger that a certain blogger posted about here, among other places. Here you can see how he’s going for the Schoop’s-like crisped lacy edge:
It was still a work in progress as of last Tuesday, but I offered my feedback (as did the others there that day) and I think Eddie’s well on his way to changing the burger paradigm on the frozen-burger-puck-plagued north side. There are lots of little signs of his personality and willingness to try new fun things at Edzo’s, and of the many new, quality-burger joints to have opened in the last year or so (Five Guys, Counter, Epic, etc.), I think Edzo’s will be the one that defines a particular Chicago style and has the potential to be the Hot Doug’s of burgerdom. I can’t wait!
Edzo’s Burger Shop
1571 Sherman Ave.