Fried pork chop with chicken and mashed potatoes with chive butter.
Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet
With each new spike in infections, it’s clear the COVID era will be with us a little longer, but you can already tell that chefs and restaurateurs have formed strong opinions about what their customers seem to want (or don’t want to) after subsisting on pantry recipes and packets of ramen in their dark apartments. Affordably priced, comfort-focused home cooking is clearly all the rage (unless you’re a member of the increasingly stealthy thousand-dollar underground). omakase sushi-bro set), and if you have a beloved family cook to name your new business, even better. Talented Cantonese American chef Calvin Eng named his excellent new Williamsburg brewery after his mother (Bonnie’s), and Victoria Blamey, in her excellent new downtown restaurant, honored her Chilean great-aunt (Mena).
Come now At Patti Ann’sGreg Baxtrom’s wacky and somewhat stuffy tribute to his Midwestern childhood (Patti Ann is his mother and he grew up outside of Chicago), which opened a few months ago on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, not far from the other popular Baxtrom Restaurants, Olmsted and Yaki House. The room is decorated with all manner of antique school touches (pencil color menus, slates and maps on the walls, milk jugs filled with water at each table). The sturdy, wood-covered tables are the kind you might see in a kindergarten classroom, the menu is filled with kids’ favorites (pigs in a blanket, macaroni and cheese), and even the $15 cocktails have been named (Field Trip, Ditch Day, Parent Teacher Conference) to discuss the kind of Ferris Buller daydreams we all remember (though perhaps never experienced) in high school.
“I can’t tell if this is meant to be satire or not,” someone said as we announced our drink choices to the waiter, who was dressed, like a Midwestern barbecue, in a neatly tied apron. at the waist and blue denim shirt. Baxtrom is a classically trained, top-flight chef, however, and as the dinner party progressed, it quickly became clear that his idea of ”home cooking” is a little different from your average mom in the house. Chicago suburban wilderness. I’ve never been a big fan of cheddar cheese balls, but the one we tasted here was topped with port, among other tangy things, and served with a stack of warm, crunchy crostini. The homemade mac and cheese is bombarded, for good measure, with overwhelming amounts of Swiss-style raclette, and the fat pastry pig in a blanket has deposits of gourmet belly bacon instead of the usual processed pork dog.
“It’s mom’s cooking like mom’s never did,” our cheerful waitress said as she delivered a crispy chicken fried pork chop topped with a single lemon wedge and a small round to our table. duck meatloaf sweetened with a bit of cherry ketchup molasses. Any form of chicken-fried pork has its charms as far as I’m concerned, but after three or four bites of this rich creation, even the most rabid American table-side frying aficionados were gasping for air. “I don’t know if I can finish this,” said the poor soul who ordered the modestly-portioned (and generally delicious) meatloaf, though it’s unclear if it was because of the interpretation. gourmet of the dish or because its constitution for this kind of amplified food is not what it was before the pandemic.
The answer to these questions, we found, as one relentlessly tasty recipe followed the next, is probably a bit of both. My Caesar salad was drowned in too much dressing and cheese, and instead of Mom’s simple Sunday roast chicken – or any number of roast chickens being served in restaurants around town in these comfort times – the chicken Patti Ann’s Roast “Royale” is a confusing amalgamation of chicken cooked in so many different styles (fried, confit, baked) that none manages to register significantly. The same goes for a technically interesting Cobb salad “dip” that involved all the classic Cobb salad elements (rows of bacon, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, etc.) layered not on a bed of lettuce but on some kind of foam. which appears to be designed for dipping raw vegetables, although after a dip or two our group of tasters politely put it aside.
With the exception of the eerily realistic reimagining of a gloomy Midwestern shrimp cocktail, I’ve never tasted a bad thing during my visits to chef Baxtrom’s oddly twee new restaurant (yes, diners get “tickets”) at the end), but the menu could have used a bit of mom’s old-fashioned twist along the way. Aside from those first two bites of fried pork chops, my favorite dishes were the short rib roast (call it the chive butter mashed potatoes to go with it) and a simple cedarwood smoked salmon plank. and rolled in a dusting of saline. The kid-friendly dessert list includes chocolate and peanut butter bars and a frosty root beer float (poured with Chicago Dad’s Root Beer), though if you ask for the mammoth, as one might wait there, the delicious Cherry Cobbler, plus four more scoops, you (and your family of five) won’t need dessert for at least a week.