Restaurants with popular local sports figures in their names are not generally known for fine dining. The draw is stardust—the idea that regular folks can inhabit the same space, sort of, as a well-loved famous person—plus beer, wings and a game on TV. This casually sophisticated 100-seat spot, launched in May, hits all the right sports-bar notes, for sure, but the seriousness of its kitchen makes it stand out. It defies the rules of its genre much as former Cubs manager Joe Maddon, a food and wine enthusiast, defies conventional wisdom about managing baseball teams.
Just a few quick steps from Wrigley Field, it’s the second restaurant Maddon has been involved with (the other one is in Tampa, Fla.), and chef Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, Terzo Piano) is a partner. The menus, developed by Mantuano and executive chef Aaron Thebault (Girl & the Goat, Boka), have more cabbage on them than you see in most Italian restaurants and more pizza than you see in most Polish ones, but the cross-culinary mashup makes a strong case for itself. Everything we sampled was imaginative, tasty and highly appealing. Business lunchers up for something delicious and—dare we say—fun, should take note.
Two enormous wood-grilled oysters (9.00) are zippy with chile, butter, lime and cilantro. A platter of grilled Italian and Polish sausage (22.00) comes with sauerkraut, chow-chow and pickled onions, plus unorthodox but fabulous “warm potato salad” made with crisp-fried spuds. Pappardelle with egg, pancetta, fontina cheese and a glistening melange of cabbage and onions (15.00) is homey and sublime. A weekend brunch menu, similar to but smaller than the lunch list, has its own pleasures, such as an egg-topped veggie polenta bowl (13.00) and an occasional special of smoked trout rillette on sourdough toast ($14). Delicate pierogi (11.00-14.00 for five) are completely winning; a blueberry mascarpone rendition knocks the ball out of the park. Buttery fruit cobbler (10.00), hot from the oven, also makes a rich finish.
Merch emblazoned with “Do simple better” and other Joe-themed graphics (denim tote, 40.00; stemless wineglass, 12.00) are available on-site. You can send some mots of your own to the man via postcards near the host station, where there’s also a mailbox to put them in. Per a staffer: “Joe loves the art of a handwritten note and the emotional connection it makes.”
HOW ABOUT NOW? IS NOW GOOD FOR YOU?
The best time to lunch depends entirely on how you feel about the company of hordes of baseball fans. If you’re not crazy about it, enjoy the easy parking and cold-weather quietude of the off-season, when you can likely walk right in without a reservation.