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etta brings the pleasures of the hearth to Wicker Park
Chef Danny Grant is known for his commitment to the freshest and finest ingredients cooked with care and precision. The newest of his concepts, etta, takes this passion to a new level. The restaurant is located at 1840 W. North Ave in Chicago. Just for reference, the restaurant has branded itself as “etta” with a small “e” so this is not a typo.
In French and Teutonic history, the name “Etta” stands for the “keeper of the hearth.” It seems that Chef Grant and his partners asked themselves, “What if we were to create a restaurant that celebrates the history of cooking on a wood-fired hearth?”
Voilà! The magic of etta was born.
Centered around a wood-fired hearth, etta features most of Grant’s personal favorites. With a daily-changing menu of wood-fired pizzas, house-made pastas, and farm fresh salads, etta is a celebration of rustic cuisine. The bulk of the ingredients come from small producers here in the Midwest – highlighting local, sustainable, and delicious options.
I was recently invited to bring a friend to sample some of Chef Grant’s favorite offerings. We started out meal with cocktails (of course). My choice was the Chicago Siesta, a colorful concoction of Banhez Mezcal, Cointreau, Malört, hibiscus, rosemary, and lime. How could I pass up a cocktail that includes Malört? Although this is a complex cocktail, the flavors are distinct and well-layered. If you enjoy a little taste of smoke, a delicate sweetness, and a touch of bitterness on the finish, this is a perfect cocktail for you. My guest opted for the Livin’ on a Pear, a slightly sweeter cocktail with Cointreau, Remy Martin, Chai honey, and pear cider. If you prefer a sweeter libation, this one is excellent and has some lovely complex layers of flavor.
Where should I start on the food? Everything was superb. I rarely say that about a restaurant experience. Normally, there is at least one item that I omit from my review or that I may discuss as being “just OK.” In the case of etta, everything we sampled was extraordinarily good. In general, everything on the menu is designed to be shared, so if you come with friends you should be able to sample a wide array of items.
For starters, my guest and I sampled:
- Fired-baked Focaccia – This looks simple when it arrives, but believe me, it’s anything but average. The focaccia is warm and freshly-baked. On the side, there is a tureen of ricotta honey infused with truffle essence. I often ignore the bread course in a meal, but I’m glad I didn’t ignore this one
- Bubbling Shrimp – What makes them bubbling? It’s simply the idea that they are served immediately after cooking, so the sauce is still bubbling a bit. The sauce – oh, my! Of everything we ate, this was our hands-down favorite. The sauce is a combination of ginger, Chiltepin chile, smoked tomato, and mint. It’s impossible for me to accurately describe the excellence of this dish. After we ran out of ricotta honey truffle butter for the focaccia, we used the rest of the bread to make sure we got every drop of this bubbling shrimp sauce.
- Ricotta Pillows – Delicate, fluffy, bathed in a light truffle sauce. This is melt-in-the-mouth decadence.
For salads, we went for a serving of the Ember-Roasted Parsnips served with brown butter, hazelnuts, orange, and aioli. Just the parsnips themselves would have been tasty, but the intriguing combination of other flavors elevated this one to a whole different level. Even if you are not a huge fan of parsnips, this could change your mind.
No trip to etta is complete without sampling the wood-fired pizzas. We opted for the Classic, a riff on the margherita pizza. This one combines tomato crudo, burrata, olive oil, and fresh basil. We also sampled the Wild Mushroom, a delicious combination of melted onions, goat cheese, black truffle, and raclette. As you might expect, the crust is crispy and well-browned. I prefer thin crust, and these are beautiful versions thin crust pizza. For pasta, one of the most traditional offerings is the Bucatini Cacio e Pepe. No surprise that the pasta is fresh, hand-made, and cooked perfectly al dente.
In the “For The Table” section of the menu you will find the larger, entrée options. One of the signature dishes of the restaurant is called the Pig Picnic. As they say on the menu, “words cannot describe.” A platter of pork (crispy belly and first-roasted shoulder) comes with a literal tower on the side containing hearth bread, lettuce cups, cucumbers, Chimichurri, yogurt sauce, serrano condiment, and a variety of refreshingly spicy things. The idea is to “build your own” lettuce wraps and/or sandwiches, and the variety feels endless. The pork alone is superb, but all of the condiments (freshly prepared) are equally delicious.
As if we had any culinary bandwidth left, we decided to just say “yes” to some dessert. My guest and I shared two desserts:
- Warm Banana Bread Pudding, served with a rum caramel sauce and Chantilly cream. Yes – this was as amazing as it sounds. I don’t love bananas, but I didn’t care because this dessert was perfection.
- Apple Galette served with almond frangipane, honey, and a side of honey-cardamom ice cream. The Galette was lovely, but the star of this dessert is the honey-cardamom ice cream. Take my word for it – just order it and thank me later.
Regularly asking “what if?” opened the door to the creative vision of partners David Pisor, Jim Lasky, and Chef Danny Grant. The original concept, to create an amazing guest experience by marrying the love of great food with dedication to service, has not changed since the flagship restaurant, Maple & Ash opened in 2015. Now, the award-winning portfolio of brands — Maple & Ash, Mavens & Aficionados, 8 BAR, and etta — are the center of a growing hospitality group.
etta is located at 1840 W. North Ave in Chicago, just a couple of short blocks from the CTA Blue Line stop at Damen/Milwaukee and easily accessible to numerous bus routes. The restaurant is open daily for dinner service and both Saturday and Sunday for brunch. For more information call (312) 757-4444 or visit the etta website. You can also follow their social media conversations on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.