Twenty five years ago in this town of red sauce Italian-American food a revolution was about to start. A small storefront on Clark Street, in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood would bring forth one of the pioneering efforts in regional Italian cuisine. Mia Francesca was born, and today it has grown into a restaurant empire spanning both city and suburbs. Ask any Chicagoland resident, and chances are they have dined at a Francesca's restaurant at least once or twice. The original Mia Francesca still draws a crowd most every night of the week, having become a staple and a neighborhood favorite. That, my friends, is staying power! To celebrate such an accomplishment, the original menu of yore is being served at all locations through the month of February. Mia Francesca on Clark is also rolling prices back twenty five years for one day only on February 27th. This originally priced opening menu is included for you above.
From Caesar salad, perfect in its simplicity to an Italian twist on gelato filled profiteroles, I recently had a chance to sample the original dishes at Francesca's Bryn Mawr location. I am happy to report that, at least at this location, quality hasn't suffered with age. Pizza crust was wafer thin and crisp, pasta al dente, and veal rosy and juicy. Amid Francesca's signature boisterous vibe my guest and I made our way through the 25 year old menu. We tried something from each section, from appetizers to desserts. Among the starters outstanding beef carpaccio reigned supreme, translucent slices of beef dressed with capers, tomatoes, mushrooms, lemon, olive oil and parmesan. Far from being boring, Caesar salad of crisp romaine came adorned with roasted red peppers, anchovies (on request) and zesty housemade dressing. Our pizza of choice, Napoletana, was topped with roasted cherry tomatoes, provolone, parmesan and fresh arugula. "Where is the sauce?" My dining companion frowned at first. However, the acidity of cherry tomatoes more than made up for saucelessness in my opinion. Audibly crackling wafer crust was definitely the star.
We ordered a half portion of the infamous Linguine all'Arlecchino topped with generous helping of seafood. Word to the wise: all pastas can be ordered as half portions here, however there is a $3 charge to do that. Order the whole serving and take home the leftovers. Just sayin'. A tangle of al dente linguine supported shrimp, scallops and clams in spicy light tomato sauce. The main event for us was Vitello Sassi, tender veal medallions with artichokes and mushrooms in brandy sauce. An interesting combination of flavors, it was well prepared and split for us in the kitchen, a nice touch. Cappuccinos and excellent gelato stuffed profiteroles concluded the evening.
What can I say? Some things become classics for a very good reason. Francesca's does classics well, with precision. If any of you clamored for a seat, waiting for hours at the original location, this menu will certainly remind you of why you did. Memories are made around the table at Francesca's still, amid the din of happy diners, tucking into the solid Italian fare. An uncomplicated predominantly Italian wine list offers the opportunity to linger over Vermentino or Super Tuscan. In our fair city, which has become a gourmet destination for many, Francesca's Restaurants are still relevant and thriving 25 years later. Grab a table, a menu and find out why.
Happy birthday, Franchesca's! Opened 25 years ago on Valentine's Day, you will always be a Chicago favorite. Pass the pasta. Mangia! Mangia!
Original menu is offered at all locations through the end of February for current prices.
Mia Francesca at 3311 N. Clark will roll back the prices for one day only on February 27th, 2017.
The Local Tourist dnner for two was compliments of Francesca's Restaurants.
Photos courtesy of Bettie Bomb PR and by Gourmet Rambler.