Animale (1904 N. Western) has gained a reputation for some of the best casual Italian fare in the city. Chef/Owner Cameron Grant has already made his mark with his must-have Animale Burger - an Italian ciabatta bun topped with two juicy Piedmontese patties, creamy fontina cheese, pickles, and “Savage Sauce.”
Beginning this month, he has opened up the restaurant to a series of Chicago’s finest chefs. Each month through October, a chef will craft their own unique burger which will be highlighted on the menu for a full month. The proceeds from this series will benefit Meals on Wheels Chicago, an organization that supports homebound seniors and those with disabilities,
What could be better than helping a worthy charity while enjoying one of the best burgers in the city?
The series kicks off this month (March 2017) with Chef Ashlee Aubin of Salero’s rendition of a lamb burger. I was invited to come in and sample this special burger and I can tell you that it is worth a trip to Animale. The burger, served on Animale’s signature buttery ciabatta bun, consists of lamb, Piedmontese beef, fontina, roasted red onions, bread & butter pickles, Kalamata olive aioli, and bitter greens. The combination of beef and lamb is a nearly perfect marriage that makes the lamb flavor subtle, but still enough to have a unique character. The combination of salty, sweet, umami, and bitter is truly stupendous.
Of course, while at Animale I could not pass up the opportunity to sample some of their other offerings. The pastas are made fresh in-house and, in fact, Animale makes the pasta for its sister restaurant – Osteria Langhe. Don’t miss out on their Signature Dish – Plin. The small, hand-pinched raviolis are stuffed with a combination of goat, sheep, and cow cheese. When you bite into them, they pop with a delightful burst of flavor. The parmesan, butter, and fresh thyme turn this deceptively simple dish into something truly special.
Another simple yet delicious item is the Arancini – fried saffron gorgonzola risotto balls served with a pink peppercorn cream. Equally intriguing are the Pezzi – deep cuts and untraditional pieces of meat. I sampled their version of a Shepherd’s Pie, the Lingua & Coda – oxtail, lambs tongue, spicy garlic marsala, potato-parmesan crust. On my next visit, I plan to try out the Fegato – chicken liver tart, raspberry gelee, hazelnuts, caper berries, golden raisins, celery, and parsley. Wow!
The beverage program, curated by Aldo Zaninotto, consists of a small but carefully chosen selection of beers, wines, and craft cocktails. The idea is to keep things simple, so everything is traditional and uncomplicated. The wine list, for instance, contains only 10 items – one rosé, three sparkling, three white, and three red. The wines are categorized as light, medium, or full. If you try the Lamb Burger, I suggest pairing with the full-bodied Antale red from the Veneto region. The other wines, all Italian (of course), are equally lovely.
Between March and October 2017 you can sample the full menu, but definitely take time to try one (or all) of the special burgers. The full schedule for the Chef Burger Series is as follows:
Ashlee Aubin/Salero – March
Brian Fisher/Entente – April
Dan Pancake/Autré Monde Café & Spirits – May
Chris Pandel/Swift & Sons – June
Craig Fass/Bad Apple – July
Aaron Cuschieri/The Dearborn – August
Hunter Moore/Parson’s Chicken & Fish – September
Scott Shulman/Homestead on the Roof – October
The team behind Osteria Langhe, Cameron Grant and Aldo Zaninotto, created Animale to offer unique and untraditional regional delicacies, handmade pastas, panini, and other creative items. Animale, inspired by the characteristics of an animal – one that feeds itself to survive – features a convenient counter-service ordering system where in turn, the cooks are the actual servers presenting food to and waiting on diners once they’re seated.
Animale is located at 1904 N. Western Avenue, just below the Blue Line CTA stop at Western. For more information on Animale and the Chef Burger Series, visit http://www.animalechicago.com or call (872) 315-3912. You can follow their social media conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.