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A Porch on Belmont, a Diner With a Chef's Touch, and the Return of Frankie J

Transformations

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Cooper's--A Neighborhood Eatery

1232 W. Belmont

773-929-2667

Craig Fass and Mandy Franklin, the owners of Menagerie, have reopened as COOPER'S--A NEIGHBORHOOD EATERY, a considerably more casual place with the same commitment to fresh, seasonal fare. A few Menagerie-era dishes remain on the menu, such as a mushroom tart--still delicious, with a buttery pastry shell--and grilled flank steak, but now equal billing is given to panini-style sandwiches and exotic pizzas like a duck-confit-and-pesto combo. The vegetable panino was stuffed to the gills with arugula, mushrooms, red pepper, and goat cheese, but the proportions were perfect, the red pepper adding a bit of sweetness, and the thin, crispy fries were some of the best I've ever had. For many the real draw of Cooper's will be the selection of more than 65 beers from around the world. On our server's suggestion--"It comes in a can but it's really good"--I tried Wittekerke, a light, fruity white ale from Belgium. The porch has elegant wooden pergolas and suspended flower boxes; live music on Thursdays. --Heather Kenny

Horizon Cafe

3805 N. Broadway

773-883-1565

Owner Nick Cocalis calls the new incarnation of HORIZON CAFE--which reopened earlier this summer after a fire-induced 15-month hiatus--"a little more modern, less snack shop or dinerish." The breakfast skillets and patty melts, padded-booth-and-pie-case decor, and affectionate waitstaff ("Here you are, dear--don't forget to save room for dessert") might suggest otherwise. Still, strange as it seems at a place with Jell-O on the menu, a couple of fine-dining touches show up here and there. Chef John Cocalis, Nick's dad, did a stint in the 90s at Oak Brook's now-shuttered Seabrook Restaurant, where Jacques Pepin toured the kitchen one day; the sauteed stuffed trout Pepin demonstrated there is now a Friday special at Horizon. Another highlight is Horizon's thick, rich tomato couscous soup, available only on Thursdays and worth planning around. Not so the "phenomenal ham and cheese sandwich," which arrived with mealy fries and a congealed look. In diner fashion, customers can get breakfast for dinner here--as well as dinner for breakfast. "Our soups aren't made until about 10, 10:30," Nick says. "But if they want salmon at 8 AM, that's fine." --Anne Ford

The Spot

4437 N. Broadway

773-728-8933

Last fall legal woes and foreclosure forced chef and improv performer Frankie Janisch to close Frankie J's, the casual American restaurant downstairs from his MethaDome Theater. But as of last month he's back at his Garland range. Frankie J's has reopened as THE SPOT, and despite a paint job and a beefed-up wine list, much of the menu remains unchanged. Janisch, a 1986 grad of the Culinary Institute of America, dishes up standards too well executed to be tagged as mere bar food. To begin there's calamari ("the best frigging calamari you've ever had," the menu brags); a mussel "martini" with white wine, rosemary, and lemon zest; or succulent wood-grilled wild mushrooms. There's also a handful of pastas and grilled salmon done four ways (including a tahini-honey glaze with black-and-white sesame seeds), but carnivores may find it difficult to pass up the prospect of a thick, hand-cut steak cooked over mesquite. My Angus strip, a perfect rare, was accompanied by grilled zucchini and excellent, bacony coleslaw made from Janisch's grandmother's recipe. The Spot has a long list of novelty martinis--the Dark-Berry Pie, the Pomegranate Honey Blue, the Pure Indulgence--but leery of jelly bean garnishes, I opted for one with plain old Bombay Sapphire, which the bartender insisted be stirred not shaken. The upstairs theater, renamed the Second Story Basement Bar, is once again hosting improv and comedy shows, but between a juggling barkeep and wisecracking, loquacious Janisch himself, the dining room kept me plenty entertained. --Kate Schmidt

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Rob Warner.

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