Matt Maroni's the man with the plan—the proprietor of chicagofoodtrucks.com and a crucial contributor to the proposed local food-truck ordinance, which is currently in the hands of 32nd Ward alderman Scott Waguespack. While he waits for the sausage to get made, Maroni's opened up Gaztro-Wagon, an Edgewater storefront. For now, the namesake truck is parked out back.
Chicago's ripe for street cuisine that pushes the envelope, and Maroni, a former chef at the Mid-America Club, doesn't disappoint, offering "naanwiches" that deserve a citywide airing. Slow-roasted lamb with "gyro fixins" comes piping hot, with tomato, microgreens, a tad of tzatziki, and a dash of cherry vinegar. Roasted belly of wild boar with pickled red onions was overwhelmed by the olives and underwhelmed by fennel, but the roasted chicken thigh with mushrooms and bites of melted Brie was among the most delicious sandwiches I've ever tasted—succulent, deeply flavored, and redolent of fresh thyme.
Cold sandwiches—there's no AC here—include salmon with watercress, creme fraiche, and mache and a lobster-roll naanwich. Deep-fried plantains are sliced vertically and served in a paper sack the size of a coffee bag with chimichurri I relished. Seasonal soups include chilled watermelon and Crenshaw melon with corn and basil; desserts, which we didn't try, include oatmeal cream pies, caramel popcorn, candied nuts, and "macaron mixta," all from Fritz Pastry. We also appreciated the BYO policy and the freely jawing owner and counter guy. Can it be a coincidence that, like the excellent Schwa, Gaztro-Wagon sits dead across from a car wash fixed with plastic palm trees? —Kate Schmidt
It's always been a mystery to me why more South Asian restaurateurs don't explore areas with less competition than the dense Devon Avenue enclave: there are plenty of underserved neighborhoods where the enterprising could make a killing. Brothers Sanjeev and Rajesh Karmacharya (a veteran of Evanston's Mount Everest) have done just that, opening Cumin, a not-atypical Indian restaurant with a typically vast menu that also doubles the number of places in the city where you can try a smattering of Nepalese dishes.
Apart from those—and prices a few dollars higher than on Devon—there's little here that deviates from Devon's white-papered-table Indo-Pak standard. But that's OK—for anyone within a couple miles of the place, it's all about location. Once you're in the door, there's the staggering list of serviceable dishes in lamb, chicken, vegetable, seafood, and tandoori categories, and an army of white-shirted, black-tied, front-of-the-house operatives ready to leap into action anytime anyone's water sinks below the glass rim.
And then there's the short list of Nepalese dishes like chicken momo, steamed dumplings with subtly spiced filling wrapped in a just-too-stiff dough, or aaluko achar, potatoes and pickled cucumber in a nutty sesame-lemon sauce with a side of crunchy chewra, flat "beaten rice." That terrific and novel little snack accompanies four out of the seven Nepalese appetizers and adds a texture I'd be happy to see duplicated in the entrees as well. Those included some fine, gnarly, bone-in meat dishes (two goat, one chicken) and a number of vegetable or legume offerings, including a trifecta of mildly spiced potato, bamboo shoots, and black-eyed peas. I had much better luck on this side of menu than on the omnibus Indian side, where a few familiar dishes turned up dull, cold, and flavorless, making me suspect that maybe the heart of Nepalese chef Min Thapa remains with his homeland. —Mike Sula
I'm all for the advance of specialization: joints that do one thing have a good chance of doing them well. For that reason alone, I was favorably disposed toward Cookie Bar, a 70s-retro cookie shop launched by a pair of ex-Angelenos who catered cookies to make ends meet. The huge variety of regular and rotating cookies, a great many of them variants on the chocolate-chip template, are uniformly thin and uniformly three-and-a-half inches in diameter, with a crisp exterior that breaks on a slightly resistant chew. Classics (snickerdoodles, peanut butter) and innovations (pink pomegranate, black sesame) alike boast quality ingredients, like Saigon cinnamon (aka cassia), Callebaut chocolate, and a house-made vanilla blend, with prices per dozen ranging from $12 to $19, the latter for the gluten-free variety. A restrained hand with sugar results in a preponderance of flavor over sweetness; put that together with their reasonable size and these cookies are all about subtlety, not excess. A handful of vegan and gluten-free varieties are available, milk shots are BSG free, and custom-made ice cream sandwiches can be built around gelato from Palazzolo, based in Fennville, Michigan. —Mike Sula