Rick Tramonto

One of America’s best chefs launched his career at Wendy’s Hamburgers. It’s been a long road since those early days. Rick Tramonto has worked at Tavern on the Green, Gotham Bar and Grill, and Charlie Trotter’s. He’s opened up some of Chicago’s best restaurants including Brasserie T, Trio and the award winning TRU. If that weren’t enough, Tramonto also writes cookbooks with a John Grisham like frequency, and in 2001 he won the James Beard Award for best Chef Midwest. Instead of resting on his laurels, Tramonto is about to launch four new restaurant concepts including Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood, Osteria di Tramonto, RT Lounge, and along with his long time kitchen partner Gale Gand, Gale’s Coffee Bar. The coffee bar and the osteria are slated to open on October 12th at the Westin Chicago North Shore in Wheeling. We sat down to talk about the new concepts, and as it turns out the Wendy’s beginning isn’t the only surprising thing I learn. Tramonto is remarkably complex, candid, and fascinating. In this interview we talk about spirtuality, family, drugs, divorce, success, the invention of the caviar staircase, and why Mario Batali beat him on Iron Chef.   Advertisements

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The Pillowman

If you locked Franz Kafka, David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club), and Quentin Tarantino in a room and forced them to reinterpret It’s a Wonderful Life, the end result might be a lot like the Steppenwolf’s current run of Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman.”

Don’t Fritter Away this Opportunity

Life might be a journey, but sublime food is a destination, and there’s no better destination than the apple fritter at Old Fashioned Donut. People always ask “what’s the best?”, and the answer is usually a subjective handful of choices. Consider it a lock, like the Daley administrations over the last half century, the Old Fashioned apple fritter is the best. These deep fried and super icing slathered concoctions make Krispy Kreme look like the health food section at Whole Foods. Most apple fritters should be called cinnamon spiced donuts, because if you’re lucky they might have one chunk of apple. The fritters at old fashioned are dotted with toothsume hunks and an orchard’s worth of apple perfume.

Morning Glory

The hashbrowns platter at Hashbrown’s The early morning crowd gathered outside Nookies on Halsted looks like a Boystown rave. I’ve watched people read most of the Sunday New York Times while waiting for a seat at Wicker Park’s Bongo Room. Forget Alinea or Schwa, everyone knows the toughest table in town is Sunday breakfast.

Something Extra Special

Etouffée and all the trimmings at Lagniappe Before it was settled in the nineteenth century, the South Side neighborhood of Auburn Gresham was once flat swampy land. This might explain why some of the best Cajun Creole cooking outside of the arid Louisiana bayou can be found at Lagniappe restaurant on the corner of West 79th and Justine.

Battle Lobster Roll

Red’s Eat’s Lobster Roll Mid-nineties songwriter Juliana Hatfield, whose tune “Spin the Bottle” anchored the Reality Bites soundtrack and Maine’s best lobster rolls have one thing in common: They’re both from Wiscasset, Maine. Unlike Hatfield, who’s undoubtedly the only major songwriter to hail from the sleepy mid-coastal Maine village, there are plenty of roadside stands and seaside shacks serving up lobster rolls. Hungry magazine stopped at two of the best.

Big Max Attacks

Max’s Ghetto Fries Chicago is the land of the obese, the corporate home of McDonald’s, purveyor of deep dish pizza, slinger of fat Vienna franks, and yet we still cede our title of supreme imperial culinary hedonism to Quebec by not adopting poutine, a cholesterol bomb of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.