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Al Primo Canto Shutters River North Location; Edgebrook Spot Still Going Strong

We're not sure how we missed this one, but Al Primo Canto quietly closed its River North location after doing a "crazy busy" Valentine's Day dinner service, according to owner George Elbekai. He said that although business was picking up and they increased their numbers each month since opening in April of 2010, it just wasn't enough to keep up with the high rent and expenses.

"We stuck it out for a year over there and it didn't seem like it was our niche," Elbekai said. "We thought we should take our losses early before it was too late. Sometimes you have to make those decisions." So Elbekai will focus his attention on the original location in Edgebrook, which he said is doing well.

One of the big misconceptions about Al Primo Canto is that it's a $50 all-you-can-eat Brazilian place. In fact, it's Italian cuisine prepared in a Brazilian style, which emerged when many Italians immigrated to Brazil in the 1940s, Elbekai said. Al Primo Canto is also great for families and large parties, he added, since they have both an a la carte and prix-fixe family-style menu. The latter, priced at $29.95 a person (and kids under 16 eat free), is one of the best deals around, since it's also all you can eat.

With that menu, tables start with eggplant caponatto and Parmigiana cheese bread; next is a pasta course served with a choice of three sauces; and then come out the meats: chicken, lamb and beef served with mixed green salad, potatoes, fried polenta and seasonal vegetables. Considering the number of tourists that flock to River North, we're really not sure how this place didn't do better.

"We have a great value," Elbekai said. "Our menu isn't expensive and we needed to do the volume to cover our expenses. We had to close our books and move on."
· Al Primo Canto [website]

Al Primo Canto

5414 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, IL