Chicago will finally have its own free-standing restaurant dedicated to meatballs in March when Mondo Meatball rolls into Wicker Park.
The 60-seat eatery will take over the former Azzurra space at 1467 N. Milwaukee Ave., which DNAinfo first reported. Azzurra closed Dec. 31.
Owner Dean Casagrande says the restaurant will feature global flavors: Classic Italian and European, Korean soy barbecue sauce, Thai peanut sauce, Middle Eastern and Latin American offerings. Special meatballs include chicken and bacon balls with guacamole salsa. There will also be veggie and gluten-free options.
"Almost four years ago, 'single-item focused' places of all types were taking off, and I'd always made Italian meatballs my friends loved," Casagrande wrote via email. "I thought 'why not meatballs?'"
Given the global flavors, Casagrande hopes to feature international soccer matches at the restaurant (the TV won't be on all the time Casagrande stresses).
Casagrande took cues from New York's popular The Meatball Shop. The six-location chain opened its first restaurant in 2010. "They do a great job and keep it sharp and focused," Casagrande wrote. "We'll do some things differently, of course have a more international focus, and hope to be a worthy addition to the meatball world."
Chef John Sullivan (formerly of Boka and Custom House) is at the helm. Customization is an important feature for the concept, as customers can make salads, sandwiches or bowls. Pastas, polenta and mashed potatoes will also be available. They'll serve wine and craft beers and Black Dog Gelato for dessert.
Casagrande, a Chicago ad executive who's opening his first restaurant, will feature family recipes that trace back to the Puglia region of Italy.
"When I started thinking about the idea I went to a few good friends in the business here in town and bounced it off them," Casagrande wrote. "They were supportive from the beginning, introduced me to good people and helped me think about the idea from scratch. Four years later, I'm learning something new every day."
UPDATE: As a valiant commenter pointed out, Mondo would be the second-meatball-centric entry in Chicago. The Original Meatball Vault opened in October among the eateries inside Chicago's French Market. Still, Mondo would be the city's first free-standing meatball restaurant.