When Osteria Langhe opened on W. Armitage Ave. in 2014, it was a pioneer of the now-booming new restaurant row in southern Logan Square. The team, made up of owner Aldo Zaninotto and chef Cameron Grant, hopes to now change the fast-casual game with their second Italian concept, Animale, slated to open in late May at 1904 N. Western Ave. across from the Western Blue Line stop. That's the former home of the short-lived Baocos, the fast-casual fusion spot that closed "until further notice" in March.
"When people talk about fast-food concepts, they don't talk about who makes the food," Zaninotto says. He hopes Animale will change that with a counter-service restaurant where the kitchen staff doubles as the wait staff. This comes on the heels of the minimum wage increase and movement for restaurants to eliminate tipping in order to decrease the pay gap between front-of-house and back-of-house employees.
"I feel like the service industry is broken," Grant says. His solution? "The entire team will be based on the culinary — one day a week they are helping with service, others will be spent creating recipes and helping prep. We want it to be interactive. It's not about not offering service; it's about incorporating the kitchen into service. Not that a waiter doesn't know the menu, but the chef actually made the food."
The food will be less regionally specific than Osteria Langhe, which reintroduced Chicago to Piedemonte cuisine, by focusing on Italian street food as well as country-wide classics. The menu will be broken down to four sections: Primi, pastas such as the famous plin with pancetta and English peas; Panini sandwiches, including a carbonara panini with pancetta, peppered onions, and egg; Pezzi, or deeper cuts such as rabbit livers, bacon-wrapped sweetbreads, and blood sausage in puff pastry; and In Piu, or extras. The house pancetta featured on several items will be made fresh daily in a Wood Stone rotisserie that will also slow-roast chicken breast and duck legs.
The name not only comes from the assorted off cuts offered in the Pezzi section of the menu, but also the more literal translation of Animale, "one who hunts for their own food." This motif will be reflected in a fantasy-esque landscape adorning the exterior and several woodland elements inside. Grant describes the design as "sitting in a forest" among wood countertops, etched trees, and possibly even a reclaimed tree trunk in one corner with its canopy painted on the ceiling. Expect to be able to sit in the forest in May.