The Delta — the new southern restaurant from a group of Chicago industry vets (whose experiences include stints at Dusek’s, The Promontory, and Girl & the Goat) — should open in early September inside the former Monarch space in Wicker Park at 1745 W. North Ave. The team behind knew it wanted to go Southern but figured Chicago didn’t need another generic biscuits-and-gravy spot. They wanted to get more specific with their dishes, so they hit the “Hot Tamale Trail.”
“There’s an old saying the Mississippi begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends in Catfish Row in Vickburg, Mississippi,” said Eldridge Williams, a Memphis native who has been working on this concept for three years.
With Delta partner/executive chef Adam Wendt (a Dusek’s and Bangers & Lace vet) and beverage manager Adam Kamin (Bottlefork’s former head bartender), Williams went off to explore that part of the world. “The Hot Tamale Trail,” as outlined by the Southern Foodways Alliance website, traced the best tamales along the Mississippi River. During the trio’s gastro-journey, they visited posh hotels (like Peabody Hotel in Memphis) and old southern plantations (like the Hopson Plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi) giving them perspective into the region’s culture and history — culinary and otherwise.
“There’s a lot of deep history and we wanted to respect that,” said Williams, whose father happened to work in a tamale factory in Memphis. The Delta’s 40-seat space offers an additional 38 seats outside and is decorated mainly in antique bric-a-brac with vintage photos reflecting the style of the Delta region.
The menu puts tamales front and center. Tamales, a Latin-American staple, also have an interesting history in the Delta region, which has cultivated its own take on them. Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square, a few months ago, put a similar item on their menu.
Instead of masa, hot tamales from the delta use cush, which is seasoned corn meal that comes from Southern African-American culinary traditions. The tamales are simmered in a spicy tomato broth, and usually filled with beef, said Wendt.
The Delta will offer these in classic and a vegan versions. They’ll will also serve larger, chef-driven tamales as well. The ingredients will change with the seasons, but examples include a tamale stuffed with chicken thigh, and a hot-tamale version of the South Side’s Jim Shoe sandwich (or Gym Shoe, depending on the purveyor). They’ll fill their Jim Shoe tamale with gyro-spiced beef and lamb and top it with pastrami, sweet peppers, giardiniera, provolone, and their house version of the typical sauce served with tamales in the Delta — here called DAF sauce.
Other menu highlights will offer whole fried chicken. That’s a small bird that’s been cooked sous vide and dipped whole into the fryer before being carved tableside.
On the drinks side, there will be a large focus on agave and bourbon. There will be 15 cocktails — including smashes, classics and originals. Instagrammers should take notice of the large-format cocktails served in vintage flower vases. Kamin, however, isn’t afraid to stray from the Delta geography: Customers will also find a plum jerkum — a dry wine made from stone fruit.
The team chronicled their trip by producing a video. Check out more about their experiences below. The Delta should open in September. Keep it here for more coverage.