Petterino’s, the Loop restaurant that evokes a bygone age of theatergoing, with its red leather booths and walls covered with caricatures of celebrities who dined there over the years, reopened last week after an 18-month pandemic hiatus, with a new owner, new chef, and an interior restoration.
“Imagine it looking like it did 20-plus years ago, but brand new,” says general manager Stephen Fish.
The menu has also been revamped. Chef Ozzy Amelotti, who cooked at downtown mainstay Italian Village, has upgraded classic dishes: the chicken pot pie is now made with puff pastry, and the ravioli is stuffed with fresh burrata flown in from Puglia, Italy, and covered in pomodoro sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. Amelotti is especially proud of his risotto milanese, which incorporates bone marrow and then stuffs the rice back into the bone. “It’s old and new school right there,” he says.
While the red booths and the walls of caricatures remain, there are significant changes. Crews installed a new U-shaped bar and a “nano wall” that allows for light and air by opening up to the length of the 200-seat dining room. There’s also a new wooden floor and tin ceiling. And in the basement, in what was formerly a banquet room, Windy City Playhouse has set up a small theater which is currently showing the play Recipe For Disaster, written by a fresh-faced rookie playwright named Rick Bayless, who, in his day job capacity, will supply a menu of hors d’oeuvres during the show.
Named for Arturo Petterino, the longtime maitre d’ at Sardi’s in New York and then the Pump Room in Chicago, the restaurant was previously owned by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, which opened it in 2001; it’s now run by the Good Plate Hospitality Group, a new company that was founded just six months ago as a subsidiary of Friedman Properties, the massive real estate company whose holdings include the Goodman Theatre building where Petterino’s is located (Friedman also owns the property where Bayless’ River North restaurants stand). Good Plate’s other restaurants are Nonnina in River North and Taco Nano and the Happ Inn, both in Northfield. Nonnina opened under the stewardship of Piccolo Sogno chef Tony Priolo, but it struggled during the pandemic. Priolo and Friedman — which owns several River North properties — came to an arrangement last year to continue operating. However, Priolo is no longer involved in Nonnina as the chef is concentrating on his two River West restaurants (Maillard Tavern).
Another change is the restaurant no longer offers discounts to Goodman theatergoers.
Both Fish and Amelotti emphasize that the new Petterino’s isn’t just a special occasion, big-night-out restaurant. At lunchtime, Fish says, the restaurant sees office workers as well as tourists. But the old-fashioned touches do add to the charm. “It’s a homemade place,” says Amelotti. “It’s not only a beautiful open space, it’s full of history with food that makes you want to come back.”