Rose Mary, Top Chef champion Joe Flamm’s hotly anticipated Italian-Croatian restaurant in Fulton Market, has been packed with patrons since it opened — a fact Tribune co-critic Nick Kindelsperger attributes more to Flamm’s celebrity rather than actual food coming out of the kitchen. Despite the chef’s years at acclaimed Italian restaurant Spiaggia, the region is poorly represented by “stodgy” zucchini fritters, “plodding” pesto risotto, and rigatoni so loaded with buffalo milk butter that it resembles a “kids’ menu offering of buttered noodles.”
Bright moments do shine through, especially in the menu’s Croatian-inspired offerings. Flamm’s tortellini djuvec — based on a Balkan dish of red pepper, eggplant, and zucchini — features “layer upon layer of comforting complexity, which seems to envelop the filled pasta with a generous hug.” The baby octopus cooked in a lidded pot topped with hot embers is “delicate, with no sign of rubberiness,” and grilled cevapi provide a delicate smokiness atop lepinja (a thick flatbread) with kajmak (tangy, unripened cheese). Kindelsperger also praises the drink options, including a golden negroni and selection of Croatian wines. Overall, he gives the restaurant one-and-a-half stars.
For Kindelsperger, Rose Mary’s shortcomings come into sharp relief when placed into the larger context of the chef’s career and compatriots: the restaurant “lacks the Spiaggia-level precision that you might expect from Flamm” and fails to provide the “mind-bending creativity” seen at venues from other Chicago-based Top Chef contestants like Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat) and Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde). While Izard and Grueneberg have both enjoyed a great deal of critical acclaim, neither faced the challenges of opening their first restaurants during the one-two punch of a pandemic and nationwide labor crisis, an environment the Trib does not reference. After an era of mostly positive reviews from the retired Phil Vettel, Kindelsperger’s review is a departure from what’s appeared in the Trib in pre-pandemic times.
And in other news…
— Ex-Roister chef Andrew Brochu seems to have found a home for his neighborhood restaurant after plans fell through in West Town due to the pandemic. “A new lease on life?” Brochu writes in on Instagram below a photo of himself and wife Sophie in front of a fenced-in lot in Savannah, Georgia’s Starland District. Brochu’s was ticketed as one of Chicago’s most anticipated openings of 2020.
— Pilsen juice bar Belli’s Cafe plans to open two new locations with juice, smoothies, bowls, and more inside outposts from local fitness chain Studio Three, according to Block Club Chicago. Belli’s owner Alexandra Curatolo tells reporters that she aims to open in late July at 648 N. Clark Street in River North and in August at 2401 N. Halsted Street in Lincoln Park.
— Deep-dish pizza giant Lou Malnati’s plans to relocate its suburban headquarters from Northbrook to Buffalo Grove as the brand shifts its focus toward online sales, according to Crain’s. Currently scattered across multiple offices across the Chicago area, the company aims to move consolidate management, manufacturing, and fulfillment operations to a 125,000 square-foot facility in spring 2022 at 900-950 Busch Parkway.
— As diners continue to pack restaurants, it should not pose a surprise that if the city sees COVID-19 numbers consistently rise (to more than 200 new cases per day), Mayor Lori Lightfoot will think about reinstating an indoor mask mandate. The mayor’s remarks are part of a podcast interview released Monday with the New York Times. As of July 19, the seven-day rolling average was 130 new cases. Lightfoot’s comments come as mask mandates return to Los Angeles and with worries regarding the delta variant. The Trib’s Gregory Pratt first spotted this podcast tidbit, and also mentions the mayor is facing criticism over allowing Lollapalooza this weekend. Health experts have reported outdoor events are much safer than indoor activities.