While chef Margaret Pak honors the integrity of her mother-in-law’s recipes, she’s not trying to recreate memories frame by frame. Pak’s husband, Vinod Kalathil, grew up in Kerala in South India. The couple is referring to the region as “India’s spice garden.” The restaurant opened in April with lunch only, trying to figure out supply and demand and proper staffing.
Sure there’s a bite of nostalgia here and there, but Thattu’s menu depends on multiple influences including chef de cuisine Danny Tervort, who moved back to Chicago from Kansas City to work with Pak and Kalathil. Tervort has been around since the days at Politan Row food hall and has an understanding of Thattu’s needs. Sous chef Cindy Knott also worked with Thattu in the West Loop days and is credited with creating the Malabar-ginger cooler.
On a visit to India (where there’s a Hindu majority who stray from beef but do eat pork), Pak and Kalathil traveled to Coorg (also known as Kodagu; it’s in Karnataka, a state that borders Kerala). It’s a hill station known for coffee plantations. It’s also known for a particular style of pork curry. At least in America, where South Asian menus often borrow from mainly India and Pakistan, pork has been historically avoided by many restaurant owners. There’s worry about alienating devout Muslims who don’t eat the animal, and beyond the perceived disrespect, that could cut into a potential customer base and hurt business.
But as America’s overall understanding of South Asian cuisine evolves, that narrative dissolved. Pak and Kalathil were inspired by their porky travels and began brainstorming. Tervort tweaked their vision and at Thattu diners won’t find a traditional preparation. Instead, the team serves up a huge seared chop worthy of Chicago’s steakhouses like Ditka’s and Harry Caray’s. Coconut-braised collard greens accompany the dish. Food cooked in banana leaves is a traditional South Asians share with other cultures. Thattu’s meen pollichathu presents steamed fish with tomato-basil gravy.
Another exciting offering is the beet puff, a callback to pastries served in India. Even though these baked and fried goods are a rare find in America, it’s the type of item that could gain popularity with the right packaging. The menu will shift. Kalathil is already teasing that a version of biryani, the iconic rice dish, will soon be available.
Thattu has also launched a cocktail menu with drinks like a banana Old Fashioned. Diageo consulted on some work with veteran bartender and consultant Alex Barbatsis creating others alongside Thattu bartender Melanie Hernandez.
Check out the dinner menu in the photos below.