Chicago has several pockets of Italian culture: the original Little Italy on Taylor Street, as well as the West 24 neighborhoode Street and Oakley Avenue as well as part of North Harlem Avenue.
Food Guy Steve Dolinsky of NBC 5 says there was also a busy hallway along Grand Avenue in West Town at one point. More recently, this area has made a slow comeback.
For decades, the area around Grand Avenue, about a mile west of downtown, had grocery stores, bakeries, and Italian restaurants. There are still some holdouts, as well as new blood, injecting energy into a region that had apparently lost many of its pioneers.
At Tempesta Market, a fantastic Italian grocery store owned by the family behind the best ‘nduja in town, delicatessen is the focal point, according to Dolinsky. Spicy, spreadable Calabrian sausage joins other meats on a menu full of subs and sandwiches.
At the end of the street, the legendary D’Amato’s sells bread baked in its charcoal oven, while Bari also offers sandwiches and groceries. Across the street is the brand new Gemma Foods – a pandemic project that has turned into a full-time job.
“I started cooking for friends, I proposed, I said ‘hey, I’m going to make pasta, are you interested? It’s going to be a kind of restaurant level experience in your house,’ and everything suddenly it became a thing,” said Tony Quartaro, owner of Gemma Foods.
The pasta here is treated with respect.
Quartaro lives knee-deep in flour and eggs, crafting some with a sophisticated extruder, others entirely by hand. The detail on the ravioli is gorgeous; filled with ricotta, sealed and cut, few restaurants can match this level of skill.
“We have three classics on our menu: our canestri alla vodka, then we also do a paccheri with Sunday sauce, a cacio e pepe bucatini,” he said.
You can collect the pasta, have it delivered or shipped, then purchase sauces separately to assemble at home.
“You add some of the water from your pasta to thin the sauce out a bit, then bring it all together in a pot,” Quartaro says.
If you’d rather have someone else cook your pasta, there’s Elina’s, a cozy new restaurant on Grand Avenue, just west of Racine Avenue. The rigatoni alla vodka is a house favorite, as is the chicken parmesan, pounded fine. Most pasta is homemade. The small dining room fills up quickly, so no shame in dining at the bar.
A few blocks from Grand, the new Paulo Gelato is partially hidden behind a CTA entrance, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Everything is done by hand, including the pistachio paste.
“Pistachio is something I decided to start because I really wanted to do it well, and it takes a long time,” said owner Pawel Petrykoski.
“First you have to roast the pistachio, then there is a grinding machine that makes small pieces of pistachio.”
Also, the Trio – containing dulce de leche, chocolate and hazelnut, or a bewitching chocolate mint. The store is the culmination of a dream started in Poland, but now fully realized here.
“That’s the part I like to do, which is creating something new,” he said.
Here are the establishments you can visit in the neighborhood:
1372 Great West Avenue.
1117 Great West Avenue.
1058 W. Chicago Ave.
1124 Great West Avenue.
1120 W. Grand Ave.
1202 Great West Avenue.
1201 W. Grand Ave.
Charcoal fire pizza
1321 W. Grand Ave.
1332 Great West Avenue.