By Sophie Bross
Gnudi Anyone? Dining out at the newly open Gussie’s Handmade Italian restaurant.
At a time when more restaurants are closing than opening it is exciting to have a newcomer on the scene. The owners of Tortoise Supper Club, David Thate and Keene Addington, have re-concepted their Two Lights Seafood and Oyster restaurant into Gussie’s Handmade Italian which opened for dinner service in September in Old Town on North Avenue across from Second City. Less than a year after opening Two Lights Seafood, Covid hit and shut down all restaurants. As experienced restaurant entrepreneurs, Mr. Thate and Mr. Addington immediately decided that a raw seafood restaurant would not lend itself well to a delivery and takeout model. They used the shut down as an opportunity to reconcept their restaurant and redesign the space. They removed the long communal raw seafood bar in the center and added wood flooring, large leather booths and greenery. The décor is warm yet modern at the same time. It is equally appropriate for a date night or a night out with the family.
As for the new menu, the inspiration comes from Mr. Thate’s grandmother, Augusta, better known to her family as Gussie. Mr. Thate has many joyful memories of being in the kitchen as a child with Grandma Gussie. As an adult his love of Italian cooking expanded as he traveled throughout Italy studying authentic Italian cooking. All of this has translated into a menu focused on northern Italian cuisine and based on Grandma Gussie’s original recipes.
The meal begins with their signature brioche bread stuffed with mascarpone cheese warm out of the oven. This bread is insane and alone worth the visit to Gussie’s! The antipasti had several standouts with the homemade grilled sausage being the star. The meatballs were excellent. Made of pork and beef and served in a homemade basil marinara sauce. The mussels were classically prepared in a traditional white wine, lemon, butter and garlic sauce which is often difficult to find these days in so many trendy restaurants. All the pastas are made fresh daily and most are served with their basil marinara sauce or brown butter sage. The marinara was my personal favorite but both sauces are tasty. We also tried the ricotta stuffed ravioli and the pappardelle which is offered with both wild boar ragu and duck ragu and preferred the wild boar. The brown butter honey ravioli was a tad sweet for me but my teenager found it delightful.
Gnocchi seems to be everywhere nowadays, but a pasta often not seen on the menu in Chicago is gnudi. In Italy, gnudi is found primarily in Tuscany. Gnudi dumplings are made with ricotta cheese instead of potato and made with less flour. Although they are generally a bit larger than gnocchi they are delicate, light and pillowy. Delicious, different and not heavy at all. Another pasta not frequently seen these days on Italian restaurant menus is spaghetti carbonara. Although this dish is something I wouldn’t want to include often in my daily calorie allowance, sometimes it’s just what you need especially when it’s done right. Rich, creamy and very satisfying. As for the pollo/carne/pesce section of the menu, entrees included a roasted Sicilian chicken, pan-seared cod, branzino, and a Tuscan ribeye. The branzino is the signature “non-pasta” entrée for the restaurant. The desserts cover all basic dessert needs but the limoncello tart is particularly outstanding.
The wine list is a small curated list of well-priced Italian wines with most bottles under $40 and all but one under $80. Gussie’s also makes its limoncello in house and what better way to end this tasty meal than with an after dinner digestif?
Gussie’s is a welcome addition to Old Town and to the restaurant scene in Chicago. Cozy and charming with excellent service. Quality comfort food that is perfect for right now especially going into fall and winter. Gussie’s is open for dinner and carryout on Wednesdays through Sunday and reservations and orders can be placed through Tock or by telephone. Enjoy and don’t get too full on the potentially habit-forming cheesy bread. Save room for the other delights!
Gussie’s Handmade Italian, 227 W. North Avenue, 312-929-3091, https://www.gussiesitalian.com