I often find myself the minority in conversations where people argue that pasta is meant for home cooking. “Why go out and pay $18 for something I can make myself?” they ask. Maybe because I love delicate handmade tagliatelle as much as red sauce-drowned, bottomless pasta bowls at Olive Garden. No matter what side of the argument you fall on, Joe Frillman’s noodle-centric Logan Square spot makes a compelling argument for going out for pasta—if only for a single, beguiling bowl of tajarin.
But let me back up.
Earlyish on a weeknight, the mister and I were seated without a wait at one of the low wood tables lining a built-in bench opposite a long, minimalist bar. The space (which formerly hosted dearly departed Analogue) has a narrow, crowded front dining room. The still-intimate back room offers a bit more space and overlooks a serene patio. The vibe here is casual and relaxed, with lots of brick and wood accentuated by cheerful veggie watercolors by Frillman’s sister Carrie.
I started with the cucumber spritz, a bright, easy-drinking, tequila-spiked salve to Chicago’s 105 percent humidity. The sweet-meets-earthy beet old-fashioned was a clever, more direct route to washing away the day’s woes, especially when sipped alongside fried shiitakes and cheese curds, which oozed just enough inside. We dunked them in tangy tarragon ranch, basking in churched-up taste memories of our Upper Midwestern college days.
Our second starter, silky duck fat-cooked carrot rillettes, was almost too subtle for its bold companions of sharp, pickled carrot-fennel salad and seed-flecked crackers.
Beyond these apps and a few staple dishes, nothing lives long on this menu. That’s because Frillman’s inspiration comes largely from what’s growing at his brother Tim’s nearby farm. Frenetically changing produce shines briefly and brightly atop a pillowy burrata starter or inventively paired with one of six-ish expert pastas from this former Balena chef.
And although the sturgeon entree may be hearteningly crispy skinned and flaky, here you’ll want to test your appetite’s limits on pasta (sharing three plus an app or two will more than satisfy a hungry duo).
Toothy pappardelle ribbons were slicked with just enough sweet mushroom ragu, punctuated by hunks of meaty portobello. Squishy potato pierogi—wading in tangy lemon saison sauce dotted with clams—gained lovely chew from a hard sear.
But it was the unassuming tajarin that did me in: thin, eggy ribbons tangled with butter, green garlic and barely-cooked green beans, topped with crunchy chicken cracklins standing in for breadcrumbs. I absently started digging straight into the bowl while there were still a few strands left on my more civilized shared plate. It’s that kind of pasta—the supple yet textural, light yet indulgent, just garlicky enough, shameless face-stuffing kind.
With just two less-intriguing desserts—a raspberry oat square and Kahlua cake with berries—we felt confident overdoing it on savories. On that note, I wonder if Daisies would consider making the tajarin bottomless. No. That’d be crazy.
Atmosphere: A come-as-you-are vibe with friendly, knowledgeable service.
What to eat: The very Midwestern fried mushrooms and hyper-seasonal veggie apps followed by as much pasta as you can manage. Don’t skip the tajarin.
What to drink: The beet old-fashioned is a technicolor, boozy starter, while an ever-changing kombucha splashed with gin makes for a quenching, lower-octane aperitif. The wine list leans excitingly small-batch American.
Where to sit: On the chill back patio while you can, which makes this especially dingy stretch of Milwaukee Avenue feel miles away. Inside, opt for a seat in the bright nook by the front window or the back dining room.