Salatino’s (CLOSED)

Restaurants, Northern Italian Little Italy, UIC
2 out of 5 stars
Salatino’s (CLOSED)
Photograph: Martha Williams Braciole, egg noodle and pork chops

You heard the story and you liked it, thought it was sweet. How in 1959, the Gennaro family made the transition from a tavern into a restaurant. How they served pork chops and braciole and pasta, and people flocked to the place, made it a sort of community center. And how, last December, Gennaro’s closed in its 50th year.

Yet you can’t help but think: How was the food?

You heard the story and you liked it, thought it was sweet. How in 1959, the Gennaro family made the transition from a tavern into a restaurant. How they served pork chops and braciole and pasta, and people flocked to the place, made it a sort of community center. And how, last December, Gennaro’s closed in its 50th year.

Yet you can’t help but think: How was the food?

So you go to Salatino’s, Jimmy Bannos’s and Scott Harris’s revival of the restaurant. You order those pork chops. They arrive on a platter, where they call out to you with golden crusts. You have to dig through piles of cottage fries and fried green peppers to finally knife off a piece. But when you do, it’s not very juicy.

So you stick with the green peppers: charred, sweet and heavily featured in an improbable number of dishes. The things are offered on a plate, with some slices of cheese, as an appetizer. Are you supposed to eat the peppers on their own? Put them on bread? Alternate with the cheese, or eat them together?

Yes. Yes you are.

And afterward, you’re expected to eat pasta. The manicotti, four tightly wrapped cylinders, are stuffed with a rich filling of spinach and ricotta. The alfredo-like sauce on the plate packs so much garlic it almost scars your tongue. But that’s exactly what this dish needs—something spicy to cut through all of the cream and butter.

But there was something about that manicotti that gave you pause—the pasta itself. It was almost as thin as spring-roll wrappers, but was it a little gummy? You push the thought out of your mind.

Then, on another visit, you try the egg noodles, because the server hypes them. Housemade, the server says. Your choice of sauce.

You choose the red gravy, but the sauce doesn’t matter, because your suspicions about the pasta have been confirmed: The egg noodles have the texture of Twizzlers, and most of them are stuck together in a giant ball of pasta twine. It is impossible to enjoy. The innocuous sauce doesn’t help. Nor does it help the braciole, beef that’s been rolled with ham and hardboiled eggs and simmered in the gravy for, according to your server, six hours. It has perhaps been simmered too long—the meat is tough and stringy.

Is this Gennaro’s food? It must be—Mary Jo Gennaro is reportedly in the kitchen, overseeing the cooks. Still, you wonder if it always tasted this way. If this was the food that captivated Little Italy.

You look around. The tables, draped in checkered tablecloths, are surrounded by people. They look happy enough. The servers are nice and enthusiastic. The feeling in the room—it’s comfortable. Familial, even.

At the beginning of one of your meals, a server comes to your table and says to you: “Are you vegan?”

“No,” you say.

“Good, because here, vegans are screwed.”

You never ate at the original Gennaro’s. If this is the food that was served there, it doesn’t seem like much of a loss.

And yet you see how the place became a legend anyway.

By David Tamarkin

Posted:

Venue name: Salatino’s (CLOSED)
Contact:
Address: 626 S Racine Ave
Chicago

Cross street: at Harrison St
Opening hours: Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner
Transport: El stop: Blue to Racine. Bus: 7, 60, 126.
Price: Average main course: $15
Do you own this business?
Static map showing venue location
LiveReviews|0
1 person listening