Mado (Restaurant, Wicker Park)
There are a lot of food movements out there. Organic, Free Range, Anti-Corn Syrup, the Sustainable Fishing movement and many others to make your head spin. All of these fads and crazes essentially lead to one basic concept — know where your food comes from. It’s ironic then that one has to make an effort to ensure their food came from a “local” farm. If farmers markets and organic providers are your thing then Chicago is your kind of town. We may be a big city, but we’re hunkered down in America’s bread basket and have loads of small farms collaborating to bring fresh local produce and meats right to your neighborhood. As for dining out, there are several restaurants leading the charge on this local food movement, and certainly one of the tastiest is Mado.
There’s nothing not to love about this place. Husband and wife cooking duo, Robert and Allison Leavitt, are both CIA (Culinary Institute of America) trained and have brought their dynamically simple concept to this small brick restaurant in Bucktown. The concept? Kill one animal and use every last part of it to make something delicious for their menu that night. They label their food “Mediterranean” but this seems like a broad theme meant to umbrella house made sausages, charcuterie boards and head cheeses. If you’re not adventurous enough for these delights then you can’t go wrong with their more standard proteins; their hanger steak is very popular and I can still taste the pork shank for two that was shared on valentines day. The menu changes constantly but you can always count on a fine serving of our little pink friends. Pork is currently enjoying a torrent of popularity in Chicago with pork belly appearing on every new gastropub and fine dining menu in the city. Mado fits right in with this rage for the other white meat, Chef Robert going so far as to host pig butchering demonstrations for small audiences.
How could I resist? I quickly signed up for one of these limited time displays and never wavered once from my meat eating ways while watching him take apart half of a 180 pound pig. You can catch cooking demonstrations all over the city but the art of butchering is a fiercely protected skill that most chefs don’t even know how to perform. Robert casually emphasizes the importance of knowing what farms your meat comes from as he “cuts along the seams” and discusses what parts he uses for different foods. For $50 I got a unique performance and a cozy experience at one of my favorite restaurants and a doggy bag of pork products that I’ll concoct something tasty with at home.
Butchering sections of an animal might seem like a novelty for the average consumer but more and more locavores are investing in entire animals from local farms to save money and ensure their meat for the year is as organic as their produce. If you’re interested in perusing this way of life I recommend thelocalbeet.com and familyfarmed.org as great forums for finding farmers markets, local food providers and the Chicago CSA guide (Community Supported Agriculture). I have my favorite butchers in the city, but after watching a master chef take down an entire animal, it’s got me thinking.
Location: 1647 N. Milwaukee Ave.