Autre Monde opened this summer on Roosevelt in Berwyn, and it’s been drawing a lot of attention from traditional media (Chicago Tribune, TimeOut Chicago) as well as crowd-sourced bulletin boards (LTHForum.com, Yelp).
We went there last week and were knocked out by the food. Here’s some of what we had.
* Burrata with greenhouse gremolata ($9) is a creamy mozzarella, a milk-white mound of delicate cheese threads splashed with a garlicky parsley perked with lemon. So simple, so Italian, and such an excellent way to excite the palate with a little richness and slight acidity. Many of the herbs for dishes like this come from the restaurant’s greenhouse on the back patio or from Chef Dan Pancake’s Cakeridge Farms in Cincinnati, OH.
* If you’ve always associated sardines with densely-packed, oily little fishes in a tin, the cured sardines ($10) at Autre Monde will set you straight. These meaty fish, surprisingly big and juicy, laid length-wise on a long slice of crusty bread, sprinkled with capers and herbs, are spectacular. According to Pancake, "The sardines are a good example of the Mediterranean philosophy that guides the entire menu: pristine product, exacting technique and simple, elegant presentation.”
* Pancake coaxes a huge amount of flavor out of the wood-grilled pork Porterhouse ($22), which Pancake told me “had been under some sort of culinary development for 6 months prior to our opening, developing the right brine, sourcing the perfect pork and providing the best reason so far to celebrate our wood burning grill."
* Flatbread of pancetta, rapini and Talleggio ($13) proved a beautiful balance of crispy and lush, with chewy knobs of pork and bright green leaves and shoots. Because I’m always thinking about food, I have to check myself from over-thinking and over-analyzing what I eat. My simple test for a food is whether I want seconds. If I do, the food must be good because my belly says it’s happy and wants more. With this flatbread, I had thirds.
I’ve heard that the Autre Monde dining room can be quite loud, which may be fine depending on your group. I understand the restaurant is looking to buffer some of the alleged din and, of course, for the next month or so, sitting outside is really the way to go.
The Autre Monde team includes chefs Pancake and Beth Partridge, as well as husband-wife team of John Aranza and Christine Tully Aranza. The culinary quartet met one another while working at Tony Mantuano’s restaurants (Tuttaposto, Spiaggia and Café Spiaggia). The Aranzas take care of the front of the house, and they also own and operate Horrorbles next door. You can spot the influence of this horror and sci fi movie memorabilia store on the bathroom walls and on the flat screen over the bar, which frequently plays some old B movie, providing a little incongruous fun.
Autre Monde received support from the City of Berwyn and the Berwyn Development Corporation though Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which helped with the purchase and interior build-out. A commercial loan supplemented expenses related to furniture and equipment acquisition. According to Tony Griffin, Executive Director of the BDC, “By mixing TIF, the BDC’s commercial loan fund, and private investment, we were able to…overcome the lending constraints that limit growth.” Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero added that “Autre Monde is a capstone in the forthcoming completion of Roosevelt Road’s long-term streetscape beautification project.”
When I asked about their mission, Tully-Aranza explained that “"As a neighborhood restaurant, I wanted to be near the town I grew up: Oak Park. The community spirit is a big part of our mission and we have partnered with a number of local charitable organizations in the Oak Park/River Forest and Berwyn neighborhoods to help give back and strengthen our neighboring towns.”
For Oak Park, The-Town-that-Seems-Like-It-Should-Have-More-Good-Restaurants-Than-It-Actually-Does, it’s very good to have such a very fine restaurant so near our village, if not, alas, within our borders.
6727 W. Roosevelt