An Italian restaurant run by an Irish guy? Trattoria 225 owner and chef Craig Charlton rates snaps nonetheless.
In 2007, the year he turned old office space at 225 Harrison St. into a place called “trat-to-RI-a two twenty-five,” his BLT pizza made Chicago magazine’s 124 Great Dishes in Chicago. In 2008, Trattoria 225’s Caesar salad made the Chicago Sun-Times best list.
In town, it’s Charlton’s community spirit that folks know better.
He’s become a cheerleader for indie businesses in the Oak Park Arts District, showcasing works from Harrison Street galleries on his restaurant’s walls and, more recently, finding a way to use one neighboring shop’s goods as serving pieces: Antipasti choices at Trattoria 225 come on platters from Prodigy Glassworks.
Among locavore chefs, Charlton’s a fixture at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market, giving talks, sharing recipes and, on the last day of the season, stirring up stone soup.
Among other restaurateurs, he’s a coach and a customer. On Oak Park Avenue alone, he’s got three regular stops. He checks in on Taste of Brasil, offering a fledgling business tips and encouragement. He takes visiting family and friends to Maya del Sol, introducing them to another village echo of Chicago. And he likes starting the day at George’s, where he calls the steak and eggs special a breakfast of champions.
This is a guy who loves restaurant culture.
At Trattoria 225, the first restaurant Charlton is running that’s his own, essences from his every stint in the food industry are all around. Hand-crafted pizzas from a wood-burning oven channel both his early days with mom’n’pop Italian restaurants and his last corporate gig with a nationwide chain. A pastry chef witty enough to put scotch in butterscotch pudding speaks to Charlton’s own humor, and smarts – when he managed Ed Debevic’s, Charlton would audition theater students for the waitstaff. Then there’s the house-made limoncello displayed with panache behind a hand-troweled concrete bar top. Yes, the man knows of Martha. He’s worked for her.
Charlton’s résumé includes such big names as Buca di Beppo and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. But in the mid-’80s, before this native of Westport, Conn., got to jobs with these chains in the Midwest, he started out back home tending bar for a local caterer named Martha Stewart. Before she became the biggest name in culinary entertainment, he became her competitor; Charl-
ton’s first food enterprise was a clambake catering business in Westport: Mr. Picnic.
No need to wonder. Trattoria 225 has a clam pizza.
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