Transformations | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Transformations 

A Rock 'n' Roll Sloppy Joe, Marchetti's New Menu, and the Return of Larry Tucker

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TOMMY'S ROCK & ROLL CAFE opened nearly a decade ago, serving a no-frills selection of all-American fare like burgers, BLTs, and subs. In 1998, owner Tom Catalano Sr. downsized the kitchen to move in the burgeoning guitar business he'd been running from his house, and the eclectic combination of Stratocasters and sandwiches brought in a steady stream of regulars and a good amount of local press. But when business started sagging late last year, Catalano cast about for a new hook to lure customers. He decided to promote one of the more popular sandwiches on his menu: the sloppy joe. "I think people are tired of eating the same old stuff, and I don't know of any other place that sells them," he says--and at $3.25, including a bag of chips, they're a steal. So far, specializing in the unofficial sandwich of Cub Scout campouts and school cafeterias has worked: "We've gone from one big batch a week to one big batch a day," Catalano says. He hopes his new customers will go on to develop a taste for the more expensive fare at Tommy's--the guitars. At any given time, Catalano, an avid player and collector, has more than 200 axes and amps in stock, plus guitar accessories, Elvis and WWF action figures, chess sets, porcelain figurines, a curio case full of fishing lures, a giant cardboard C-3P0, and bookshelves and boxes holding thousands of LPs. "I'm always looking for guitars, antiques, and anything else I think is cool," says Catalano as he shows off his latest find, a vintage concertina nestled in a gleaming red case. "Anything that's not moving is for sale," he adds. Tommy's Rock & Roll Cafe is at 2500 W. Chicago, 773-486-6768. --Jenny B. Davis

Mary Jane Marchetti, widow of longtime Como Inn owner Joe Marchetti, and her son J.P. have ditched the breakfast service and refined the menu at the former Piazza M, the restaurant next door to Gallerie Marchetti, and renamed it after the paterfamilias. JOE MARCHETTI'S spacious outdoor patio is still appealing despite the loud hum of traffic and several air-conditioning generators nearby; it's enclosed by a colorful and overflowing garden, and the generously spaced tables and taupe canvas umbrellas create a feeling of calm. The interior hasn't changed either--it's decorated to look like a piazza, with stone floors and cafe tables--and the food's never been better. Slender rings of grilled calamari get a boost of flavor from the accompanying tomato-basil relish. A special of insalata con gamberi, which came in a huge wooden bowl brimming with jumbo shrimp, sliced fennel, fresh mozzarella, and greens in a sweet balsamic vinaigrette, was easily enough for two. Entrees are uncomplicated and come together nicely. Meaty New Zealand lamb chops, though slightly overcooked, have incredible flavor; a generous serving of squid ink pasta is piled high with perfectly cooked shrimp and scallops; veal cutlets are freshened up with a lemon juice and white wine sauce, then served with a medley of fresh steamed vegetables. The wine list, however, is uninspired and limited to mostly American and Australian options; it's probably best to fall back on chianti. Lunch is served until three, making it easy to linger (or to start late); at dinner the menu gets more ambitious. Service can be slow but is accommodating and friendly. Joe Marchetti's is at 825 W. Erie, 312-421-0022. --Laura Levy Shatkin

After struggling with N.N. Smokehouse (which closed in 2000) and N.N. Spice Islands (closed in 2001), Larry Tucker is rebounding with the help of friend and business partner Eli Ortiz. They're transforming breakfast nook Munch (which replaced the original Wishbone a few years back) into L.T.'s GRILL, serving three meals a day starting August 15. To appease regulars, it'll still offer most of Munch's breakfast menu--Swedish pancakes, homemade biscuits and gravy, and the Porky Pig, a wrap full of bacon, eggs, and cheddar cheese. To these Tucker will add some southwestern-themed items: at breakfast a Santa Fe hash (eggs made to order with chorizo, cilantro, green peppers, and a tomatilla salsa); at lunch a chicken salad (the bird's marinated in lime juice and cilantro, then tossed with tortilla strips and greens); and at dinner a black-bean-and-chipotle-glazed chicken breast. He'll also throw in a few specialties that hark back to his former restaurants: pan-Asian noodles, chicken-fried steak, panfried catfish, and jambalaya. Dinner entrees will come with a choice of sides like collard greens or cheese grits, like any good deep southern meal. Though the sign outside still says Munch, come September the decor will catch up with the menu--the yellow walls will be painted turquoise, and a cactus will become part of the logo above the entrance. Tucker will be moving a smoker into the kitchen to give loyal N.N. Smokehouse fans a dose of his outstanding barbecue. L.T.'s Grill is at 1800 W. Grand, 312-997-2400. --Laura Levy Shatkin

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David V. Kamba.

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