I am a Midwestern girl. Like being a New Yorker or growing up in the South, that comes with its own traditions and an indescribable sense of place. And I have discovered the embodiment of it, charmingly, at Twain—and turns out I’m not alone. “We get the most amazing stories about people eating our food and remembering what their mom or grandma used to make them. It’s incredibly touching,” says Rebekah Graham, who together with her husband, Tim, and Branko Palikuca opened the Midwestern-centric Twain this fall.
Named in part for the great author who hails from chef Tim’s native Missouri, Logan Square’s latest newcomer evokes childhood memories with flavors of home—of warming chili, dressed-down turnovers and mouthwatering baked chicken. The chef drew inspiration from Montreal’s Joe Beef, which “takes Quebec food, dusts it off and makes it like chefs would make it,” Tim says. “And it occurred to me that I have a food too—it’s central Missouri and Midwestern. I had never considered it a source of inspiration, but there’s something to take pride in there.”
Tim weaves the familiar into the unexpected, crafting upscale versions of Midwestern classics that satisfy those homespun cravings. While many of his dishes are sourced from his Midwestern upbringing, others are reimagined takes on age-old recipes gleaned from Tim’s massive collection of vintage cookbooks, like chicken and dumplings ($19) and sloppy Joe topping roasted bone marrow ($13). His spicy half-chicken ($21) is alive with rich notes of piripiri-like spices playing off the blackened bird and finished with honeycomb that melts into a lovely glaze—a recipe Tim has tinkered with for over a decade. My friends and I couldn’t help but wish, though, there was a heap of mashed potatoes underneath instead of the tomato-bread salad. A side of mashed potatoes can be ordered separately and comes brimming with a sweet miso gravy ($6). We’ll know better next time.
Deep, earthy flavors are abundant in the chili-braised short rib ($26). Seared and then simmered in a red wine reduction before it’s repeatedly dusted with chili powder, placed atop a mound of richly sauced beans and finished with a dollop of smoked sour cream, it’s sure to be the most luxuriant chili you’ve ever had.
With great food, ideally, comes great wine, and Twain delivers. That’s a credit to Rebekah, a warm, attentive sommelier who designed a wine list filled with character. When we ask for recommendations, her descriptions paint vivid pictures of each wine’s home. “I’ve always experienced wine like time travel—when I take a sip, I think about where I would be standing; what the sun would look like,” she explains. “Having that in mind helps me express those flavors and textures and the understanding of that specific wine to people.” We settle on the 2016 Mari Vineyards Praefectus ($70), a tart, medium-bodied blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon that perfectly cuts through even the flavor-packed short rib. Cocktails follow suit, with a riff on the cherry-sweetened Wisconsin Old-Fashioned, the ’Sconnie ($9), and a fresh, bright gimlet we loved ($11).
Like any good Midwesterner will tell you, you simply can’t skip dessert. “That was what I wished I could have again the next day,” one dinner guest told me mournfully. He was talking of the gooey butter cake ($9), which tasted like autumn incarnate with its candied pecans, soft-baked apples and thick caramel sauce. But it was the cast-iron crisp ($9) for which I yearned the following day. Rich red plums contrast with bits of marcona almond crunch and burnt honey ice cream for a tart, crisp dessert that satisfied every sweet tooth I have. It made me think of my grandma, whose desserts were her pride and joy. Like the best food, it made me think of home.
2445 N. Milwaukee Ave.
HOURS Tue.-Thu. & Sun., 5-10pm; Fri. & Sat., 5-11pm