"People are so grateful and tell me how lucky they feel to have etta in the neighborhood,” says Danny Grant about his new Wicker Park restaurant—a casual sibling to his raucously successful and swanky Maple & Ash in the Gold Coast. After one visit, I started pestering Grant to open an etta near me. Why? Delightfully polished service (you’ll never have to ask for a clean plate or a refill on your water) plus amazing, inventive food, all at a price point that encourages regular visits. We started, as everyone does, with Bubbling Shrimp ($14), which are served with pita bread hot out of the kitchen’s wood-burning pizza oven. We inhaled the chiltepin chili- and smoked tomato-flecked crustaceans, and then used the pita to lap up all the buttery goodness that was left.
Salads are a focus and an ever-changing part of the menu, so the heirloom tomato and watermelon option—complete with little orbs of gelled basil seeds and a pesto base—might not be on the menu at present, but do try whatever strikes your fancy. Grant knows and loves veggies and brings out their best.
From the wood-burning oven comes not only pita, but pizzas with insanely thin crust and charred spots. Choose your favorite topping and then customize at will with pizza sprinkles (a housemade mix of dried herbs and garlic), finely diced giardiniera, chile de arbol oil (to up the heat) and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The pastas will please everyone from the pickiest kid (and yes, your kids would be welcome at etta) to the more-is-more gourmand. The menu moves from bucatini with cacio e pepe ($14)—kids can order sans pepe—to rich rigatoni ($17) with lamb ragout, olives and a chili kick.
The heart of the restaurant, however, is the wood-burning hearth. With just two of us, we ordered the fire-roasted whole branzino ($39), nicely deboned, but we wished we’d brought a few more people to enjoy one of the larger entrees. “I envision people sharing and passing food around,” Grant says. “The whole-roasted ribeye or pig picnic gives a group an overwhelming sense of abundance.” I would say the same about the blueberry shortcake ($8), which has a generous amount of fruit and made us question why anyone would make this dessert with strawberries.
There may still be time to catch the rooftop deck, a lovely spot to enjoy one of the inventive cocktails, or settle in with that delicious house red, a bunch of friends and a lot of plates to share. You’ll also wish for a Danny Grant restaurant in your ’hood.
1840 W. North Ave., 312.757.4444
Sun. & Thu., 4:30-10pm; Mon.-Wed., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm
Starters, $8-$14; salads and veggies, $8-$16; wood-fired pizzas, $16-$19; pastas and mains, $14-$68; desserts, $8