Chef Marty Fosse has brought the much-needed comfort of dining in your Italian grandma’s home into Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood with Azurra EnoTavola. The restaurant and hospitality veteran has already filled plenty of bellies in the Andersonville community with Anteprima, Acre, and Ombra. And in the short time since its inception, his new old-world Italian brunch and dinner spot has become a staple among the La Colombe staff in Chicago. We recently had chance to chat with Fosse and Azurra EnoTavola’s General Manager Leah Allen about the importance of dishes feeling homemade, why Wicker Park was a perfect fit for their expansion plans, and much more below.
La Colombe: You have three other restaurants in Andersonville – Anteprima, Acre, and Ombra. Why did you decide to venture out and open another one in Wicker Park, and what attracted you to this location?
Leah Allen: We noticed similarities between the two neighborhoods, and really felt like Wicker Park had an Azzurra-sized hole in the dining scene. No one else was doing what we do, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
LC: What inspired you to make Azzurra EnoTavola a “rustic seasonal Italian restaurant” and practice the “European style” purchase system of deciding what is good at the market and building a menu around it?
LA: The majority of our recipes were learned in people’s homes in Italy – so in order to keep it completely authentic, we had to write our menus in this fashion.
LC: Is there a particular region of Italy that your menu favors, or is derived from?
LA: Our biggest focus is the market – we never want to limit ourselves by region. There are certain things that you’ll always find on our menu, for example, orecchiette, a “little ear” shaped pasta from Puglia, and caponata, a Sicilian sweet-and-sour vegetable preparation.
LC: You are 100% scratch kitchen. What time does your workday start and end, and what is your daily routine?
LA: The great thing about Azzurra is that everyone works together. Pasta and bread prep usually starts early in the day, about 7am. As the GM, I run the dining room in the evening so once I get here around noon, a lot of work is already done. Sometimes I’ll turn up and see a note to take breads or braising meats out of the oven at a certain time. Other times, I’ll get a call an hour before service telling me that one of the local foragers showed up at Anteprima with a 12 pound hen-of-the-woods mushroom, and that part of it is being brought over, and it has to go on the menu that night.
LC: Why is the feeling of being homemade so important to you?
LA: The biggest compliment any guest can give is to say that they feel like they are guests in our home. There’s no way to get that without authentic, homemade cuisine. Chef Katie always jokes about the love in the food, but our love for entertaining isn’t only in the food! It’s in the service, the wine, throughout the dining room. The staff genuinely cares about every guest’s experience, and it shows.
LC: What dish do you make at home and love that you haven’t made in any of your restaurants yet, and why?
Marty Fosse: Slow-cooked lamb with greens & egg-lemon sauce – the egg-lemon sauce has to be made at the exact moment of serving, and is more of a feeling than a recipe. One mistake, and you have slow-cooked lamb with greens and lemon-infused scrambled eggs!
LC: Please tell us a little bit about your coffee program. Do you drink coffee in the morning? If so, what item from your menu (or otherwise) you have with coffee? If not, what would you suggest having off your menu with a La Colombe coffee?
MF: I drink coffee every day. A pretty fair serving in the morning, prepared at home in a Chemex and then a double espresso in the afternoon at work. We make our own biscotti, and I can often be found crunching on one with my afternoon espresso. Our brunch menu has a divine “Italian Toast” that is perfect with a cappuccino.
LC: Have you tried using our beans in any of your dishes?
MF: We already use prepared La Colombe Louisiane in our tiramisu, and we have featured cocktails like Caffe Corretto (Doppio with house made Arancello and Varnelli Caffe Moka) and Bicerin (layered drinking chocolate, espresso, and milk foam) in the cooler months.