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SAVOR MAD Social; Labriola
DISH Dining Guide
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Few Chicago restaurants capitalize on a thoroughfare like MAD Social ( 1140 W. Madison St.; ), which incorporates Madison Street into everything from menu items to, obviously, its name.

The spot—the first new restaurant from Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants in 14 years—recently marked its fourth anniversary by revealing a new menu. However, the menu ( featuring contemporary American cuisine ) still showcases the restaurant's inventiveness.

MAD Social is a casual, medium-sized restaurant with lots of dark woods and suitably dim lights—yet it's still inviting. The only issue with decor I saw was with space; for example, the distance between our booth and the table across the way wasn't enough to prevent servers from occasionally bumping our area.

Menu offerings were almost all incredible. Crispy Brussels sprouts ( under the "MADness" heading ) featured the vegetables shaved into a heaping mass of red cabbage, carrot, cilantro, toasted garlic chips, scallions, wonton strips and sesame seeds—topped with a couple serrano pepper slices. I could've eaten this all night; my guest ( not a sprout aficionado ) tried a forkful and liked it. Needless to say, I was the one who took that dish home.

The chicken drumettes were also winners. They're stuffed with jalapeño and cheddar, wrapped in bacon and topped with Louisiana hot sauce—but there's ranch blue cheese pickled celery dressing for those who need to call off a little. Speaking of spicy, the place's MAD hot sauce lavash is part of the lentil cashew hummus, which comes with green olive tapenade and baby carrots—and the presentation was pretty cool. Meatloaf cupcakes ( also wrapped in bacon ) may play with your mind with the presentation that includes mashed-potato "frosting," but they were undeniably delicious. The chicken and churro waffles made for a tasty mix of the savory and sweet, and were accompanied by maple syrup. (People are encouraged to add the house hot sauce for even more flavor.)

Then there were the shrimp and grits—a concoction of white corn grits, shrimp, and shallot-and-cherry tomato fondue in three parmesan baskets, and topped with kale chips. The cups looked really enticing. However, upon biting into one, my friend/guest immediately remarked, "Where's the seasoning?" I, sadly, had to agree; this dish had no taste—maybe cheese grits would work better.

Pivoting from that dish, the cocktail selections are high notes, especially Rosemary's Baby—a take on a Moscow Mule that utilizes Ketel One rosemary-infused vodka and real ginger beer, as opposed to ginger syrup. Other items include Pretty in Pink ( Tito's Vodka, muddled strawberry and basil, lemon juice and simple syrup ) and Guapo 2.0 ( jalapeno, pineapple tequila, vanilla syrup, lime and angostura bitters ). However, be aware that cocktails are $14 each.

Speaking of names and thoroughfares, was it pure coincidence that our server was named Addison—the daughter of a local TV news anchor who was named after a North Side street? One may never know—but she was incredibly sweet and attentive.


In a city known for its deep-dish pizza, Labriola ( 535 N. Michigan Ave.; ) may have set a new standard.

The five-year-old casual Italian spot ( as well as the suburban La Barra restaurants ) marked National Pizza Day ( Feb. 9 ) by adding a unique pie: the white deep-dish pizza. This 14-inch version of this pizza ( $35 ) has bechamel Sauce, chicken, bacon, caramelized onions—and two pounds ( ! ) of cheese. ( The best part may be the caramelized cheese on the edge, called "fricka." ) My dinner companion and I could only eat one slice each, as they're thick and very rich. They were also undeniably delicious.

However, Labriola and La Barra offer far more than this soon-to-be classic pizza. Shareable small-plate dishes include grilled asparagus with fried egg, pecorino and extra virgin olive oil ( that my friend really enjoyed ); Prince Edward Island mussels; and toasted ravioli "nachos." I found the arugula ( with truffle honey, goat cheese, pears, black pepper and lemon vinaigrette ) absolutely sublime, and it's just one of several salad options that includes a Sicilian seafood version. Of course, there are loads of housemade pizzas, divided into categories such as artisan, thin-crust, deep-dish and DIY ) as well as entrees like filet sliders, Italian pepper steak, chicken Vesuvio and seared salmon. And don't forget luscious dessert offerings like the cheesecake. ( Also, Labriola has weekend brunch with pepper-and-egg sandwiches, Italian skillets, blueberry pancakes and other tempting items. )

By the way, here's a little backstory on Labriola. Rich Labriola ( who also owns a dozen's Stan's Donuts stores, including the one next door ) started the whole empire in 1993 with The Labriola Baking Company, with it eventually sold to J&J Snack Foods in 2017. Thankfully, he decided to expand into the restaurant business.

With the white deep-dish pizza, Labriola continues its tradition of outstanding Italian cuisine.

Note: Profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.

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