Greg Baxtrom already runs two of the most popular restaurants in his Prospect Heights neighborhood: Olmsted, the farm-to-table stunner, and Maison Yaki, a French restaurant operating under the guise of a rowdy Japanese yakitori. And this after a cooking career in the gourmet kitchens of Alinea, Per Se and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
But Baxtrom is far from done feeding us, and just before the pandemic hit, he signed a lease on a sprawling space on Vanderbilt Avenue and set about creating something new. Now, over two years, countless delays, and a major change in direction later—it was originally intended to be a raw bar—we finally have Patti Ann’s, Baxtrom’s ode to his native Chicago, Midwestern comfort food, and his mother Patti Ann, a retired elementary school teacher whom he describes as “as bubbly as a human being can get”.
“I wanted to do something that the neighborhood could really use,” Baxtrom told Gothamist on opening weekend. “A place that would stay, even if, God forbid, another epidemic happened and we had to move on to delivery. I wanted something that you could literally ride around with strollers and kids and not feel bad about comfortable asking if there’s a table. I called it Patti Ann’s because what’s more family-friendly than my own mother?”
As such, Patti Ann’s saves half of its 70+ seats for walk-ins each night, and Baxtrom bought a bunch of bike locks for what it calls a “stroller parking system” at the outside. The decor leans heavily on the elementary school theme, with shelves (built by her carpenter dad) filled with board games, a do-it-yourself blackboard, and a classroom-style map hanging prominently at the entrance.
Sure, there’s a full bar lined with sleek suede stools and a chef’s counter, but you’ll also find large, sturdy tables filled with paper placemats that double as menus and an activity booklet with a box of crayons. . Attached to your check, which you get up and pay at the checkout, is a report card evaluating your behavior at dinner. Our table got all A’s except for a B+ in “clean plate club”, but to be honest we ordered a ton of food.
“Feels like Chicago here,” Baxtrom said. “Which, in this case, probably just means it reminds me of my family.”
The menu is a wall-to-wall winner, a mix of “Greg Baxtrom’s education dishes” and comfort food classics. Nothing is terribly cheffy, although Braxton, using everything he learned in the kitchens of some of the world’s most renowned restaurants, knows enough tricks to make every dish look like extra-special versions of themselves without just piling on fancy ingredients. Or as he put it, “There are ways to put a lot of energy into anything that people will enjoy without having to know anything other than it tastes good.”
To take just one example: Patti Ann’s Mac & Cheese is actually called Mac & Greens – Baxtrom has added some broccoli rabe to it and includes mashed rutabaga in the mix, which you can’t really taste but “makes it eat a million times lighter, even though it still has a ton of cheese in it,” he said.
There are many ways to enjoy a meal at Patti Ann’s – alone at the bar would be fine – but the portions are large and everything is quite filling, so if you can get four friends together and try as many things as possible, it seems like the best decision.
Definitely start with the Crispy Blooming Onion, which not only tastes delicious, but also makes a fun, removable centerpiece. The Chips and Goop is also a must, so much better than a bag of chips and a jar of onion dip deserves, as is the Bread Basket, which is full of homemade bread rolls.
The Lemon Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad is both bright and brackish, the latter thanks to a bunch of whole white anchovies hidden in the pile of thinly shredded baby cabbage. Honey carrots and sautéed pea shoots, sold as sides and both very good, are the only other vegetable-centric dishes on the menu.
Baxtrom flexes a little more on the sector. The Roast Chicken Royale is cooked in four different ways, the wonderfully juicy roasted breast, the candied drumsticks, the fried wings and a chicken liver mousse covered with a slice of baguette. Patti Ann’s meatloaf is made from duck meat molded into a disk, the richness of the fatty bird countered by a bright pink cherry ketchup. Unsurprisingly, both of these dishes pair exceptionally well with Baxtrom’s Buttered Mashed Potatoes.
A big hit at our table was the Mostaccioli, which Baxtrom says is “just what they call Chicago baked ziti,” and is prepared with or without meat. Other, yet unreleased, choices include a fried chicken pork chop and salt-encrusted cedar-planked salmon.
Obviously, you need to get as many desserts as possible, but if you only have room for one, make it the Cherry Cobbler. This fruity beast arrives all bubbling in a cast iron skillet, a few Van Leeuwen vanilla balls melting everywhere, the tangy and sticky filling, the soft and buttery crust. This may be the best cobbler I have ever eaten.
The peanut chocolate bars are also excellent. These are based on the ones Baxtrom’s mother made when he was growing up, and that she used to have him bring for Alinea’s kitchen team, “which was both embarrassing and kind “, did he declare.
Beer, wines by the glass and cocktails with school-themed names like Ditch Day and Spirit Week provide alcoholic refreshments, with Midwest icons Green River citrus soda and Dad’s Root Beer leading the way on the forehead soft drinks.
Patti Ann’s is located at 570 Vanderbilt Avenue, corner of Bergen Street, and is currently open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Patti Ann’s Bakery has a separate entrance on Bergen and is open daily at 8am for breads, pastries, coffee and groceries (patients.com)