A clever and high-quality take on a Mexican staple
BY DAVID HAMMOND For Sun-Times Media February 25, 2014 4:54PM
Besides the namesake products, Cookies & Carnitas sells pizza with unique toppings. Right now, the goat and jalapeno is outselling sausage. | DAVID HAMMOND PHOTO
Updated: February 27, 2014 8:08PM
Brad Newman and Mikey Taormina of Cookies & Carnitas (5759 N. Broadway) are not newcomers to the Chicago food scene. For years, they worked at Green City Market, serving dishes with pork sourced from Iowa’s Becker Lane Organic farm, which now supplies high-quality meat to Newman and Taormina’s recently opened Edgewater restaurant.
Having worked in the kitchens of Charlie Trotter’s and Tru, Newman also was formerly executive chef at UC’s Quadrangle Club. He brings a fine-dining attention to detail to the food served at Cookies & Carnitas, a restaurant whose name suggests that he and Taormina are taking an innovative — maybe quirky approach — to Mexican-themed food.
There’s chile-packed soup — and pizza. “More peculiar toppings,” says Newman, “now outsell sausage: our best-selling combination is goat and jalapeno.” A small pizza with these toppings is $11.50, enough for two to three, and it’s terrific, with bite-sized chunks of lush goat meat perked up by bright jalapeno heat.
Although you can order sandwiches like a Proprietary Dog (an “enormous” kosher dog with Mexican relish) or The Vegetarian (portobello mushrooms and red peppers), both $8.50, pork is the standout. Perhaps in a bow to Taormina’s Italian heritage, there’s a Classic Italian Porchetta ($14) served with onion jam and slaw. Sandwiches come with fries or chicharones, an extremely light, freshly fried version of the popular Latin street food.
If you’ve experienced carnitas (pork slow-cooked in its own fat) at places like Pilsen’s Carnitas Uruapan (1725 W. 18th), you’ll notice a difference in the approach at Cookies & Carnitas. “We cook meat in beer, chile and lime,” said Newman. “It’s another way of preparing carnitas, also traditional in Mexico.” These “little meats” are very juicy and soft.
There’s a display case of cookies ($2.75) that use “100-year old recipes,” including Kitchen Floor (black chocolate, spent Espresso grinds) and Cowboy (white chocolate, oatmeal, nuts).
“Baked goods,” said Newman, “are big sellers.”
The Newman/Taormina team is opening a coffee shop next door, offering scones, muffins and breakfast sandwiches. Reflecting their high-quality aspirations, this morning place will pour java from Sparrow Coffee Roastery, which also supplies white tablecloth places such as Acadia and Grace.
Menu items are moderately priced, which is good, since Cookies & Carnitas is cash only right now. To sweeten the deal: BYOB.