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Columbia College grad Jack C. Newell films and eats great food

Jack C. Newell

Jack C. Newell

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Updated: November 17, 2013 6:06AM

Filmmaker Jack C. Newell has made public his love affair with food.

His first film, “Close Quarters,” took place in a (fictional) Lake View coffee shop. “Open Tables,” his second film out next year, was shot in restaurants and bars around town. His current project is a documentary about the chef of an underground restaurant.

The Columbia College grad and Old Town resident traces his dining obsession to the month he lived on a farm in Italy in 2008. He made cheese, hunted for truffles and, every day, sat down to a communal meal cooked by the farmer’s grandmother. Back in Chicago, “I basically made pasta for the next year,” he says.

Though Newell, 31, keeps a soft spot for Italian cooking, Asian food is “what’s getting me excited right now more than anything,” he said. The dumplings at Urban Belly are “the best I’ve had in my life” and the fat rice at Fat Rice is “unbelievable,” he says.

Vibe counts. When he and his girlfriend eat out, they try to avoid the “overworked, pretentious, too cool for school stuff.” Their other rule: no cell phones at the table.

Comfort food: “Topo Gigio [1516 N. Wells] is literally around the corner from us. The thing we always get there is the most obvious — conchiglie alla sarda [pasta with sausage, peas and a tomato cream sauce]. It’s warm and delicious and great.”

For scotch and whiskey: “Old Town Ale House [219 W. North] isn’t sexy, but their booze is as good as anybody else’s. It has these really weird nude drawings of Albert Einstein and Sarah Palin. It’s kind of an old-school improviser haunt for Second City folk. Talk about no pretension.”

Old-school: “La Scarola [721 W. Grand] is weird and great, full of character. It’s cool because it’s not trying to be cool. I get the spaghetti with meatballs or the eggplant parmigiana.”

Even cooler: “The Off Site Bar at Longman & Eagle [2657 N. Kedzie] — why not have a garage where people can sit and drink beer? Why aren’t more people doing that? And the food is high-quality.”

Hotspot: “If I’m going to Logan Square, I’m going to Fat Rice [2957 W. Diversey]. It’s so fricking good. We ordered poorly because we ordered too much. I was not ready for what it was bringing at me. When I go back, I want to get just the fat rice and focus on that.”

Janet Rausa Fuller is a local freelance writer.

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