An alum of Alinea, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Per Se, Baxtrom is the kind of chef who fashions brussels sprouts into falafel with eggplant espuma, and whips carrots into crepes filled with buttered littleneck clams, more carrots, and a shower of sunflower seeds. But with the opening of his latest restaurant, Patti Ann’s, that’s all about to change.
Named for his mom, an elementary school teacher who raised Greg and his siblings on a farm in Frankfurt, Ill., south of Chicago, Patti Ann’s draws from Baxtrom’s childhood memories of the Midwest. It’s also just a stone’s throw away from his other two restaurants. And it was designed specifically with families in mind — ideal for a neighborhood that’s home to many young families. It’s the kind of spot where kids can play Battleship and make quick work of their bacon-laced Cobb Dip while their exhausted parents enjoy craft cocktails with school-inspired names like the Scotch-based Parent Teacher, or a Field Trip with rye, cherry vermouth, and cara cara orange.
Like many chefs exploring their post-pandemic identity and leaning into nostalgia, Baxtrom draws on his connections to home and the sense of comfort that comes from the foods of days gone by. But he’s also taking it up a notch. “This is the kind of a restaurant where a chef can be creative,” says Baxtrom. “This is not rustic food; it is very precise. The goal is to make food that’s interesting, without straying from the point of being authentic.” Here, he takes us on a deep dive into five dishes.
1. Chips & Goop
“Chips & Goop was something my mom served when we had company, or on the holidays, or if you were bringing a girl home. She made it from scratch, but it came out very similarly to the one you’d find on the back of a box of dried Lipton’s French Onion Soup Mix. Instead of using dried onion powder, she used fresh onions on a box grater and melted them down into a broth, then mixed them with cream cheese and seasoning. I thought about making the chips in-house, but then I decided to serve them with a bag of Jay’s Chips, which is what we grew up on, even though it’s killing my food costs. I took a lot of time with the serving dishes for this one. We pour the chips tableside into these fake crystal bowls I found, alongside the dip, just like at home.”
2. The Bread Basket
“I’m not sure if this is a thing here, but in the Midwest when you order a bread basket, you get a basket full of these shrink-wrapped rolls, with packets of Saltine crackers, some sesame sticks and pats of butter. I wanted to get to that same concept but with housemade breads and no shrink-wrapping. We make Parker House rolls, and seeded everything bagel rolls and serve those with packets of Saltine crackers, and shrink-wrapped sesame sticks.
We serve it in one of those bowls that you should proof bread in, with cute little butter dishes that we fill with Crown Finish Cave Cheese Shop cultured butter. [Crown Finish is] just three blocks away. It’s about weaving in that nostalgia but making it our own.”
3. Port Wine Cheese Ball
“Port wine cheese balls are found in grocery stores all over the Midwest, and they’re not usually all that good. They are orange and they look like sherbet. It’s essentially processed cheese coated with almonds. This was something we also served at a lot of family gatherings.
For ours, we use a Jasper Hill cheddar and fold it in with a little port wine and a red onion relish. We make the cheese into a ball and then crust it in a multi-colored cauliflower couscous and serve it with garlic crostini. I didn’t want to do the nuts because it is just too heavy. The balls are usually served with crudite, so my thinking was to use some sort of vegetable to lighten things up and stand in for crudite. I went with multi-colored cauliflower. It just made sense.”
4. Cherry Ketchup-Glazed Duck Meatloaf
“We had meatloaf a few times a month at home. My mom would make it from ground beef, with a tomato glaze and some peas and mashed potatoes on the side. I knew I wanted to do meatloaf, but I wanted it to be with the whole roast duck, which we grind in house. Instead of ketchup or a tomato-based glaze, I went with cherries, which speaks to a very classic French pairing. Also, everyone wants the corner piece, the one with the crispy edges that get caramelized, so I decided to make the meatloaf in little hockey pucks so there are more edges. Every slice gets lacquered with the cherry ‘ketchup,’ and no one has to fight over the end pieces.
The thing about mashed potatoes is that they are simple, but every chef from Gordon Ramsay to the restaurant next door is gonna say you have to use Yukon Gold potatoes because they are drier and waxier. But that’s not what my parents used. They used russet or Idaho potatoes. And when we make family meal [for the restaurant], we always use russet or Idaho potatoes, so why do we switch to Yukon Gold when we make mashed potatoes for the restaurant? Because they make the creamiest mashed potatoes. But these are fluffy and buttery and what you want mashed potatoes to be — not what a chef wants them to be.”
“Mostaccioli and cheese is basically just baked ziti. It’s just the name people call it in Chicago. We had this all the time. It was catered in aluminum pans for big family gatherings and all the Boy Scout events. For mine, I wanted to make a mostaccioli that would taste the same, but not be the same. So we use pasta from Sfoglini, a local upstate company, and we make it with our own marinara, and you can have it with or without ground beef, with lots of mozzarella. We bake it in these cute rectangular vessels we got in primary colors. I wanted it all to speak to that theme of a classroom.
There’s something unique to the dish. When I get put on the spot to cook at someone’s house — and I did this a lot when I cooked for the Seinfelds — I always switch up plain black pepper for a mixture of black pepper, fennel seed, and coriander. It’s so different. That’s what we are using in the mostaccioli.”
Patti Ann’s is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
Andrea Strong is the journalist behind pioneering food blog, The Strong Buzz, and she has covered the intersection of food, business, policy, and law for many years. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Food & Wine, New York, Heated, Eater, and more. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.