If this restaurant could hoist itself off its foundation and wander around Chicago, it would be chased by hordes of paparazzi and desperate people waiting for an open seat at the bar. To call Rose Mary popular is an understatement.
The combination of being in the West Loop and having a Top Chef winner in the kitchen created a level of hype that caused this large Croatian spot to become fully booked before it even opened. But hyped or not, Rose Mary is a great restaurant.
This information will either delight or annoy you, depending on whether or not you’ve been able to get a reservation. And in an era of hot takes, it might feel a little anticlimactic to hear that a restaurant so popular is also really good. But that doesn’t change the fact that the food at Rose Mary is delicious. Or that everything - from great service to the thoughtful coursing - makes for a fantastic dining experience.
The food is mostly Croatian, with a few Italian influences sprinkled in. And the long menu is full of a variety of delicious dishes that, after finally getting a table here, make it hard to decide what to order. From starters like the stracciatella with apple mostarda and airy lepinja, to the crni rizot - a creamy squid ink risotto that tasted like it was made with stock from the tears of a hundred lobsters.
That fantastic lepinja makes another appearance with the cevapi - a plate of lamb and beef sausages spiced with enough paprika, garlic, and onion to make you think twice before kissing your date goodnight. There is also the fall-off-the-bone pork ribs pampanella in a delicious sweet and sour calabrian chili agrodolce. You’ll want to try everything, and be frustrated that we live in a universe governed by the laws of space, time, and the physical limitations of stomach capacity.
You might not be able to order the entire menu, but there is some kind of Time Wizard working at Rose Mary. Despite the fact that every single table is filled, you won’t feel rushed, or get seated 45 minutes late. Normally, when we’re told to put our entire order in at once (like they do here) it frequently results in a stressful game of table-Tetris. But this doesn’t happen, and only dishes that complement each other arrive at the same time. And even though it’s unbelievably busy, you can speak at a normal volume instead of screaming about how great the cevapi is.
In other words, you’ll be searching Open Table for your next reservation before your scoop of honey pistachio gelato arrives.
The preparation of this dish changes seasonally - we’ve had it with strawberries and most recently with an apple mostarda - but one thing that remains the same is the soft, airy lepinja it’s served with. Order this.
Lamb Mafaldine Abruzzi
The lamb ragu clings to the mafaldine like a liquidy blanket, and the pasta is cooked perfectly. The sauce is bright, and topped with just enough caciocavallo to add some salty richness.
If you’re ever stranded in the snowy mountains of Croatia, this is what you’ll dream about until help arrives. The pillowy gnocchi is in a rich beef cheek pašticada, and topped with paški and basil.
The lamb and beef sausages are full of onion and garlic, and served with four pieces of lepinja, along with ajvar, kajmak, and diced red onion. The clotted cream and tangy avjar go wonderfully with the tender meat, and make fantastic little sandwiches. This is a perfect dish to share with a small group.
If you ever wanted to know what the ocean would taste like if it made a wish to become risotto, this is it. The creamy squid ink risotto is in a rich lobster brodo, and topped with confit squid.
Baby Octopus Peka Style
The octopus is cooked peka-style, which basically means low and slow in a metal dish over an open fire. This makes it (and the potatoes) very tender, and concentrates all the flavors together in a garlic and pepper sauce. If you’re a fan of octopus, or just tired of seeing the same boring preparation at every restaurant, definitely get this.
Pork Ribs Pampanella
The meat is charred and tender, and the sweet and spicy calabrian chile agrodolce is a perfect complement to the pork. Plus, the addition of a cabbage and yogurt relish makes a very tasty coleslaw to go with the BBQ ribs that are on your plate.