Chicago is full of the usual Italian American suspects: a little vodka rigatoni, some chicken parm, a couple glasses of wine—you get the idea. And at first glance Segnatore in Humboldt Park appears to be another installment of the Chicago’s Casual Neighborhood Italian Restaurant franchise.
It has a lived-in feel, complete with mismatched chairs, vintage wallpaper, and a long wooden bar that’s begging to become someone’s forwarding address. And, yes, we happily admit: the candlelit space is charming. But it’s the excellent food that makes Segnatore stand out in Chicago’s crowded red sauce landscape. A meal here might seem like another red sauce rerun, but will end up being a Very Special Episode of your typical wine and pasta night.
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photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Every dish has some kind of creative twist that makes it interesting. Like meatballs filled with melted scamorza, offering the benefits of a Juicy Lucy without the risk of third-degree burns. Or a deconstructed lasagna that’s a mound of handmade garlic mafaldine, whipped ricotta, and a mushroom bolognese that would win in a steel cage match against any meat version. If there’s such a thing as a pasta cuffing season, then the leek gramigne, tossed with short rib and cured egg yolk, is who we’re choosing to comfort us through winter.
There are also impressive entrees like the juicy porchetta that, thanks to the addition of a bitter greens and a prune mostarda, has the perfect balance of fat, acid, and sweet. Or the slightly-subversive family-style whole fried chicken that you probably won’t find on the menu at your local trattoria.
Also unlike your typical neighborhood spot, you should probably make reservations for dinner here, even on a weeknight. Segnatore is almost always busy, buzzing with couples, small groups, and the occasional celebration that makes us wonder how eight adults managed to align their schedules on a Tuesday. But you can usually get same day reservations, and you can almost always just walk in by yourself for a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine at the bar. That usually ends up being our favorite episode of Neighborhood Italian Restaurant, anyway.
The focaccia and sourdough are outstanding and come with an herb butter we want to rub all over our bodies like an expensive lotion. But the grissini is like that slightly annoying person at a party that people tolerate and try to ignore. The flavor is fine, but it’s dense and a little soft, lacking the snap that grissini should have.
Not only are the tender meatballs sitting in a spicy tomato sauce that’s delicious enough to justify the use of flaccid grissini for dipping, but they’re filled with a flavorful cheese. And that's just a nice surprise. That we’ve spoiled. Sorry about that.
This deconstructed lasagna is made with an unbelievably rich mushroom bolognese that makes us want to choose Toad as our forever character in Mario Kart in a show of solidarity. It’s a must-order.
photo credit: Kim Kovacik
Calling this pasta rich is like calling Tom Brady, well, rich. Factual, but doesn’t quite cover it. The gramigne is in a dry vermouth cream sauce packed with short rib and mushrooms, and tossed with cured egg yolk. This is the kind of pasta you consider leaving your significant other for.
All too often the delicate strings of capellini can’t hold up to the pasta sauce. But the capellini here bravely stands its ground, allowing the pesto to cling to each noodle and stay firm against the weight of blue cheese and walnuts. Which, by the way, round everything out delightfully
This is our favorite of the entrees. The pork is tender, and served with a delightfully sweet and tart prune mostarta, plus some bitter greens.
Why would you order the fries at an Italian restaurant that has excellent pasta? Because they have a hint of rosemary, are topped with a generous amount of parmesan, and you can get them with a little bowl of red sauce or mushroom bolognese on the side. That, plus a glass of wine is an ideal date night by yourself.
Brussels Sprout Risotto
The risotto is a little grainy, and the taleggio butter sauce is one-note. There’s preserved lemon in there too, but it does little to balance out the richness of the dish. Skip this in favor of more pasta.
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