Executive chef and restaurateur AJ Black got his first job in the restaurant industry at age 6. That's when he began washing dishes at the restaurant his family ran in their small seaside town in Sicily. Black also joined his grandparents as they fished for the eatery's catch of the day, reeling in tuna, anchovies, and other fresh seafood.
These experiences sparked a passion for cooking that eventually led Chef Black to the Italian Culinary Institute. He opened his first restaurant at the tender age of 19 before heading to Le Cordon Bleu to study classical French cooking under Paul Bocuse.
From Beaches to Borders
Fresh, seasonal ingredients inspire daily specials that let loose Chef Black's creativity in the kitchen. For the regular menu, however, he draws on tried-and-true traditions from across Italy, from the sunny beaches of the south to the French-Italian border. A dish of whole, lightly fried sardines with a dusting of chili flakes takes its inspiration from the Sicilian seaside, and a hearty order of duck leg confit with freshly made gnocchi hails from the mountainous North.
Il Tesoro's faux-stucco walls and striped awnings capture the casual spirit of an Old World bistro. Oil paintings burst with images from bucolic countryside scenes to vases of blooming flowers. The simple wooden chairs surrounding each white linen-draped table exude a homespun charm, as do the solitary brass lamps that adorn the tables.
Geo's authentic Italian menu delivers an extensive selection of hand-tossed pizzas, hot subs, pasta, and other classic Italian entrees. A thin and crispy disk delivers eight meat and veggie toppings including pepperoni, meatballs, green peppers, and black olives on the Geo’s special pizza ($20–$23). Midday munchers can nosh on subs ($9 each) stuffed with eggplant, Italian sausage, or chicken parmigiana. Challenge gender binaries by feeding baby boys a pink vodka sauce in the prosciutto-laden penne vodka ($11 for lunch, $14 for dinner). Shrimp scampi represents one of many seafood options in a sophisticated lemon, garlic, and wine sauce ($14 for lunch, $20 for dinner), and creamy veal chesapeake unifies competing menu sections with a tasty veal medallion and crabmeat truce ($14 for lunch, $20 for dinner).
Chicago Pizza imports the spirit and flavors of the Windy City with a menu overflowing with authentic Chicago classics. Travel to the Second City with one bite of the savory hot italian-beef sandwich served with au jus ($6.99), or imagine the friendly confines of a Chicago hot dog, an all Vienna-beef dog hugging a dill-pickle spear and sport peppers in a poppy-seed bun, blanketed in mustard, relish, onion, and tomato ($3.50). Spicy-food addicts enjoy the reassuring feeling of fire mouth with jalapeño-pepper poppers filled with cool cream cheese ($5.25) or buffalo wings that come smothered in mild, medium, hot, barbecue, or Chicago Pizza's signature garlicky buffalo sauce (20 for $13.50). Empty tummies regretting their divorce with dinner can win back affection with a velvet-covered pizza box brimming with a 14-inch Chicago-style deep-dish pizza ($11.95), decorated in your favorite meat and vegetable toppings ($1.59¬–$1.99 per topping).
Petes pleases palates with a menu of Italian pasta, pizza, and meat plates. Meals kick off with antipasto Della Nonna, which invites dining parties to share bites of fresh buffalo mozzarella, olives, and artichoke hearts drizzled—like Italian princes—in balsamic vinaigrette ($8.99). In the kitchen, potato dumplings sauté in the gnocchi's homemade meat sauce ($14.99), and fresh lasagna sheets seal in layers of ricotta and ground beef ($13.99). Meanwhile, hands cast off forks to peel pieces from a stromboli calzone ($10.99) and rearrange slices from a 16-inch pepperoni-and-sausage deluxe pizza into cubist self portraits ($16.99).
The secret behind Carmine Street NY Pizza & Mussels? New York?style slices is the restaurant?s stone-brick oven, which sears dough until it attains the style?s signature crispy, thin-crusted crunch. However, Chef Anthony knows that a great pizza relies on more than its base, so he tops dough with gourmet ingredients such as chicken marsala, meatballs, and fresh baby spinach.
Like a graphic novel about pearls, the restaurant also features a few oceanic alter egos. Mussels, shrimp, and calamari are delivered to the kitchen daily, allowing chefs to toss them with wine, herbs, and pasta, or quickly fry them for fresh appetizers. Calzones, paninis, and entrees of chicken piccata are among the menu's classic Italian meals. Diners may pair meals with wines and cocktails procured at the full liquor bar, or take in the soothing streams of live music while feasting indoors or on the patio.