"Tacos, whiskey, hillbilly music"—that's the promise of Chicago's Big Star, famed chef Paul Kahan's new project with Donnie Madia and mixologist Michael Rubel of Violet Hour. Though they call the place a dive (it's not), the classic tacos—like the exceptional grilled-pork one here—are impressively fresh. And there's a take-out window.
Paul Kahan's idea: a focaccia made with spelt flour, which is high in protein and gives the bread an appealingly hearty texture. Instead of using an excessive amount of cheese or meat, he tops the focaccia with tangy marinated kale, soft and sweet slices of winter squash and a few shavings of nutty, salty pecorino cheese.
Paul Kahan is a big fan of chicken thighs because they have so much flavor and are so inexpensive—the best of both worlds. He braises the thighs in beer to make an excellent spring stew that he (naturally) pairs with more beer.
This recipe was inspired by a grits dish made by Paul Virant, who worked in Blackbird's kitchen before becoming chef at Vie in Western Springs, a Chicago suburb. "Grits aren't necessarily part of my cooking—polenta would be more traditional. But the texture of these white grits blew me away," he says.
Homemade ricotta cheese is completely delicious and unbelievably easy to prepare—all it takes is milk, lemon juice and a little heat. Chef Paul Kahan spreads it on crostini, then adds a few slices of pretty red radish and a sprinkling of pepper. Pair the crostini with a refreshing lager, like pale-gold Peroni from Italy, which won't overwhelm the delicate ricotta.