s spaghetti on the wall at Andre Guerrero's (The Oinkster) latest restaurant, Maximiliano, which opens Friday (yes, Friday) in Highland Park. Nobody threw it there, and the staff didn't forget to clean it up. It's a design feature, a red wall patterned with pale, slinky, spaghetti-like strands.
You can double the fun if you pose by the wall with a bowl of old fashioned spaghetti and meatballs. It's one of the best dishes, fine-grained meatballs of veal, pork and beef seasoned with lemon and fennel, tossed with spaghetti and plain tomato sauce.
It's an example of what Guerrero is doing at Maximiliano, taking Italian favorites and preparing them well. The menu is comfy and familiar: think Margherita, pepperoni and sausage-mushroom pizzas and, among the pastas, capellini with tomato and basil, spaghetti with olive oil and garlic and tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce. Desserts include cannoli and spumoni.
Nothing intimidating. But top ingredients. Guerrero is buying vegetables from a local grower who raises them from Italian seeds. That grower produced the heirloom cherry tomatoes for a starter salad with burrata and the Tuscan kale under a handsome pan-roasted pork chop surrounded by sweet potato puree and sour orange sauce.
Guerrero plans to work with an expert from Bari, Italy on the house made pasta. Pizza crusts are thin and crisp, made of high gluten red wheat flour from Montana. Three sommeliers have consulted on the wine list (all Italian).
Test dinners this week are helping him fine tune the cooking. The remodeling of the high-ceilinged space is still happening. Later, he'll fix up the patio and eventually open a bakery on the site.
Guerrero sees Maximiliano as a neighborhood gathering spot. Once he starts Fellini Fridays, with Fellini classics projected on a wall accompanied by vintage Italian music, you'll probably go there even though your neighborhood is far away.
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Read more from Barbara Hansen at www.tableconversation.com, www.eatmx.com, @ food and wine gal and Facebook.