Greg Baxtrom already runs two of the most popular restaurants in his neighborhood of Prospect Heights: the farm-to-table stunner Olmsted, and Maison Yaki, a French restaurant operating under the guise of a rowdy Japanese yakitori. And this after a career's-worth of cooking in the fine-dining kitchens of Alinea, Per Se, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
But Baxtrom is far from finished feeding us, and right before the pandemic hit he signed a lease on a sprawling space on Vanderbilt Avenue and set about creating something new. Now, more than two years, innumerable delays, and one major change of direction later--it was initially going to be a raw bar--we finally have Patti Ann's, Baxtrom's ode to his native Chicago, Midwest comfort food, and his mom Patti Ann, a retired elementary school teacher who he describes as being "as bubbly as a human can possibly be."
"I wanted to make something that the neighborhood could really use," Baxtrom told Gothamist on opening weekend. "A place that would stick around, even if, God forbid, another outbreak happens and we have to pivot to delivery. I wanted something you could quite literally roll up with some strollers and some kids and not feel uncomfortable asking if there's a table. I called it Patti Ann's because what's more family-friendly than my own mother?"
As such, Patti Ann's saves fully half of its 70+ seats for walk-ins each night, and Baxtrom bought a bunch of bike locks for what he calls a "valet stroller parking system" outside. The decor leans hard into the elementary school theme, with shelving units (built by his carpenter dad) filled with board games, a help-yourself blackboard, and a classroom-style map hanging prominently by the entrance.
Sure, there's a full bar lined with sleek-looking suede stools and a chef's counter, but you'll also find big, sturdy tables filled with paper placemats that double as menus, and an activity booklet with a box of crayons. Attached to your check, which you get up and pay at the register, is a report card grading your behavior at dinner. Our table got all A's, except for a B+ in "clean plate club," but to be fair, we did order a ton of food.
"It feels like Chicago here," said Baxtrom. "Which in this case probably just means that it reminds me of my family."
The menu is wall-to-wall winners, a mixture of "Greg Baxtrom's upbringing dishes" and comfort food classics. Nothing's terribly cheffy, though Braxton, using everything he's learned in the kitchens of some of the world's most renowned restaurants, knows enough tricks to make each dish feel like extra-special versions of themselves without simply piling on luxury ingredients. Or as he put it, "There are ways of putting a lot of energy into everything that people will appreciate without having to know anything other than it tastes good."
To take just one example: the Patti Ann's Mac & Cheese is actually called Mac & Greens — Baxtrom added a little broccoli rabe to it, and includes rutabaga puree in the mix, which you can't really taste but "makes it eat a million times lighter, even though it still has a ton of cheese in it," he said.
There are lots of ways to enjoy a meal at Patti Ann's--solo at the bar would be just fine--but portions are large, and everything's pretty hearty, so if you can get a four-top of friends together, and try as many things as possible, that seems like the best move.
Definitely start with the crunchy Blooming Onion, which is not only straight-up delicious but also makes for a fun, pull-apart centerpiece. The Chips and Goop is also a must, so much better than a bag of chips and a crock of onion dip deserves to be, as is the Bread Basket, which is overflowing with rolls made in-house.
The Lemon Brussels Sprouts Caesar salad is both bright and briny, the latter thanks to a bunch of whole white anchovies hidden in the pile of finely-shaved little cabbages. The Honey Carrots and the Sauteed Pea Shoots, sold as side dishes and both very good, are the only other vegetable-centered dishes on the menu.
Baxtrom flexes a bit more on the mains. The Royale Roasted Chicken comes cooked four different ways, the breast roasted and wonderfully juicy, the drumsticks done as a confit, the wings fried to a crisp, and some chicken liver mousse slathered on a slab of baguette. Patti Ann's Meatloaf is made from duck meat molded into a disc, the richness of the fatty bird countered by a bright pink cherry ketchup. Unsurprisingly, both of these dishes pair exceptionally well with Baxtrom's buttery Mashed Potatoes.
A big hit at our table was the Mostaccioli, which Baxtrom told me is "just what they call baked ziti in Chicago," and is prepared either with or without meat. Other choices, as yet untried, include a Chicken Fried Country Rib Pork Chop, and a Saltine Encrusted Cedar Plank Salmon.
Obviously you need to get as many desserts as possible, but if you only have room for one, make it the Cherry Cobbler. This fruity beast arrives all bubbling in a cast-iron pan, a couple of scoops of Van Leeuwen vanilla melting all over the place, the filling tart and sticky, the crust sweet and buttery. It's maybe the best cobbler I've ever eaten.
The Peanut Chocolate Bars are also excellent. These are based on the ones Baxtrom's mom made when he was growing up, and which she used to have him bring in for the kitchen crew at Alinea, "which was both embarrassing and sweet," he said.
Beer, wines by the glass, and cocktails with school-themed names like Ditch Day and Spirit Week provide alcoholic refreshment, with Midwest icons Green River citrus soda and Dad's Root Beer leading the way on the soft-drink front.
Patti Ann's is located at 570 Vanderbilt Avenue, at the corner of Bergen Street, and is currently open for dinner on Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. There's also Patti Ann's Bakery, which has a separate entrance on Bergen, and is open daily at 8 a.m. for breads, pastries, coffee and provisions (pattianns.com)