Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood has started to become a culinary destination. One of the newest, and best, additions to that growing restaurant scene is Ugo’s Kitchen and Bar located at 2833 W. Armitage Ave.
Ugo’s is the inspiration of Executive Chef/Proprietor Stephen Hasson who describes it as a “modern Italian diner”. Chef Hasson, a Kendall College graduate who honed his craft in the kitchens of Solero, Wood, Sixteen, and Alinea, has created a menu with interpretations of traditional Italian cuisine, comprised of locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
Ugo’s (Oo-go’s) is named after Chef and Owner Stephen Hasson’s grandfather, Sol Hasson. Sol grew up in Naples, Italy, where he adopted the nickname “Ugo” from his classmates. At the age of 12, Sol’s parents put him on a boat to America, hoping he would have a better life. With hard work and perseverance, Sol earned a PhD and became a successful businessman. Chef Hasson has always admired his grandfather’s intelligence and efforts, affectionately naming this establishment Ugo’s in his honor.
I was recently invited to bring a guest to sample the menu at Ugo’s. Both the cocktail program and the dinner menu were superb. My guest and I remarked at the end of the meal that Ugo’s is a place we will return and bring friends. It has the vibe of a friendly neighborhood restaurant – reasonable prices, a warm and friendly staff, a brief yet varied menu – and combines all of that with the flavor and presentation of fine dining. Chef Hasson brings his extensive high end restaurant experience to Ugo’s and allows that style to infuse his food while still maintaining a warm, welcoming, and completely non-pretentious environment.
The menu contains a rotating selection of Charcuterie, primarily local and regional meats and cheeses. For additional appetizers, the Antipasti menu offers some excellent options. We sampled three:
- Burrata – this preparation will change based on seasonal ingredients, but on my visit it was accompanied with Agrodolce and focaccia crisps. Agrodolce is a traditional sweet and sour sauce in Italian cuisine, in this case caramelized Cipollini onions with olive oil and vinegar. I have sampled Burrata all over the city and this is some of the best I have tried.
- Parmesan Crisps – This sounds (and looks) quite unassuming. Don’t be fooled! The light, airy crisps have an incredibly dense parmesan flavor. Be warned – these are addictive so just go ahead and plan to order more than one serving.
- Fried Eggplant – These ribbons of fried eggplant are crisply fried and served with a sweet, homemade tomato jam. The eggplant was good, but the jam was superb. Try the jam on the parmesan crisps and thank me later.
The current menu (as of June 2016) offers two salads. We opted to sample the Kale Caesar. Again, this was deceptive. The salad looks simple – and it is – but there’s nothing simple about the dressing or the large white anchovies placed artfully on the plate. The kale was fresh and crisp, and the garlic croutons were clearly fresh and made in house.
The pastas are also made fresh, daily, in-house. Although selections will rotate based on seasonal ingredients, there is one that I was told would always stay on the menu – Carbonara. The freshly-made spaghetti is swirled with a dense parmesan cheese sauce with hints of thyme, fresh-cracked black pepper and crispy/salty pancetta. Truly, this was one of the best pasta dishes I have tasted in a long while. I paired this with an excellent Ripasso. The intense, slightly earthy tones of the wine and the perfectly-balanced acidity were a stunning accompaniment to the pasta, helping to cut through the richness and creating one of the rare “perfect wine/food pairing moments.”
Finally, you must try some of Chef Haddon’s Neopolitan-style pizza. When you come to Ugo’s you will likely see him in the open kitchen working on the pizza dough, made fresh daily and baked to order. The crust comes out delightfully crunchy (my favorite style). Ugo’s offers several pizzas – both red and white sauced. We opted to sample the Sausage (smoked mozzarella, provolone, house-made sausage). The sausage was a bit on the spicy side, but not so much as to take away from the wonderful flavors of the sauce and cheese.
Any visit to Ugo’s must include a sampling of the inventive craft cocktail menu. For the summer try some of the new, boozy beverages including The Vera, a light and refreshing libation made with aloe liqueur, local distillery CH gin, house-infused citrus and rosemary syrup; Middleton a sweet, sour and smoky sipper that incorporates 1779 rye with hickory smoked syrup and house made bourbon-soaked Luxardo cherries; and Sicilian Sour, a twist on a classic whiskey sour made with Amaro Averna (the most popular Sicilian amaro). These new cocktails are available in addition to Ugo’s signature selections, such as Bourbon Barrel Aged Negroni, Blood Orange Daiquiri and Mezcal Black.
Ugo’s Kitchen and Bar is located at 2833 W. Armitage Avenue in the Logan Square neighborhood. For more information, visit the Ugo’s website or call (773) 698-8984. Join their social media conversations on Facebook and Twitter.