Table Hopping: Restaurateurs are head over wheels in the business
Union Pizzeria and Hummingbird brain trust: Executive chef/partner Vincent DiBattista with owner/partners Heather Falconer Behm and Steven Schwartz. | Lee A. Litas~Sun-Times Media
Union Pizzeria and Hummingbird Kitchen
1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston
4:30–11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4:30 p.m.–midnight. Friday-Saturday; 4-10 p.m. Sunday
(847) 475-2400 or see unionpizza.com and hummingbirdkitchen.com
Updated: March 7, 2013 12:28PM
“Two restaurants and a food truck” — sounds like the title for a sitcom.
But with three enthusiastic partners running this Evanston restaurant business, one can see how such a mix works.
Campagnola, Union Pizzeria and the mobile gourmet food truck, Hummingbird Kitchen, are the brainchildren of partners Steven Schwartz, Heather Falconer Behm and executive chef/partner Vincent DiBattista.
All three places may offer different food but “as it’s all my food, it falls under the umbrella of our style,” according to DiBattista. Grandson of Italian immigrants from Palermo, Italy, he favors simple, rustic food with big flavors.
“That’s my thing (to) sort of squeeze a little bit of Italian into everything,” he said.
Campagnola was founded in 1996, and Union Pizzeria in 2008. Then, on a research expedition to New York City, known for its ubiquitous food trucks, the three amigos began to discuss opening yet another restaurant.
But why add more work when you’ve got two enterprises already bustling with business?
Behm’s reply is simple: “Why not? It’s more fun, more excitement, more challenges (and) more money.”
Fair enough. Dubbed Hummingbird for its ability to quickly flit from place to place, the mobile commercial kitchen holds 12 burners, two convection ovens and is able to provide gourmet catering to groups of up to 300 people.
“The (truck) kitchen is literally bigger than our Union kitchen, as far as fire power,” said Behm.
From rack of lamb to diver scallops, the true benefit of the truck is its ability to cater events at unique locations that lack kitchens.
“So if you want to do something cool and unexpected in a loft or an art gallery, museum or an outdoor wedding, that doesn’t have a commercial kitchen, it’s the perfect opportunity,” said Behm.
Since 2011, Hummingbird has been a regular at local street fairs and festivals, offering dishes made from locally-grown and organic ingredients from farms throughout the Midwest.
Of course, except for special catering excursions, the truck is a warm weather operation. So to sample some of its offerings this time of year, drop in to Union Pizzeria.
Lunches, $8-$12, can include salads, and sandwiches like Chef DiBattista’s version of the Reuben made with Nueske ham from Wisconsin and tangy house-braised red cabbage on Highland Bakery’s pumpernickel ($8).
Another classic is the Milanesa, a staple in Mexico, Central and South America and, as schnitzel, Europe. Off the truck and at Union, Berkshire pork loin from Iowa is lightly breaded and pan fried, then served with generous chunks of avocado and pickled onions on rustic Sammy Tuscan bread smeared with a house-made aioli infused with spicy Calabrian peppers ($9).
The chef’s “Italian touch” is evident in the fine burrata. This comforting dish is full of aromatic sautéed wild mushrooms topped with warm, gooey mozzarella cheese and cream ($9).
And the deceptively simple-sounding rapini is bursting with fresh flavors and crunchy/soft textures of creamy polenta cake topped with melted cherry tomatoes sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Both vegetarian and gluten free it is the perfect small plate for lunch ($7).
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