Mado: The Butcher, The Baker, the Sustainable Restaurant Makers / by Alice Zhao

Sometimes a restaurant comes along that changes the way you view your food and makes you think about how restaurants used to and can still be run. While we appreciate the growing number of restaurants that have embraced fresh local and sustainable ingredients, Rob and Allie Levitt of Mado really take it to the next level. We first heard Rob speak on a panel discussion about Nose to Tail Eating at the Family Farmed Expo back in March. At this panel, Rob spoke passionately about the Nose To Tail philosophy of Mado, about respecting the animal and not wasting any parts of a pig that can be cooked into a delicious meal and served at his restaurant. He orders 1 whole pig about once a week, butchers it himself and whatever he can cook from it is what you'll see on the menu. We were absolutely intrigued- so much so that when we serendipitously received tickets to the 2010 National Restaurant Association show, we made sure to get there just in time for Rob's live butchering demo.

Normally he offers these classes in a much smaller setting at his restaurant a couple Sundays a month. We spoke with him after the demo at the NRA show and made an appointment to join him at the one of his classes. This way we could guarantee way better photos and to also give us a more intimate setting to get to know the husband and wife culinary team.

This past Sunday, we showed up at the restaurant a little early before class started to scope out the place and take some photos. Mado from the outside has a modest exterior and is situated in one of Chicago's rising neighborhoods, Wicker Park. Once inside we were greeted by Rob and the lifeless half pig lying on a stainless steel table. The track lighting overhead was shining on the pig resembling a patient waiting to operated on. The tools and knives were laid out in rows and Rob was tying the finishing knot on his apron. Soon the room filled with pig enthusiasts anxious for the first cut to be made.

The class lasted about 2 hours of which Rob skillfully separates the different cuts of meat from the pig all the while answering questions from the class. For this demo, Rob used a cross between a Berkshire and Durrock pig, guaranteeing a meaty animal but also with a good amount of fat. He patiently explained each cut and slice and the yield that we are all familiar with from the meat counter. We won't spoil the class for everyone, so if you are interested please check out Mado's website for future butchering classes. And as an added bonus, everyone gets a goody bag of some of the cuts to take home.

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Here Rob explains that he saves an attractive 3lb pork chop for special customers :)

Soon after the class, we chatted with Rob and Allie in the hot and humid kitchen while they prepped for dinner service. Allie is the co-owner/pastry chef at Mado. Prior to living in Chicago, both Allie and Rob worked on the East Coast. After Allie received news of a staging opportunity at TRU, she packed her bags and moved to Chicago and bringing Rob with her. Over the next couple years, they both worked separately at several fine dining restaurants around the city.

Then in 2008, the husband and wife team decided to join forces cooking food they wanted to cook and took a gamble by turning a space previously occupied by a failing pizza joint to become one of Bon Appetit's 2009 Top Ten Best New Restaurants. Their philosophy is simple, serve food that is fresh and local. Meats are bought whole on a weekly basis from a list of local purveyors to guarantee its freshness and produce from farms that is commonly found at the Green City Market. But the king on the menu is pork. The sweet juicy meat we have come to know as the other white meat. Every day, the menu is written on the giant chalk broad adorning the dining space. Rob usually gets his pig on Wednesday, then they are cut and portioned for the remainder of the week. So depending on his cooking mood and availability of the cuts, the menu changes daily. But remember folks, a pig has only a fixed number of body parts, so once specific parts are sold out, you will have to wait for the next order to come in. But you can always find staples like their wood fire grilled chicken on the menu.

Rob slicing up more pork while Allie was busy shucking peas for dinner service.

While we are already big advocates of small businesses, what impressed us even more about this husband and wife team is their passion and chemistry in the kitchen. We all know it is difficult at times to be around your spouse for an extended period of time (um, not referring to my better half of course!), but when you see each other every waking hour and add being stuck in a room with hot burners, sharp knives and further combining the stress of running a restaurant, it can wreak havoc for most couples. Yet their laid back demeanor and their understanding of each others' role and responsibilities makes them an unstoppable partnership. You can really see the passion they have by the way they speak about their food or the way Rob cooks the whole animal as a way of honoring it. You don't see this from your run of the mill restaurants. Their food should be considered soul food as it is cooked from the soul without an ounce of pretension.

On the menu that day includes the blood sausages, pig heart and 2-rib pork chops with the skin intact that is large enough to feed two.

Mado is a restaurant where you won't see profit on the top of their priority list, but rather the customer service and the quality of the food. After 2 years of being BYOB, they plan on staying that way. On top of that, they won't be charging you for corkage fee. Rob and Allie believe that you should enjoy drinking whatever you want for dinner and opening a bottle for you is part of the service they provide at Mado. Where do you even find a place like that these days? But for the money, you are paying for fresh local produce within a few hours drive, meat that is raised in a humane manner and just all around great customer service. What more can one really ask for?

Mado Restaurant 1647 North Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60647 (773) 342-2340 www.madorestaurantchicago.com