Chicago Sun-Times
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Recently in Italian Category

Yes, yes, yes, so the whole gourmet, chef-y burger bandwagon is rolling happily along, so much so that you might be tempted to roll your eyes if you hear of yet another place offering yet more grass-fed, hormone-free, bacon-topped patties.

But here's why we're resisting that urge with M Burger, the latest in Rich Melman's empire that's opening tomorrow at 161 E. Huron just around the bend from (really, within) the uber-upscale Tru: the prices, people! Have you seen these prices? The menu offers but eight food items, the priciest being a $4.99 chopped chicken salad. A cheeseburger is $2.99; a double M Burger, with "bacon, cheese, secret sauce" will run you $4.49, before tax.

Yes, we realize these are burgers we're talking about -- fast food, by definition. But there's a vast difference, in our eyes, between chef-driven fast food -- the M Burgers and DMK Burger Bars of our world -- and the rest. Given the choice, the former is what we'd feed to our kids.

And speaking of chefs going downscale, the buzz is building about Aldino's, Dean Zanella's latest venture in Little Italy, also opening tomorrow.

The menu is all about Italian comfort food, with an antipasti section alone that's worth swooning over. But we can't for the adjoining market Zanella has planned at 624 S. Racine that's opening in a few more weeks.

It'll carry the sort of ingredients that are harder to find in regular grocery stores -- preserved lemons, say. Zanella also wants to offer meats by the pound that he's using in the restaurant, and fresh seafood (likely available via pre-order) simply because "it's a hard thing in the city to find good seafood." He'll also offer sandwiches (porchetta with pickled fennel and a roasted garlic spread, veal meatball and so on) and prepared salads, sides and meals that "people can take and finish up at home."

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In case you haven't picked up your Sun-Times today (or logged in, or fired up your Kindle, whatever your case may be), it's chock full of food-related reading -- and it isn't even Wednesday!

Item 1: Columnist Esther Cepeda reflects on the demons chasing our nation's overweight kids -- parents whose own diets are loaded with junk foods. The idea came to her while at an elementary school event for honor roll students, where the main course was syrup-drenched French toast sticks.

Item 2: Reporter Stefano Esposito delves into the bastardization of bolognese worldwide, and Italy's campaign to set cooks straight. (Though he may be a redhead with a British accent, Stefano knows his bolognese. His father is Italian - as in, was born in Italy and lives in Italy, and Stefano visits the mother country regularly).

Item 3: The obligatory get-to-know-the-candidates feature -- mini-profiles of the six Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate -- asks corruption-buster David Hoffman and Company, among other things, the tastiest thing they can cook. Hoffman promises a mean linguini with spicy shrimp. Lealan Jones trumps his more vague-sounding "good shrimp pasta," while Cheryle Jackson, smart woman, touts her sweet potato pie. There isn't a bolognese in the bunch.

By guest blogger and local freelancer Leah A. Zeldes

Our condolences go out to the family of Josephine Minelli and to generations of Chicago-area Italian-food lovers. The matriarch of the Minelli Meat and Deli family, fondly known as "Mama Minelli," died Tuesday at age 99. By all accounts, she lived a life as robust as her marinara.

Until an ambulance took her away from the stove two years ago, Mrs. Minelli was still making meatballs at the family store -- up to 200 pounds at a time, all by hand. The shop, at 7900 N. Milwaukee, Niles, is the third in a series of food stores she and her late husband, Philip, first opened in 1957.

The first Minelli store stood on the corner of Western Avenue and Lexington Street in the Little Italy neighborhood on Chicago's West Side, dispensing Italian groceries, 10-cent beers and shots. In 1970, Mrs. Minelli and her three sons -- Lenny, John and Alfred -- expanded to a full-service Centrella grocery and Italian specialty market in Niles, and began making prepared foods, beginning with Mrs. Minelli's meatballs, which she insisted should be made by hand.

Thirty-seven years later, Mrs. Minelli presided over the grand opening of the newest location, a deli and butcher shop in Oak Mill Mall, where her grandsons Mario Minelli, Lenny Minnelli Jr. and Ozzie Caccavella continue to offer the locally celebrated meatballs as well as house-made Italian beef, sausage, salads and other foods prepared from Mama Minelli's recipes.

Born in Montefalco, Italy, near Naples, Mrs. Minelli immigrated to Chicago in the 1920s, where she met her husband and reared her family on Taylor Street. Before opening the grocery store, she worked at the Ferrara Pan Candy Co. and the National Biscuit Co.

Though she spent the last two years in a nursing home, St. Matthew Center for Health in Park Ridge, Mrs. Minelli daily entertained large groups of visitors and continued to take a lively interest in the family store.

Visitation for Mrs. Minelli will be held from 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Skaja Funeral Home, 7812 N. Milwaukee, Niles. Funeral services begin at 9 a.m. Monday at Skaja, followed by Mass at St. Isaac Jogues, 8149 W. Golf , Niles, and interment at Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery & Mausoleums, 1400 S. Wolf, Hillside.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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