By: Jessica Mlinaric
Chef Joe Flamm is bringing Adriatic flavors to Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood with his new restaurant Rose Mary. The winner of Top Chef in 2018 was inspired by his Italian heritage and his wife whose family emigrated from Croatia to create a rustic but refined seasonal menu that he calls “Adriatic drinking food.”
Rose Mary offers a welcoming, familial feel from its name—a tribute to Flamm’s grandmothers—to the open kitchen centered around a custom charcoal hearth. The 125-seat interior is inspired by Croatia’s konobas, or family-run taverns. The airy space designed by Studio UNLTD of Los Angeles evokes the Adriatic coast with whitewashed brick walls, red clay and azure blue tile, abundant plants, and rustic millwork.
Flamm’s menu blends classic Italian dishes, honed during his time as executive chef at the critically acclaimed Italian restaurant Spiaggia, with quintessential Croatian flavors. Italian stracciatella cheese is brightened with strawberries, basil, and balsamic and served with fluffy house-made lepinja, a Croatian flatbread. Melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi is served with the traditionally Dalmatian beef cheek pašticada and grated paški sir cheese from the island of Pag.
Risotto, a staple of both Croatia and Italy, earns its own section on the menu. Skradin risotto, from a small town on the Krka River, includes veal breast, parmesan, chicken thigh, and tomato. Traditional crni risotto features the Adriatic flavors of squid ink, lobster brodo, confit squid, and tarragon. A seasonal ramp and grilled trumpet mushrooms risotto rounds out the section.
You don’t need to hop on a flight to enjoy Croatian delights like grilled half-branzino with paprikas sauce, fennel, and charred lemon or baby octopus “peka style.” Cooking with a peka, a metal baking dish with a bell-shaped lid, over an open fire typically takes hours, but Flamm offers the flavors without the wait. He also elevates meat dishes like beef burek and cevapi that are familiar around Chicago.
Beverage director Jen Newton and wine director Sarah Traynor deliver a program featuring beer, wine, and spirits from around the region. While Chicago has been sadly devoid of Karlovačko for a few years, a crisp lager from Zagreb-based craft brewery Pivovara Medvedgrad compliments the menu of “Adriatic drinking food.” Newton’s Golden Negroni features the sweet notes of kruskovac, a pear liqueur. Slivovitz, a plum brandy, gets the cocktail treatment alongside rum, Apologue Persimmon, and Grand Marnier in Plum’s the Word. A spritz section of the beverage menu recalls summer days spent on both sides of the sea.
Wines from Austria, Slovenia, and Croatia feature on the wine list alongside favorites from Italy and beyond. A fruity Pošip from Merga Victa delivers the tropical flavors of Korčula. For a punchy Pinot Grigio, pour Pullus from Slovenia. Taste a rosé by Hvar-based Zlatan Otok, a dry Plavina from Piližota outside Šibenik, and Saints Hills’ Plavac Mali from the Pelješac Peninsula.
Pastry chef Hillary Grossman’s rosewater fritule with black walnut citrus, and roasted stone fruit curd is an elegant take on the mini-donuts often served at outdoor stands. A gelato and sorbetto program rounds out the dessert menu.
In a city with deep Croatian and Italian connections, Flamm’s menu highlights traditional flavors and recipes with an inventive gourmet take. Rose Mary is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations are available at rosemarychicago.com.