When I think of antelope I think of creatures getting eaten by lions on the Discovery Channel. Not that I really spend a whole lot of time thinking about antelopes. Honestly I couldn’t even tell you if Brookfield Zoo or Lincoln Park zoo featured antelopes. So you can imagine my surprise to see that antelopes seem to be making their way to Chicago—in the form of sausage.
Aaron Diener, the senior sous chef at Tony Mantuano’s Café Spiaggia, was kind enough to invite me in to try some antelope sausage. I was a little apprehensive at first, trying to drag some of my more adventurous friends with me. I really did not want to go by myself; I needed someone to go with me so I couldn’t back down. What if the meat was too gamey and I didn’t like it? What if the texture was too weird? What if it wasn’t seasoned well? There were a billion “what ifs”. I didn’t want to be rude and attempt to force down something I hated. I didn’t want to try as politely and discreetly as possible to spit a chunk of antelope awfulness into one of Spiaggia’s pristine white cloth napkins. I needed moral support in case any or all of my “what ifs” came true.
Thankfully yesterday at work was just insane and left me frazzled, exhausted, hungry, and ready for a barrel of wine. And where better to find comfort food and wine than an Italian restaurant, right? So I finally made the trek from my office, down Michigan Avenue, and over to Café Spiaggia.
The bartender, Brian, immediately became my new best friend after recommending a gorgeous white wine, a Bisson Vermentino, which I probably could have sat there until closing just drinking glass after glass (though again, crazy day at work, so I was probably biased towards anything with the slightest alcohol content at that point). I snacked on rosemary bread with olive oil until Aaron brought out one of the latest additions to Spiaggia’s menu, a crostini smeared with ricotta, topped with ribbons of salmon, shavings of cucumber, and bits of Calabrian peppers.
I’m not really a fan of salmon. It’s odd that I’m not, considering I love fish and would probably live inside a sushi restaurant if given the opportunity. For some reason though, salmon and I are not friends. Thankfully, this dish was incredible. The fish itself was almost sushi-like, fresh and clean and delicate. Paired with the rest of the dish’s accoutrements it was absolutely perfect for a warm summer day. I would recommend this for even the pickiest of eaters (I know some people can be put off by the texture too but the crostini added that crunch and substance that a lot of people look for).
As soon as that was gone it was antelope time. My apprehension completely faded away after the first bite. Served with a bit of glaze made with grilled apricots, ginger, and white wine, the sausage was fantastic. Aaron explained that antelope is such a lean meat that the sausage was made with a bit of pork in it too, and together they made an excellent piece of meat. When I was there Aaron had made a batch of blood sausages too, which means I will probably be returning to try those too. Eating antelope has apparently made me brave and unabashedly willing to eat anything that happens to cross my path now (though I do eat blood sausages mixed in with eggs and tomatoes when my family makes Irish breakfast, but I’m going to assume Spiaggia’s are probably better).
After finishing that I was ready for a nap. I’m talking serious food coma. But of course, there had to be dessert. Three desserts, actually: blueberry, chocolate, and raspberry gelati. They were a perfect way to end the meal, the fruits acting as a nice refreshing sweet and tart finish, while the chocolate was, well, it was chocolate—need I say more?
While waddling back to the orange line after dinner I reflected on how I almost missed out on an amazing dinner at one of Chicago’s best restaurants because of my apprehension towards antelope. While it’s cliché, I guess you never really know what you’re missing out on if you don’t try everything. And now emboldened, I’m wondering how to top my antelope adventure.
Café Spiaggia is located at 980 N. Michigan Avenue on the second floor.