A West Town Pasta Maker Launches Lunch Service

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The pandemic transformed restaurants in several ways including a spike in the popularity in comfort foods like pizza and pasta. The owners of Gemma Foods in West Town are hoping that the charge for carbs will continue. For two years, Gemma has sold fresh pasta to customers who take home their noodles to boil in their own kitchens. But home cooks don’t have to stress. Next week, Gemma is expanding operations by offering a full ready-to-eat lunches — no cooking required.

Tony Quartaro says Gemma has always been about sharing their passion for pasta in new and different ways. Gemma did tours of duties at Revival Food Hall in the Loop and Time Out Market Chicago in Fulton Market. That helped grow the brand and better showcase Gemma. Quartaro says it’s sometimes a challenge to explain their mission as a pasta maker to passersby on Grand Avenue, across from D’Amato’s Bakery and Bari Foods.

A counter with four seats.
Gemma Food will now serve hot meals at this counter.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

Lunch service is a prelude to eventually offering dinner, as Gemma will offer a rotating batch of pasta specials, focaccia, and entree salads like a kale Caesar. Seasonality is essential. Quartaro already has a pair of specials with ramps (carrot gnocchi with ramp, lemon, and mascarpone; plus radiatori alla ramp carbonara).

Another specialty is the meatballs, which the chef admits he “thinks deeply” about — he’s been perfecting the ratio for years. They’ll also offer a Sunday special — pork neck ragu. Look for other treats like lasagna — a meaty red sauce version and vegetarian options like a mushroom ragu or a light one with layered eggplant. Vodka sauce is another item that Quartaro makes with pride. Other options include cacio e pepe, canestrini, and paccheri. Most of the pasta is hand-cut, though a few are extruded.

The pandemic transformed habits as the work-from-home culture grew out of necessity. Quartaro says that wasn’t the sole driver behind offering cooked meals at Gemma, but knowing that potential customers are held captive in their nearby homes by work provided a little motivation to naked use of their counter. Those poor souls need quality afternoon meals. Quartaro has worked at pasta palaces like the dearly departed restaurants Balena in Lincoln Park and the Bristol in Bucktown, plus Formento’s in West Loop. He’s also worked at San Francisco’s celebrated A16. When Gemma opened in March 2022, it was part of a pasta revolution in the area, a push that included the debuts of Tortello in Wicker Park and Flour Power in West Town. Each brings a different spin to the game.

“There’s no shortage of amazing pasta makers in our city,” Quartaro says. “There’s no reason each neighborhood can’t have their own.”

Gemma Foods, 1117 W. Grand Avenue, lunch debuts Wednesday, April 17.

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