Donnie Madia and his restaurants are known to sweep awards (best bar program at The Violet Hour, restaurant design at Avec, best chef at Blackbird), so it's practically overdue that after nearly two decades in the industry, he'd receive his own honor as an Outstanding Restaurateur from the James Beard Foundation in 2015. After all, he'd helped pioneer the culinary boom around the West Loop, now one of Chicago's buzziest hubs, with spots locals and visitors both gladly wait hours to taste. Born and raised in the Windy City, the exceedingly stylish Madia has not only witness the city's food and drink scene evolve over the years—he had a hand, with a Midas touch, in making it what it is today. Here, he shares with us how to spend a Sunday, where to get up close with nature, the local dish every tourist has to try, and more.
Where do you put up friends visiting town? The Thompson Chicago in the Gold Coast (21 E. Bellevue Pl.; 312-266-2100; thompsonhotels.com) or the new Chicago Athletic Association Hotel across from Millennium Park (12 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-940-3552; chicagoathletichotel.com) are great hotels both owned by Commune Hotels. Commune does a phenomenal job collaborating with local restaurateurs that run the food and beverage at each of its hotels. We do the food and beverage at Thompson Chicago (Nico Osteria) and Land and Sea handles much of the F&B at CAA. Both hotels are immersed in hospitality and design.
Where is the best place to find your hometown’s signature dish? If you are a hot dog lover drive to the corner of Grand and Pulaski to Jimmy’s Hot Dogs! (4000 W. Grand Ave.; 773-384-9513; jimmysredhots.com) That’s where Paul [Kahan] and I took Anthony Bourdain. They serve Vienna Beef 100 percent beef hot dogs, a Chicago institution. I order a pork polish sausage with mustard, onion, relish and sport peppers.
What is your favorite restaurant to take visitors? Wow! That’s a hard question, Chicago has so many great ones. I love Parachute on Elston (3500 N. Elston Ave; 773-654-1460; parachuterestaurant.com)—the husband and wife team's attention to detail is superb. My son Bronson loves pizza, and Coalfire on Grand (1321 W. Grand Ave.; 312-226-2625; coalfirechicago.com) and Forno Rosso in the West Loop (1048 W. Randolph St.; 312-243-6000; fornorossopizzeria.com) are both great. But I also love Avec for the seasonal pizza and of course the chorizo medjool dates and focaccia (615 W. Randolph St.; 312-377-2002; avecrestaurant.com) and Big Star for Al Pastor tacos plus a Shiner Bock and a shot of Four Roses (1531 N. Damen Ave.; 773-235-4039; bigstarchicago.com). It's the perfect mix of high and low.
Where can you find the best cocktails? Green River on the Near North Side (259 E. Erie St.,18th fl.; 312-337-0101; greenriverchi.com). I like Chef Michael Anthony and his humble sensibility. Their cocktail program is innovative with great views of the city.
Where would you choose to splurge on a night out? I have never dined at Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St.; 312-867-0110; alinearestaurant.com) or Grace (652 W. Randolph St.; 312-234-9494; grace-restaurant.com), although I have great respect for Grant Achatz, Nick Kokonas and Curtis Duffy. Gibson's is an old school steak house and Chicago institution with a great bar atmosphere and warm service (1028 N. Rush St.; 312-266-8999; gibsonssteakhouse.com). I've always loved the room at Gibson's because when I was a young punk in the Gold Coast neighborhood I used to go to Sweet Water, which was in the space before Gibson.
What is your go-to after-hours bar? I love going to Danny's Tavern in Bucktown (1951 W. Dickens Ave.; 773-489-6457). I look a bit out of place there as I'm the only one in a suit. Good spot for DJs and a good drink.
What’s the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon in town? I love going to the Art Institute for its mix of old world and new school art (111 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-443-3600; artic.edu). I take my son to Maggie Daley Park to run around in a big open area, they also do ice skating in the winter. Oak Street in the Gold Coast is a destination for shopping. It has everything from high-end fashion houses like Barneys (15 E. Oak St.; 312-587-1700; barneys.com) to small little producers like Oak Street Bootmakers (47 E. Oak St.; 312-675-2105; independence-chicago.com). (SL - it seems like this shop goes by a different name? It's an independent shop owned by the son of Oak Street Bootmakers, and a place that sells the shoes?)
What is your Sunday morning routine in your neighborhood? On Sunday mornings I take my wife Estelle and son Bronson for coffee at our local La Colombe in the West Loop. We get espresso and cappuccino while our son nibbles on Pain au chocolat (955 W. Randolph St.; 312-733-0707; lacolombe.com).
Where is the best brunch? I often go to Pierrot Gourmet at The Peninsula after church at Holy Name Cathedral. We order the PG breakfast flatbread and frittatas. I also love their tartines (108 E. Superior St.; 312-573-6749; chicago.peninsula.com).
Where do you go for the perfect cup of coffee? La Colombe is my go-to spot, just a block from my house. Their espresso drinks are excellent and the perfect place for a quick coffee or meeting.
What is your favorite view in town that tourists might not know about? My favorite is the view from my terrace that looks directly at Willis Tower, but the view from the modern wing of the Art Institute designed by Renzo Piano looking south at Millennium Park is a close second. The park itself is beautiful, but it is also a lovely view of the skyline.
What’s your favorite path or trail to follow on a walk? Every Wednesday my wife takes our son on a field trip in conjunction with the City Gardens Waldorf School. They go to a different forest preserve or park every week, this past Saturday they went to the bird sanctuary at Montrose Harbor to play and hike (lakecookaudubon.org). The sanctuary lets everything grow wild and its where all the birds go to migrate. We also love the Garfield Park Conservatory on the west side (300 N. Central Park Ave.; garfieldconservatory.org), which is one of the largest conservatories in the nation.
What are your favorite offbeat cultural attractions? I love heading to the north side to listen to jazz at the Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway St.; 773-878-5552; greenmilljazz.com). My buddy Dave Jemilo tends bar there. For some old school rare grooves head to Maria's Packaged Goods in Bridgeport to listen to Joe Brill spin records (960 W. 31st St.; 773-890-0588; community-bar.com).
What’s your favorite shop or boutique? I’ve been a Barneys guy for years, but always like P.45 (1643 N. Damen Ave.; 773-862-4523; p45.com) for women's clothes and Apartment Number 9 (1804 N. Damen Ave.; 773-395-2999; apartmentnumber9.com) for menswear in Wicker Park. Damen Avenue in Wicker Park is a great area to walk around in, they have a good mix of large brands and small boutiques.
What’s the ultimate souvenir from your town, something you can only get there? My business partner Terry Alexander's mom likes to take a container of Garret's popcorn home with her whenever she visits Chicago (multiple locations; garrettpopcorn.com).
What’s the best-kept local secret? In Bridgeport there is an old grocery store, Gio's, that at dinner doubles as an Italian restaurant. Go for the chicken parm or eggplant parm (2724 S. Lowe Ave.; 312-225-6368; gioscafe.com).