Restaurateur Scott Harris is arguably the king of Chicago-area Italian dining, what with his twenty Francesca restaurants sprinkled throughout both the suburbs and the city proper. For more than two decades, the man has built an empire plate by linguini-filled plate of traditional rustic Italian fare. But with his Wicker Park outpost, Francesca's Forno, Harris strayed a little from his regular formula by means of a renovation that shuttered the kitchen for almost a month last year. With the restaurants reopening came a new look and menu meant to compliment what Harris calls "the creative vibe of the community."
With the Italiano Cubano ($12.00), Francesca's Forno pulls from the area's Latin roots to put a Mediterranean spin on the classic Cuban entree. This ain't your abuela's tried and true recipe, ladies and gentlemen. Rather than the traditional ham and pork slices, Francesca's tops thick, juicy chunks of roasted pork loin with pieces of crispy smoked bacon. Mild provolone cheese replaces the standard swiss cheese, and a handful of house-made pickles are tossed into the mix. Everything is then pressed between two toasted pieces of fresh French bread that have been slathered with dijon-like grain mustard.
Eater be warned, this carnivore's delight is stacked to the brim with meaty goodness, so much so that taking a bite is borderline challenging. It's a huge sandwich, one that's sufficiently satiating on its own (it doesn't come with a side other than a few extra pickles). And while these two cultures don't often collide in the culinary world, a few bites of this sandwich will have you wishing it happened more often. Hmm, perhaps Harris is on to something.