There’s a reason why Norm came back to the bar day after day, and it may not have had anything to do with the domestic beer and subpar bar snacks.
There’s an inherent desire within all of us to be recognized, to be noticed, known. For some, it’s an issue of pride. We want to feel important; for others it’s simply our innate longing for community and fellowship. Simply put, we want to interact with and be in the presence of people that cherish us.
In hospitality and food, the sum of beauty can be created by the simple equation of genuine respect reinforced by heartfelt intention, and when it truly comes from the heart, it flows through the food. The desire to share and give no longer becomes a responsibility, but a response. For the recipient, feeling sincerely valued can be birthed from the smallest of cordial gestures: for me that gesture came when a bartender gently and very purposefully delivered in the palm of his outstretched hand, my offering, a taste into his world. Yes, he may have been internally proud of his creation, and I don’t doubt that he believes in his capacities in the cocktail arena, but the drink was the very last thing I noticed- it was his delivery. The small and humble maneuver told me not of his skills in hospitality, but of his gratefulness and appreciation that of the countless places I could venture to in Chicago, I would enter into his home and let him share his passion and his gifts. This is hospitality at its best, and this is the heart of Mott St.
On the northeast corner of Blackhawk and Ashland just north of the Division Blue Line stop, sits a small and unassuming red building. You’ll enter through a rear patio gate and be ushered toward an interior that may quickly contrast your assumptions that the exterior may have previously set in place--speaking of assumptions, as you’re seated at a beautiful wooden communal table, I’m guessing you’ll be inspired to inquire from surrounding neighbors the details concerning the multitude of small Korean inspired plates entering and exiting the table’s real-estate. Communal by definition means shared by all members of a community- meaning in this instance they’ll be happy to share their thoughts and opinions, however asking for crumbs may become awkward, but who am I to say?
Speaking of thoughts and opinions, I’ll give mine freely. Order the oyster mushrooms with miso butter as well as the grilled leeks with Ssamjang butter. I’m convinced you’ll know why upon finishing them. If you’re the adventurous type and have deeper pockets, bring five of your closest friends and dip your toes into the fish head preparation. It’s not cheap, but neither are the thrills that come from the entire dining room when it’s delivered to your table. After tasting through a bit of the menu, may I suggest you finish off with a two dollar slice of watermelon dressed with a chili-lime salt and throw back one of their many boutique Mezcal or sake selections.
If touching elbows (eating next to strangers) isn’t your thing, there are smaller tables provided if intimacy is your ultimate goal. My favorite place to camp however would be at the Mott St. bar. Its hosts are an incredibly close-knit staff of friends and characters happy to make your acquaintance – all in all, just one small but committed part of a family passionate about furthering the craft of their personal and professional endeavors, and it’s apparent - and one should suspect, as you must that this is undoubtedly an outward flow of the humble attitude and loving approach to people, food and community that Chef Edward Kim emits from the belly of the Mott St. kitchen. The food is ever growing, and ever changing and boasts only that they will give you heart, and with that, incredible food will follow.
I cannot promise that they will always remember your name, but they will always be grateful and glad that you came.
arrive early - it’s becoming a hot spot
ask the bartenders to tell you something you may not know… I have faith they’ll come up with something good - they’re incredibly entertaining people
one of the bartenders is a clown, literally - but not the creepy kind