The Italian Job

Appears in the May 2024 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Che Figata launches its new brunch menu

Panettone French toast
Panettone French toast

Liam Athy, the chef de cuisine at Che Figata in Naperville, would be honored if you’d allow him to cook brunch for your mom this Mother’s Day. The man’s been working on perfecting the restaurant’s new brunch menu—hyper-regional Italian recipes using local Midwestern ingredients—for months now, knowing that May is the biggest brunch month of the year.

To say that he’s been sweating the small stuff would be an understatement. “We have our wood kiln-dried in Wisconsin, so there’s not more than three percent water content,” Athy explains. That way it burns clean—with no funk—in our wood-burning oven.” He’s taught himself how to use local dairy products to prepare tigelle—savory muffin-like flatbreads from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy—so that he doesn’t have to serve boring old English muffins for his Italian take on eggs Benedict. (Hint: Think poached lobster, citrus hollandaise, and a sprinkling of black-garlic powder).

When he decided to commit to Italianizing a beloved brunch-time staple—French toast—he really pulled out all the stops. He batters slices of panettone, Milan’s favorite fruitcake, in a semisweet custard, warms it in a cast-iron skillet over the aforementioned wood-burning oven (to add a wisp of smokiness) and then adds a dollop of vanilla-flavored crème fraîche and local berries from Michigan.

Truth be told: Athy hasn’t devoted all this time and energy into perfecting his brunch menu just for your dear old mom. This local boy, who grew up in Lemont, wants to discredit all those coastal food snobs—to the East and West of us—who insist that the Midwest lacks the proper produce and proteins to cook Italian food the Italian way, with simplicity and grace. “I wanted to build a menu that honored Italy but also the Midwest—our vegetables, our meat, our honey, our ingredients,” he says. So yeah, your dear old Mom is going to love this brunch. And there’s a good chance that you—proud Midwestern brothers and sisters—will, too.


Photo: CityGate Hospitality LLC