The era of the neighborhood corner bar may be ending, but Chef Brian Jupiter and the team at Pioneer Tavern Group are doing their part to keep it alive. With last month’s opening of Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods on the Wicker Park corner of Beach and Wood, “it was important for me and [Pioneer CEO] Mark [Domitrovich] to save a building that has so much character, and probably just would have become condos,” Jupiter says.
They infused the renovated space with New Orleans soul — from the vintage cocktails to the butcher-paper-wrapped po’boys and housemade bottled hot sauce for sale — and named it for Jupiter’s great-grandmother, who, along with his grandmother, was a major culinary influence during his childhood in Louisiana. The result is an authentic take on the Southern city — and a successful neighborhood hangout.
Here’s what to expect at Ina Mae:
Good vibes: The 95-seat interior features sunny floor-to-ceiling windows that will soon open onto a large patio. Kids can take a 50-cent ride on the vintage mechanical pony, while parents belly up to the bar for an on-tap Rex Organization cocktail with Pimm’s No. 1, ginger and mint ($10).
Menu must-haves: The hushpuppies ($9) are a classic starter, and the New Orleans gumbo Ya-Ya ($9) is derived straight from Jupiter’s grandmother’s recipe. But the fried seafood is the star — Chef’s favorites are the Gulf shrimp ($14) and catfish ($12).
Sandwiched in: Jupiter puts his spin on the classic Nola po’boy with a trio of Mae’s versions. The wood-grilled alligator sausage ($15) comes with all the fixins’ and gets served with a side of greasy house-made fries.
On the side: Don’t skimp on side dishes, which pack just as much flavor as the mains. The Cajun elotes with crawfish ($8) and crispy potatoes with creamy cayenne aioli ($5) are musts.
Sweet finish: You wouldn’t visit New Orleans without stopping for beignets, and you shouldn’t visit Ina Mae without trying them, either. The luscious dessert ($7) is served simply with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. Pop by the walk-up window on your way out for a fluffy, icy Sno-Ball ($4-$6).
1415 N. Wood, (773) 360-8320; Inamaetavern.com
Photos by Hilary Higgens and C|Louise Public Relations