“Coco Pazzo” is a playful way to say “crazy chef” in Italian. And owner Jack Weiss must have felt inspired when he first cooked up the idea for the now-iconic Chicago restaurant, because 22 years later, Coco Pazzo still proudly boasts the reputation as one of the best and, subsequently, most enduring dining establishments in town.
Over all those years, Jack has come to realize that there is one very special secret ingredient in the recipe for Coco Pazzo’s phenomenal success – authenticity.
“It’s the real deal,” Jack says of Coco Pazzo. “Authentic Tuscan. It always was, right from the very beginning. I don’t think I understood myself just how important authenticity was until I noticed it gradually becoming harder and harder to find at most restaurants. And now I appreciate what a rare and valuable commodity authenticity is – especially in a city like Chicago where it seems like a new restaurant opens every day.”
Authenticity has been a strict mainstay of every item on the quality menu that’s the hallmark of Coco Pazzo’s unrivaled reputation as one of the finest restaurants not only in Chicago, but the entire United States.
And what greater compliment could a genuine Tuscan restaurant receive than an official salute from the Italian government itself, which bestowed Coco Pazzo with the Italian Seal of Approval based on authenticity.
“That’s was quite an honor,” says Jack. “It made me feel very proud to be rewarded for staying true to tradition.”
Coco Pazzo has received numerous other honors, including the AAA Four Diamond Award, the DiRona Award (Distinguished Restaurants of North America), multiple Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence, and the Wine Enthusiast Award of Distinction. Coco Pazzo is also listed among America’s 1,000 Top Italian Restaurants by Zagat.
Jack and Chef Federico Comacchio create classic, seasonal, Tuscan-inspired menus full of fresh pasta, sauces, seafood and meat based on what they find at the market each day – true to the tradition of the Tuscan region, which is known for its freshness of signature ingredients like olive oil, herbs, wild mushrooms and seasonal vegetables.
Going to Coco Pazzo is almost like being in Tuscany itself. It opened in 1995 in Chicago’s busting Streeterville neighborhood. Inspired by the cafés that line the piazzas in Florence.
The decor is dramatic, yet intimate, with soaring ceilings, velvet drapes and an antique bar. An impressive table of antipasto welcomes diners upon their entrance, and it presents an award-winning, all-Italian wine list with more than 100 selections personally chosen by Jack’s wife Tamra – the other half of one of America’s most impressive “mom and pop” operations.
“Jack and I have always been committed to authenticity,” says Tamra. “Right down to the wine.”
Coco Pazzo has always been a consistent favorite of politicians, business professionals, and celebrities and families, who can get a taste of Tuscany both indoors and outdoors. Because in the summertime, Coco Pazzo Café doubles in size when it opens its al fresco patio, where the restaurant is transformed into the best outdoor dining experience in Chicago.
The fresco-style murals hung on the walls of Coco Pazzo Café were inspired by the famous Italian artist, Amadeo Modigliani. The murals, which were painted on canvas and took six months to complete, are cleaned and restored every year.
And if the Coco Pazzo family wasn’t already big enough, it now has a new companion. It is also genuine Italian, except with a slightly different accent. Tre Soldi, which Jack opened last year, is a neighborhood Trattoria with Roman-inspired cuisine, featuring offering items such as Suppli (Roman cheese filled rice balls), the signature Calamari, and a variety of crostinis and paninetti (warm pressed sandwiches), seasonal cocktails like the refreshing Roman Spritz and a regional wine and cocktail list, all overseen by Jack, Tamra and Chef Jose Ovalle.
And Jack Weiss is confident Tre Soldi will still be thriving in another 20 years just like Coco Pazzo.
Read more on Coco Pazzo here.