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When Big Star, Chicago’s neighborhood joint, started slingin’ bourbon, beer & tacos under the big red star in Wicker Park 13 years ago, the honkey tonk inspired hangout (and former Damen Avenue gas station) was a hit for its al fresco patio, drinks, and tunes served up via vinyl. Now, Partners Paul Kahan, Terry Alexander, Donnie Madia, and Peter Garfield of One Off Hospitality announce the official launch date of Big Star Mariscos, a new, seafood-forward evolution of their brand, opening doors in a 6,000 square foot space at 551 N. Ogden on September 26, 2022.
Seating 120 guests and 60 on the new patio, Big Star Mariscos will feature many Big Star menu favorites, and now Kahan, Big Star Culinary Director Chris Miller and the Big Star chefs team Marco Tapia, Ricarda Ramirez and Andy Spetz, will also present a variety of coastal seafood offerings including ceviches, aguachiles, cócteles and more, inspired by the ingredient-driven flavors found in coastal regions such as Vera Cruz, Baja, Ensenada, and the Yucatan. Look for dishes that draw influence from these flavors but are prepared through the Big Star lens such as a Scallop and Surf Clam Coctel with tomato-citrus salsa, red onion, radish, avocado, cilantro, or the Camarones Dorados tacos with Cascabel Chile shrimp with Jack cheese, a crispy tortilla, Salsa de Molcajete and avocado. There will also be Pescado Zarandeado, “a simple, delicious and flavor-packed preparation of grilled whole fish split down the middle, heavily marinated and found often on the coast of Nayarit,” said Miller in a statement. At Big Star, this dish is served with seabass, guajillo adobo, caramelized onions, smashed cucumbers, and cilantro. It will rotate regularly as a ‘catch of the day’ and will be served with tortillas for 8 tacos. Big Star will once again join up with their longtime tortilla partner, Pilsen’s family-operated El Popocatepetl Tortillería to develop a tortilla that’s a bit different than the original versions that have been served at Big Star for over a decade, instead opting for a coarser masa-based tortilla to complement their seafood offerings.
Big Star was first inspired by the bygone honky-tonks of Bakersfield and Kern County, CA in the 1930s and 40s (spots such as Ethyl’s Corral, the Pioneer Club, the Rhythm Rancho and the Texhoma Club). “It was a rare union of people, place & time, talent, opportunity and purpose that symbolized a city transformed by music,” says Big Star’s Laurent Schroeder-Lebec who has helped cultivate the music and beverage program since the first location launched in 2009. With a staff full of musicians and support of local independent artists, Big Star even launched its own in-house record label, Big Star Recording Co. in 2017.
“When we first opened Big Star in 2009 the only people really spinning vinyl at the time were Rainbo Club and Danny’s,” says Terry Alexander. “Now, with Mariscos, in addition to vinyl, which we’ve sourced from many legendary independent record stores in Chicago, we’re indulging in our other analog obsession and bringing back cassettes—we might even start making mix tapes!”
“Years back, you may have heard a lot of Bob Wills and Drive by Truckers at Big Star, nestled among the best Loretta Lynn records,” says Schroeder-Lebec. “Today you’re as likely to hear Dwight Twilley, Tom Waits, Bo Diddley, the Flamin’ Groovies, Sturgill Simpson and much more. But our focus is the timeless tapestry of Americana, as it weaves together country, soul, rhythm and blues, folk, garage rock, some punk and plenty of rock’n’roll.”
In terms of drinks, Big Star Mariscos will be coming in with all the heavy hitters—the margaritas, the Ranch Water and the extensive bourbon selection they’ve become known for but will also feature an entirely new portfolio of cocktails to complement the seafood-focused food. Look for drinks like Ladies of the Canyon: Pueblo Viejo Blanco, Pear Brandy, White Wine, Elderflower, Lime, Cucumber; Tres Reinas: Agave of the Day, Pacifico Draft, Sidecar Verdita, Orange, Tajin; as well as an extensive selection of beers by the can or bottle, “shots of the day,” and Margaritas, Palomas and Agua Frescas to-go.