Gator gnocchi in Chicago: Frontier restaurant serves it daily

What is cooking in and around Chicago? Here you can take a closer look at one of the area’s delicious dishes you will not want to miss.

Brian Jupiter started cooking with his grandmother when he was a child.

As a 15-year-old, Jupiter knew he was supposed to be a chef, and he began teaching the ropes to work in a restaurant in his hometown of New Orleans.

Fast forward to now, Jupiter, who has spent nearly two decades in Chicago kitchens, has relied on two restaurants to his name, Frontier and Ina Mae Tavern & Package Goods.

The Gator gnocchi is served at the Frontier restaurant in Chicago.

The Gator gnocchi is served at the Frontier restaurant in Chicago.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

Jupiter struck at the possibility of opening its first location, Frontier, in the Noble Square neighborhood in 2011. Frontier emerged in a “slightly untraditional way,” Jupiter said. He did not go in with the plan to open a restaurant with a “Mountain West lodgy” vibe, even though the room really lent itself to it.

“We kind of let the concept build with what was around us,” Jupiter said.

But he also wanted his place to stand out in the middle of Chicago’s competitive and huge food scene. So he decided to incorporate a meat source that you do not want – or should – find in your backyard in Chicago: alligator.

Frontier is known for his entire alligator “experience”, which usually takes 10 to 12 people to complete, though Jupiter jokes that eight really hungry people could possibly finish one.

When Jupiter realized that it can be difficult to get such a large group together for one meal, especially during the pandemic, Jupiter decided to come up with a right for individual customers who want to enjoy gator.

Thus, he created gator gnocchi and added it to the Frontiers menu. It is a solid dish, perfect for the cold winter months.

Brian Jupiter is the chef / owner of Frontier restaurant.  |  Brian Rich / Sun-Times

Brian Jupiter is the chef / owner of Frontier restaurant.
Brian Rich / Sun-Times

The hand-rolled potato gnocchi stays true to the traditional technique of making the small dumplings. Jupiter, however, said that the secret of the plate lies in the meat sauce. It’s “our game on a Bolognese without the red sauce,” he said. The base for the taste of the sauce is ground alligator and pork. Once the meat is cooked, Jupiter then adds kale, garlic, herbs, butter and white wine. After dressing the gnocchi in the sauce, Jupiter tops the dish with breadcrumbs and parmesan.

“The ground alligator and pork with the hand-rolled gnocchi, they pair very well,” Jupiter said.

For anyone skeptical about eating alligator meat for the first time, Jupiter assured that it is not as exotic as it sounds.

Gator is “white meat, but you can see it lives in water, and so I like to say it’s more like a cross between frog legs and chicken,” he said.

Frontier, 1072 N. Milwaukee Ave. The Gator gnocchi costs $ 16. https://www.thefrontierchicago.com/.

Do you have a favorite dish from a restaurant in the Chicago area? Let us know by e-mail at: dishinonthedish@suntimes.com.

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