Good Eats at Zia’s Social: This highly anticipated Norwood Park hotspot lives up to the hype with a delicious, inventive menu and comfortably stylish atmosphere
By Trent Modglin
Photos by Nikki Allen Creative
6158 N. Northwest Highway in Norwood Park
Social media: @ziassocial
The anticipation: After 24 years as a staple of the Edison Park dining scene, Zia’s Trattoria closed its doors this fall, with executive chef and co-owner Joe Calabrese and his team shifting their attention to a new venture called Zia’s Social, which opened in November in the old Iron Horse Ale House building down the street in Norwood Park, where Calabrese grew up.
Exciting times for sure. We enjoyed Zia’s Social soft opening in late November, and Calabrese, the Zagat Award-winning chef, took time to chat with The Real Park Ridge about creating a buzz in his old neighborhood.
The renovations incorporated a lot of the building’s original attributes — like the wood-burning oven, winding bar, stage, massive windows and classic bow-truss ceiling — all while adding a few fun design elements of their own.
The scene: The old Iron Horse Ale House possessed plenty of character, and the renovations this fall incorporated a lot of the building’s original attributes — like the wood-burning oven, winding bar, stage, massive windows and classic bow-truss ceiling — all while adding a few fun design elements of their own. Calabrese told us the goal was “an open-air, comfortable, urban setting inside and out.” Mission accomplished.
Zia’s Social is essentially divided into four sections — a bar area, main dining room, private party room upstairs and, eventually, a sizable outdoor bar and patio — and even though it’s spacious, it emanates an inviting, cozy vibe. The decorative strands of ivy hanging down from support beams and the whitewashed brick walls are a nice touch. Giant windows up front allow for plenty of natural sunlight, and the exposed air ducts, shabby chic wallpaper and chandeliers add a lot of style. There are also a handful of TVs to keep tabs on the game.
Who they’re catering to: “This will be a great place to dine, listen to live music and socialize with friends, family or business associates,” Calabrese says. “We strived to make it perfect for a date night, a group dinner or larger special event.”
Menu expectations: Rest assured if you were a big fan of Zia’s Trattoria during its more than two-decade run in Edison Park. You’ll still find several classics off the old menu mixed with several new items — many of which are perfect for sharing — and a host of wood-fired pizza combinations.
What we tried: Our appetizer choices included the fried calamari with hot cherry peppers and a horseradish aioli, as well as the shrimp scampi in a rich buttery white wine sauce with herbs and homemade garlic bread. Both outstanding ways to get the meal started in the right direction.
Then came the pasta specialties, served in portions large enough to guarantee we’d be enjoying them the next day as leftovers as well. The eight-finger cavatelli with Italian sausage carries the perfect amount of kick, layered with a rich vodka sauce, peas and topped with ricotta.
And if you desire a little table-side show, order the “Carbonara in a Jar.” Yes, a jar. It’s comprised of corkscrew fusilli noodles with pancetta, prosciutto and herbs, all of which gets shaken together with creamy egg yolk in a large glass jar right in front of you, then poured — steaming hot — into a bowl for your enjoyment. Both dishes were incredible.
The half-roasted chicken entrée has sweet-and-sour onions, rosemary potatoes, pine nuts, raisins and salsa verde to give it an imaginative blend of flavors. Not to be outdone, the lasagna was a big hit as well. It’s layered with braised short rib, fresh ricotta and pecorino romano, and arrives at your table in a cast-iron baking dish.
Another creative flavor combination belonged to the scallops with squash, pine nuts, pomegranate and brown butter atop a bed of beet risotto.
Zia’s Social has a staggering 10 different varieties of pizza coming out of their wood-fired oven, which has a counter you can sit around. We enjoyed the crispy “Da Sausage Pizza” with fennel sausage, red comfit tomatoes and spinach.
Even though we were stuffed to our limit, we still had to try one of their ice cream taco creations. Seriously, how can you pass that up? Our selection: the “Italian cookie,” filled with Italian cookie gelato and topped with caramel sauce, crushed Heath bar and Luxardo maraschino cherries. Decadent, I tell you, and shareable — you know, so you don’t harbor too many regrets later.
Drinks, anyone? For libations, you’re set up with options. Lots of great options, actually. How about a selection of 48 beers (19 of which are on draft), four different levels of bourbon flights, signature cocktails, martinis and pitchers of margaritas, mojitos and sangria? And don’t forget a stellar wine list calling your name, including Caymus in a bottle.
Seriously, how can you pass up an ice cream taco like Zia’s “Italian cookie,” filled with Italian cookie gelato and topped with caramel sauce, crushed Heath bar and Luxardo maraschino cherries?
Next time… We’re going to take a big group in for drinks and dinner on a night with live music, and start things off with a Social board, which is a chef’s selection of meat and cheeses, and a pitcher of sangria. The veal limone, New York strip and roasted garlic-and-honey pizza caught our eye too.
Just you wait: When the weather warms, Zia’s Social will boast one of the biggest and best patio spaces anywhere around with a covered, three-season room, outdoor bar and umbrella tables.
[…] Favorite restaurant in the area: Zia’s Social in Norwood Park is my favorite restaurant. It is definitely our go-to family celebration place. We had our bridal shower at the old Zia’s Trattoria in 2002 and our daughter’s Maine South graduation dinner there in 2021, and just about every milestone in between. (Editor’s note: Check out our feature on Zia’s Social here). […]