Invite Johnny Casserole over for dinner

March 23, 2011 9:43:15 AM PDT
Spring may be here on the calendar, but it's still cool enough outside to enjoy hearty comfort food like the homemade dishes made by newcomer Johnny Casserole.

Johnny Casserole was founded on the premise that many people face a daily conundrum, "What are we going to do for dinner?" To avoid fast food and feed your family something wonderful and hearty - all in one dish - you might want to give Johnny Casserole a call.

The steamed veggies -- including carrots, celery and broccoli -- and the freshly-roasted chicken indicate this is a scratch operation. David Bryson would prefer you call him "Johnny Casserole," since that's not only the name of his business, it's also become his calling card.

"It kind of came out of the ashes of food truck in a sense. I wanted to bring food to the people; street food, I'm very much into street food and regional cuisine as well," said Bryson.

Working from a rented space inside the Kitchen Chicago facility on the Near West Side, Bryson is constantly immersed in all things casserole: cream, chicken stock, herbs and of course biscuits.

"I wanted to incorporate your classic casserole American style, your shepherd's pie, tuna noodle and mac and cheese... and chicken pot pie. These are huge, those are casseroles that you think of casserole," Bryson said.

So that chicken version looks and smells like it comes from grandma's kitchen. Even more nostalgic: the tuna noodle casserole, which could have come from my mother's kitchen, only this one tastes fresher. Fettuccine noodles and tuna join artichokes and peas, plus mushrooms and a hearty vegetable stock. Baked for 45 minutes, it's topped off with crispy fried onions.

The Shepherd's pie is another classic: leeks and carrots are sauteed until soft, then ground beef is added, along with aromatics, such as cumin and nutmeg. Red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce give subtle background notes to the rich beef stock that immerses everything. Midway through baking, Bryson pipes on homemade soft, silky mashed potatoes, spreading them thin with a fork so that the edges just crisp up slightly back in the oven. No matter which version you choose, they're all homey, satisfying and best of all: easy.

"It's getting people to sit down and have a meal. Families can sit down and have a meal that they don't have to fuss over; like oh I can just stick it in the oven, an hour later you're pretty much good to go, fantastic," said Bryson.

Casseroles range from $25 to $40 and will feed up to eight people. Johnny Casserole delivers all over the city. And, regular customers can get them delivered in Pyrex glass as opposed to the less-homey aluminum foil trays.

Johnny Casserole
Kitchen Chicago
324 N Leavitt

To order: