Back when Black Bull opened in 2012, those behind it weren’t sure how ‘Spanish’ it could be. They feared diners’ palates had become consumed by the tapas trend and molecular gastronomy as the only two representations of Spanish cuisine.
“But as our guests’ knowledge of Spanish food and ingredients grew, we kept pace, challenging local palates with new ingredients and dishes along the way as we explored the rich regional history of a country close to our hearts,” says Bonhomme Group Founder Daniel Alonso. “We’ve continued to work with our purveyors in Spain — our friends, really — to ensure the products we use are the very best that each special corner of the country has to offer. Via our frequent trips to Spain each year, we have been able to experience first-hand all the culinary shifts this dynamic country has experienced and bring those innovations directly back to our guests."
After close to nine years, Alonso, Executive Chef Marcos Campos, who has been with the group since 2013, and the Bonhomme Hospitality team determined that a new concept and design for the former Black Bull space were necessary.
“I’m immensely proud of what we achieved at Black Bull,” says Alonso. “We aim to build on that, channeling our growing aspirations and relationships into new and compelling directions.”
Enter Mama Delia, a Restaurant, Sherry Bar and Ultramarino (neighborhood gourmet market) located in Wicker Park that offers Chicago a contemporary Spanish culinary experience.
Created by Maison Bonhomme, Bonhomme Group’s concept and design studio, Mama Delia embraces an evolution in Spanish dining that showcases Campos’ favorite ingredients from Spain, his growing relationships with some of the country’s finest purveyors, and his passion for discovering new flavors and techniques from around the world and right here in Chicago.
Mama Delia also reflects the journey of Campos, who also oversees the kitchens at sister restaurants Porto, Beatnik, Beatnik On The River and Café Bonhomme, as an adventurer and a chef.
Inspired by the ‘colmados antiguos de barrio’ (old neighborhood grocery stores) of Spain, a Sherry Bar and Ultramarino welcome guests. An antique pharmacy circa 1910 imported from Belgium — all original bookcases, glass cases and cabinets — finds new life inside Mama Delia displaying an abundance of small production wines and gourmet goods from Spain. Further inside, Mama Delia’s dining room — tailored with velvet, walnut and brass dining furniture, burgundy tweed banquettes, antique Persian Kirman rugs, and vintage brass and wrought iron chandeliers.
Outside on Division Street’s extra-wide sidewalks, Mama Delia’s seasonal 60-seat patio features tropical plants providing a natural barrier between guests and street traffic. Wine barrels painted in the same rose hue of the façade have been repurposed as planters while also providing additional distancing measures. Overhead, string lights add to the ambiance.
And then there’s Mama Delia’s enclosed rooftop garden (Botánico), a private dining space located two floors above, where you can organize a dinner party with friends.
Ultramarino & Sherry Bar
Throughout the front of Mama Delia, the aforementioned pharmacy’s (circa 1910) floor-to-ceiling cabinets with wood carvings has been repurposed to display gourmet goods from Spain.
There is a variety of conservas (gourmet tinned seafood), some imported exclusively by Mama Delia and others housemade, including cockles, razor clams, sardines with pimientos de padrón, zamburiñas and mussels in escabeche. Potato chips also earn a spot on the shelves. But these all-natural, fried-in-olive-oil Spanish varieties are truly unique — from the special yellow potato they’re made from to the flavors such as jamón and pimentón (smoked paprika). A select group of specialty cold-pressed and smoked olive oils can also be found at Mama Delia, including many of limited production. Dried spices, such as saffron and pimentón, are also for sale.
Chefs are on hand to answer questions and offer tips and recommendations. And ask about their upcoming schedule of product tastings, cooking classes and wine tastings.
“These are the items that I as a chef would like to have in my home,” says Campos of Mama Delia’s product curation process.
At the Chef Counter, a monumental 30-foot-long ornate marble bar begins, where up to 20 guests can gather for glasses of fino en rama, charcuterie boards filled with artisanal cheese and cured meats from Spain, including hand-carved 100% acorn-fed Cinco Jotas jamón ibérico.
Mama Delia provides Campos and Chef de Cuisine Antonio Capafons, both natives of Valencia, a vehicle to showcase the regional products of Spain.
The dining room with its open kitchen and the nearby chef’s counter remove barriers between the guest and those preparing the food.
Take, for instance, Campos’ riff on Huevos Rotos Shooter (“broken eggs”). For his version, Campos taps into the concepts of a shooter and a traditional Spanish dish. On the bottom is a traditional sofrito made untraditional with the addition of oysters to the mix of slowly cooked onions, red peppers, pimentón and garlic, which adds salinity and brininess. Next comes a confit egg yolk with truffles, fried potato and fried egg foam. The dish is finished with crispy potato chips.
For Foie & Jerez, housemade foie gras terrine is paired with a jam made of membrillo, a quince paste that’s popular in Spain, and palo cortado sherry. An almond-and-orange flavored tuile replicates a taco shell in this elegant but playful finger food.
Even Mama Delia’s version of steak and potatoes Vaca Vieja (“old cow” in Spanish) features a “Spanish-style” 24oz boneless ribeye steak from a cow that’s 8 years at harvest, almost four times older than normal, wet-aged for 25 days and dry-aged for an additional 15 days. Campos prepares it simply and pairs it with beef-fat fries and charcoal-cooked piquillo peppers, which add a touch of smokiness.
And with two chefs who hail from Valencia, the birthplace of paella, it’s a given that the classic Spanish dish features as well.
“When I started at Black Bull, I was in my 20s and now I’m closer to my 30s,” says Campos. “I want to show the evolution of my cuisine from my travels and learning from other chefs in the process. Mama Delia gives me the opportunity to do that.”
Following Campos’ lead, the desserts at Mama Delia from Executive Pastry Chef Shannah Primiano find inspiration in classic Spanish sweet dishes before channeling more contemporary techniques. Tarta De Santiago, a traditional Galician almond flour cake that has earned PGI (protected geographical indication) status, gets a red-wine glaze and is served with apple sorbet, sherry apple butter and almond nougatine. “I always hint back to nostalgia in my desserts to create something people can relate to,” says Primiano. “Then I like to throw in something people wouldn’t expect, so they can view a classic dessert or flavor with a whole new vision.”
Beverage Director Ricardo Alvarado, a member of the Bonhomme team for nearly a decade, began as a barback and now heads up Mama Delia and Bordel’s dynamic beverage programs. Practices inspired by the anti-waste movement are incorporated by Alvarado, collaborating with the culinary team to cross-utilize and re-purpose perishables.
For those looking for a ‘healthier’ cocktail, the Mostly Good for You lives up to its name and then some with its mix of vodka, fresh carrot juice, ginger syrup, orange juice and a squeeze of lemon. And then there’s Alvarado’s version of an old-fashioned, An Old Fashioned Affair, which adds in two types of Spanish sherry, amontillado and Pedro Ximenez (here in the form of a nectar) with cherry bitters.
Mama Delia's wine program has a focus on natural wines. Every year, members of Bonhomme’s culinary and beverage teams travel to Spain and Portugal to visit old friends and discover new farms, vineyards and winemakers. In addition to Alvarado’s unconventional wine list and seasonal cocktail program, the beverage menu features more than 35 selections of sherry, imported beers from across Spain, no-proof cocktails, Mama Delia sangrias (pomegranate or peach) and 20 wine-by-the-glass options.
Mama Delia's soundtrack equally reflects Spain’s progression in cuisine. “It pays homage to the country’s evolving musical tastes and styles through the decades, from the ’50s to the ’90s,” says Bonhomme Music Director Saam Hagshenas, “while still nodding respectfully to its classic roots in flamenco, bolero and pop with strong influences from its Mediterranean neighbors and kindred spirits across the Atlantic.”
“I feel that one of our greatest strengths as a team and as auteurs is our ability to constantly learn from — and find inspiration in — multiple cultures,” says Alonso. “At Mama Delia, we combine these individual and collective pursuits with folkloric Spanish traditions and culinary conventions to create a distinct aesthetic approach.”
Mama Delia, 1721 W. Division St., Hours: Tuesday-Friday. 2 p.m.-2 a.m., Saturday 2 p.m.-3 a.m., Sunday 2 p.m.-10 p.m., closed Monday. Reservations now available online or via Resy.
Situated on the building’s top floor, Botánico is a stunning 2,500-square-foot dedicated private event space with two distinct rooms designed by Maison Bonhomme.
Decorated with Murano crystal wall lamps, gently worn Persian rugs, farmhouse dining tables, colorful large-scale paintings from local artists and lush tropical greenery. High ceilings coupled with a wall-to-wall skylight, rustic wood-paneled walls and a half-moon floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Division Street.
Botánico has a open chef demo kitchen and bar, for cooking classes, product launches, wine tastings, chef dinners and cocktail classes as well as informal culinary-focused parties and celebrations. A number of seating areas, some decorated with velvet sofas, others with leather chairs, provide additional spaces for guests.
Located above Mama Delia, Bordel is a cocktail bar and cabaret. Scheduled to also reopen on Friday June 26th, the candlelit interiors are appointed with red velvet sofas, tasseled chandeliers, Persian rugs and walls covered in custom wallpaper inspired by early 20th century pulp fiction imagery. A rotating roster of weekly entertainment featuring jazz musicians, burlesque performers, magicians and comedians. Prohibition-influenced cocktails range from punches (served in Royal Albert tea sets, no less) to ones in fête-prêt porróns. Exotic garnishes follow a no-waste sensibility utilizing ingredients found in the cocktails they adorn. Guests are able to order an abbreviated menu from Mama Delia.