Marisa Paolillo fell in love with Indian food while living in fast-paced and multicultural Mumbai with her husband and in-laws.
The Oriole Park native met Nakul Patel, who is of Gujarati descent, while he was studying at Northwestern University and she was attending Loyola University.
After the couple married, Paolillo, the chef-owner of Mango Pickle, followed Patel to India, where the two lived for nearly a decade between 2005 to 2014.
While there, Paolillo got a job in a restaurant, which sealed her decision to leave corporate marketing behind. Meanwhile, her mother-in-law also taught her a lot of techniques and would later entrust with her a notebook of recipes —— an encouraging sign that Paolillo was on the right track.
Paolillo credits her experience in Mumbai, where she equally relished street food and home-cooked meals, with her decision to open Mango Pickle in Edgewater two years ago.
Paolillo’s Italian grandfather owned a restaurant in Somalia during World War II and would later immigrate to the South Side, where he worked as a cook. While Mango Pickle, 5842 N. Broadway, doesn’t center on Italian cuisine, Paolillo says Indians and Italians share a similar approach to food.
“I think the connection between Italians and Indians is the love of food, the love of family and how they both come together,” she said.
Along with her in-law’s recipes from the Western Gujarat region, which incorporates coconut and sweet and sour elements, there’s plenty of inspiration at Mango Pickle from global Mumbai and the Goa, which is known for its seafood and Portuguese-influenced flavors.
“There’s a type of globalization that’s happening across all cuisines, and I feel like it can also be applied to Indian food and still keep the essence of it being Indian,” Paolillo said.
Patel, who helps at the restaurant, added, “The idea of what makes Indian food is more progressive in Bombay [Mumbai]. There are fewer sacred cows, if you will. And people are open to experimentation and trying out different things and pushing the boundaries. And India actually can’t be contained in some kind of box because it’s so diverse. There are over 1,000 languages and dialects. … To call something authentic, where do you draw the line in a place like that? Its very hard to do that. Authentic to whom?”
Paolillo’s creativity shines in the lamb dishes created from a whole Slagel Family Farm lamb that is butchered weekly in-house. The leg of lamb is prepared medium rare with a heavily spiced black pepper curry.
For the popular butter chicken dish, chicken stock is made in house for the sauce — a blend of spices including bay leaf, cinnamon, chili, black and green cardamom and black pepper. It’s cooked low and slow for several hours and finished with butter and a touch of cream. The chicken is coal roasted and finished in the sauce.
For the “three-way potato,” different locally farmed potatoes are cooked in three different styles from three different regions of India. Rose Finn Apple fingerlings are cooked in a south Indian kurma — a tomato, coconut and yogurt medley of spices. Purple fingerlings are quickly stir-fried in a Gujarati sukhi bhaji [dry potato dish] with whole spices. And a Japanese sweet potato is dipped in chickpea batter and fried in unrefined coconut oil.
Paolillo and Patel live nearby in the neighborhood — a place Paolillo describes as eclectic, urban, sophisticated and just the right level of low-key.