Dishin’ on the Dish: Gator gnocchi at Frontier

The hand-rolled potato gnocchi stays true to the traditional technique.

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What’s cookin’ in and around Chicago? Here’s a closer look at one of the area’s delicious dishes you don’t want to miss.

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

By 15, Jupiter knew he was meant to be a chef and he started to learn the ropes working at a restaurant in his hometown of New Orleans.

Fast forward to now, Jupiter, who’s spent almost two decades in Chicago kitchens, proudly has two restaurants to his name, Frontier and Ina Mae Tavern & Package Goods.

The gator gnocchi is served at Frontier restaurant in Chicago.

The gator gnocchi is served at Frontier restaurant in Chicago.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Jupiter jumped at the opportunity to open his first place, Frontier, in the Noble Square neighborhood in 2011.Frontier came about in “a bit of an untraditional fashion,” Jupiter said. He didn’t go in with the plan to open a restaurant with a “Mountain West lodgy” vibe, though the space really lent itself to that.

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

But he also wanted his place to stand out amid the competitive and vast food scene of Chicago. So, he decided to incorporate a meat source you won’t — or shouldn’t — find in your backyard in Chicago: alligator.

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

Realizing it can be hard to get that large of a group together for one meal, especially during the pandemic, Jupiter decided to come up with a dish for individual customers who want to enjoy gator.

Thus, he created gator gnocchi and added it to Frontier’s menu.It’s a hearty 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 tiny dumplings. Jupiter said, however, the secret of the plate is in the meat sauce.It’s “our play on a bolognese without the red sauce,” he said.The base of the sauce’s flavor is the 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 bread crumbs and parmesan.

“The ground alligator and porkwith 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’s not as exotic as it sounds.

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

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

Got a favorite dish from a Chicago-area restaurant? Let us know via email at: dishinonthedish@suntimes.com.

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