Taylor Hanna and Sebastian Vargo are masters of the fine art of low and slow fermentation. And they’re strict disciples of the Paul Masson Primary Principle: “We will sell no wine before its time.”
So after a long hard day in the Vargo Brother Ferments underground caverns, putting up their signature G-Dilla Pickles, PowerKraut, collard green kimchi, root beer ’bucha, and garlic sauce, what do they like to eat?
“We eat fast food a lot,” says Hanna.
“Yeah, with our schedule we find ourselves just kind of chowing down sometimes,” says Vargo.
But how does this square with their combined centuries of high-end professional kitchen experience? “As a chef I’ve always enjoyed coming close to commercial flavors in a more real way,” says Vargo. “In a way that’s based on foundation and technique instead of just cheap add-ins.”
There will be no cheap add-ins allowed this Monday, August 22, when Vargo Brother Ferments takes over the kitchen at the Kedzie Inn with an inspired menu of Fast Food Favorites at Monday Night Foodball, the Reader’s ongoing weekly guest chef pop-up at the Kedzie Inn in Irving Park.
Hanna and Vargo have provided kitchen support for a handful of Foodballs since we started this series last August, but this is the first time they’ve headlined. I couldn’t be more geeked about tasting how their fine ferments transform fast-food cult classics like the McRib:
“We got a guy at McDonald’s who can get us a bunch of patties for the low,” says Vargo, who really means Trent Sparrow from downstate Dwight’s Catalpa Grove Farm, whose pastured proteins have found their way onto many a Foodball menu. That’ll be sandwiched on a hoagie roll from Ben Lustbader and Sarah Mispagel of the forthcoming Loaf Lounge, with smoky barbecue sauce and sliced G-Dillas. Take that with a side of melty-cheesy Arby’s-style pickle poppers, and a generous, pasta-packed tribute to the Portillo’s Chopped Salad.
“Fast-food restaurants don’t bring it with their salads, with the exception of Portillo’s,” says Hanna. “It’s such a midwestern representation of healthy eating.” VBF plans to raise the stakes with a vegan version, with pickled veggies and an Italian vinaigrette spiked with fermented garlic sauce.
Speaking of midwestern healthy eating, in the ages-old hand-pie wars, Hanna definitely comes down on the side of Popeyes fried entry over the baked McD’s apple pie. Before submerging them in the Kedzie’s fryer, she’s packaging that cinnamon-sugared goodness in a rye crust, “handmade with love and affection,” says Vargo.
For the night’s cocktail Vargo was thinking of Mountain Dew Baja Blast and its antifreeze aspect: “an unnatural color that gives kids ADHD.” Instead they’re offering the Bucha Blast: VBF citrus-blueberry kombucha, spikeable at the bar.
Just know this: “We are not talking shit,” says Hanna. “We are paying homage to these dishes. Everything we are putting up we enjoy eating.”
Hurry up—preorders are on sale now, with limited walk-in availability starting at 5 PM, Monday, August 22, at the Kedzie Inn, 4100 N. Kedzie.
Meantime, take some time with the ongoing Monday Night Foodball summer schedule:
8/29: The triumphant return of Funeral Potatoes
9/5: Labor Day break
9/19: Global Asian barbecue with Umamicue and friends