Mike “Scarfo” Scarlatelli, the owner and chef at The Smiling Moose, has been a touring musician most of this life. Now he wants to take his kitchen on the road.
The South Side bar and punk rock venue — which just celebrated its 15th anniversary — is going mobile later this summer with a cart that will serve popular items plucked from the Moose’s menu, including sandwiches and soups.
Scarlatelli recently began testing the waters of on-the-go eats by setting up a table at the Coffee Buddha’s Food Truck Round Up, held in the café’s parking lot in Ross Township the last Saturday of each month. Despite the scorching temperatures during June’s event, the mini-Moose sold out of its award-winning broccoli/cauliflower beer cheese leek soup.
The Moose will be back at the Food Truck Round Up again at the end of this month and Scarlatelli is seeking other venues around the city.
Think of it as a rolling advertisement for the surprisingly complex menu at this popular bar. Although the Smiling Moose has been a South Side institution since 2003, Scarlatelli says many people are surprised that it boasts upscale cuisine.
“I always hear, ‘Wow! I would never expect to be served food like this from a bar!’ I believe it’s all about as being as fresh as you can, even if you execute some simple dishes,” says Scarlatelli, drummer for the band Cumplete Basturds.
The pub’s smoked turkey pretzel bun sandwich with Swiss cheese, fresh greens, tomato and jalapeno mustard is a big hit with hungry concert-goers, as is the Jack Sparrow Burger, an Angus beef patty complemented by a cheddar pierogi, red wine caramelized onions, roasted red pepper/cracked peppercorn cheese and rum aioli-dressed red cabbage.
Gourmet snacks, sliders, tacos, salads and a variety of mac-and-cheese dishes round out the menu, which was developed in large part by former chef Christopher Cook.
“Chris decided to move on after about eight years and I hired a few other chefs to take over the duty, but had no luck,” says Scarlatelli, who has worked in numerous bars and restaurants. “I had no choice but to take over the kitchen to be able to develop the newer menu items I wanted to sell, while consistently executing the successful menu selections we already had.”
It’s been almost two years since Scarlatelli took over the job.
He says the food, along with a little luck and some sage business advice from his stepfather, have helped The Smiling Moose keep on rocking all these years. He hopes the rolling restaurant will attract even more people to the E. Carson Street establishment.
“I’ve learned that in the bar/restaurant business, you need to execute awesome food and drinks,” he says, “along with a great, friendly staff to give customers a great experience.”