When I called Chef Joey Morelli to see if I could interview him for this article, the first thing he did was propose.
Upon discovering that he
had gone to high school with a cousin of mine, and that the last name we share is my maiden name, his
response was an enthusiastic "You're single?
This enthusiasm for life is apparent in all aspects of Joey Morelli's
personality, and is at the heart of what makes his
place such a success, and what keeps people coming back.
Joey was born in Chicago in 1970, son of an Italian father and a Jewish mother, and was raised in Highland Park.
If ever there were two cultures that are opposite sides of the same coin, Joey
thinks that Italian and Jewish are it.
likes to say, both are steeped in traditions of family, food and bickering.
palate was trained early, some of his
fondest memories of being at his
grandmother's elbow in the kitchen.
jokingly refers to visits with family being about "Having eight meals before you get to go home.
The Jewish holidays in his
home were mostly secular, centered again on culinary traditions.
The blending of the two traditions included decorating the Christmas tree one year with bagels and bialys as ornaments and a Star of David on top.
, in a twist that Joey
recalls fondly, his
dad was the one who made breakfast every day for the family, beautiful omelets and frittatas, and it was these recipes that Joey
remembers as being his
first forays into trying his
own hand at cooking.
While a student at Highland Park High School, Joey worked at Beinlich's, the HP staple Sunset Foods and as a dishwasher at JB Winberie's.
After completing a degree in Speech Communication and Restaurant Management at University of Illinois, Joey attended Kendall College Culinary School, and did internships at local fine-dining restaurants before leaving Chicago for Arizona, where he worked at the Arizona Biltmore.
The kitchen works on the delivery service items during the day, and handles the restaurant business at night, and Joey
oversees all of it.
"It's exhausting, I would never recommend it, I would never tell anyone to live like I live…you have to have a life, you have to have a vacation now and again…DON'T BE LIKE ME!"
is one animated character
might be emphatic in his
belief that he
is probably doing it wrong, sacrificing too much, burning the candle at both ends-and at a couple places in the middle--but he
says it with a little too much relish.
This is a man who is passionate about everything he
does, and it shows.
In addition to his
life at the restaurant, where you are likely to find his
Mom playing hostess, or brother Greg delivering your drink, he
and the family also indulge their boisterous sides every Saturday from 12-2 on AM 820, on their weekly radio show, Family Values With An Oy Vey!
It's mostly political but just about any topic might come into play on a given day.
Ask about the new increase in city tax at restaurants to 10.25% and you'll get an earful about the current administration not helping the small business owners during a tough economy.
Tune into the show and you might catch Mom calling in, or Dad storming out…it is clear where Joey
Those passions are serving him well.
brings a fine-dining sensibility to a casual dining restaurant, focusing on fresh ingredients, making everything from scratch, and providing it at prices that make for an affordable meal out.
Nor was it a surprise that I like Joey
as much as I do.
When you have the perfect intersection of passion, training, and commitment to quality, with a decent sense of humor on top, you're hard pressed to go wrong on either count.
We might not actually be getting married, but if he's
cooking, I'm definitely coming for dinner.