‘Walking taco’ makes its way to Lincoln Square


Courtesy TACO IN A BAG

‘Walking taco’ makes its way to Lincoln Square

By Arts & Culture Reporter

After competitive eaters and creators of Glutton Force 5-—the former food truck operation team of Tim “Gravy” Brown and Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti—won an episode of the Food Network’s “Food Court Wars” that landed them a free spot in a mall food court, the pair is ready to relocate their Taco In A Bag restaurant.

Just one year after the duo settled at Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee, Illinois, Brown and Bertoletti are ready to move on. Their lease at the food court shop is up at the end of February, and the pair signed a lease for a new brick and mortar storefront in Lincoln Square—the former site of HomeMade Pizza Co., 4603 N. Lincoln Ave.

“The mall we were in has been very slow, so we decided that our concept is more suited for Chicago,” Bertoletti said. “We used to have a food truck in Chicago and whenever we do events there, we kill.”

Bertoletti and Brown agreed that although being located in the mall taught them valuable lessons on how to run a restaurant, it was time to move on from the shopping center to reach out to a more open-minded audience.

“When we’re in the city, even if we had something strange, they loved it,” Brown said. “They’ll try it. They’re more adventurous. Out here, it’s just too tough for us to grab a market. These people, bless them, they’re nice people, but I just don’t think they get it.”

Brown said moving to the city will improve the appeal of Taco In a Bag because people within the city limits are more willing to try unusual foods, while patrons in shopping malls are looking for something familiar.

“The mall is a place for things that you know,” Brown said. “People come to a mall and expect certain things. You know there’s going to be a Hot Topic. You know there’s going to be a Zumiez. You know you’re going to get a piece of pizza the size of a laptop and some pretzels. That’s something you come to expect.”

Bertoletti, a renowned competitive eater and chef in his own right, said the chance to travel around the country—thanks to competing in eating contests—has helped influence his cooking style, making it more eclectic.

“I went to culinary school, and I’m a cook, so it’s a luxury most cooks don’t get,” Bertoletti said. “I’ve seen a lot, eaten a lot and I’ve been to a lot of places.”

The idea for the walking taco, which is a bag filled with taco ingredients you can eat while on the go, came to the duo when they were visiting Buffalo for an eating competition seven years ago.

“When we were in Buffalo, there was just some dude on the corner of the street opening up Doritos throwing liquid cheese and meat on top of all kinds of taco trimmings and it was really one of the most wonderful things we’ve ever had,” Brown said. “That was really the beginning of it there, which was about seven years ago.”

While the Wicker Park taco restaurant Big Star has adopted the “walking taco” as well, the duo know it all derives from food truck.

“We realized that it was the perfect street and festival food,” Bertoletti said. “We started with our food truck, and the whole intention was to do food festivals with it. That’s when we realized that the walking taco was pretty much the perfect food item for a street festival.”

Although plenty of Chicagoans already know about Big Star’s walking taco, Brown and Bertoletti said their original “walking taco” is a step above the rest.

“Big Star basically takes Fritos and covers them with chili,” Brown said. “We’ve been doing ours a lot longer than that. I am not s–tting on Big Star because Big Star is a very good restaurant, but our [walking tacos] are all homemade.”

Lisa Ripson, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce, expressed her excitement about Taco In A Bag. In an emailed statement, Ripson said the new restaurant will fit right in with the other restaurants.

“Eating in Lincoln Square is like taking a mini trip around the globe,” Ripson said. “We welcome another great concept and option for people to dine in Lincoln Square.”

The opening date for the new location is undecided, but the duo is aiming for an April opening this spring. While Bertoletti and Brown are grateful for the experience they had in the food court, they said they are excited to make the move.

“The way I look at it was that it was a test kitchen for a year, where we figured everything out,” Bertoletti said. “I know what works now. If you open in Chicago, there are no excuses. You’ve got to be on your game from day one.”