LINCOLN SQUARE — Former competitive eating champs Pat "Deep Dish" Bertoletti and Tim "Gravy" Brown know a thing or two about consuming food.
They also know how to cook it — Bertoletti is a Kendall College grad — and are putting their knowledge of both ends of the food chain to use as they prepare to open Taco In A Bag in Lincoln Square.
The two just inked a lease on 4603 N. Lincoln Ave., former site of Homemade Pizza, and should be serving up their fast-casual take on "walking tacos" by spring.
Patty Wetli with the breaking taco news:
Taco In A Bag was born out of the business partners' food truck venture, Glutton Force Five. The concept of tortilla chips and toppings all piled into a bag — essentially gourmet nachos — was the most popular food truck item, so Bertoletti and Brown spun it off into a separate enterprise.
"In theory, you can walk and eat, but I don't think that's the culture here," said Bertoletti.
The Lincoln Square joint, which will have seating for 15-20 people, will replace Taco In A Bag's current home in the Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee.
"We put in our penance with this mall," said Bertoletti. "West Dundee is the minor league and Chicago is the major league."
Though Bertoletti and Brown, who live in Pilsen and Albany Park respectively, considered other neighborhoods for Taco In A Bag, Lincoln Square's foot traffic, the nearby Western Brown Line station and the proximity to numerous bars sold them on Lincoln Avenue, where they plan to nab both the lunch and the late-night crowds.
"We walked into the location and said, 'This is it,'" Bertoletti said.
Like White Castle burgers, Bertoletti said Taco In A Bag improves after a night of drinking, but he added, "I stand by my food sober."
The base tortilla chips are from El Milagro and the toppings — braised pork shoulder, marinated shrimp and chorizo gravy, to name a few — are all made from scratch by Bertoletti.
The food court operation, he said, was small enough that for the past year, he's personally done all the cooking for Taco In A Bag, allowing him to perfect his recipes.
That includes the restaurant's signature dessert — doughnut hole parfaits.
The homemade cake doughnuts are made fresh to order and smothered in options like Nutella, house-made dulce de leche or banana pudding.
"Oh yeah, it changes people's lives. Man they're good," Bertoletti said.
Having all but retired from competitive eating — "That's just a hamster wheel of bad life decisions" — Bertoletti and Brown, both former Ribfest champs, are firmly focused on feeding others and making a success of Taco In A Bag.
"I have high hopes," Bertoletti said.
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