NORTH CENTER — It may be the Year of the Rooster, but if Lorraine Orbon has anything to say about it, 2017 will be the year of the hen, too.
Orbon, a former accountant turned chef, recently realized a lifelong dream when she opened the Tuscan Hen Market at 4019 N. Damen Ave.
"My kids said, 'You want to crunch cannolis, not numbers,'" said Orbon, who enrolled in culinary school at the College of Lake County when the youngest of her four children entered high school.
After building a following for her handmade pastas and sauces at Green City Market, Orbon decided it was time to stake out a permanent home. Tuscan Hen's North Center storefront, previously home to Johnny Casserole, ticked off all the boxes on her "vision board."
"I was looking for a little space with a brick wall," said Orbon. "Everything seemed to click. I just followed my gut."
Still in its soft opening phase, Tuscan Hen Market is part deli, part cafe, selling fresh pastas, to-go dishes and made-to-order sandwiches.
"Everything is small batch, like my mom would make," said Orbon.
The market's signature Tuscan lasagna is as authentic as it gets — Orbon picked up the recipe from an 85-year-old grandmother named Anna Maria while on a culinary vacation in Lucca, Italy.
"It's a little different, you don't feel like you have a bowling ball in your stomach," Orbon said of the dish, which substitutes bechamel sauce for cheese.
Tuscan Hen's offerings have also been heavily influenced by Orbon's experience at Green City, where the market's strict requirements — ingredients must be sourced from a six-state region — prohibit the use of things like lemons and pine nuts.
Working within those parameters led Orbon to develop some of her bestsellers, including kale pesto and lemon balm fettuccine.
"It sparked some fun and creative items," she said. "Being at Green City was a separate education, it changes your mentality as a culinary person."
During its soft opening phase, Tuscan Hen's hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; open at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
Tuscan Hen Market is part deli, part cafe. [All photos DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]
Tuscan Hen's storefront is exactly what owner Lorraine Orbon envisioned, with the added benefit of an outdoor patio.
Though Orbon lives a 26-minute drive away from Tuscan Hen (she timed it) in Northbrook, she has strong roots in both Maywood, where her grandfather ran an Italian market and butcher shop for nearly 25 years, and the city's South Side, where her mom grew up in a "tenement" since replaced by White Sox Guaranteed Rate Field. "If I want to see the old home, I have to go to third base," she joked.
Casey Engelman of Bits of Yum is providing some of Tuscan Hen's baked goods. Engelman is still perfecting her sub sandwich bread for the market, so Orbon is buying from Dinkel's Bakery in the meantime.