At the one-year-old Bellemore in Chicago’s West Loop, chef Jimmy Papadopoulos offers up “artistic American” cuisine, starting with a showstopper of an appetizer: the petite yet utterly luxurious oyster pie. Inspired by Thomas Keller’s Oysters and Pearls, it is, Papadopoulos says, “the bite that got me my job.”
The crust is made from a simple pie dough—butter, flour, egg, salt—that’s flaky but hefty enough for diners to pick it up and not have it crumble. Eating with your hands, says Papadopoulos, is “such a great way to play with something that’s so luxury-based. It strips down the pretense and makes it fun.”
Papadopoulos says the custard filling is “like a mixture of a quiche and a custard pie.” He steeps Beausoleil oysters in milk to impart “the perfect amount of salinity,” then blends the milk with reserved oyster liquor and thickens it with eggs. The mix is then slowly baked in a precooked pie crust.
Each slice of pie is topped with one shucked and trimmed Beausoleil oyster. Papadopoulos says he likes Beausoleils “because they have a good oyster flavor without being too big.” He thinks of the dish as a three-bite experience: The first bite is the introduction to the flavors, the middle bite is the “wow” with the oyster, and the last bite is the smooth finish with the buttery crust.
Papadopoulos tested more than 20 caviars before settling on an osetra caviar from Kristal in Paris. “It’s one of our favorites because it’s high-quality pearls and super-nutty,” he says. Each serving receives a full ounce of caviar (“an obscene amount”), which earns the dish its $68 price tag. For diners who balk at the cost, Papadopoulos points out: “It’s not like it’s a bowl of potatoes.”
“Garnishes serve two purposes,” the chef says. “They add flavor, and they also add beauty. I’ve always thought of food as a form of art.” Tiny cubes of green apple doused in lemon juice supply crunch and tartness, chive and melon blossoms add “cheeky style,” and a dollop of crème fraîche—a typical accompaniment for caviar—provides another hit of creaminess.