Sfera Sicilian Street Food (5759 N. Broadway; www.sferachicago.com ) is the type of place where you can't help but get good vibes.
This cozy Edgewater restaurantowned by Chef Steven Jarczyk and Daniela Vitale, who are both members of the LGBTQ+ communityfeatures bright decor, brighter smiles and incredibly delicious food (such as arancini, muffuletta, Sicilian-style pizza, cannolis, cupcakes and other items). Between Vitale's time in Italy and Jarczyk's background working in top European restaurants, they have put together a spot that may not be a neighborhood secret for long.
SAVOR talked with Jarczyk about the genesis of Sfera, various menu items and his take on being LGBTQ+ in this day and age.
Windy City Times: How did you and Daniela meet?
Steven Jarczyk: We met at a little CrossFit gym called Doghouse CrossFit, in Jefferson Park. It was the last time we went to the gym. [Laughs] I had just finished a workout and she was stretching; Daniela is an open, friendly person and she just started chatting with me. I told her what I did and she was interested in a career change.
We decided to meet for coffee. Over that meeting, this concept started to form. This was in 2018.
WCT: And when did this spot actually open?
SJ: So Sfera started out as a side hustle for Daniela and me. We were selling arancini at farmer's markets for years. During COVID, we asked ourselves, "What do we do now?" Through an email blast to our followers, we notified them that we'd be delivering; that summer, we were delivering arancini all over Chicago. We realized there was something to be done here.
From there, we started a ghost kitchenwhich was definitely a "no." It's fundamentally so far from who we are, as a people, and what we want to do as a brand. That business model was so much harder and it took away what we really love about the businessseeing our customers and being part of the community. And so we opened this spot, and we've been here about a year and a half.
By the way, "Sfera" actually means "sphere." We picked it because of the shape of the arancini but also because it can also mean "globe," as in global influence.
WCT: Does your menu change?
SJ: So there are some alterations but there won't be too many changes, as we're pretty new. There'll be some seasonal items but it won't be like some places that change their menus every week.
WCT: And this spot reflects your memories of Sicily as well?
SJ: Well, I have been there a few times but Daniela is Sicilian, and she has spent summers [there]. Her parents still have a place there and that's definitely her culture. I lived in Europe for over a decade; I traveled to Sicily and Italy several times, I lived in Turkey for a while and on the Mediterranean. I love the Med.
WCT: And Sicilian cuisine has a lot of influencesSpanish, Greek and more.
SJ: Yes. There's also influence from North Africa and other places. The Mediterranean islands were part of the starting point of commerce.
WCT: And Sfera offers Sicilian street food with a Chicago twist.
SJ: Yes. Our ethos, when it comes to food, has always been [related to that]. Italians, particularly, are very much like, "That's how mama made it."
There is an unwritten culinary lexicon that has really strict definitions; for example, you couldn't possibly call something a margherita pizza unless it had basil. So our approach to the cuisine is cooking with a Sicilian mindset but with the best ingredients we have here. For instance, you have the pane e panelle [a chickpea-fritter sandwich]; in Sicily, it's just the panelle with a squeeze of lemonand that's it. Our sandwich [with roasted red peppers and vegan lemon-caper aioli] is a little more interesting and a little heartierbut it'd never be considered a pane e panelle in Sicily.
It's about having a sense of place within our walls. We're not trying to bring you directly to Sicily. Many restaurants do that; they bring ideas from around the planet here, but you're still here.
WCT: A lot of restaurateurs have become activists and are involved in social causes. What are your thoughts about Sfera becoming involved in that area?
SJ: Just watching the interactions, we are a part of the community. We love our community and we're active on a local scale. But we don't want to lose focus of [who] we are and what we do. Often, businesses get into trouble when they [do too much]. We want to change the world organically and not force it to change. We want to be a force for good, we want to create jobs and to interact in a positive way. We're selective in what we do and we want to tread lightly.
WCT: What is it like for you to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in today's America?
SJ: Well, I've lived in places where you would really keep [being LGBTQ+] quiet, so I feel very blessed to live in America. I think that people often forget that. It's easy to be hypercritical if you're home, but let's not forget what an incredible privilege it is to be in a place where we can live loudly and be out. I wouldn't necessarily want to live in Florida, but I could travel there; there are plenty of other countries where I wouldn't feel comfortable traveling with my partner.
WCT: And we've touched on this, but what makes Sfera unique?
SJ: First and foremost, it's about a culture that's not really highlighted. Of course, it's not impossible to find an arancina, but here we have a hyperfocused view on one part of the world. And we're all about our communities, our people. We love bringing a touch of joy to someone's life. This is a place where you can have a great meal at a reasonable priceand get a smile on your face in the process.
Note: This visit was arranged.