Located directly across the street from Chicago’s famed comedy club, The Second City, Gussie’s Handmade Italian boasts housemade pasta and traditional Italian dishes. We set out to give Gussie’s a try, motivated by numerous social media posts featuring their enticingly plump (and free!) garlic bread.

Entering Gussie’s, we were struck by the elegant yet cozy interior, lined with plush, inviting booths and a trendy, well-stocked bar. Apart from ours, practically every table was full, and the restaurant buzzed with a congenial energy reminiscent of a dinner party. At the bar, we thoroughly enjoyed Gussie’s twist on an Aperol spritz. The addition of Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, an Italian liqueur, balanced the spritz’s characteristic sweetness with a hint of lemon and bergamot.

We arrived at our 8 p.m. reservation with quite an appetite. Fortunately, we did not wait long before a steaming loaf of garlic bread arrived at our table. Immediately after our server left the table, we dove in with high expectations. Coated with diced garlic and fresh parsley, the bread had a crackly, crunchy crust and a soft open crumb, stuffed with a whipped mix of mascarpone and cream cheese. A tangy, sweet and creamy finish nicely balanced the bread’s initial burst of toasted garlic. Needless to say, we were not disappointed.

As we devoured our garlic bread, an order of steaming hot, freshly made meatballs arrived. Simple, tender and well seasoned, the meatballs rested upon a generous pool of aromatic marinara. We happily mopped up the basil-forward excess of sauce with the remaining crumbs of our bread.

After a break in the service, we reached our main event: the homemade, handmade pasta. The tagliatelle arrabbiata came heaped in parmesan cheese, as any pasta should be. Unfortunately, the dish lacked enough sauce to fully coat the noodles. While the Calabrian chili provided a nice kick, its flavor failed to compensate for the under-sauced noodles, leaving us disappointed in a dish with great potential unrealized. Similarly, we found the brown butter honey ravioli to be too sweet-forward and lacking in complexity. That said, the rich flavor and smooth texture of the fresh pasta shone through mediocre seasonings, elevating the dishes beyond their simple flavors.

Searching for redemption, we turned our eyes to the dessert menu featuring Italian classics from affogato to tiramisu. Though Gussie’s tiramisu deviated from the classic Italian rendition, we devoured every crumb of layered biscuit, cream and chocolate. Each bite of rich mascarpone cream melted in our mouths, balanced by intense Italian espresso liqueur-soaked biscuits. In an unconventional twist, Gussie’s version swapped the classic cocoa powder dusting for dark chocolate chunks whose rich bitterness cut through and complemented the dense filling.

At any restaurant, great service is key, and the service at Gussie’s was nothing short of fantastic. Prompt and polite, our waiter was knowledgeable about the menu, and our water glasses never went unfilled. The courses were appropriately spaced, allowing us time to savor, digest and enjoy our meal without feeling rushed or forgotten.

Ultimately, our experience at Gussie’s was a positive one. While we felt the pasta left room for improvement, the garlic bread was one of the best we’ve ever had. We’d be unsurprised to find ourselves back at Gussie’s just to load up on seconds and thirds of that garlicky deliciousness.