FOODITOR IS EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE ITS first publication in a new medium, the kind you can keep on your desk or in your glove compartment for handy reference. Yes, it’s an actual book entitled The Fooditor 99: Where To Eat (And What To Eat There) in Chicago. This 60-page Fooditor guidebook offers the best in Chicago dining for the way people really dine out—from tasting menus to tacos and Thai food. It’s 99 examples of the most delicious things to eat in Chicago, chosen by Fooditor editor and Chicago food expert Michael Gebert, with a concise, insightful capsule review for each restaurant, complete with specific recommendations of dishes to try.
Available directly from Amazon for just $5.99 ($1.99 on Kindle), The Fooditor 99 will save you money—helping you order the right things at the places you know, and discover lots of new places you don’t know… yet. To tell you more about The Fooditor 99 and why it’s a great gift for the person who loves food in your life, especially if that’s you, Fooditor editor Michael Gebert decided to interview himself:
Why did you decide to write a book?
It started in the run-up to the latest round of Michelin honors. As anyone who listens to our annual Michelin podcast knows, they always prompt a lot of argument, and I just don’t believe they resemble how Chicagoans think about their food scene—but nevertheless, they’re Michelin and so they get taken very seriously.
I thought there needed to be a counterbalance to that, written by a local, that did actually resemble how we eat and talks about what I think makes our scene so interesting. And that points Chicagoans toward lots of cool places that you might not know about, but are what makes this such a great food city.
How did you decide what to put in the book? There’s a lot of famous places missing.
Typically a guidebook starts at the top, the three stars and four dollar signs level, and works down. But to me that’s the exact opposite of how most people eat, which is primarily on the neighborhood level, with special occasions at the higher end. So I decided I didn’t have to write about all the fine dining spots—I just picked a handful of them, like I did anything else, so that the book has a cross-section of many different types of dining.
Instead I picked deliciousness as my main criterion—high end or low, every place had to have delighted me with how delicious something was. And memorable—it’s a clear sign when you can remember something exactly, six months or a year later, and think Damn, that was good. Neither of those has to have anything to do with how expensive the restaurant is. Or what kind of food it is—it can be a tasting menu, it can be a taco or a doughnut.
I definitely left out some places because they didn’t need the help, starting with the two Michelin three stars, Alinea and Grace. Genuinely great restaurants, but everybody already knows that and no one’s dying to know what I think before they go to either of them. I’d rather take the space to point you to some little neighborhood joint that’s special but not widely known, and will actually benefit from the attention.
So if it’s not the absolute 99 best, it’s a guide to… specialness?
There’s no such thing as an absolute 99 best, but yeah, I guess that is the point of the book—everywhere in here is special, within its own category, gastropubs, Italian food, Mexican, Thai, burgers, bakeries, and so on. Everything is something I’m really excited about, enough to have gone back enough times, spending my own money, to be able to write about it insightfully, I hope. If I didn’t have a clear sense of it in my head, but just thought, “Oh, yeah, that place, I remember liking it, everybody says it’s good”—I wouldn’t write about it.
I wouldn’t take the order too seriously, but I did think hard about the top ten, and really picked places that to me represent not just great skill but creativity and, above all, they’re so freaking tasty. And in general the book sort of moves from magically great to very good.
Basically, I liked the format because it does have that catchiness of a list—what will be #1? I tried to make it fun to read a page and get information on a bunch of different styles and parts of town all together, with little parallels sometimes between one and the next. The obvious inspiration was Jonathan Gold’s 101, which is a big deal in LA every year.
101, huh? And we just get 99. Was it hard to get to 99?
Oh no, I quickly had more places that I wanted to include and couldn’t. We have a wonderful food scene, overflowing with riches. If your restaurant is missing, believe me, it was #100. So close. Maybe next year.
So what are some of the real finds in it?
Well, sometimes it’s just giving people tips about places they already know. Everybody says, have the roast chicken at Boka, but in my experience, have the octopus. Obviously the traditional or ethnic food places, I tried to pick real standouts—D’Candela versus half a dozen other places to get South American grilled chicken. But there are also a lot of places that, if restaurants were stocks, these would be the value plays, the overlooked ones. Go have lunch and a cookie at Americano 2211. Look past the fact that The Kitchen Bistro is another River North Italian food chain, and realize Johnny Anderes of Telegraph is cooking there. There’s serious, well-crafted food at every level in Chicago, and it deserves some recognition.
How long did it take to write?
Three or four weeks? Not really very long, because I was basically doing something I do all the time anyway, recommending places to eat that I love, and know why I love them. The hardest part was identifying dishes I’d liked for sure—I spent a lot of time comparing my photos or photos on Yelp to menus, to make sure I recommended the right things.
So is this your hidden inner reviewer coming out of the closet? How can you do that when you’re not anonymous?
I’m not convinced anyone’s anonymous, but obviously, as much as I’ve covered the restaurant scene, I’m certainly not, though I’m frequently too inconsequential to care about. I’ve gone to media dinners or other events at a few places in the book, but quite a bit fewer than you might think, and there’s literally not a place in here where I haven’t spent my own money and dined pretty much like a normal person, even if they knew me.
I never wanted to be a conventional reviewer, partly because with restaurants, I can’t help thinking about the people involved if I know them… and pretty soon you’re hedging what you say to not hurt their feelings. I’m midwestern, I don’t want to upset anybody! The good thing about this is, it was all places I like, so I only had to deal with places I felt positively about anyway. It’s a love story.
Why did you decide to go the published-on-demand book route rather than a traditional publisher—or an app for the iPhone?
Because you can, now, and make a slick-looking product very quickly—and quickly is not how publishing normally works. There’s a Kindle edition, so you can read it on your iPhone, but I like the format of a book for a modest price. It’s safe to leave in your glove compartment where it’ll be useful. And books are really good devices, 500 years later. Easy to operate.
Go here to order The Fooditor 99: Where To Eat (And What To Eat There) in Chicago.
Michael Gebert is the editor of Fooditor and, by an amazing coincidence, the author of The Fooditor 99. Special thanks to the team at Oriole or, as I like to call them, #4.
Join the Discussion
After you comment, click Post. If you're not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.