Buzz List for February 12, 2018

Chicago's racial BBQ divide, reviews of Booth One, Gideon Sweet and Tempesta Market, the best and the oldest Chinese food, and Chicago Black Restaurant Week

Booth One/Facebook
The Pum— er, Booth One

1. SOUTH BY SOUTHSIDE

At Saveur, Kevin Pang has a very good piece about Garry Kennebrew, who runs the Uncle John’s BBQ in Homewood after serving as protege to one of the masters of the glass-pit (or aquarium) smoker, the late Mack Sevier of the original Uncle John’s on 69th. He uses Kennebrew’s story to explore whether the South Side Chicago BBQ style is dying out—discouraged by regulation and thus largely unknown to BBQ fans on the north side. This part is dead on:

“There already exists a glut of barbecue restaurants on the North Side, and many of these full-service restaurants have loyal followings, including Smoque, Lillie’s Q, and Green Street Smoked Meats. But all those restaurants serve an amalgam of regional styles, a greatest hits of American barbecue from Memphis to Kansas City to Austin, many cooked in gas-powered Southern Pride smokers or Oyler Pits. And while it’s true that they have comfortable chairs and drinks served in Mason jars, I’ve always found it curious that even my most culinarily adventurous North Side friends have at most a peripheral awareness of South Side barbecue, and almost none have tried it. I don’t believe explicit discrimination on an individual level has anything to do with it. But it may say something about being comfortable living in our social silos.”

Well, the information has long been out there if you wanted it—there was a time in my life when my culinary social circle was mainly people who knew African-American Chicago barbecue on a micro level. In any case the piece led The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner to scold Chicago on Twitter about how we’ve never had the conversation about barbecue and race that this demands. Well, besides my own (James Beard nominated) video and assorted articles, there’s literally been a conversation about the racial divide in barbecue going on in parts of the local food community for twenty years. If Chicago food has an invisible dividing line between north side and south side, well, food media has an invisible dividing line of its own just as hard to see past.

2. ONE BOOTH TO RULE THEM ALL

At the start of Phil Vettel’s review of Booth One (the former Pump Room, but rights to the name somehow separated from the room itself), Lettuce Entertain You chef Doug Psaltis asks, “How many opportunities come up to do something like this?” Well, so far Rich Melman has taken the iconic room over twice, so there’s your answer. This time seems to be a bit of a tribute to Melman’s nostalgia for his own past—”Lobster cappuccino traces its roots to a like-named dish that Rick Tramonto offered at Trio and Tru; its highlight was the ethereal foam that conveyed an impossible amount of lobster flavor… Caesar Salad a la Sir Graham is a nod to chef Graham Elliot, whose eponymous and bygone restaurant featured a GE Caesar highlighted by ‘Twinkie croutons,’ toasted brioche cuboids injected with Parmesan cheese. The Sir Graham version employs a three-cheese blend of mascarpone, pecorino and Parmesan, but the concept remains the same.” The trip down memory lane gets three stars.

3. ‘NDUJA-RING LOVE

Mike Sula has been hymning the praise of ‘nduja, notably from ‘Nduja Artisans, for years, and his admiration for Tempesta Market from the ‘Nduja Artisans team reaches its operatic climax with one sandwich smeared with the stuff in particular: “Among them the one sandwich that will live on to eternity—the one people will speak of when they speak of Tempesta—is the Dante, a baguette stacked with six layers of NA’s cured meats (hot soppressata, coppa, mortadella, finocchiona, porchetta, and nduja aioli), giardiniera, provolone, lettuce, and, outnumbering the nine circles of hell by one, tomato.”

4. GIDEON, WELL

The review is a little mixed but Maggie Hennessy is generally happy with well-paced small plates at Gideon Sweet: “Hamachi collar has lately become one of my favorite fish parts. This meaty, bone-in section between the head and gills is an ideal match for a hot grill—yielding rich, incredibly juicy meat. So I was disappointed to find the yuzu-glazed hamachi collar bland, lacking the glistening char and sweet-citrus tang of my first visit. Our dismay melted upon the near-simultaneous arrival of warm king crab—an impeccable section of sweet, tender leg meat drenched in luscious uni butter, uplifted with a spritz of lemon and dotted with smoked trout roe.”

5. CHINESE DELIVERED

The Tribune’s month of Chinese food is off to what seems a pretty good start—the slideshow features familiar classics (dry chili chicken at Lao Sze Chuan, Peking duck at Sun Wah) and some items from newer places (xi’an sandwiches at Xi’an Cuisine, pork feet at A Place by Damao). Check it out…

But Friend of Fooditor Brian Eng, who grew up in Hong Kong, thinks they’re not digging deeply enough into our scene. He put up two best of Chinese food in Chicago posts, here and here.

6. BUY ME SOME GNOCCHI AND AMBERJACK

Cubs manager Joe Maddon is teaming up—teaming up, get it?—with Tony Mantuano to open a two-floor restaurant in the whole Wrigley shoppadinasportsapalooza complex. “The new venture will feature Italian and Polish charcuterie platters; Haluski-style papardelle with cabbage, bacon and onions; Mantuano’s sausage and escarole pie; and wood-oven roasted pierogi with butter and herbs. The kitchen will have a wood oven, wood grill and a custom-made smoke box,” says Ari Bendersky at Crain’s.

7. HOW NOW WON KOW

The oldest Chinese restaurant in the city (and the last restaurant left from the 1931 guidebook Dining in Chicagoland), has closed, Eater reported. Won Kow, a vast Tiki-themed Chinese spot that has been there since 1928, had its last day on the 8th. Weirdly, my last visit there was written about—by someone else; David Hammond covered that 2014 visit, which also included Nick Kindelsperger and Dennis Lee, for Newcity.

8. PILSEN REDUX

At Eater, Mina Bloom has yet another piece on the Pilsen gentrification and restaurants story. And it’s hard to see how it adds anything to it—the LA-based protesters seem weirdly uninterested in talking about what they want, and we get the same anecdotes about how some people don’t want change in the neighborhood. Do others want change, though? Are some happy about new jobs in the neighborhood? Can you read these stories for the rest of your life without ever hearing the name “Podmajersky?” Apparently; if you really want to know what’s going on there, this piece at South Side Weekly will get you closer than another rehash of the S.K.Y. protest.

9. BLACK RESTAURANT WEEK

Say you wanted to check out restaurants on the African-American south side… no better way to start this week than with Chicago Black Restaurant Week’s list of 29 participating restaurants. It runs through Sunday the 18th.

10. CHICKEN FIASCO

Lupe Fiasco releases a song to Harold’s Fried Chicken (Reader).

11. HANOI VEY

Friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti continues his Southeast Asian tour with a look at food in Hanoi that will have you drooling.

12. ALINEA BABY

In my piece on Alinea a couple of weeks ago, I deliberately stayed away from the LTHForum-style course by course chronicle, in order to focus philosophically on this kind of dinner as, I guess, a kind of art piece as a whole. But an old LTH friend—the same one I quoted on Grace a couple of weeks ago; I guess he’s officially Old LTH Friend of Fooditor Dave now—has that kind of post, and I’d say I agree with most of his takes on where Alinea worked, and when it doesn’t.

13. SPARROW CAFE

I mentioned the Naperville cafe that Sparrow Coffee has opened (a sort of tryout in New Haven before they reach the city) in this piece, but Anthony Todd has more details in Dish.

14. READER CHANGES

Congrats to Mark Konkol, new executive editor of the Chicago Reader, ever more important as one of the last places to explore food in Chicago seriously, as evidenced by its several James Beard Foundation Awards, among other things. Best wishes to Jake Malooley, the Reader’s previous editor (and for me, the one who finally got me to write something substantial enough for them to warrant a cover story, after two years of doing shorter, faster things).

WHERE MIKE ATE

I went for another PR-invited steak dinner, this time at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse. The crowd looked more Michigan Avenue shoppers than the conventioneers at my last one (Benny’s Chop House) and the food was more comfort foody overall, but I was impressed by a bone-in filet—not my cut of choice, but very well prepared. Our server, a Latino lady, was especially friendly and enthusiastic about the opportunity to pair wines for us. The name and location alone would basically print money for a while, so kudos to them for carrying it off at a much higher level than that.

And for pre-Valentine’s Day dinner, we went back to S.K.Y.—and found ourselves favored with the kitchen table this time. There are a few additions to the menu, and a new pastry chef, since I wrote about it in November, but I was as happy as before with both old and new—fried chicken and foie bibimbap (though the foie gilds a lily, to be honest), a sprightly Vietnamese beef salad and, although they border on cliché at this point, terrific brussel sprouts roasted with apple cider. Talking to manager Charles Ford, I learned they hope to finally get their liquor license soon, but as part of remaining accessible to their community, plan to be BYO Sunday through Thursday.

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