Buzz List for February 13, 2017

Alinea Group is building in New York, how Spacca Napoli got so good, lots of South Side coverage for a change, and no, your coffee isn't dirty.

Roberto Caporuscio/Spacca Napoli Facebook
Pizza at Spacca Napoli
1. STONE SOUP

Want to do something (non-partisan) to help refugees? Bruce Sherman of North Pond got together a bunch of A-List Chicago chefs to raise money for groups that help refugees and immigrants; for a $50 donation you get two pints of soup from two different chefs with names like Bayless, Izard, Kahan, Wolen, etc. Find out more here.

2. NEW YORK AVIARY?

Alinea Group heads Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas both Instagrammed cryptic images of a site under construction. Eater speculated that it was the Moto space, which they’ve owned for the last year, being developed at last. But if you looked at Kokonas’s other posts, the site is plainly in New York, not Chicago—and the presence of Aviary beverage director Micah Melton in one of the photos makes it more likely that this will be the New York edition of The Aviary they’ve been talking about for several years now (I covered the idea back when it was first floated at Grub Street).

3. WHAT MAKES SAMI RUN

So in my piece last week about the Yemeni restaurant Mandi Noor, I mentioned that a lot of Yemenis and other middle easterners own small shops and live on the south side and near south suburbs. And by a cool coincidence, that was exactly the subject of a piece that had gone up at Chicago magazine the day before: the profile of the Palestinian-American owner of an Englewood corner market, Sami Deffala, and the role he plays in the community (where Arab shop owners are often resented by the African-American community) and how the arrival of the Englewood Whole Foods may or may not change his world. It’s an important slice of food sociology in Chicago, well told by Sarah Conway.

4. PIZZA GOLD

Michael Nagrant profiles Jonathan Goldsmith, owner of Spacca Napoli, the first and still the model for Chicago’s most authentic Neapolitan pizzas: “My interest is the same as it was in a beginning. I’m still asking the same questions I was 12 years ago. What’s the best cheese? What’s the best flour?” (Redeye)

5. NO JOKE VEGETARIAN

Phil Vettel likes the not-entirely-vegetarian food at Bad Hunter: “Nuggets of fried sunchoke are irresistible, bathed in black-garlic butter and perked up with Aleppo pepper-laced honey. Long, slender wood-grilled carrots arrive over a smear of pistachio-chile pesto sprinkled with fennel fronds and queso fresco; meaty maitake mushrooms, with lavender-laced parsnip puree, is a dish I could eat a dozen times.” (Tribune)

6. RONERO PLAIN

Jose Garces’ Ronero, under chef Cory Morris (Mercat a la Planxa, Rural Society) offers a downtown diner a friendly and a bit compromised version of South American dining, says Mike Sula, but he finds enough to like anyway: “The restaurant’s disciplined adherence to the rote protein-side-sauce approach at least is filtered through Morris’s South American sensibility. So at least the hamburguesa sports a chorizo marmalade, and the lamb chops try to keep it real with a Peruvian purple potato hash and a sauce made from the minty Andean herb huacatay.”

7. WASHOUT

A rather droll piece by Monica Eng about the new coffee place from the founder of Protein Bar, Limitless, which claims to offer uniquely “clean,” “washed” coffee, a discovery made on a trip to a yoga spa. What is that exactly? “Dan Cox, president of Coffee Analysts, went further. ‘I was offended by what I saw’ on the Limitless Coffee site, says Cox, a certified coffee grader who’s been in business for 35 years. ‘I don’t think he knows what the (heck) he’s talking about.'”

8. HERE TODAY GONE TAMALE

I’d call them a veteran tamale shop, but they are Veteran Tamales, makers of old school Chicago tamales, who are closing up after 70 years. DNAInfo’s Ed Komenda has a nice memorial, that among things points out that the city’s problem with mobile food vendors isn’t exactly new: “For many years, Veteran Tamale made money supplying those tamales to hot dog vendor carts all over the city. ‘That’s what they did. They were unemployed. That’s what they did to tide them over. They got a little extra cash, and everybody ate good,’ Szczytko said. ‘You can’t beat a hot dog on a wagon, but you can’t have a wagon anymore.’”

9. MEET THE JOHNNIE

In the new episode of The Feed, they look at two iconic dishes identified with a particular place—Rick Bayless looks at barbacoa in Mexico City, while Steve Dolinsky does Italian beef… and actually interviews the Johnnie of Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park. Who knew he was still around? Anyway, there’s some good history, or even pre-history, of the Chicago classic here.

10. BY GUMBO

The blog Hungry Black Man visits a South Side spot I’ve been meaning to hit for a while—Anita’s Gumbo: “I was a bit skeptical, until Mrs. Anita herself walked out the back of the restaurant. I knew the food was going to be FIE because she was a refined, super mature lady who looked like she has served over 20 years as usher board chair and as chairwoman of the hospitality committee of the 1st Baptist Church of Pentecost who cooked for the likes of T.D. Jakes, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.”

11. YOU'RE FILIPINOIN' ME SMALLS

I noticed much-beloved Texas-Filipino BBQ place Smalls Smoke Shack was shut down over the holidays. Louisa Chu explains why: they’re reconcepting to dial up the Filipino component (without, they say, losing the barbecue).

12. PASTEL COLORS

La Sirena Clandestina cranked out 100,000 empanadas… and then they decided to stop and make something else, pastels. Matt Kirouac explains at Zagat.

13. BEER WITH YOUR WHINER

A tap room in The Plant has been a long time (and two breweries) coming, but Julia Thiel likes Whiner Beer and its place in The Plant’s ecosystem, making sour beers with natural yeasts: “Under the right circumstances, wild yeast and bacteria can be used to create some very desirable beers. And Whiner has done just that, from the entry-level Le Tub—a refreshing, easy-drinking blend of sour and nonsoured saisons that’s barely tart—to the Fur Coat, a Belgian-style dark ale with a bite sharp enough to make your mouth pucker a little.”

14. FROM LITTLE NAKORNS

Aimee Levitt notes that Nakorn is selling to a non-Thai crowd with its upscale Thai food in Evanston: “The food at Nakorn does not look, my dining companion and I agreed, like any other Thai food we’ve ever had before. Instead of the soups and satay sticks and curries unceremoniously poured over noodles and rice that you find in most Thai restaurants in Chicago, Nakorn’s dishes are elaborate architectural constructions—or maybe deconstructions—that have been meticulously plated.” (Reader)

15. MAN BITES COW

WGN’s headline warns, “Your ground beef may contain parts of cow’s heart!” Yes, because it is… ground beef. A cow’s heart is beef. Heart is a very delicious cut. Do not listen to your television.

16. SIXTEEN PLUS ONE

Meet Nick Dostal, new chef at Sixteen (and as I commented, not completely obscure—he was nominated for Best Chef-de-Cuisine at the Jean Banchet Awards last month, before his promotion). (Chicago)

17. CHICAGO BLACK RESTAURANT WEEK

Restaurant Week is over, now it’s your chance to try 17 places that don’t get that kind of publicity. Here’s the list.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I went to Income Tax (as their guest) and very much enjoyed the no-pretense approach to everything—relaxed service, comfortable versions of European food (though I agree with Friend of Fooditor John Lenart that they should just not call the restrained chicken dish coq au vin if it doesn’t have that peasant dish’s funkiness), and the excellent policy of letting you buy half a bottle (or drink by the glass from the other half of one someone opened). It’s a complete neighborhood winner.

And I went to Elske, first time other than tasting some of the things that were shown in Fooditor’s piece last December. It’s like Giant—well, it’s really nothing like Giant, food is delicate and vaguely Nordic rather than brash and global. But it’s like Giant… in that it’s deceptively simple food at reasonable prices… and deservedly packed as a result. A skate dish, a matsutake mushroom dish with a bracing vinegar taste, and a dish of cigar-shaped dumplings were standouts, while the “porridge” dessert was irresistible for all the little textural contrasts it offered.

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