Buzz List For October 8, 2018

Next chef not the only one who just departed, burgers burgers everywhere, city of noodles, and grievances break out about Thalia Hall situation

Mini Mott/Facebook

1. WHO’S NEXT?

UPDATE: Last night, in the newsletter version of Buzz List, I speculated that the timing of Jenner Tomaska’s departure last week as executive chef of Next—coming right at the launch of the Alinea 2011-2015 menu (which officially began Saturday), and as they had to be working on the themes for next year (which are usually announced at the end of November)—meant that they were looking for new talent and thinking for next year’s menus, after having heavily mined Grant Achatz’s own past in the last few seasons (with The French Laundry, Trio and two half-decades of Alinea).

Well, good theory but it missed one fact no one seems to have noticed until now: Tomaska’s wife, Katrina Bravo, who worked in marketing and branding for Alinea Group, also left the company in the very recent past. What I’m hearing is that Tomaska and his wife have plans to open a restaurant of their own—and that aspects of this plan, once Alinea Group became aware of them, led to the couples’ abrupt departure. The timing of coming right as the next season is being planned seems to be coincidental, probably unfortunately so. (Unless, that is, things work out well in the theme-concepting process with whoever they’re looking at as Tomaska’s replacement, in which case it’ll all turn out to have been very fortunate.)

Grant Achatz hinted at what one theme might be on Instagram here—I’d love to see them return occasionally to the playfully conceptual menus we haven’t seen since the days of Childhood and The Hunt. As for the Tomaskas’ restaurant, hard to say if things coming apart this way will hamper its efforts to keep the interest of investors in the small community of people who back restaurants—in which Alinea Group co-owner Nick Kokonas is a prominent figure.

2. GOOD DOUGHNUT, BAD BURGER

If the Reader, which has a new permanent editor at long last (welcome, Anne Elizabeth Moore), stands for anything, it’s iconoclasm among its readers. So this week Aimee Levitt comes out in favor of that cliché of fall agritainment, the apple cider doughnut.

But Mike Sula comes out against something even more American than apple sugar-fat bombs: burgers. Specifically the Mini Mott cheeseburger, which seems to have caught some sort of cultural moment of enough-with-f’ing-burgers-already after Michael Nagrant’s previous bashing: “The upper levels of this sandwich do indeed make a statement, forming a crunchy, crispy, gooey, tangy, sweet, and squishy umami storm that just happened to blow in on some beef… The well-done, nearly uniform patties are under there somewhere, but they have so little flavor or textural interest—no fetching browning or lacy edges—that they do little more than serve as the floor of a basement frat party in its final hour.”

3. GOOD BURGER, MEET GOOD CHICKEN

Crain’s is here to tell us about another burger—Sarah Jordan’s Johnny’s Grill burger, which helped kick off the hipster double patty diner burger thing, has come back under another name at Dropshot Coffee, “modestly different but possibly even more delicious, edges away from the model-thin standard patty with more zaftig and therefore pinker ones.” Get a room, you two patties!

Meanwhile, at Boxcar Betty’s in the Ogilvie Center, “The soft bun and condiments give pride of place to the crunchy-outside, brined-inside chicken, creating a tastefully dressed sandwich that ranks high in a crowded field for taste and even higher for value.”

4. 31 LASHES WITH A WET NOODLE

Noodles are the subject of the Trib’s monthly slideshow thing, and this is one that has me excited, because I know Nick Kindelsperger in particular is out there scarfing up Asian noodles all over town. Any list that already has A Place By Damao, Pho 5Lua and QXY Dumplings on it after barely a week is good by me, I look forward to what else they all find.

5. MA SWEET LÖRT

This was bound to happen—local low-rent hooch turned hipster favorite Malört, famously a brand run out of a condo in Florida for many years, has been sold to CH Distillery (described in the press as “Pilsen-based,” though most of us would associate it with its original West Loop location) who plan to expand on its Chicago fame to other cities. Eater had a nice roundup of Malört-related fun in the press over the past few years, though they left out my personal favorite (not least because I was there), Schwa’s Michael Carlson trying to make high end molecular cuisine using its infamously bitter taste… which he described as “bum feet and earwax.”

6. MELON THALIA AND THE INFINITE GRIEVANCE

Eater had a story a couple of weeks ago about disputes within Thalia Hall and newly re-annointed Michelin one star Dusek’s Board & Beer. A woman manager, Sarah Joanou, was fired, and she responded with some claims of mismanagement of various sorts on her blog. A bar not running the way someone working there thinks it should be, stop the presses!

But as my friend Kenny Z alerted me to last week, her blog post has since racked up 56 comments totaling thousands of words, making it the rare online comment thread clusterfark that tells you how things really work (or so a legion of disgruntled ex-employees say, anyway). Kenny’s response was that he never wanted to eat or drink out ever again, but from my point of view, I’m conscious of how we in food media sell the happy, shiny version of a tough-ass, often corner-cutting industry, and it’s important for me and, I think, for diners to once in a while to be exposed to other points of view from the inside—and appreciate what people who work in server and mid-level management positions experience and go through.

7. MR. PIZZA GOES TO WASHINGTON

Or actually they came here, since writer Kate Silver (who’s written for Fooditor) took one of his tours. Anyway, Steve Dolinsky talks to the Washington Post about Chicago pizza. Best bit: “You wouldn’t know it from his enthusiasm level on the tour, but here’s a funny thing about Dolinsky: Pizza isn’t his favorite food. Not even close. When we had talked by phone, I asked him if he ever would have guessed that this would become the category around which his life would revolve. “Absolutely not,” he says. ‘I thought it would be something Asian. I mean, I love Korean food.'”

8. ICE ICE BABY

I got one of those molds for ice spheres as a gift. Suffice it to say, putting tap water in one and sticking it in the fridge does not produce that cocktail-bar perfectly transparent globe. Lisa Futterman explains how Chicago’s Quari Ice does it: “Water is purified through five layers of filtration in Quari’s Fulton Street production facility, and then continues through a process of reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light treatment to purify even further. ‘We remove impurities on a molecular level,’ says Neil Sullivan, ‘because they weaken the bonds of the ice.’”

9. ANOTHER MAN’S TRASH

David Hammond takes a look at local efforts to give waste food a second life, from feeding cancer patients to turning it into something else. (Newcity)

10. COCKLES AND MUSSELS

WBEZ’s Curious City looks back at the days when you could buy fresh fish in fish markets… caught right in Lake Michigan.

11. DARK MEAT AND GRANDMA

I only post the occasional event here when they intrigue me… and one on Thursday intrigues me: Twain will be cooking down-home dishes using a rare chicken breed called the Swedish Black, which (like some Asian breeds) has black skin and flesh. The chicken comes from Faith’s Farm, a familiar farmers market name; go here for more details.

Meanwhile, one pizza type Steve Dolinsky says we miss here is Grandma-style. (I’m not super clear on the distinction between that and some of the Sicilian square cut pieces you can buy, but I trust him on this.) Anyway, some folks looking at opening an Grandma-style place will be giving Grandma pizza a test drive at Ludlow Liquors on Tuesday. Anthony Todd tells more.

12. GOLDBURGER

In the exact opposite of the hot new burger craze, Titus Ruscitti goes to Goldyburgers in Forest Park, which has been around since the 20s. Honestly, though, more interesting is his stopover in Seoul, during which he apparently ate 14 meals between flights.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Speaking of the endless burger craze, I went to Lucy’s, the new Humboldt Park spot which does a Jucy Lucy (inevitably) and a similar to Mini Mott (if not as dressed up) double patty burger. And again, it’s the blah gray meat that undoes a place that otherwise is pretty good—excellent fries, a good chocolate shake, and son #2, who a year or two ago barely recognized the existence of any protein within five miles of a burger, ordered the hot chicken sandwich which was not so hot but quite good. Also they have the most amazing vintage paintings on the wall, a series of pictures depicting events of the decades from the 20s to the 80s that must have been in the lobby of Time-Life or somewhere. So I liked everything about this new burger joint except the burger—but stop by for a chicken sandwich sometime and check out the art on the walls.

 

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