Buzz List for June 26, 2017

Reviews of Fulton Market Kitchen and Ella Elli, discovering Mild Sauce and Sweet Steak, trouble for Robert's Pizza and Baker and Nosh, and Hanbun is thinking about expansion.

Fulton Market Kitchen/Facebook
1. FULTON IN PLAIN SIGHT

Kudos to Phil Vettel for skipping whatever just opened and reviewing a three-year-old, mostly overlooked spot in a hot neighborhood, just because it’s good. It’s Fulton Market Kitchen, now under Chris Curren (Blu 13, etc.): “Simple-sounding dishes impress in execution. English pea salad, with radishes and favas and a restrained mint-yogurt dressing, screams ‘spring’ in the early summer. Roasted and glazed carrots are matched to whipped goat cheese with honey and crushed pistachio. For the bold, there are Brussels sprouts tossed in chile, garlic paste, bacon and almonds; and the aforementioned smoked potatoes, this time served with scallion mayo, make a good shared appetizer or side dish.”

2. ELLA BELLA

Mike Sula’s on record as a non-fan of mostly stroller-mom-friendly Four Star Restaurant Group, so he’s surprised when he actually likes Ella Elli, a comeback for Saigon Sisters/OON chef Matt Eversman—he even likes the inevitable avocado toast: “It’s a thick slab of charred rustic bread, smeared with a blanket of the green goo, topped with a poached egg jiggling like Gypsy Rose Lee amid a shower of everything-bagel spice blend. It’s a collision of three of the most prevalent Instagram food trends in current rotation, but also the kind of virtuous food that somehow feels bad for you, as you struggle to shove it in your face before old man frat rock stops singing on the sidewalk and snatches it away. There’s a mushroom toast that performs similarly: superb meaty slices of fungi glistening with heavy cream and butter on smoky bread.” (Reader)

3. BORN TO BE MILD

I knew that Chicago BBQ sauce had a distinctive profile—red, tomatoey, with a little kick—and distinctive uses (such as being poured all over fried chicken), but I never heard it called “Mild Sauce” as a name (as opposed to a descriptor—”you want hot or mild sauce?”) until Hannibal Burress’ article in Chicago mag in February. But apparently Mild Sauce by name is a thing, and has been for a long time; Bill Daley explores its history and possible inventors in an excellent look into the reaches of BBQ and fried chicken history. (Tribune)

4. BESTA BESTA

The Reader’s Best of issue has several food-related stories worth checking out; in particular I liked Ernest Wilkins’ paean to a south side hoagy specialty, the sweet steak sandwich (though he seems to take it as an affront that it hasn’t been discovered already; this is how things get discovered, someone like you writes about them).

5. ROBERT'S END

On Monday someone posted on LTHForum that critically-acclaimed Streeterville pizza place Robert’s Pizza looked closed. They were right, and the story has gotten twistier and twistier since then: later that day Eater reported that they had closed due to a dispute between owners Robert Garvey and Shawn DeAmicis, who had been part of the previous pizza tenant in the spot, Flour & Stone. By Thursday the Tribune was reporting a lawsuit was in the works. And by Friday, seemingly to forestall any possibility of Robert’s returning in the space, consulting group Hats Off Hospitality was involved as the developer of a new concept to go in the space (what, exactly, was unspecified; sounds like they were still thinking it up).

6. YOUNG BUN

Eater named Dave Park of Hanbun (who Fooditor profiled here) one of its Young Guns of 2017, which, you know, whatever, but it does come with a pretty good look at where the Westmont strip mall Korean wonder stands and, with any luck, will expand from soon: “Serving only six to 10 people three to four nights a week, Park and Tran serve seven courses of Michelin-level ‘Korean food through a modern lens’ to a table in Hanbun’s kitchen. Those dinners, which Park has even served versions of to delegates of the United Nations, are now completely booked until the middle of next year. That’s also when Hanbun’s lease ends, and the team has yet to decide the restaurant’s ‘next steps’… business—especially following the James Beard nomination [sic; he was a semifinalist, not a nominee]—’literally took off’ and is necessitating more staff and space. Enter Park’s next goal to open a standalone restaurant.”

7. BIG NOSH

Baker & Nosh was in my coffeehouse-laptop rotation, but I heard it closed a while back. Well, that’s only part of the story, and now they have a GoFundMe going for the two locations they were planning on opening and moving to… and for which they’re now asking people to give them $650,000. To put that amount in perspective, when Bunny the Micro Bakery was doing its Kickstarter, they raised $34,000—5% of that amount. They were also pre-selling rewards, like doughnuts or pierogi; this is just asking for the money, because you think Uptown and Edgewater need a coffee-bakery spot. (DNAInfo)

8. ARMITAGE FIT TO PRINT

New York Times pieces on what to do in Chicago are always odd. This one, focusing on restaurants along Armitage, isn’t bad, though pairing Giant with Sink/Swim (which is about to close anyway) versus other choices in the area (e.g., Osteria Langhe) and then filling the rest with bars and coffee places is… odd, as if any human would come to a city and then microfocus on one block.

9. SMOKE SIGNALS

When I interviewed Joaquin Soler about the changes he was bringing to Smalls Smoke Shack a month ago, he sure seemed determined to make his tiny place work as more of a Filipino restaurant. But he soon shut down again for more work on the place… and now Joseph Hernandez reports that Smalls has closed for good, with Soler hoping to open a bigger place in the near future, with actual seating: “‘So much of what I want to do with a restaurant, I can’t because I’m limited by the space,’ says Soler… ‘As much thought and time as we put into everything, I can’t guarantee the quality when so much of it is delivery, and people might be using a microwave to reheat the food—a pet peeve of mine. A sit-down restaurant, though, I can serve the food exactly how I want and expect it to be served.’”

10. VIOLET, OURS

Punch—not the late English humor magazine but a drink website—looks back at the 10-year-history of The Violet Hour, which pretty much built our cocktail scene out of nothing: “‘We had cooks, we had baristas, we had servers’ behind the bar, says [founding mixologist Toby] Maloney. ‘We were building it from the ground up. We were exactly the opposite of Pegu Club, which had a murderer’s row of bartenders. [At VH] it was people who literally didn’t know what a jigger was.’”

11. FOOD & WAHN

New York’s in a tizzy because Food & Wine is uprooting its staff and moving from The Capitol of Earth to… Birmingham, Alabama? (And getting a new editor in Hunter Lewis, currently of Cooking Light.) We’ll just have to see how moving to a decidedly non-major food town affects the editorial—though I don’t think being more Southern will be a bad thing—but if it doesn’t work out,  instead of moving back to New York, why not consider Chicago? It’d be at least a little cheaper, the food scene is strong—arguably more intellectual and less driven by baller finance types than New York’s—and it’s located near lots of other interesting food cities, from Madison to Indianapolis. And they’d be an instant big dog, instead of just another Manhattan-based thinning monthly. Breaking food media’s NYC focus would be an instant shot in the arm a publication that’s looking for something new could use.

12. EID LOVE TO

Get your Eid on on Devon, with these tips from DNAInfo.

13. A CAST OF KILLERS

Want to play Truth or Dare with the top chefs in the city? Check out Muze: Episode One, in which Grace manager and Jean Banchet Awards emcee Michael Muser will pose no-holds-barred questions to Rick Bayless, Curtis Duffy, Carrie Nahabedian (who was hilarious at the last Between Bites) and Abe Conlon, benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. There will be food too…

14. 75 AND COUNTING

The Chicago food world’s full of events, but not many 75th anniversary ones—so check out Manny’s party on July 31, benefiting the Illinois Restaurant Association Education Foundation.

WHAT MIKE ATE

This week I returned to a place I’d liked once and went to a place I thought might turn out to not be good. Both surprised me.

Not good, alas, was lunch at Publican Anker. The lunch menu is basically what you’d find at any bar—burger, chicken sandwich, salad to which you can add chicken—pretty ordinary stuff next to the innovative food of my first dinner there. Trying to make it more interesting, I ordered “Pickles”—thinking in hipster Wicker Park that I’d get some ramps, some radishes, all freshly pickled from Green City. Nope, I got enough bread and butter pickle slices for a burger cookout, and a stack of crackers. (And a response from Iowahawk!) Maybe if I spent the whole afternoon sipping Fernet, I could have choked these down; as it was, I’d had enough after four or five, barely denting the piles of either pickles or crackers. The other thing I had (a mushroom tartine, lots of melted cheese) was all right but hardly seemed to have the inspiration and ambition of the place I tried a few months back. I guess they’ve adjusted the menu to the unadventurous hood they’re in; bummer.

Many Asian food-Twitter people I follow have expressed their displeasure with Duck Duck Goat’s take on Chinese (or Chinese-American) cuisine, saying people who eat there should go eat real Chinese food in Chinatown instead. Well, I’m all for eating in Chinatown, but I have to say that I found the playful, Disneyfied atmosphere at DDG fun, and at least some of the food was impressive for an execution level well above your regular takeout spot. Head to head comparisons didn’t always compare—the Peking duck is twice as much as Sun Wah’s and not as good, the xiao long bao were decent but there are better elsewhere in Chicago. But dan dan noodles had great texture and real wok hay, BBQ pork buns were excellent (and actually tasted like pork, not cherry-red pork candy), and some fancified things like short rib shumai were tasty and different. All in all, for the circus that West Loop dining is quickly becoming, this is a center ring attraction.

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