Buzz List for May 22, 2017

Iron Steph, Chicago is the best says CN Traveler, where giardiniera and smashed burgers come from, Kitsune is personal, precise and adorable, and Fat Johnnie's on the big questions.

Kitsune/Facebook
Dishes at Kitsune
1. FLATTERY WILL GET YOU A BURGER

CN Traveler knows that if you want to get a city talking about your listicle… name that city “the best restaurant city in America right now.” Sure enough, it worked, but okay, their list of 19 spots is pretty good—I wouldn’t argue with the notion that places like Giant, Monteverde, and Parachute make a good case. Peter Frost dissects it a little more deeply in Crain’s: “The magazine’s writers take a valiant shot at naming their top 19 restaurants in the city, a fool’s errand that’s bound to stir up some kvetching. While it’s hard to quibble with the spots that made the list, it tends to read a bit like it was compiled by out-of-towners ticking off the city’s most-written-about restaurants (Hello, Roister) and its greatest hits (Au Cheval cheeseburger, anyone?)”

2. SHOW ME THE WAY TO THE NEXT WHISKEY BAR

In other national magazine listicles (it’s like they discovered us this week), Food & Wine calls out Chicago’s best whiskey bars.

3. GIRL & EGOT

Congrats to Stephanie Izard, not only for winning Iron Chef, but as Boka Group owner Kevin Boehm points out, “She’s basically won the Cuiinary EGOT: Beard, Food & Wine BNC, Top Chef & now Iron Chef. Only human to do so! Proud to be her partner!”

4. FOX AND FRIENDS

Phil Vettel says of Kitsune: “This latest effort from Iliana Regan (Elizabeth) is, like every other concept she’s opened, intimate, highly personal and as adorably precious as the cartoon-y figurines she employs as decoration.” The fox is in the details, like eggs: “Find cooked and pickled quail eggs in the a la carte pickled-vegetable plate, or cooked hen eggs staring at you from atop Kitsune’s soul-nurturing ramen bowls; all boast perfect, custardy yolks that make you sad when they’re gone. Seriously, if the menu offered a plate of just these eggs, I’d order it.”

5. SWEET GEORGIA

Mike Sula explores the menu at Diplomat Cafe, a new Georgian restaurant in a Lincoln Avenue spot that’s long been Turkish or something similar. Lots to discover there, like the Georgian version of Chinese soup dumplings: “Georgia’s most recognizable dish is khinkali: soup dumplings cosmetically indistinguishable from Chinese xiao long bao. At Diplomat they’re stuffed to order with ground beef or pork. And because they’re pleated with a sturdier dough, there’s no worry that they’ll rupture and leak the precious liquid at their center. Just hoist them up by the topknot, nibble a whole in the side and slurp.” (Reader)

6. PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD

Titus Ruscitti calls attention to a former Tru cook’s Ukrainian Village spot, Curious, A Chef’s Playground: “I decided to try the Brazilian Shepherds Pie made with minced steak and chorizo that came with a cornbread crusted top. Loved the idea of corn bread being the crust and the meat mixture was really comforting which is pretty much the first word that comes to mind when thinking about this meal.”

He also directs us to a new place in a long-empty space near Joe Boston, soon to be RIP, a burger stand called G0-Go’s: “The menu has all the classics and then a few things you won’t find everywhere. There’s a little section titled panini’s and it includes an Italian pressed sandwich as well as a Cuban amonsgt others. Being a big of the Cuban sandwich I wanted to check theirs out. Upon unwrapping my order I felt like I found an unknown. This was a stellar Cuban, for outside of Florida standards.”

7. PASS THE RUIN

The weirdly-named The Ruin Daily (something to do with… Martin Van Buren?) is a sandwich shop and by hickory, the sandwiches are where it’s at, says Joanne Trestrail in Crain’s: “Sandwiches, served all day, are where the action is at lunchtime. Meaty monsters include a well-executed classic Reuben on marble rye ($9), the Little Magician (rare roast beef, foie butter, horseradish sauce, pickled onions, $12) and the Gym Shoe (sliced lamb, corned beef, other beef, tzatziki mayo, $10). They’ll fill you up and then some, as all come with a big handful of irresistible kettle chips.”

8. LET US NOW PRAISE GIARDINIERA

“No other place in the United States cares for giardiniera as much as we do. It exists in every neighborhood, with multiple brands vying for shelf space at grocery stores and many fast food stands mixing up their own batches,” says Nick Kindelsperger by way of drawing us into the history of Chicago giardiniera, which is distinct from most Italian giardiniera for the fact of being preserved in oil as well as vinegar: “While the Italian beef helped spread the gospel of giardiniera, people eventually started putting it on other foods. Johnson, the V. Formusa manager, says there’s nothing ‘much better than a dipped beef with giardiniera,’ but he also likes it on other dishes, including a simple plate of scrambled eggs. ‘It works on everything,’ he says. ‘It’s not even about the spice. That oil holds everything together.'” (Tribune)

9. MUNGO PARK

Penny Pollack first called out Mango Pickle in Edgewater, so not entirely surprising that Jeff Ruby followed up, and he likes it too: “Paolillo packs her revolving menu with clever takes on Indian standards. Poori popovers and masala chicken rolls share space with pillowy okra pakoras and doughy-crisp samosas fresh from the fryer and showered with punchy hibiscus-date chutney and a cilantro granita. Even saag paneer, historically an eyesore, looks pretty in Paolillo’s hands. Her garlicky version is studded with roasted cauliflower, mushrooms, mustard greens, almonds, and cashews and topped with a dainty marigold.”

10. HULK SMASH

Kevin Pang has a good piece at AV Club on smashed burgers a la Schoop’s, that includes good info on Chicago’s new burger spot The Region and owner Mark Rund: “A standard spatula or steak weight wouldn’t do the job he needed. So Rund special-ordered a bricklayer’s trowel, then hired a welder to shear off the pointed corner to his exacting specifications. It’s heavy-duty equipment more appropriate for construction sites than restaurant kitchens—but boy does it ever smash the hell out of a ball of ground meat.”

Friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti, however, scoffed at the idea that a 2012 piece by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt kicked off the smashed burger craze—maybe that’s when New York food media first heard of it, sure, but the smashed burgers at places like Schoop’s and Steak & Shake have been a topic of foodie conversation for eons here, and although the smashed burger edge was never quite as crispy in Kansas, I certainly grew up on something that worked more or less the same way there—note this 2004 LTHForum post by me, in which I bemoan that Wichita’s Bionic Burger seems to have lost the pure smashed burger technique I remembered them for.

11. BARON OF THORNTON

Interesting piece at Chicago about a guy opening a distillery in suburban Thornton—in the very building where his gangster great-grandfather once ran bootlegging in the area: “The Newberry Library has a giant gangster map from the 1920s. There’s Capone’s territory to the north, and then the Soltis territory to the south. So he was one of the only people, when Al Capone was at his prime, who had an independent territory.”

12. MEMORIALIZ-ENG

A memorial to Loop Chinese restaurateur Laura Eng (great-aunt of Monica, incidentally) who helped run the glamorous art deco Hoe Sai Gai—until it was knocked down for the Daley Center. (Sun-Times)

13. FRESH PRINCE OF TACO BURRITOS

Taco Burrito King is one of those local chains that kind of does utility burritos for the late night crowd, but I enjoyed this interview with Jose Manolo Estrada, who comes from the Taco Burrito royalty but sound like he’s aiming a little higher with his new River North Big Wig Tacos and Burritos: “We’re going to focus more on freshness and quality, so what you’re going to get is 100 percent fresh food. A lot of taquerias in Chicago slack in quality. That’s going to be our thing.” (Redeye)

14. KID STUFF

What the hell, people? The news last week was a Nutella Cafe (not the first, no matter what the press release says), a marshmallow cafe, and a late night mac and cheese spot. At least we have somewhere to go in our Romphims.

15. FAT JOHNNIE'S THE MEANING OF LIFE

John Kass goes to Fat Johnnie’s to contemplate the big questions in life: “‘Why is Chicago a hot dog town? It’s not a hamburger town. It’s a hot dog town,’ Fat Johnnie said. ‘But why? I keep asking myself. Why?… Maybe it’s just that Chicago people like Chicago hot dogs, so I should just shut the (bleep) up about it and sell some,’ said Fat Johnnie.”

16. AND THE LIVIN' IS EASY

The Reader’s summer issue has Mike Sula on where to find mescal and me on exploring the south side.

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