Kevin Pang joining The Onion promised something interesting, and the announcement this week confirms it: The Onion is launching a food site and he’s looking for people to contribute. As he describes it: “We’ll look at food through the lens of pop culture. We’ll indulge in our obsessions and aim to satisfy curiosities. We treat high and low foods with equal respect. Our start points might be with food, but then veer into unexpected tangents. We favor good writing over scamming you into clicking a photo gallery…. nothing we write is made-up, though we share in many of [The Onion’s] sensibilities.”

Considering how the food media market in Chicago has mainly been shrinking in recent years, as national sites with Chicago content pulled out or did it on the cheap, we’re excited to have a new, serious (in the taking us seriously sense, if not tone) contender on the scene—and we trust “through the lens of pop culture” will be more than the “Beyonce’s new album is like a McMuffin with extra Grrrl Power” school of food-pop culture crossoverism.


Name that critic: “Frankly, there’s no better soundtrack for eating sea urchin gonads (more on those later) than ‘I Wanna Sex You Up.’” Michael Nagrant is down in so many ways with Jason Vincent and Giant: “There were some service challenges and an air conditioning snafu, but I’d honestly eat Vincent’s food in a tent in the desert. He is one of Chicago’s very best chefs, and the food he’s putting out at Giant is some of the most satisfying, well-executed non-fussy stuff around. The menu, save for the beans, is universally excellent and rates better than any of the places I’ve given a full four stars to this year.” (He gives it three, apparently for the aforementioned issues.)


Jeff Ruby has high praise for Rick Bayless’s duo in the West Loop. Of the Baja-focused Leña Brava he says: “Whether relying on a 600-degree wood-fired hearth or an impressive raw bar, Leña Brava’s dishes are light and inventive, simple flavors that pop through the roof… Bayless could have done a bland chips-and-salsa Margaritaville on Randolph Street and still made a mint. With Leña Brava, he challenged himself and his team. The result is his best opening in 27 years.”

At Cruz Blanca he finds the same somewhat unhelpful ordering process as others have noted, but “Stacks of multiple proteins lay atop wonderful wood-grilled güero chilies and knob onions with lime wedges. A stack of spongy tortillas handmade from heirloom corn waited to fulfill their purpose. Everything I customized was tender and rustic, though the wood smoke flattened, rather than amplified, some flavors.” (Chicago)


Phil Vettel is sweet on Honey’s: “It has a lot of elements I love. A raw bar, offering clams and oysters by the piece (as opposed to big-bucks plateaux). Craft cocktails, conjured with the menu in mind. A comfortable, warm dining room with curvy booths, reclaimed-wood floors and shelving units that might have been lifted from a Scandinavian Design catalog, bright and airy thanks to a large skylight. Brunch service, in the planning stages, can’t come fast enough.” People planning restaurants, take note of what he likes….


Anthony Todd says the Loop has had a big food breakthrough and it’s not just that food hall everyone crashed this week: “Steadfast’s awesomeness comes from an unlikely place: the Fifty/50 restaurant group, a group known more for pizza and sandwich joints than a high-end restaurant that garnishes dishes with perfectly tweezer-placed edible flowers. Well, they’ve come out of the gate swinging, because Steadfast is unapologetically fancy, complicated and, it turns out, pretty darn delicious. Chef Chris Davies, formerly chef de cuisine at Fifty/50’s under-appreciated rooftop spot, Homestead, is sending out some seriously interesting dishes—though not without a couple of swing-and-a-miss disasters.” (Chicagoist)


Tal Rosenberg’s hopes that Ema would be an actual Israeli restaurant meet the reality of being on “a stretch of River North where the skunky smell of Axe body spray is only marginally less prevalent than it is in other parts of the neighborhood… The real standouts, however, were two dishes with no Israeli connection at all: a spring-onion tzatziki that tasted like French onion dip (I mean that as a compliment) and htipiti, a spread the server told me was Ethiopian (a quick online search reveals it’s Greek). Whatever, it was great, a cool red-pepper salad that paired nicely with the tzatziki. But the accompanying house bread was a letdown: smushed and lukewarm thin pita with a light za’atar coating, lacking the sumac tang essential to the spice.” (Reader)


Mike Sula finds hopes for two new pizzas to be somewhat met but not without issues. Paulie Gee’s is a Brooklyn import whose most notable offering, Sula says, is a Detroit-style pizza named for Logan Square, “a rectangular six-square pie with a relatively buoyant interior but a densely cheesy, chewy caramelized crust… Paulie Gee’s Logan Square is what Jet’s Pizza tastes like in Elysium. Unfortunately, while Jet’s is about to open its sixth store in the city, Logan Squares aren’t nearly as prevalent, since, for now, PG’s only makes 30 per night, Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays.”

The much-hyped Robert’s Pizza in Streeterville is more of a mixed bag: “I was put off by an insipid, bland sauce obliterated by fennel sausage coins and sweet caramelized onions… Still, good bread is the entire point of pizza, and though I’ve spent a good deal of energy kvetching about the sauces at these two new pizza joints, I’m happy to report they’re both nailing it in that respect.” (Reader)


I can’t seem to feel the urge to rush out for Hawaiian poke—where I come from, the great plains, we called it donburi, like our pappies before us—but Nick Kindelsperger takes a look at the many variations to be had on our poke-crazed scene that will make an excellent field guide, when I finally get the urge.


The good news is that you can walk in to Duck Duck Goat for brunch on Sunday—it’s not that busy yet. The bad news, according to Carrie Schedler, is that “a lot of what we tasted wasn’t quite as well-executed during the day as it had been during recent nighttime visits. A duo of puffy char siu bao ($11) packed too much bun and not enough barbecue pork, and what pork you could find was underseasoned. Same with the scallion pancakes, which were mostly just oily-tasting and came plated with a pretty bland slaw.” (Chicago)


Graham Meyer finds Broken English’s innovation kind of ends at the psychedelic decor: “More of the food feels underconceived. The grilled elote ($4) glimpses the traditional street preparation but doesn’t make it there, char-deficient and ostensibly limeless. Guacamole with smoked trout ($10) contains good guacamole and good smoked trout, but together the dish has a fish-out-of-water quality. Most frustrating, identical or near-identical ingredients pop up all over the menu, imparting a sameness to dishes that sound like they ought to taste different.” (Crain’s)


Julia Thiel checks out the sinful new bar at Fat Rice, The Ladies’ Room: “The Ladies’ Room may not have all the trappings of an authentic Macanese gambling parlor, but walking into the tiny space does feel a bit like being transported to another country… The first section of the brief cocktail list is titled ‘Classics Reimagined,’ which our waitress explained means taking a backward-engineered approach to cocktails like the negroni and manhattan, using house-made ingredients to create a drink with a flavor profile that’s similar to—but not quite the same as—the original. In the case of the White Negroni, the traditional gin and vermouth are there, but the Campari has been replaced by Malort and wild-lemon liqueur (both made in-house) for a drink with an intensely citrusy aroma and a piney herbal flavor that arrives seconds before the bitterness—which provides less of a kick in the teeth than Jeppson’s Malort but will still wake you up.” (Reader)


Louisa Chu looks at the bicycling beekeeper, Jana Kinsman, who made the news a few weeks ago when she captured that sudden swarm of bees downtown.


Everyone’s favorite story about spoiled people who need a good slapping is the Great Gold Coast Gelato War, which Janet Rausa Fuller is all over.


John Lenart invites two somms to taste the same wines from bottle and can. Can they handle wine from a can? (Crain’s)


Not many people mourning the closing of Logan Square Cuban sandwich and coffee joint Cafeteria Marianao ever actually ate there, I suspect—it had a gritty-scary real Cuban feel to it, and that was the best part of its charm. On the downside, the food was never very good at all; even on the old LTHForum, where it was an early Great Neighborhood Restaurant award winner, it was obviously not one of the places people really went back to much. But I’ll still think of it fondly as the kind of place that opened my eyes to the city back then; and for me its best memorial is the very funny first post in this LTH thread, from 2004.


I was out of town for a week (hence no Buzz List last week) but still managed to hit two hot new spots when I got back. Everybody’s talking about the burger at The Loyalist, and it’s great, but to me that’s missing the magical part of this new restaurant—I loved the simple small plates at the beginning, incredibly precise and focused mostly-vegetable dishes that have that Trotteresque ability to deliver an ingredient’s best self like you’ve never tasted it before. Don’t miss the melon dish, the biscuit with n’duja butter, the tomato salad that’s got a zillion different flavors and textures hiding in it. I bought tickets for Smyth sight unseen, and not without a little trepidation, but after having these things for $6 or $10, I can’t wait to see what they do on a more ambitious scale.

And I went to El Che Bar—a sleeker space than La Sirena Clandestina but the same kind of well-thought-out rustic food, easy to like; don’t miss the lamb ribs. One thing to note though: it’s a loud space, plan for that kind of night here.