Chicago did decently, not outstandingly, in the James Beard Foundation Awards nominations this week. Most notably, we not only swept the Best Chef Great Lakes category, we got six nominations instead of five (because of a tie): Diana Davila (Mi Tocaya), Jason Hammel (Lula/Marisol, who just won Chef of the Year at the local Jean Banchets), the duos of Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim (Parachute) and David and Anna Posey (Elske), Noah Sandoval (Oriole) and Lee Wolen (Boka). Of course, this also proves that Chicago needs its own category to stop screwing places like Detroit and Cleveland.

The Boka group’s Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz were nominated again for best restaurateurs, and Boka’s Meg Galus was nominated for Pastry Chef. Spiaggia was nominated for Wine Program, and Lost Lake for Bar Program. Alisha Elenz of mfk., another Banchet winner this year, was nominated for Rising Chef, while Greg Wade of Publican Quality Breads was nominated as Baker. Pacific Standard Time and Lonesome Rose were nominated in Restaurant Design over 76 seats.

On the media side, The Aviary Book and Bill Kim and Chandra Ram’s Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces both got book nominations, but for the third year in a row, Steve Dolinsky got the only Chicago journalism nomination, for this episode of The Feed. (The Tribune, for some reason, did not list this nominee.) Chicago media just doesn’t seem to be competitive in this category, even as its restaurants are.

I think transparency about playing the Beards game helps other writers, so I’ll mention that I entered the Local Voices category, named for Jonathan Gold; I was given indications that it was looking to honor people around the country doing exactly what I aim to do, digging deep into their local scenes. The thing with the Beards is, sometimes they’re looking to spread their influence and vision, and sometimes they’re a tight club of Manhattan-based food writers who all know each other. And in this case the “local” voices they honored prove to be from… New York, New York, and New Orleans (the easiest layup in food journalism). I never expect to win, but given the putative point of the category, it’s disappointing to see it so dominated by upper Manhattan; I’d have much rather been by bested by somebody from Seattle or Cleveland or Baltimore, and for the Beards to be looking all over for talent—not just at the Times.

Finally, speaking of nominees, the best thing I read all year, by a comfortable distance, is this piece by Mark Arax about the almond king of central California, which touches on so many things about the world in 2019, from immigration to global warming, and is really the best political or sociological piece I read all year. It’s nominated in feature writing, and is well worth setting aside a Sunday afternoon to take in in full.

[Note: the newsletter version of Buzz List confused Brett Anderson, who was nominated, with Brett Martin, who wrote a piece about Houston well worth reading.]


NewCity’s latest list of 50 people in food and drink, written by David Hammond and others, is dedicated to behind-the-scenes people of influence (they alternate between chefs and non-chefs each year) and it is an interesting list that points to several folks you may never have heard of who nevertheless shape our food scene. (I am, disclosure, number 31.)

That said, restaurant groups tend to be run by packs of white guys who look like they just came from the fraternity house, and so there was some comment on Twitter, particularly from ex-Trib editor Joseph Hernandez, about the fact that the top 10 was all white dudes (except for Sari Zernich Worsham). I think that’s a legitimate point—they elicit other food scene figures’ suggestions, and two years ago I suggested the ladies from Filipino Kitchen precisely to help diversify the list. But I also think it maybe misses a couple of other points. It’s not a list of “bests” (like the Trib’s own awards a few month back), but meant to be a reflection of the world as it is—and the money and power in the restaurant biz is concentrated among white dudes. I think there’s some value in adding representation of other groups, but I also think there’s some value in not kidding yourself that you’re changing the world… by changing a list.

For what it’s worth, one of the people I suggested this year was a restaurant investor, Keith Shapiro, and to me, one of the more striking examples of diversity of opinion on the list is hearing from a hardnosed moneyman in the biz—something we rarely get in the happy talk that is so much food writing, including my own: “Leases make or break restaurants before the doors open and I never invest without reading the lease and believing it gives us a fair chance to succeed.”


Phil Vettel reviews two drink-focused openings. Bar Sotano “places Lanie Bayless at center stage. She’s on the floor, mingling with guests and chatting about her one-of-a-kind cocktail list,” while on the food side, “Irresistible small plates include the Yucatan fried chicken, boneless savory bombs with mango-habanero glaze; and charred gem-lettuce salad with spiced-yogurt dressing.” Three stars.

While Joe’s Imports, from the Mia Francesca crew, “feels like a valentine tossed in the direction of Joe Fiely, the restaurant group’s operating partner and wine director — and one of the original partners at Mia Francesca back in 1992, when the vino was poured into juice tumblers… Indulgence arrives in the form of deviled eggs, the yolks whipped with foie gras and piped in tall spires that remind one of soft-serve ice cream (bits of crispy chicharron revive the chicken-and-egg argument), and sea urchin, topping a pile of gently scrambled eggs with an anchovy accent. A large duck raviolo is coddled in brown butter and topped with shaved coins of black truffle.” Two stars.


Anthony Todd thinks a Wisconsin supper club in the United Center would be a great idea, but the one they have, Queenie’s, is definitely not it: “I love the Wisconsin Supper Club as an art form, one that celebrates the simple, non-snobby food that an ordinary cook can make pretty great. So when someone both destroys the integrity of that concept and charges a fortune for it? You’ve made me about as sad as I can be… Fried chicken isn’t easy to perfect, but it’s easy to make adequate – and remember, there’s an outpost of Honey Butter Fried Chicken literally feet away, so it’s not like they don’t have an example to draw upon. My date, upon receipt of the mess that was his chicken, joked we should order HBFC delivery to the restaurant as a commentary on the experience.”


“Chicago’s Bayan Ko restaurant is itself a tiny revolution, a fusion of Cuban and Filipino culture that reflects the heritage of its owners, chef Lawrence Letrero (Filipino-Canadian), and his partner Raquel Quadreny (Cuban American),” says Michael Nagrant. “I like the parochial execution. The traditional Cubano, silky pork shoulder and salty ham dripping with rich swiss cheese cut by the tang of mustard and pickles, takes me to church. BBQ pinchos, tiny skewers of luscious pork glistening in cola glaze, are finger-lickin’.”


The former, posh Ocean Cut has been reborn as… “Parlor Pizza Bar is about pizza and beer. The third of three in the city, it has generic urban-rustic furnishings, bare plank tables and mostly high-top seating. TVs and loud music are everywhere. Two massive wood-fired ovens loom over the open kitchen in one corner. Staffers are young and friendly. Pizzas have laboriously punny names like the Silence of the Clams and I Feel Like Bacon Love. Want cream with your coffee? You get Coffee Mate. The changes are so drastic, sensitive souls might have trouble recovering. But for a super-casual lunch with work pals, Parlor Pizza could be just the ticket.” (Crain’s)


Titus Ruscitti visits a Senegalese restaurant on the south side, which I recall talk about a decade ago on LTHForum but little since: “The Yassa chicken being a half of a bird that’s been marinated overnight in onion, garlic, mustard, lemon, and secret spices that’s grilled and topped with sauteed olives and onions. We tried this with the Djolof rice and it was eye opening good.”

He also makes a pitch for an Indian kabob place on Devon, Anmol: “I read in a few reviews that the third platter was the way to go. It features four different grilled chicken options – Malai Boti / Harabara Chicken / Bihari Chicken / Mango Habanero Chicken. Malai Boti being a creamy marinated bird. Harabara is a coriander laced bird while Bihari is traditionally marinated in raw papaya and yogurt. Lastly the Mango Habanero is about what you’d expect – spicy! The meats are delivered on a sizzling platter with a bunch of grilled onions on bottom. Each option has great smoke flavor from being grilled over live coal which sets Anmol apart from other spots using just gas. ”


Ji Suk Yi introduces the school principal behind Flammin’s on 75th street, which she opened to help out her students: “As the assistant principal at Chicago Vocational Career Academy, [owner LaTasha] Taylor watched many award-winning students who graduated from the school’s culinary program struggle to find jobs. So she started hiring them to help them jump-start their careers.” (Sun-Times)


The Glu talks to Kyleen Atonson, pastry chef at Acadia, who reveals that she has a sister named Lyleen.


Friend of Fooditor Lisa Shames profiles Le Colonial for Sophisticated Living Chicago, showing how the upscale Vietnamese restaurant is keeping up with the times and its clientele in its new location.


Sandwich Tribunal considers sliders, and whether you can apply that name to just any little sandwich when it comes from the nature of how sliders are made at places like White Castle: “for most of the food internet, the word “slider” simply refers to a tiny sandwich–not even necessarily a hamburger. From the ‘Barefoot Contessa’s’ itty bitty burger orbs to Emeril Lagasse’s tiny turkeyburgers, through the innumerable ham and cheese sliders and barbecue sliders, there’s an entire industry out there telling you how to make your sandwiches smaller (hint–use smaller bread) and call them sliders.”


If you’ve been to Tempesta Market you’ve probably met Darin Latimer, responsible for the movie references in some of the sandwich names, among other things. Now you can see his art at Elephant Room Gallery, 704 S. Wabash, starting April 6, with an artist talk on April 7 at 11 am. See examples here.


Speaking of awards, for the past few years I’ve watched the local Peter Lisagor awards, given by the local branch of the Headline Club for journalists, go by, only becoming aware of them when the awards were given out. This year I got my act together and entered the same things I’d already entered for the Beards, and am happy to report that Fooditor is a nominee in the Best Continuing Blog—Independent category.


Minneapolis! I went to visit son #2 and hit a bunch of spots. Hai Hai, the wildly popular Vietnamese (and other Southeast Asian cuisines) place from new Beard nominee Christine Nguyen, had bright flavors and a fun atmosphere, though when one gets a banana blossom salad with, so far as we could tell, no banana blossom in it, well, that’s a first. Alma is a smooth, friendly upscale restaurant offering a three course farm-to-table-ish prix-fixe that was very pleasant—standouts included a starter of ricotta and truffle honey that was beautifully light and simple, and a terrific pasta course of torchio pasta, butternut squash and rosemary pan sauce. And we hit Matt’s Bar, possible inventor of the Jucy Lucy—be sure to sit at the bar and watch how they crank them out by the dozens, together with giant baskets of fries, from a tiny grill and fling them to tables four or six at a time. It’s a darned good burger, too!