The thing everyone was talking about this week was an article by Tom Sietsema, the Washington Post’s restaurant critic, about Chicago’s present lack of restaurant reviewers. (We always get so excited when outsiders write about us.)

Who raves or rants about restaurants in town might seem like small potatoes amid an ongoing pandemic. Yet as diners continue to look to restaurants for comfort and the city is opening up, in-depth reviewing feels paramount. [Phil] Vettel, a former president of the restaurant awards committee of the James Beard Foundation, goes so far as to say that without a strong voice and sufficient resources to bring its dining scene attention, Chicago risks “becoming a flyover city.”

[Monteverde chef Sarah] Grueneberg laughs when she says “our hobbies are sports, food and alcohol,” but a serious case could be made for Chicago as a top-tier place to eat, drink and be merry — and for why the nation’s third-largest city needs passionate chroniclers of the dining scene who know what they’re talking about and have the resources to offer their educated opinion, free of outside influence.

Was that an implicit suggestion that passion, education, knowing what you’re talking about and being free of outside influence are synonymous with employment at a major daily paper? Did blogging never happen? Is it still 1992? Read on. Here’s his assessment of the alternatives to the Trib:

There are plenty of places for food-loving locals to get the scoop on area restaurants: Chicago Eater, Chicago Magazine, Infatuation, Resy and Yelp.

Oh Christ. Yeah, I can’t tell you how many people have told me about the great restaurants they’ve discovered on Resy, or the keen insight they’ve gotten from Infatuation reviews (‘The BBQ platter’s tocino pork ribs are tender”). Forget Fooditor, I wouldn’t expect him to know about that, but he doesn’t seem to be aware that we have anything that’s not a national site with an outpost here in hicksville—not LTHForum, Titus Ruscitti, or even Mike Sula at the Reader. You can say none of those have the reach of bigger mainstream publications, largely true (though there are times you’d be surprised), but it’s funny how there’s been a steady path for years from those “obscure” outlets straight into mainstream media attention, so being unaware of that dynamic is not knowing at all how the city’s food scene works.

The first day this piece came out, I got annoyed enough at that point to just drop it, and return to it the next day in a less offended mood. Here’s how I looked at it on Day 2: it is, of course, not wrong to observe that the lack of mainstream reviewers hampers our ability to know our own food scene and to get it publicity nationwide. Michael Nagrant said that at Eater, I’ve said it here more than a few times, I talked about it with Monica and Louisa on Chewing’s Twitch Stream. It’s a serious concern, and he covers what it means, particularly from the viewpoint of chefs:

But for thoughtful and balanced critiques, based on multiple visits, “the Chicago Tribune is the standard of approval,” [Parachute owner Beverly] Kim says. She and her peers are concerned by social media influencers replacing “trained voices” — writers with the expertise, including historical knowledge, and the budget and time to do the job right.

But influencers didn’t cut the Trib’s dining budget—Tribune management did. (Add “Alden Capital” to the list of names not mentioned in this piece.) It seems pointless to blame everyone’s favorite media bugbear, the influencer posting NOM-NOMs on Instagram, when corporate media has done such a bangup job of driving its own readers away and abandoning its key strengths, like must-read reviewers.

But that’s 2021 for ya. Newspapers are out of that business, like record companies are out of trippy artwork on album covers and radio stations don’t broadcast The Shadow and Jack Benny any more. But people will still want to know about restaurants, like they’ll want music and drama and comedy, and something will come along to meet that desire. What will it be? Sietsema doesn’t know, because if it doesn’t come from a newspaper, the kind Charles Foster Kane used to buy from newsboys on the street, it seems like he can’t see it. But the Tribune has a vision for where newspaper coverage might go:

“Restaurant criticism isn’t going anywhere,” says Amy Carr, director of content/life and culture at the Tribune. But it is likely to look different. She and [Ariel] Cheung, the new Dining editor, have a bench of talent on staff (“it’s important for us to develop personalities,” says Carr) but are open to the possibility of involving the community in future reviews. Neighbors sharing stories would “give it a different perspective,” Carr says.

Apparently their vision for the Trib in 2021 is… LTHForum in 2005. I doubt that, but then I doubt that the next time our food scene has an important voice, that it will be employed by a job-slashing corporate newspaper conglomerate.


For so long there’s really only been one answer for bagels in Chicago—New York Bagel & Bialy. But as we continue the long march through the food institutions, we’ve suddenly sprouted artisanal bagels all over the place. Monica Eng tries a bunch of them to report on the state of the bagel. Here’s the one I’ll be trying next, who knew it even existed?

R&A Bread Bakers: This sourdough bagel operation (near Lane Tech College Prep) “was born out of a need to occupy our days … during the pandemic” according to R&A’s site on Tock. When you order online you get secret directions for picking them up. They also make deep dish pizza-flavored bagel pies!

Style: Chubby and chewy with a dense crumb. Not sour.

Price: $1.66

This is a Curious City segment, so you can listen to it or read it with bagel-rific pictures here.


Did it seem kind of cool to you that Chicago’s beloved Brown Sugar Bakery was the place that Veep Kamala Harris did the customary meet-and-munch at a local business on her recent visit? It sure did to me, but apparently, per the Trib, there are humorless pecksniffs who felt otherwise:

Harris’ staff ordered a slice of German chocolate cake for the vice president, and Brown Sugar Bakery gave the security detail trays of caramel, lemon and strawberry cupcakes, extras from Easter weekend….

Meanwhile, during a White House press briefing Wednesday, New York Post reporter Steven Nelson asked about Harris’ work on the nation’s immigration policy, mentioning that Harris “hasn’t visited the border or Central America,” but “took time to visit a bakery in Chicago.”…

As Fox News, the Daily Mail and other outlets covered the story, Brown Sugar Bakery started to receive blowback for the visit, its owner said. Hart, who founded the acclaimed bakery in 2004, woke up Thursday to about a dozen social media posts tagging her in connection to the “bakery vs. border” coverage.

Wow, a dozen… get a life, people! And some caramel cake, it’s great.


Meanwhile, in other controversies, Tank Noodle, whose owners came under fire for attending the January 6 Capitol protests (no one has accused them of being part of the mob that attacked the Capitol building), are being ordered to return a $150,000 state grant after they were ordered to pay back wages to workers. (Tribune)


I don’t know about newspaper reviewers, but I like the democratization of commentary on food. Exhibit: a few years ago Fooditor contributor Keng Sisavath wanted to understand this high end food he was reading about at places, well, like Fooditor. We went to Elizabeth, which seemed a reasonably priced place to experience a chef’s vision with that kind of food, and he liked it. Jump forward a few years and here’s Keng’s video review of Ever. To me it’s interesting to see how that kind of experience is received by someone whose food experiences growing up were so different and yet is receptive to the things Ever is doing.


To Saffron Street, a ghost kitchen Indian food operation with goals of becoming a more modern Indian restaurant. Steve Dolinsky tells us all about it, brought to you by the letter J and the number 5.

And Last Meal Chicago thinks we’re on the verge of an Indian food revolution (though he omits one of my faves, Egg-O-Holic) and calls out three more rising contenders:

it’s being led by an unlikely cast: home cooks, caterers, line cooks, and other first-time (virtual) restauranteurs. They’re bringing a new lens–and a new playfulness–to the foods of the subcontinent; they’re also bringing much needed range, again giving Chicago a diverse and needed set of offerings in terms of menu, style, and price. Necessity guided or provoked these internet- or Instagram-only visions; destiny, I hope, has other plans, including physical restaurants for some of them.


Titus Ruscitti hits a new middle eastern shawarma spot in Skokie, Jarasa Kabob, and finds a sweet steak sandwich spot on the south side, Hailey’s Hoagies, to serve while Taurus Steak is under reconstruction:

what exactly is a sweet steak? I describe it as a deluxe style Sloppy Joe. The meat is chopped up steak that while not ground is close to it. The sweet part of the name comes from the sauce that’s mixed in with the steak. It’s most likely tomato based (it’s red) and there’s definitely some sugar in it (it’s sweet) and possibly some bbq sauce too (it’s smoky). It reminds me of Sloppy Joe sauce so with the addition of diced green peppers and sliced tomatoes on top it’s kind of like a “deluxe” style Sloppy Joe. The biggest difference being these are served on sub rolls.


Bob Benenson, long involved in the local food scene including at FamilyFarmed, has launched a Substack newsletter called Local Food Forum full of news about what farmers and others connected to the local food scene are up to—take a look at the latest issue here, or read the intro letter here, and consider subscribing. From the intro letter:

I’m wrapping up my time with FamilyFarmed, and the idea of a local food news source went from the back of my brain to the front. On Local Food Forum, you’ll meet innovators and creators across the local food spectrum and learn the challenges and joys of getting local food on everyone’s table. You’ll find news you can use about where to find and prepare local food. Lots of pretty pictures too (I’m a photographer).

And there will be features that are just fun. It’s food. No reason to be stodgy.


If the picture of Lou Bank looks familiar in this NewCity piece by David Hammond, it may be because the mezcal expert has been the only face on the front page of LTHForum (with which he’s not affiliated—he just did an event once) for a few years. Bank, who has organized mezcal-driven road trips, talks to Hammond about adapting that to COVID times:

I was a “mezcal mule” for Bank during a trip to Oaxaca in 2017, when we each brought back dozens of liters of the agave spirit. Now, visiting Mexico seems like a distant dream. So for Cinco de Mayo, Bank and Peribán have formulated an Agave Road Trip-in-a-Box. Although we can’t safely go to Mexico right now, we can still bring the spirit of Mexico to us in a box of curated mezcal spirits.

The purpose of the Agave Road Trip-in-a-Box is to both inform and entertain with a kit of ten fifty milliliter sampler bottles, providing five flights, each featuring two spirits. Here’s the cool part: each flight of two spirits is designed to highlight a different aspect of the heritage production of spirits in rural Mexico.


Got my second shot, and I was thinking about the path back from downtown and where I could grab something interesting… Kapitan, the Peranakan (Malaysian) restaurant occurred to me, though it took two passes on Clybourn to find the tiny sign on the former location of a sports bar. At lunch on a Tuesday, there was no problem with social distancing—I was the only person in the place. I looked for representative dishes that seemed to be different from each other and picked Pie Tee, which are rather like a form of dim sum, rojak marah, large chunks of different crunchy fruits and vegetables in a sweet, hoisin-like sauce, and murtabak, which was similar to a thin quiche with a thick curry for spooning over it. And it was interesting, but not anything quite so crave-worthy that I’d rush back. I would have liked the rojak marah best, I think, if the sauce—described on the menu as “made of fermented shrimp” and “sweet, salt, crunchy, sour and spicy all at once”—had really been all those things and not just sticky-sweet like something out of a bottle.

I still had a jones for funky Asian flavors the next night that Kapitan had awakened but not fully satisfied, so I thought, what’s from that part of the world that we do have in Chicago and is known to be excellent? Vietnamese, and then I stumbled on Sunset Pho Caffe, which has apparently moved from West Rogers Park to Lakeview. I have had food from there at an event, and knew that it was, somehow, a Vietnamese restaurant with an Eastern European tinge. Well, I didn’t get a cevapcici banh mi—though you can—but bun thit nuong, rice noodles with grilled beef, and egg noodles with chicken with a side cup of Mom’s fish sauce met my MRDA for funkiness and then some. It moved straight into my regular delivery rotation, don’t know why it wasn’t already there.