1. NAGRANT AND AFRAID

I hate when I like a new podcast and it only has one episode, so I made sure that Fooditor Radio Is All Dressed Up And Has No Place To Go, Fooditor’s limited (we hope!) podcast series about Chicago food people getting through the Coronavirus days, had a second one just days after the first. Michael Nagrant and I talk about his Coronavirus newsletter (the proceeds of which go to help restaurants), getting takeout from Alinea and El Ideas, and what it’s like being home with two boys, among other things. Check it out below, or here:

2. CHICAGO SPECIAL

To judge by this Instagram post by Chicago dining editor Amy Cavanaugh, Chicago’s best new restaurants issue—on stands now, or was recently—may never be put online. It’ll be anticlimactic in any case, needless to say, with our having moved into a very different restaurant world. (You can see the full list in her post—congrats to #1 Jeong, which reminds me that when I sat down there on my second visit, Jeff Ruby was there finishing dinner… and a little while later, Phil Vettel sat down a few tables over.)

Instead, Chicago raced to put out a special Coronavirus-era issue which has, or will, hit newsstands shortly. Not sure if these items already online will be in it, but they’ve been cranking out excellent coverage of the way the Coronavirus era has impacted restaurants (and others parts of our cultural scene—we had tickets for Lyric Opera’s  cancelled Ring Cycle, the fallout from which is discussed here). Start with these:

Beverly Kim gives a day-by-day account of how her restaurants, Parachute and Wherewithall, reacted to the swift-moving news over the last month.

• Maggie Hennessy looks at how farmers are coping by racing to develop new ways of selling directly to customers—or not: “‘Like everyone right now, farmers are really struggling and facing a ton of uncertainty,’ says Melissa Flynn, executive director of Green City Market. ‘I have spoken to a number who are weighing their options: Do I plant or do I not?’”

Unfortunately, given an industry-wide advertising slump, they’re tightening the belt by suspending Dish, the weekly newsletter authored by friend of Fooditor Anthony Todd. It’s too bad because he had done a good job of calling attention to ways to support the local dining scene in this crisis, which would have continued to be valuable. Still, considering that Chicago mag is under the same upper management as the Tribune, you have to admire how they’ve both avoided the PR rakes-to-the-face that seem to be weekly fare for the Trib (see below), and reacted swiftly and smartly to coverage that makes sense for this time of uncertainty.

3. BREAD AND ROSES

The Sun-Times takes us inside one of the restaurants cranking out meals for first responders and people in need, Sauce and Bread Kitchen in Edgewater: “Friends, neighbors and regulars started donating money so Kostroski and Bancroft could make even more free meals. Within three weeks, the couple has given hundreds of soups, chili, pizzas and other healthy meals to people in need.”

4. COMME ÇI, DOSA

Nick Kindelsperger tells the story of a restaurant that had just opened and was getting publicity when Coronavirus hit—The Art of Dosa, Indian food in Revival Food Hall: “‘Unfortunately, the ‘Hungry Hound’ segment aired on Friday, March the 13th,’ says  [owner Ravi] Nagubadi. ‘Over the weekend, all the restaurants had to close.” Revival Food Hall shut down. And now Nagubadi is back in his commissary kitchen trying to regroup. He had discontinued the delivery business while working at the food hall, so he feels like he’s starting from scratch again. ‘We started last Monday, but it’s been a bit slow,’ says Nagubadi. ‘We only had one order for the first lunch.’”

5. GRAND OPENING

Believe it or not, someone is opening a food business this week! Beautiful Rind is a cheese shop in Logan Square, available for contactless pickup or delivery starting this week. Block Club tells more.

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6. THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH

Rob Katz of Boka is among the restaurateurs quoted in this Bloomberg piece at Crain’s about how landlords and restaurants are finding their way through the crisis: “Katz is asking his landlords for full rent abatement for April and at least half of May. He says he’s been able to negotiate with the small banks that hold some of his other leases, such as Illinois-based Wintrust Bank. He also wants the next phase of the stimulus package to extend the forgiven rent provision from the current eight weeks under the PPP to at least 12, with an open-ended start date that anticipates when restaurants might actually reopen. ‘I can negotiate April with my landlords; I know I’m going to need help in May and June,’ he says.”

7. ONE BAD DAY FROM CLOSING

Really good conversations with three local restaurant owners, by David Hammond, each taking a different view of the Coronavirus crisis. Scott Weiner of The Fifty/50 on how it will look when restaurants finally reopen: “If you’re in a restaurant that relies heavily on tourism and people above age fifty, you may have a problem because I believe people of that age are not going to go out as much. Young people in their twenties, [and in their] thirties and forties, they’re going to continue to live their lives.”

8. DELIVERY US

One thing that may change with this crisis: a lot of us have really been turned against the big delivery apps, realizing what we probably kinda knew, that they’re predatory toward restaurants and in some cases, like GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney appearing with Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a press conference, are using this situation to grab market share under the guise of helping restaurants.

Lightfoot would do better to take a look next time at San Francisco mayor London Breed, who imposed a cap on what share delivery apps can take out of an order. Or she could read this piece at Food and Wine, in which Khushbu Shah explains why you should delete most of them: “This behavior has only gotten more egregious as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the entire restaurant industry, leaving millions of restaurant employees out of work and chefs and owners scrambling desperately to find any way to save their restaurants in an industry with already razor-thin margins. For weeks, as restaurants begged the delivery apps to reduce their commissions, the apps refused, instead embarking on misleading PR campaigns, positioning themselves as friends and saviors of the restaurant industry.”

9. VIRTUAL MELONITY

It took me a while to figure out what this Mike Sula piece at the Reader was about, so let me help you with a quick summary: some people set out to create a virtual reality artwork about hunting for the perfect melon, but virtual reality smacked into reality.

10. LISTICLE STICK

Here’s one that feels like our old lives: the sports site The Athletic asked its Chicago staff to list their Chicago food favorites. The hot dog list is excellent, the pizza section is okay, the Italian beef part has some good ones and some real duds (Lulu’s, Damenzo’s). Still, remember the days when we worried about such things…

Being topical—as in who’s serving takeout at the moment—has stepped up Time Out Chicago’s listicle game, as in this list of what’s being served by different sushi spots around town, or who’s selling bottles off their wine list.

11. ALDEN CRAPWEASEL

The report was that Alden Capital, secretive parasite of the newspaper industry, was coming out of its hole to make a direct pitch—not to readers or employees, but to Illinois senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. “Alden is committed to local news coverage and to enabling local papers to serve their communities well into the future,” chief Heath Freeman wrote the senators, in a letter stamped confidential (and immediately released by the senators to the press; apparently someone doesn’t know much about either journalism or politics).

And then to demonstrate their warm regard for the newspaper’s mission in American society, the ringwraiths running the Chicago Tribune announced a wage cut for non-unionized employees due to the collapse of the advertising market, with the alternative being more buyouts for longtime staffers. They tried to soften it by saying the board members were taking the same 13.8% cut, as if massive payouts to board members like Michael Ferro haven’t been a constant feature in the last few years. Maybe if the Tribune had hung on to some of that cash, they could hang on to some of that staff, and some of that self-respect as a journalistic organization.

In fact the Tribune’s food coverage since the Coronavirus era began has been weak—a sign of lack of direction from above for the paper’s mission in a time of crisis, one suspects (our esteem for individual Trib staffers remains unchanged). They put together a rival list to Dining at a Distance, which is fine but intern-level work, Phil Vettel went out and reviewed takeout from Rosebud, because none of us have ever eaten factory-made pasta by the aluminum foil tray in a lunch meeting before, they made sure we knew they were delaying their own PR exercise, the Readers’ Choice Dining awards… and what? Not much at a time that calls for stories taking us inside an industry and the lives of its people in crisis—a time when newspapers which didn‘t have to look over their shoulder at the hellhounds on their trail have traditionally shone at their jobs.

12. CONGRATS

To Lamar Moore (Swill Inn, Currency Exchange Cafe), winner of Food Network’s Vegas Chef Prizefight—though the prize, running a new Vegas restaurant, will be delayed, as Eater Chicago explains.

13. BEST WISHES

To Bo Fowler (Owen and Engine, BiXi), who had emergency open heart surgery this week.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Finally got the pizza from Table, Donkey and Stick, and had a slightly surreal conversation talking between masks with owner Matt Sussman (looking very worn down after spending, he says, 40 hours so far working on applying for the various government aid programs). Anyway, enjoyed the pizza, which he says grew out of a frequent staff meal (just like the pizza at Pizzeria Bebu). It’s like a focaccia crust, but what really stands out are the robust toppings; I also really enjoyed (as John Kessler mentioned on Fooditor Radio) a beautifully simple salad, as well as some of their charcuterie. It’s a neighborhood gem which I go to fairly often (but probably should even more), and I’m happy to support it and help it get to the other side of this crisis.

Sparrow Black 2019