This week’s guest is Chandra Ram, editor of the chef-focused trade magazine Plate and author of several cookbooks, including The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook, which could hardly be more perfect for this moment. Check out our conversation below, or here:


So we all championed small restaurants, government raced to act, and now… we see that the cash flowed to big guys like Ruth’s Chris and Shake Shack and Potbelly, while the little guys we wanted to keep alive were caught in the Kafkaesque runaround of applying and checking on their application, and now the money has run out and you’re gettin’ nothin’. Ruth’s Chris has $87 million in cash—and got $20 million more of your tax dollars. Shake Shack received $10 million from you while planning to raise $75 million in the stock market—and furloughing over 1000 employees.

[UPDATE: Shake Shack is returning their money, says CEO Danny Meyer.)

So, in the end some bigger, well-c0nnected groups got past the little guys, and got to the other side of the red rope before the golden tickets were all gone. The reason is because, during the sausage-making process, the limitation to businesses with under 500 employees was removed, mysteriously by unseen hands (try to figure out who removed it! No one can!), and companies like Ruth’s Chris were allowed to divide themselves parthenogenetically, so actually they didn’t get $20 million—two different subsidiaries got $10 million each. Why didn’t I think of that?

Well, what did you expect? You’re from Chicago. How could you expect anything it to work any other way? It’s all about who you know, who you have on speed dial, who knows you as someone to be taken care of.

So now you’re just going to take your ball and go home? Like hell. This is just the beginning of the game. You’re small restaurants without connections. True. But you’ve got something you’ve been flaunting the last few weeks—numbers, of people employed by the industry, now out of work. Well, here’s some work they can do: bug the hell out of your representatives. I know the popular thing is to bitch about Trump screwing you, and that’s certainly one way to look at it, given the council of big names he put together to make recommendations on the problem, which is noticeably short on, say, Lebanese guys named Ahmed running pita shops and black women named Janelle running bakeries.

But let’s not let partisanship (however justified) blind us to the fact that we live in a nearly one-party state, and if nobody went to bat for you, that nobody was your Democratic representative:

Senator Dick Durbin
230 S. Dearborn Street, Suite 3892
Chicago, IL 60604
p: 312.353.4952
f: 312.353.0150

Senator Tammy Duckworth
230 S. Dearborn Street, Suite 3900
Chicago, IL 60604
Phone (312) 886-3506

Find your Congressperson here

Contact them and let them know that you are not happy with how the PPP and other government programs are being run and not helping businesses like yours. And by “you” I mean not just restaurant owners, but everyone who works in independent restaurants (or did) and wants to be able to do so in the future. If every good restaurant is able to get half their staff to be heard, politicians are going to feel flooded by the small restaurant sector. Good! They should! Put them in the weeds—so they do the only thing there is to get out of them, which is work for you, their constituents, when you need their help. Which is right now.


Who’d have guessed Esquire as the magazine with some of the best coverage of the lockdown this week? But that’s exactly what it was. First, Kevin Boehm, whose mother passed away recently, writes a heartfelt piece about that event—and the shuttering of Boka Group right on its heels:

There is no playbook for handling death, and as I soon learned, no playbook for running a company during a global pandemic. The closing of 20 restaurants and furloughing of 1,800 employees felt strangely like death, and I tried to set my grief on the back burner as we worked triage to keep our company solvent during the worst of circumstances.

And Jeff Gordinier talks about how the government’s response so far is bad news for independent restaurants:

I believe that fiercely independent restaurants do something similar, particularly in parts of the country where they act as an antidote to everything generic, mass-produced, and shorn of funk. By their very presence, restaurants such as Winslow’s Table in St. Louis and Bluebeard in Indianapolis and Bouquet in Covington, Kentucky—right over the bridge from Cincinnati—tell us about the importance of supporting local farms, protecting the environment, and consuming more fruits and vegetables and sustainably raised meat and fish instead of the usual drive-thru burgers and factory-farmed dreck. These restaurants offer the green-state-ish idea that there’s a different way to use the land, and they serve as a reminder that there is an infinitude of American stories to be told about community and fellowship.

But these are the restaurants that are most at risk of vanishing altogether as casualties of the coronavirus shutdown, and it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Trump administration so far doesn’t seem to care.


Anthony Todd, in his last Dish for the time being, takes us inside Honey Butter Fried Chicken’s decision to get out of takeout and delivery: “Moving forward, the lack of guidance on food service still troubles Kulp. ‘We have no idea how to cook in this environment,’ he says. ‘Can I taste food while wearing a mask? What if I take it off? Can I touch salt to season food? How do I make sure food is hot to the touch?'”

Chinatown is suffering from a serious downturn, with many restaurants closed, but even so, Tony Hu’s Lao Sze Chuan is among those making meals for first responders, says Steve Dolinsky: “They’ve launched ‘We Wok Together’ – a program offering free lunch and dinner to anyone working the front-lines, including police, firemen, healthcare workers, even media – not because they got a grant, but because they say it’s the right thing to do. The hurdles are much more than just financial. ‘Very hard to get staff, very hard to get the ingredients and materials and also we have to keep very safe,’ Hu said.”

Fooditor contributor Dennis Lee talks about life as an out-of-work pizzaiolo (from Paulie Gee’s): “One thing I’m discovering during shelter-in-place is just how tired I’d been. Even now, after multiple weeks, I feel like I’m still catching up on rest.”

Why did One Off Hospitality turn a GoFundMe fundraiser into gift cards for Mariano’s instead of cash? According to Block Club, more than a few ex-employers are baffled by that choice and the way the furlough was handled.


Otto Phan of Kyoten did rolls and bowls the first week, hoping to keep his small staff employed. But now he’s going solo with high-end bento boxes—$120 ($20 of which is donated to Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund) gets you a box packed with top-quality sushi, and keeps his rent paid as a one man operation.

Also back in operation shortly: Bayan Ko will offer “a weekly rotating family style menu and an abbreviated greatest hits menu.”

John Kessler talks about the all-housemade dim sum at D Cuisine: “Turnip cakes feature all the crisp, wobbly, and creamy textures you could want, springy siu mai really taste of pork and shrimp, and stuffed bean curd skins come with lacy jackets that shatter against their steamy insides. Best in show: the sweet egg yolk buns, which are like warm little cream puffs.”

Want to eat at Momofuku? Well, you can’t, but Steve Dolinsky demonstrates the Bo Ssam recipe from David Chang’s restaurants.


Most food people with a project feel their timing was pretty bad right about now, but it’s a pretty perfect time for Leela Punyaratabandhu‘s new book Flavors of the Southeast Asian Grill. Mike Sula talks to her at the Reader: “In Southeast Asia, grilling is not regarded as a seasonal activity but part of everyday life—all year round. You won’t see food magazines publish their grilling issues during the summer months or hear conversations about how they need to dust off their grills and smokers and get ready for the grilling season when the weather gets warmer. A charcoal grill is regarded in much the same way as an indoor kitchen gas/electric range; it’s a cooking tool that just happens to be located outdoors out of necessity. So, with or without a pandemic in the picture, as long as people cook, people grill.”

And Nick Kindelsperger talks to Texas Monthly taco editor Jose R. Ralat, about his new book American Tacos: A History and Guide: “What are American tacos? Ralat breaks them into eight categories, including breakfast tacos, crunchy fried tacos, barbacoa and barbecue tacos, K-Mex (Korean-influenced tacos), Sur-Mex (Southern-influenced tacos), Jewish and Kosher tacos, Alta California (contemporary tacos in Southern California), and el taco moderno (chef-driven tacos). While he loves many of these styles, he’s not above explaining in detail what he doesn’t. “;For the history parts, it wasn’t that it had to be good,’ says Ralat. ‘It’s that they had to be important. I don’t like Taco Bell, but I wouldn’t have a job without Taco Bell, because it helped popularize the taco.’”


The highly colorful Little Bucharest, which had planned to turn its space over to a new restaurant last year (that fell through) will close for real at the end of the month, passing out cabbages for free on its last day in honor of a half century of cabbage rolls. Geno Bahena, once a big name in local Mexican food, will open Mis Moles… someday.

And I saw word on social media, but have not confirmed, that Luella’s Gospel Bird in Bucktown will not reopen, though Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square intends to.


A couple of years ago I did a guide to places to eat in the Italian and Polish neighborhoods on the northwest side, including Tony’s Italian Deli, which is a solid old school spot. Sadly, the matriarch of that place, Emilia Pontarelli, died of coronavirus at 93 last week. Maureen O’Donnell pays tribute at the Sun-Times.


Well, for one I went to Hermosa, where Ethan Lim is still cooking away and experimenting—I liked a new Korean bibimbop sandwich a lot, but the Cambodian fried chicken sandwich (my son’s choice) is still king.

The first time I went to El Chubasco in Pilsen, it was in exalted company—including Nick Kindelsperger, Titus Ruscitti, and one Jose R. Ralat. I had no company the other day—it was deserted and no other customers came while I was there—so I was happy to give them a little business for their classic Mexican fare.

I’ve been cooking Japanese food this week—see Instagram—and so for a break between those dinners, we ordered from Fooditor 99 fave Munno Pizzeria & Bistro, for classic lasagna, Neapolitanish pizza, and gnocchi. It was very pleasant—though the portions are not big; order more items than you have people—and I was glad to hear from owner Nick Russo that their takeout business is going well.

Sadly, not so successful is the new branch of Al-Bawadi in Niles (which I went to after picking up my Japanese groceries at HMart). When they first opened they saw two hour waits for a table; now they’re down 90% from that, which is a shame because the food travels extremely well. If you want middle eastern food, a swing up to Niles for grilled meats and excellent falafel, baba ghanoush and hummus is highly recommended.

Sparrow Black 2019