For some people the food scene will be back when certain neighborhoods are full of diners and drinkers. For me, the signs that it’s coming back all have to do with farmers and chefs:

Green City Market has set its opening day, May 1 (June 5 for the West Loop market). New vendors this year include Joe Frillman’s Daisies selling pasta and sauces, and his brother Tim’s Frillman Farms selling produce. The latter represents a nice bit of continuity for the market, now in its 22nd season, because Tim Frillman took over the property of longtime vendors Leaning Shed, who retired in 2018, moving his operation to Berrien Springs, Michigan. Another new vendor this year is Star Farms, an urban farm in Back of the Yards. The guest chef on opening day will be Beverly Kim of Parachute and Wherewithall.

• The Frontera Farmer Foundation just announced its 2021 recipients of grants which go to facilitate infrastructure upgrades enabling farmers to expand their businesses—for instance, helping Branches and Berries in Wauzeka, Wisconsin, buy a commercial food dehydrator, or Caveny Farm in Monticello, Illinois, to install permanent woven wire fences on 33 acres to prevent erosion of grazing land. See the full list here.

Thumbelina CSA was put together last year by Bruce Sherman (former chef of North Pond) to help women farmers and suppliers he knew find an outlet for the products they had already planted but no longer had restaurant customers for. Offering fruit and bread from Hewn as well as vegetables, it was a hit and quickly sold out. It’s back for 2021 but again, it may go quickly. Meet the purveyors (who include Tracey Vowell of Three Sisters, Abby Klug-Schilling who has taken the lead role at Mick Klug Farm, and others) and sign up here.

• Uptown’s under-construction Chicago Market will launch an Uptown Farmers Market on Wednesdays from 2:30 to 7, beginning May 5.

• And it just snowed the other day, but spring is here, officially: Miko’s Italian Ice has reopened for the season.


But not really—at Bon Appetit, Friend of Fooditor Maggie Hennessy reviews the place she’s eaten for the last year, her own townhouse:

You might call Townhouse’s food broadly Italian; think Olive Garden accented with the chef’s indiscriminate flashes of creativity. Salad begins every meal whether you ordered it or not, which creates an obligatory, sometimes soul-deadening effect. It’s presented in a giant metal mixing bowl with two tiny forks that we usually have to fish out from beneath the lettuce. Staple pastas like toothsome bucatini in sometimes-scrambled carbonara and spaghetti in butter-roasted tomato sauce satisfy me enough that I don’t mind seeing them on the menu week after week. The house focaccia is especially pillowy, crunchy, and good. However, entrée portions border on irresponsibly large; I frankly worry about Townhouse’s financial viability because every time the chef deposits food, she cries, “There’s more!” before we’ve even tasted anything.


Won’t be surprised if this move by The Fifty/50 Group become standard: with COVID vaccine shots widely available to foodservice workers, they’re requiring vaccination as a condition of employment. Nobody is going to want to go to court and explain why you didn’t require them when a customer claims (however dubiously) that they got COVID at your restaurant.

And they’re in the news another way: Second City’s bar staff was laid off last year, and the comedy giant was sold to a private equity group recently. Now the equity group has hired Fifty/50 (who have a Roots Pizza location and a bar, Utopian Tailgate, in the Old Town complex) to run its food and beverage operations—and Fifty/50 is taking the hit from ex-employees mad that they have to reapply for their jobs to new management. I mean, your company was sold, you’ve been off for a year and there’s a new management team—how many ways can your old job no longer exist? (Eater)


Molly Schemper, an old LTHForum acquaintance who co-owned FIG Catering, writes eloquently at the Reader about the effects of having COVID-19 on a food professional:

I was in the process of interviewing for a pastry chef position requiring recipe development, but I wasn’t worried. Sure, I couldn’t taste much difference in the cocoa powders they sent me to work with, but that was only temporary, right? When I had to actually develop a recipe for the second interview, I was unphased. I used my knowledge of flavors, ingredients, and techniques to come up with something I thought would be delicious. I had a friend with an impeccable palate try some of the components and then I tweaked the dish before the presentation.


A sweet story from Christopher Borrelli at the Trib, about an 18-year-old high schooler, Jonathan Macedo, who owns and runs his family’s restaurant, Peke’s Pozole, in Archer Heights:

The best things about owning a restaurant at 18, he says, are that he is learning, that he is helping his mother’s food find an enthusiastic audience, that he is already living his dream.

But the worst thing — his voice lowers — is firing people.

“To be frank, when you’re 18, not everyone takes you seriously,” he confides. “They know I’m the boss. But I have to hire and fire, and I am 18 — I have to break bad news to adults. And one could argue that I’ve never worked a real job before. So, I’m learning.”


At NewCity, Rebecca Holland goes on a quest to eat all the shawarma in Chicago:

Sometimes the sandwich is grilled after it’s wrapped, then sliced into pieces perfect for dipping in extra toum. Sometimes it’s wrapped with French fries, or at trendy joints in Amman, melted cheese. It can be wrapped in a thin lavash bread or in a thicker pide, a Turkish flatbread. The marinating spices can include cinnamon, cloves, allspice, turmeric, coriander, cumin, sumac, cardamom and black pepper. Some veer sweet, toward baking spices, while others are more savory. Toppings vary, too. In Gaziantep, Turkey, the sandwiches include red cabbage, onions, sumac, and even toasted chickpeas. In Erbil, Iraq, shawarma is often served in samoon, a pillowy eye-shaped bread, and topped with a heap of pickled vegetables such as cauliflowers and peppers. Almost everywhere includes thin Middle Eastern pickles, which use smaller cucumbers than American pickles, and they’re less sweet, more sour and crunchier.


The lineup at Titus Ruscitti’s blog suggests that we’re going to be eating comfort food for a long time after lockdown: there’s a hoagie spot in a coffee shop, a stuffed baked potato place, and two cream puff joints,  the latter of which I tried two years ago in Vancouver, as it happens:

PappaRoti and their Malaysian Coffee Buns (Kopi Roti) came to Chicago this past winter. With over 400 locations worldwide their famous coffee caramel buns have legions of fans spanning from Kulua Lampur to Canada. I’m not gonna lie it was easy to see why. I loved the light and fluffy sweet bun paired with a Karak Tea which I guess is big in Qatar. You can get these addictive buns decorated with a bunch of different toppings like cream and fruit but I loved the plain option served warm as it comes fresh out of the oven.


Steve Dolinsky visits Freddy’s Pizza in Cicero, home of both quality and quantity and much more than just pizza. He also talked Chicago pizza culture on WBEZ.


Remember the North Center cloud kitchen that neighbors were complaining about? They’re still complaining, per Block Club:

One new rule bans walk-up orders from customers, only allowing food from the dozen restaurants on site to be picked up by delivery drivers. But neighbors said this week Cloud Kitchens is still allowing people to pick up their own orders — and representatives for the business are pushing back against city officials trying to make them stop.

Welcome to the future of food.


Louisa Chu, who took Anthony Bourdain to some of his stops in both Paris and Chicago, talks to Laurie Woolever about assembling a new Bourdain book, World Travel: An Irreverent Guide, which was barely begun when he died. I must admit to some reservations that there’s another book after this one in the works.


At The Takeout, Dennis Lee says what I’ve said for years—Culver’s is ten times better than cult fave In-N-Out, but because one is in California and the other is in the midwest, which national food media doesn’t know exists, the better (butter) burger can’t get no respect:

Even if we just make a burgers-to-burgers comparison, Culver’s blows In-N-Out out of the water, in my opinion. Just look at the color on that beef. The restaurant uses a classic smash technique that gets as much surface area of the griddle touching that patty as possible so you get a beautiful sear, and with that sear you get beefy flavor. I’ve never seen that color on an In-N-Out burger.


Chewing’s Twitch stream version has Nick Kindelsperger on to talk Chicago hot dogs and how to make “coney sauce” (for which Monica purchased a whole beef heart). Listen to it here.


Jerry Ranalli, 83, founder of Ranalli’s pizza and said to be involved with 30 other spots over the years. This was my favorite detail from Maureen O’Donnell’s Sun-Times’ obit of a quintessential Chicago barkeep:

Mr. Ranalli’s establishments also were known for carefully curated jukeboxes. At the Pall Mall, a downtown spot that was one of his first, the jukebox featured a 45 that came in handy during the woozy era of the three-martini lunch.

“There was a recording of airport sounds,” his daughter said, “so you could call in and say, ‘Oh, I can’t make it to work today. I’m grounded at the airport.’ ”


In case you missed it, there’s a new piece this week at Fooditor—what I learned from a year of deep-diving Chicago’s grocery stores. Check it out.