(Yes, if you get the newsletter version, I left the wrong date in. If only we could go back to February 23 and eat in a restaurant!)


This week’s guest, moving from other food media people to actual restaurant people, is Scott Worsham of mfk. and Bar Biscay/Bodega Biscay, talking about how they changed to the bodega model to survive, and will likely keep it even if (ever) all this is over. Check out our conversation below, or here:


If you woke up from a coma this week, or if it’s ten years from now and you’re writing a paper on where all the independent restaurants went as Nando’s Peri Peri wins Best Restaurant in Chicago for the fifth straight year, the first place I would send you is Maggie Hennessy’s piece at Eater, which recounts how we got here by talking to eight restaurateurs, from Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe)…

On March 19, Hammel suspended operations at Lula and furloughed his staff.

“The staff were trying to do too much,” Hammel says. “Additionally, with the concerns for me in my personal life, it was like having to make a choice between saving the business and saving my family. I’m not going to choose — hopefully I can have both those things.”

to David Park and Jennifer Tran of Jeong, trying to adjust to takeout by offering their old Hanbun menu:

But their glitchy online portal had other plans. On the first day, the system allowed guests to order three times more than the 1,400 individual dishes Park and Tran had budgeted for.

“We had no choice but to cancel 75 percent of orders,” Tran says. “It was awful.”

Tran couldn’t bring herself to send a mass apology email, so she spent seven and a half hours the next day calling everyone one by one to reschedule them.

And six more. In any case, if you haven’t figured that out yet, it’s a must-read that gives a panoramic look at the state we’re in. Go read it!


So here’s what happened since last week: there was general outrage at the (largely predictable) way that banks steered the PPP money to their big customers they were allowed to steer it to. Shake Shack backed off almost immediately, and Danny Meyer made the fairly reasonable point that if the law says you can apply, you apply, and if you have the ability to raise money elsewhere, you do that too and can give some of it back later (as they did). Potbelly hung on to theirs for a week before finally folding, as did Ruth’s Chris. Meanwhile, another round of funding is in the works, and no one is surprised that Governor Pritzker extended the lockdown through May, mandating masks—but, thankfully, reopening some parks.

While speaking of independent restaurants, specifically the Independent Restaurants Coalition, Kevin Boehm and Rocco Cotaldo put together a nice… meme, I guess you’d call it, making a moving case for independent restaurants, which I support thoroughly, though I must strongly oppose putting an “i” in “Jucy Lucy at Matt’s.”


Here’s a story I acted on immediately: Daniel Espinoza, chef at the corporate Cantina Loredo restaurant downtown, has planned for some months to open a Logan Square Mexican seafood spot, Mesa del Mar. Well, you know what happened with that for the time being, so instead, he’s launched a tamale takeout business called Santa Masa Tamaleria out of the same space, reports Nick Kindelsperger:

Tamales aren’t a new fixation for Espinoza. Turns out, he has a family connection that stretches back decades. “My grandparents sold them for 60 years in Mexico,” says Espinoza. “That’s how they helped our family.” When he was a kid, he’d go to the Mexican state of Michoacan with his dad to visit his extended family and to experience the tamale tradition. “My dad would always tell me, ‘This is where we come from and what we do,’” says Espinoza. “It’s so familiar to be around tamales.”

One: his masa comes from the subject of this Fooditor piece. Two: guess who has his tamale order in already.


Manny’s has been active on social media, both offering takeout and giving the legendary Gino Gambarota, corned beef slicer extraordinaire, the mike on their Twitter account. Tribune food MVP Nick Kindelsperger also tells the story behind fourth-generation Dan Raskin’s effort to keep the deli classic alive: “Eventually, he noticed that a lot of people in the suburbs who would normally commute to the Loop for work wanted to place orders. This explains how Raskin found himself with a car full of orders from Manny’s ready to personally deliver them all. “I told people to either call or email me,” says Raskin. To his surprise, on the first day he got 80 orders, which initially sounded great. Then he realized he’d have to drop them off at 80 different houses.”


John Kessler has more to say about what we talked about in the first Fooditor Radio Is All Dressed Up And Has No Place To Go—cooking and eating at home: “When our youngest grown daughter, Mary, returned for the duration, I again had a family to cook for, over and over, night after night. That felt like a small kind of blessing. I loved rediscovering the daily challenge of crafting a robust meal from whatever was around, whether that was leftover Chinese carryout rice, chicken thighs fished out of the freezer, or a fancy sachet of dried porcini that had somehow migrated to the cat food shelf in the pantry. I began revisiting the ambitious recipes I used to make in my twenties and early thirties when I really was a good cook — beignets, cardamom buns — and not the sloppy shortcut-taker I had become over the years.”

And speaking of Kessler’s home cooking, check out his blog, which he says may soon be a newsletter. Here’s a piece on “keeping enough stock, white-cooked chicken and a salad to remember.”


Well, high on the list of things I didn’t expect to see come back was the Reader’s Key Ingredient, which Julia Thiel and I did for the better part of the last decade. But it makes sense for the shelter-at-home era—now chefs make something from their pantry and video it themselves via Zoom. In the opening episode of Key Ingredient: Pandemic Pantry, Mark Steuer (Funkenhausen) makes okonomiyaki with overcooked spaghetti.


You can get whole bottles to go, but bars want to be able to sell finished cocktails, not just the makings of them. That’s why Julia Momose (Kumiko) and other bartenders have launched Cocktails For Hope, which urges that Illinois join other states in legalizing takeout cocktails. Time Out tells more (and links to a Change.org petition).


Anthony Todd, writing at his own site, talks about what to do when that box comes from your CSA, to get the most out of your new veggies and herbs.


I can’t imagine what it would take to get my kitchen in a state where I’d be happy with it being on TV—putting a whole lot of things in boxes, for one. But Steve Dolinsky is broadcasting from his, and this week he even has Rick Bayless over—while maintaining a six foot distance, to cook a dish with ramps.


Overserved finally bends to the inevitability of recording via social distancing, and returns with a Zoom chat with Erling Wu-Bower of Pacific Standard Time.


I get press releases about what restaurants are doing to help out, so let’s give a few of them a little buzz! Chicago Q has served over 1000 hot meals to the homeless, and tells medical staff they can stop by for a free meal as well.

And I’m sorry to lose Virtue among takeout options, but they’ve switched entirely to cooking for first responders, thanks to support from Common, Tiffany Haddish and the dating site Bumble.

Meanwhile, The Fifty/50 Group reports that they expect to serve their 25,000th free meal to restaurant industry personnel on Monday.


Restaurant Depot, normally open only to restaurants, has opened its doors to anybody—your chance to shop like a chef, or a contestant on Top Chef. (H/t Titus Ruscitti)


Could this be the end of Sandwich Tribunal? Not exactly, but they have run through all the sandwiches on the Wikipedia list they started with. But they’ve found more along the way, and this time, return to Fooditor fave Hermosa to see what the equally sandwich-obsessive Ethan Lim is up to.


We’re starting to get actual closings. Links Tap Room (location of this Fooditor piece) is closing in Wicker Park (but says it may reopen elsewhere), and so is bar and retailer Crown Liquors, which had roots back to Prohibition days.

One of the most affecting notices of closure so far comes from two-location breakfast chain Toast. Owner Jeanne Roeser wrote:

I raised my girls, through thick and thin inside those restaurants and in a strange way Toast was like a sibling to my daughters. I was trusted to hold your babies while you ate your breakfast. I got to see your kids artwork and Halloween costumes that they were so proud to show off. Nothing was better than having a kid run up to me for a hug, or to show their newest wiggly tooth. Right before my eyes I watched your kids grow and leave for college or jobs but always visit on breaks. I’ve seen more than one marriage proposal, mourned the customers who have passed and hugged their loved ones who came in to tell us what a special place Toast was in their lives.


Restaurante Cuetzala was a Mexican restaurant in Rogers Park; Block Club reports that the owner, Saul Moreno, died of Coronavirus the week before last, and the restaurant has closed. There’s more about the restaurant in this article, as well as a link for a fundraiser for the family.


I wanted a real meal, a Chicago meal, which is to say, something weird and funky yet executed at a high level. My mind was a blank so I started going through Tock’s listings, looking for something everyone wasn’t already ordering (though I was tempted by Brasserie Jo coming back, sort of). And then it jumped out at me, Heritage Restaurant and Caviar Bar. I ordered (for the family) a strange feast of burger, lamb “Italian beef,” chicken sandwich, pierogi, klopytka, spring rolls (there’s an Asian bent to the Eastern European menu) and more. It scratched the itch beautifully, and that was without treating the kids to caviar and champagne.

Had an errand to run in Oak Park Saturday, so hit Big Guys Sausage Stand, subject of this piece among others I have written over the years, for burgers for no. 2 son and myself. Best $12 bar burger that’s only $6.95 and served at a stand that I know, but glad I had my car’s strategic ketchup reserve stocked. (I’m sure there was a way to get more, but I didn’t feel like getting out in the rain and bugging them.)

Sparrow Black 2019