The James Beard Award nominations were announced—and it’s a very short list for Chicago. We often dominate the Best chef Great Lakes category—one recent year, thanks to a tie, we landed six nominees in the five-nominee category— but this year we landed only two, Jenner Tomaska at Esme and Sujan Sarkar of Indienne. The only other two nominations went to Lula Cafe for Outstanding Hospitality, and Anna Posey of Elske nabbed an Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker nomination.

Many people jumped to “what the hell happened?” as their response. Justin Kaufmann of Axios observed:

Hard to believe that the host city with the best restaurants in the country were shut out of the big national James Beard categories. Lula and Elske got the secondary categories, but we didn’t have any noms for Best Restaurant, Chef and Restaurateur.

I have mixed feelings, and do not entirely agree. I’ve long thought (and was hardly alone in this) that Chicago’s dominance in the Best Chefs Great Lakes category was unfair to other cities whose food scenes continue to grow and mature; I can’t entirely mind that the other three nominees are exciting new places in Cleveland, Cincinatti and a Detroit suburb.

But having nothing to show for categories like Outstanding Restaurant, New Restaurant, Bar, etc. is a bit more questionable—though as it turns out, pretty typical this year. New York City only got Emerging Chef, Hospitality and four Best Chef New York State nominees (almost all in Brooklyn). The entire state of Florida got only three, including their regional chefs category. Boston got nothing but a single regional chef nomination for Cambridge. And so on. Instead the list is full of restaurants in obscure places like McMinnville, Oregon, Marfa, Texas, and Bozeman, Montana.

As I say, I think the world is changing, it is no longer a matter of good food and innovative restaurants only existing in a few major metropolises. With the help of the internet and food TV, there are chefs making artful food and people supporting it in smaller cities all over America. So good for Cleveland—and McMinnville, I guess. The other thing that’s true is that the Beards, whenever they have an idea of something they should do, inevitably overdo it with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, making it obvious that this is the year that they’re looking for restaurants in smaller towns (and who will have been to enough of them to second-guess their picks?) Still, it makes it a rather odd thing, to gather in Chicago to honor… Bozeman and Marfa.

Oh well, next year it will be something else they’re congratulating themselves for leading on, and maybe we’ll sneak back into some more major categories. The awards are June 10.


Will I ever get to Akahoshi Ramen? Reservations get snapped up instantly, and I guess you can line up for it, but I’m sure not doing that till the weather is better. And now Louisa Chu has reviewed it at the Trib, giving it another bump, at least:

The lush Akahoshi miso, a study in gold and light, topped with tender pork chashu, has become the favorite by far, accounting for about half of all the ramen they sell.

“I’m not surprised and kind of intended it to be that way,” [chef-owner Mike] Satinover said. “It’s the one that is most closely tied to who I am.”

It’s reflective of his ramen journey, which began in Sapporo, the city on the northerly island of Hokkaido, Japan.

“I could talk about it forever,” said the chef when asked about how he builds his signature bowl. His miso ramen, he added, follows a Sapporo-style procedure with some chef’s license. First, they stir-fry bean sprouts with lard, salt and MSG to take in wok hei, the smoky breath of the wok. Then they sear an aromatic miso tare paste to bring out its depth and deglaze with a simple house-made chicken soup. That’s poured over the crinkly Sapporo-style noodles, aged several days for flavor and texture, and aromatic oil at the bottom of the bowl.


Titus Ruscitti checks out Maxwells Trading:

In an interview with Block Club, [owner Erling] Wu-Bower described the menu at Maxwell’s as “largely Italian with very specific Asian explorations, dish by dish.” That’s a pretty spot on description of the ‘Hay & Straw’ – a delicious pasta with very Asian influences in the form of fettuccini, garlic chives, confit potato, dry vermouth, chili crisp, parmesan cheese, and poached egg. We were told to mix all of it up to get maximum flavor which was more than achieved in what might have been my favorite dish of the night. But not without a fight from the Soup Dumpling Tortellini which lists pork shoulder and Maitake mushrooms as the ingredients but this dish goes much deeper than that. The perfectly textured tortellini is stuffed with a Chinese dumpling tasting blend of pork and green onion and other typical ingredients like ginger and soy sauce. The pasta sits in a liquid that taste like both hot and sour soup and brodo with thinly sliced Maitake mixed in.

Also reviewing Maxwells this week is The Infatuation:

Italian pasta, Thai curries, southern spoon bread, and sauces like kombu beurre blanc are all given equal attention. It makes for surprising individual plates—like a Japanese sweet potato masquerading as crème brûlée, or fazzoletti with lamb and chili crisp—that add up to a pleasantly unconventional meal overall. And because the food here is never boring, we’re even willing to withstand rare misses like a not-so-stuffed stuffed pappardelle.


Steve Dolinsky calls attention to some new spots in the burbs serving coffee from Yemen, by way of an importer of beans in Dearborn, Michigan. Here’s the first one:

Orland Park’s Haraz sure sounds and smells like a coffee shop, but it differs from the usual chain. Now with 16 locations in the U.S. – their biggest difference is the reliance on Yemeni drinks and sweets.

“Coffee originated from Yemen,” said Mohammed Mohsen of Haraz Coffeehouse.

Beans are roasted in Michigan, ground in-store and used to make a number of spice-infused drinks, like Harazi Mufawar.

“That is the most traditional Yemeni drink that you can actually have,” Mohsen said. “Cardamom, nutmeg, unsweetened condensed milk.”


I had heard a while back that Brian Enyart (Dos Urban Cantina, Topolobampo) had taken over the kitchen at Leña Brava in the West Loop. It’s apparently ready to be announced to the world, so Anthony Todd does:

“I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years at this point, working with Mexican cuisine,” explains Enyart. “What I have found really interesting and challenging about this was that it was a departure from the regional cuisine of central Mexico, which I had focused on with Bayless. This is a more free-wheeling exploration of the Baja region.” That said, it was a bit of a learning curve for Enyart. Leña Brava’s kitchen is entirely wood-fired, and he’d not worked in that environment before.


Eventually we’ll get Stephen Sandoval’s restaurant Entre Sueños, which started as a pop-up at Soho House but will be a standalone restaurant. In the meantime he opened a bar with Mexican food called Diego, on Ogden near the West Loop. The Reader has a piece on Sandoval’s background and plans:

Sandoval came to Chicago via Leña Brava, brought onto the team by Rick Bayless, whom he had met through a culinary immersion trip to Mexico a few years back. For those next three years, Sandoval and a group of chefs took trips with Bayless to Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Mérida, but most importantly, it fortified the relationship that brought Sandoval to Chicago.

In his second year at Leña Brava, the pandemic hit, the business partners split, and Sandoval was left without his mentor or a clear path in his career.

“I reached out to my now business partner Oscar [Sotelo],” he says. “He had acquired an event space. We had coffee one day and wrote out a plan on how we were going to do this.”

Now here’s the irony. Author Lee Bosch begins by talking about looking for something decent to eat in the area at a late night, after a show:

Walking back to our bikes, the big, bright lights and french fry smell of Small Cheval were calling, but its doors were closed. As we headed west toward home, Big Star’s signage teased us as well, but it too had closed at ten. With no other late-night options visible between West Loop and West Town, a regrettable food decision (very underwhelming tacos) was eventually made at the expense of necessity over desire, ending the night early.

Had this show at Bottom Lounge happened a couple months later into the summer, however, my friend and I… would’ve been at Diego, an homage to Baja Norte street food by chef Stephen Sandoval.

Well, Diego is where I went after a meeting in that area, getting out late enough that though Diego was open, its kitchen had mostly closed down, limiting us to a very short list of options—and they too proved to be regrettable. I went to Entre Sueños and it was pretty good (though I liked Jonathan Zaragoza’s followup better), so I’ll try it when (if?) it finally reopens in its new space, but Diego was one and done for me, especially late at night in this town that closes too damn early.


Maggie Hennessy on where to find the best breakfast sandwiches, at WBEZ:

Assembled on bread with some give and a pleasing edge of crunch, its straightforward egg, (fully) melted cheese and optional meat fillings harmonize in a savory chorus. I prefer the egg a bit runny; if hard-cooked or scrambled, I like a swipe of tangy mayo for moisture. I’ll allow a few spicy arugula leaves, or cooked or pickled veggies, but let’s keep it tidy. After all, this handheld must be wolfed down in moments, hunched at a counter or walking to the “L.”

Done right, it leaves me satiated, not sluggish, ready to take on whatever the day’s remains have in store.

I’ve tried most of the ten places she lists,  but not all… yet.


I have  a few old school community cookbooks–the famous Southern one Charleston Receipts, my hometown one’s Junior League cookbook, full of things my wife grew up eating, etc. At NewCity Cynthia Clampitt explains why it’s worth keeping and treasuring them when talking about a new group, Culinary Historians of Northern Illinois:

The collecting takes two forms. The Cookery Manuscript Project focuses on handwritten recipes, whether written neatly on index cards in a box or scrawled on note paper and stuffed in a drawer—anything fifty years old or older. The Community Cookbook Project gathers classic recipe booklets created by clubs, churches and organizations. These collections also generally include information about the people who prepared the dishes and the history of the place where they lived.

But they didn’t just want piles of recipes. “We wanted people to be able to talk with our culinary historians, not just so we could learn their stories, but also so we could tell them what we know about the time period and the region,” [co-founder Gerry] Rounds says. “One of our inaugural members, Dave Malone, came up with the idea of Recipe Road Shows, where people can come in person to submit their recipes. Another inaugural member, Michelle Podkowa, museum manager of the DuPage County Historical Museum, agreed to host the first Road Show.”


You can kvetch about other awards, but not this one: Red Hot Ranch was inducted into the Hot Dog Hall of Fame (operated by Vienna Beef) and in the process, saw April 3 declared Red Hot Ranch Day in Chicago. Block Club has the story.


David Manilow talks to Artur Yuzvik, who owns with his wife Soloway Coffee, a Ukrainian coffee shop in Lincoln Park that has gotten some buzz.

Joiners talks to Leigh Omilinsky, who does the terrific breakfast pastries, to my mind the best array of such in town, at Daisies.

En Process talks to Zach Engel, whose Galit just won Restaurant of the Year at the Banchet awards.


Chef Hans Aeschbacher, longtime chef at Smith & Wollensky and other Chicago spots including Lawry’s Prime Rib. He was 80. Here’s the announceent on his Facebook page.


Titus Ruscitti mentioned a middle eastern shawarma and falafel joint in a piece at Chicago mag—not online yet—called Falafel Kebab Station. Located in Edgewater, it’s a bright sunny space, and looks like it has some money put into it, with four shawarma grills going at once. The chicken was cooked enough to have crispy edges but at the same time, not dried out, as that often can be; I liked that it came with a couple of different sauces to dip (a slightly spicy one, like muhammara, was my go-to). I also got half a dozen falafel, which were freshly fried to order; and my order came with a drink, and my choices included some fruit juices, so I got lemonade with mint, which was nice. So it’s a place trying a little harder on a little higher level than your average falafel joint. Not entirely exceptional, but I’d go there again if I was in the neighborhood.

In light of the above story about late night dining at Diego, I was in that area again with a friend, rather late. We tried to go to—can you guess?—Leña Brava, who at 9:45 were offering 10 pm reservations online. We were almost there, so we didn’t bother booking it. But when we got to the door, they said the kitchen was closing up—and the same was true for Cruz Blanca. (So what would have happened if we did have a 10 pm reservation?)

We could have tried to find somewhere else along Randolph but it seemed like we would repeat the same experience until 10 hit and the doors got locked, so I suggested heading north to the 24-hour Hollywood Grill on Ashland. Which… it turns out, despite the Open 24 Hours sign, now closes at 3 pm. Luckily a place across the street I know from getting hot dogs with my kids was open: The Hat, which promises Chicago street food (in other words, burgers, dogs, gyros, etc.) I noticed a sign for a Big Baby, which my friend had never heard of, so I had to order it. (A Big Baby, if you too are not among the cognoscenti, is Chicago’s version of a Big Boy/Big Mac type burger, once common on the south side. Here’s more on it from Sandwich Tribunal.)

Now here’s the thing about new places that imitate old street food places: they tend to overdo it to the detriment of the classic concept. I think The Hat’s normal burger uses a 1/3 lb. patty, a substantial slab of meat. And the Big Baby is a doubledecker sandwich, meaning their version is not two thin 10th of a pound patties like at McD’s, but 2/3 of a pound of beef in total. After a couple of bites, I had to dismantle it and remove one of the patties to make a tolerable burger. So, another somewhat regrettable late night dining experience for me—I honestly don’t know where you go now for late late dining, what with places like Belmont Snack Shop and a couple of Golden Nuggets on the north side having closed in recent years. But at least we had a pleasant conversation talking about Battlestar Galactica and 3 Body Problem. That was not regrettable.