Michael Nagrant has long been focused on rules of proper, unbiased behavior for people in food media in their interactions with restaurants. I’ve been known to be skeptical about many of these rules, feeling that they were designed to protect the cartel of official food media against amateur opinions on blogs or whatever—the classic example circa 2010 being the supposed requirement of multiple visits before publishing a review. By then, the reality was that where the Bugle-Gazette might have the bucks to go twice, at a place like LTHForum each opinion might be based on a single visit—but if there are ten reviews by different people who went once each, that represents way more visits than any one publication could make. So the “rule” protects the established elite while reducing the number of opinions out there.

Well, that was 2010. We’re all way past caring about such things; nobody goes more than once to anywhere, influencers puff up whoever invites them somewhere, and the Bugle-Gazette’s competition these days is randos on Yelp. But there are still obvious violations of some basic standards for ensuring that your publication is above suspicion, and Nagrant zeroes in on one at The Hunger:

Did the Chicago Tribune food editor just use her implicit clout to publicly ask the industry she covers to donate food to a third-party organization that she’s president of to benefit her and 49 other journalists?

I don’t think [Tribune dining Ariel] Cheung is engaging in a quid pro quo, aka pay for play coverage. However, she must know that the power she has compels those she covers to be responsive to her. She has a responsibility to avoid securing benefits for herself personally or any organization she is a part of. In this case the request was for, in her words:

“… an advocacy picnic for journalists of color and queer journalists hosted between the Chicago chapters of the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.” 

In short, this request not only compromises the journalist making it, but all 50 attendees chowing down on the free food at the picnic. Nagrant sees not only conflicts but contradictions to the groups’ missions:

The beneficiaries of the request are journalists from groups that have been traditionally marginalized…

And yet, actors from these very groups are approaching a community besieged by a pandemic, restaurants struggling financially. They’re dangling a potential coverage opportunity (indirectly, but it absolutely feels implicit, especially to a struggling business) in exchange for free stuff. Those who implore sensitivity also need to have a personal sensitivity to the communities they cover.

Guess who’s likely not making a donation of food for 50 journalists? A small mom and pop restaurant, often run by immigrants and BIPOC folk, treading water. It’s more likely, the food donation would come from a well-heeled restaurant group led by white people who have mastered the art of buying access.

Ouch! But too true; the game is being played to the benefit of elites, of all colors/sexualities/whatever (listen, anybody in food media with a full-time job is an elite), and excluding those who are mere working class plebes who, you know, run restaurants—of all colors/sexualities/whatever. And in Cheung’s defense, it’s easy to imagine how her colleagues see her, as a big dog editor, as having access to goodies like ensuring food for the picnic, when in fact there’s no budget for such things in Alden Capital Land. (Her first mistake, it seems to me, was broadcasting it on social media; the tasteful way to do it non-publicly would have been to hit up the contacts you have in the chef and PR community.) In the end, the Tribune responded to Nagrant with a clear statement about how they would handle this situation and ones like it in the future—just kidding! Big media never responds to the kinds of questions that they lob at politicians all day. But somehow, completely unrelated to Nagrant’s journalism in any way…

…the food donation did not actually occur. I reached out on Monday morning of this week to ask about the initial request. Cheung and I exchanged a few emails. I asked her specific questions about whether she thought the request was ethical. Two days later she responded in an email on record saying, “The organizations hosting the event will not be accepting donated food. The Chicago Tribune will cover the cost of food for the event.” I asked why the organizations were no longer accepting donated food, but there was no comment.

Read it all. And if you want to support independent food journalism, consider subscribing to Nagrant’s newsletter The Hunger.


Lao restaurants have long been rare here—one would occasionally pop up, in Uptown or somewhere, for six months or a year, but then vanish. Friend of Fooditor Keng Sisavath, of Laotian background, would sometimes tip me off to places that had a Lao cook making a few of his dishes on the menu, like Ryuu Asian BBQ & Sushi, but that was about as close as we got most of the time.

Nick Kindelsperger tells about a family working every other week out of a commercial kitchen, Laos To Your House:

Although they’re excited to offer Chicagoans the chance to experience traditional Laotian dishes like seen savanh (a dried beef dish) and sai oua (a flavorful pork sausage), they believe they have a much bigger mission. “Laos is kind of a forgotten Asian country,” Stacy Seuamsothabandith said. “So we started with: How do we teach people about our cuisine and culture?”


Bill Zureikat got a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy. His response, says Maggie Hennessy: make pizza. He raises money for MD by making his specialty, the Tripping Billy pizza:

Since last summer, Zureikat’s kitchen has become a laboratory for his handcrafted pizzas and sandwiches that have graced menus at Pizza Friendly Pizza, Split-Rail, J.P. Graziano’s and others.

Across six months of collaborations, Zureikat has raised more than $10,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, where he is now the Illinois ambassador. The organization helps people and families across the country affected by MD, ALS and over 50 other neurological diseases.


Titus Ruscitti visits an old LTH favorite:

Captain Porky’s moved to a larger spot since my last post and that’s why I thought it would be good to revisit. Space is no longer an issue as there’s plenty of seating in the new venue. Plus two large display cases showing off much of which is on the menu. One holds the wood smoked bbq while the other holds all of the days fresh seafood on offer. The smoked meats are above average but it’s the seafood, the fried shrimp specifically, that I continuously come back for. Extra large gulf shrimp come with a light and crackly batter that’s more reflective of the fried shrimp you’ll find in the Low Country than it is the stuff you’ll find in Chicago.

And a newish import in Logan Square:

The vibe at Mother’s Ruin is dive bar so maybe that’s why they chose what seems to be a pretty random spot for a big shot cocktail bar from NYC. But judging by the crowds on my two visits it’s location isn’t deterring people from visiting… Meanwhile the food menu helps them to stay open all day as they do a daily brunch until 3p while also offering an all day menu from open to close. I was looking at the location in NYC when it was announced they were opening in Chicago and I was intrigued with their popular fish sandwich. That sandwich only lasted on the Chicago menu for a couple weeks as I was told it was tough for them to get a reliable supplier. But the bartender told me they were working on bringing it back as a special. Their double cheeseburger is also beloved so I ended up with one of them.

And the kind of long-running place everyone should have been to by now:

Did you know the average Argentinian person consumes about 154 pounds of beef per year? They also eat a ton of empanadas and El Nandu makes some of the better Argentine empanadas in town. The Tucamana empanada is a style named after the Tucumán province in northwest Argentina. It’s made with diced steak, green onions, and eggs and is a candidate for the best empanada in town. Part of what makes them so good are the sauces that accompany each meal. One is a classic chimichurri and the other is a spicy chimichurri that isn’t particularly spicy but it does have a bit of kick.


Steve Dolinsky has the skinny—well, the carbs, on Publican Quality Bread.


Nice profile at Block Club of Whitney McMorris, the young black woman chef who came to attention at Bronzeville Winery but has gone on to somewhat star-crossed Venteux on Michigan Avenue.


A few years ago—before lockdown, anyway—I was talking with Kevin Boehm about what other kinds of restaurants Boka Group might want to open someday, and he mentioned a small Japanese place. At the moment Boka had a big Japanese place (Momotaro) so the idea of their group opening a place that seated a dozen or two in an intimate setting seemed unlikely; it can even be hard for an organization like that to make something small work, because their model is built on volume. In other words, fat chance, I thought.

But since then they’ve developed a model by which different concepts can coexist within a space—Stephanie Izard always has a couple of different concepts going on within Duck Duck Goat, for instance. And now we learn that the third concept in the former Southport Lanes space which Boka is taking over will be… a small Japanese place run by Gene Kato of Momotaro, Itoko. (It joins Little Goat Diner and Lee Wolen’s chicken concept GG’s.) Eater has more.


“Most of our campers are seventeen years old. They’re finishing their junior year of high school, and they plan to go into the culinary field. Our camp was our most popular program, and it seemed to fit the biggest need in terms of helping to get hospitality workers into the field, right after high school. To do that, we needed to give them basic skills because what I was hearing from chefs is that they need people who have the fundamentals down cold.” So says former Check, Please host Cat DeOrio about her involvement with Yes Chef! Culinary Camp, a nonprofit helping kids into culinary careers.


One of the toughest nuts to crack in interviewing people for my in-progress book of Chicago restaurant history was Maxim’s, the franchise of the legendary Paris restaurant which Nancy Goldberg (Florsheim heiress and wife of architect Bertrand Goldberg) opened in the early 60s. The problem was, she’s long deceased, George Badonsky who owned it after her (and got sued by Maxim’s for using the name) is as well, Jean Joho is still around, of course, but only ran it for a short time in the Badonsky era… finally I found one of the seven original chefs sent from Paris to open it in 1962.

Maxim’s closed as a restaurant in 1986, but unusually, the Art Nouveau interior in the basement of the Astor Tower in the Gold Coast has survived all these years, given by Goldberg’s heirs to the city and used as an event space. Veteran journalist Rick Kogan played a part in this afterlife:

It became Maxim’s: The Nancy Goldberg International Center. And that’s where I came in about a decade later when Lois Weisberg, then the city’s commissioner of cultural affairs, got the idea to present a series of events in the place. She called them “Conversations with Extraordinary People” and asked me to host.

That was the early 2000s, but by lockdown the city was ready to be done with the space. But in the meantime, Kogan says, a couple named Adam and Victoria Bilter, who now live in the building, discovered the ghostly, abandoned restaurant still intact, and are fixing it up into a private club:

A couple of years ago, the Bilters, who then lived a few blocks away, were walking their dogs and “We wondered what was beneath that revolving door, down that spiral staircase. We convinced the building engineer to show us and we were amazed,” says Adam. “The more we researched the more we fell in love with the idea that we might be able to bring this place back to vibrant life.”

Find out what they have planned—and also read about the glitzy history of one of the city’s important French restaurants.


Amy Morton’s Found in Evanston is closing because the building is being knocked down. I really liked it back when Nicole Pederson was chef and you could often see Morton doing homework with her kids on the comfy couches. I saw one source refer to it as her first restaurant; of course it’s no such thing, she had an entire career with restaurants like Mirador and The Blue Room in the 1980s, before taking time off to raise kids, and then coming back a decade-plus later beginning with Found.

This is exciting: Craig Perman, of Perman Wine Selection fame, is opening a “European focused store and wine bar” in Wicker Park, called Le Midi Vins & Apero.


Friend of Fooditor John Lenart says that Sano’s Pizzeria on West Lawrence—a venerable pizza parlor with a classic Faulds oven (read more here)—is planning to close. He’s told that the owner (who’s been making pizzas for 50 years) has no one in the family who wants to take over, and he reportedly made a killing in delivery pizza during lockdown, but is ready to enjoy his retirement (with a little more of a nest egg than he expected).

In other Faulds oven news, want one for your restaurant (or for spare parts for the one you already have?) At least when Block Ciub ran this story in late June, the owner of the location of the old Godfather’s pizza in Uptown, which is going to become a bar called Uptown Tap, is looking to give his away to anyone who’ll take it. As I say, it may already have been snatched up, but if you’re interested, his email address is in the Block Club piece.


Dominic Lynch looks at everyone’s favorite depressing love letter to Chicago, The Bear, which he considers the Chicago answer to Ted Lasso:

Where Ted Lasso is brimming with optimism, The Bear is a pessimistic show. Ted Lasso attempts to lift people out of their situations with peppy self-help and coaching, while The Bear embraces the suck and improves characters through grit and determination. The Ted Lasso story has a neat narrative arc to it that feels predictable, even if you don’t know how they will pull it all off. The Bear could not be more opposite: ultimately you do not know if the restaurant will fail, and if it doesn’t, what success actually looks like.