The Dog Days of August are usually a slow time for content—but you’d never know it by this busy week! There’s so much content showing how many people want to cover what’s going in this great city, whether it’s their job or not.


Jeff Ruby reviews seven-year-old Acadia, of which he says: “The opening nibble of white anchovy with ramp pesto and ricotta salata was a clean, crunchy burst that set the tone. It was the first of many dishes with a green-and-white palette meant to evoke McCaskey’s briny Maine summers as a kid. By the fifth course, butter-poached Penobscot Bay lobster with a tom kha bisque that folded McCaskey’s Southeast Asian heritage into the New England theme, I was checking out Maine Airbnbs on my phone.”

But nobody really paid attention to what he had to say about the food, because of what happened next: “An hour and a half in, something odd happened. Our endlessly attentive waiter, who’d flirted with my wife, me, and a plate of bone marrow over the past few courses, approached our table, eyebrows raised. ‘Want to stretch your legs a little?’ Curious, we followed him into the kitchen…”

What follows at a kitchen table seems to be the definition of special treatment for a recognized critic: “The gambit was so audacious, it felt less like a wink than a bribe.” For Ruby, the question becomes, “what happens when one side decides to thumb its nose at the game to such an absurd degree that it becomes all but impossible for the other side to do its job?”

On Twitter, Acadia denied any such thing had happened:

“Nothing weird or out of the ordinary for us! We try to go out of our way for the guest. Especially if they are celebrating or are ‘geeking’ out on the experience! We’ve brought back kids to plate their own courses! Lots of examples anyway of our KT!”

They included some photos of other guests getting that treatment, and in another tweet, chef-owner Ryan McCaskey (presumably) denied that he had recognized Ruby at all.

“‘Game?’ What ‘game?’ Why does it have to be a game?” he tweeted.

When reviewers mostly gave up anonymity in the last few years, it was because most of them realized it was a fraud to begin with—the better restaurants had reviewer’s pictures up in the kitchen where servers could see them, and the best restaurants have a full drill before service on who will be dining with them that night.

It seems to me that Ruby was the one whose game wasn’t quite on the level—he’s no longer anonymous, but he’s still unwilling to announce his visits outright (he says he was “presumably anonymous,” which I assume means a pseudonym was used, if not a large fake beard and a turban). I’m not saying Ruby was being deliberately deceptive by going in under the radar; he was just trying to be a regular person dining out. I understand why proclaiming your arrival seems egotistical and a bit gaudy to do—if I know a chef at all well, I usually let them know I’m coming, because otherwise they might get paranoid about me being there “secretly” (that has happened a few times), but I’m sure that is also sometimes read as cadging for a freebie or two, which makes me feel a little skeevy.

Nevertheless, I think the honest way to approach dining at this level is to recognize that getting personalized treatment is part of judging the experience. High end restaurants aren’t just visited by the occasional critic, but deal every night with VIPs of various sorts—celebrities, out of town big shots, regulars who are used to being known and so on. How they treat you, and how they treat other diners who are not you by contrast, is part of the evaluation of the restaurant at this level. I tend to doubt that Acadia did not know who he was, but I believe them that the special treatment is not so special, in the sense of being unique to visiting critics—but is, to some degree, what dining at Acadia really is like.


Not since ramen places opened every week have we had a head to head battle between two places doing almost the same thing like Lettuce’s Portofino and the revived Robert’s Pizza & Dough Co. both opening in waterfront spots near Streeterville. First up Phil Vettel reviews both, and maybe gives us a little insight into what his ratings are based on; of Robert’s, he says, Robert “Garvey’s crust combines a thin, charcoaled base that cracks when folded (‘you can see the structure of the dough,’ said Garvey), with a blistered heel that reminds me of a French baguette. It’s my favorite pizza crust, hands down.” Yet it only gets two stars.

Where Portofino, part of a many-millions-buildout on the riverfront from Lettuce, gets three stars, and Vettel seems awed by the setting: “Walking down the stone (well, concrete) steps from the Clark Street bridge to the restaurant immediately takes one out of the ‘I’m in Chicago’ mindset. The open-air interior is done in stone and natural wood and includes an artificial arbor at ceiling height; servers are clad in white pants and navy-striped shirts. Sitting on (or gazing across) the patio and its white-wicker seating, watching the expensive yachts mosey along the water, and the Italian-Riveria effect is complete. Beyond the water is Chicago’s bustling Riverwalk, and the city skyscrapers loom just beyond that. There isn’t an unattractive view anywhere.”

Meanwhile Steve Dolinsky also looks at two new pizza places downtown—and only one of them is in Vettel’s review. He too likes Robert’s and its unusually-structured crust, telling a bit of how it’s done, and he also mentions The Mozzarella Store, where the dough gets 72 hours to age but the mozzarella is made 50 feet from where it’s baked on a pie.


I’ve waited till mid-month to note the Trib’s monthly slideshow (now in a new less irritating all-on-one-page format) and the other stuff around it, because I wanted to see how deeply it dug into the middle eastern food scene in Chicago. And I have to say, pretty deep—including being the first to get a mention into print of a place I’m about to publish a story on, Oozi Corner in Bridgeview, though I can’t say I’m surprised someone did, considering that the second time I went, with John Kessler, we ran into Steve Dolinsky and Titus Ruscitti there. So suffice it to say that you’re about to hear a lot about it, it’s good.

Anyway, besides the slideshow, which covers a wide range of dishes within the region (glad to see Yemeni food made it, with a bubbling bowl of fahsa), Nick Kindelsperger has a sidelight on middle eastern sandwiches, which is to say, anything that has a bit of a bread-like substance wrapped around it, from the ubiquitous shawerma sandwich to things rarer here like the Israeli sabich and the Turkish simit (though I did a double take when I read that a kosher restaurant has a schnitzel sandwich—I checked their menu, it’s chicken).


I mentioned two weeks ago that Himalayan Sherpa Kitchen offered a greater range of Nepalese dishes than any place before it, and Mike Sula lays out the details (love the last line): “Start with sephaley (commonly spelled shabaley), a kind of Tibetan empanada stuffed with minced chicken and peas, lacquered with ghee, and served with a thick, mustardy dipping sauce. Mustard—greens and oil—plays a prominent role across the menu, adding pungency and appealing bitterness. Fresh sauteed mustard greens steal the show from another Tibetan dumpling known as ting-mo, spongy, bland twists of warm dough enlivened by the chiled greens and the roasted tomato and garlic relish, called golbheda ko achaar, they’re meant to be dipped in. Mustard oil announces itself in the mainstay chhoila, combining with the tingle of Sichuan peppercorn (in Nepal they use a close cousin) that distinguishes this dish of chopped boneless chicken sprinkled with crunchy beaten rice (baji) from the others that have begun appearing around town. The seasoning leaches into a bed of iceberg lettuce, taking that normally useless garnish to a new level.”


Maggie Hennessy goes to Cafe Cancale and finds good food and even better cocktails: “Bar supervisor Scott Kennedy’s 1920s Paris cocktail menu may be my favorite in the city right now: clean, sophisticated and perfumed with French liqueurs, aperitifs and digestifs. Honeyed Lillet Blanc lends complexity to the Negroni-riffing Pablo in Paris, with rum, absinthe and bitter suze.”


Joanne Trestrail is impressed with lunch at Margeaux Brasserie under new chef Greg Biggers, who we wrote about here. “Some of the most interesting bites lurk off the main road, among appetizers and sides. The most memorable dishes on our visits were starters: that onion soup ($14); a tremendous steak tartare jazzed with cornichons, anchovies and capers ($14); and a live-for-today serving of five big duck wings a l’orange ($15)—sticky-sweet, crisp-skinned and lots of fun.”


Paul Virant will be returning to the city soon with Gaijin, but in the meantime his celebrated restaurant Vie is marking 15 years as a farm to table pioneer in the burbs (or anywhere), and Anthony Todd talks to him about it: “‘When we first opened, it was a real effort; the farmers didn’t have the infrastructure, they weren’t delivering anything,’ Virant says. ‘If you wanted something from Klug or Nichols, you had to go get it. As a restaurant, that’s a challenge.”’


One of these days, I’m going to hit Chicago Culinary Kitchen, the weekends-only barbecue in Palatine, but Titus Ruscitti went and says,Order of preference on the meats was pastrami, sausage, brisket, ribs. All of them good but I wish that brisket had more smoke flavor bc texturally it was on point as far as Texas style – thick and tender.” He also has Guatemalan food at Cafe Antigua, which Mike Sula wrote about recently, and Iraqi food at Nineveh in Skokie.


The Reader’s food/restaurant issue this year is called the Food, Drink and Cannabis issue, and among the foodier items is a look at the two restaurants owned by African-American chef Darnell Reed, Luella’s Southern Kitchen and Luella’s Gospel Bird (“‘We see a lot of churchgoers on Sunday,” says Reed. ‘Church definitely plays a factor in to Sunday being our busiest time. Sometimes we get a before-church crowd, but if we open later, we get an after-church crowd.'”)

Another piece looks at the night shift at the Hollywood Grill (“He describes how between 1995 and 2010, on busy nights, there used to be a line out the door and down the street. ‘People [would] come from all over,’ he explains, ‘coming like [it was] an airport.'”) And another piece describes how the author bonded with a particular sandwich at the Middle Eastern Bakery—damn, we do have a theme this week—whenever her heart got stomped to the sidewalk.


Pieces about restaurant owners, as opposed to chefs, tend to be glitzy and fluffy, so David Hammond sitting down with Donnie Madia of One Off Hospitality to see what makes him tick—talking not about restaurants but things like school discipline and dyslexia, not to mention Elvis—is a rarity and a real pleasure: “One of my favorite punishments of all time was kneeling on the pointer. The teacher drew a circle on the blackboard and I had to keep my nose inside the circle while kneeling on the pointer. How demoralizing do you think you would feel, kneeling in front of your classmates? I think it made me more radical. I’m anti-authority. I wouldn’t concede to authority, and I believe that helps me in business today, to always question authority.”


A while back someone on Twitter was questioning whether Kansas was really in the midwest. As someone born in Kansas, I feel being exactly in the middle of the country is a pretty good qualification for being in the midwest; we would have questioned Illinois and other Great Lakes states’ claims first. Anyway, I thought of it that because of this Chicago piece looking at midwestern sandwiches… and somehow placing not just Illinois, not just Ohio, but Pennsylvania and upstate New York in the midwest. I just had a Beef on Weck (at Schwabl’s in Buffalo) last week, so I get the temptation, and there are good suggestions here, but no, almost up to the Atlantic seems clearly not the midwest. I’d much rather have seen a Runza (Nebraska) on the list—or for that matter, a reuben, invented (at least by one origin story) in Omaha.

And speaking of midwestern sandwiches… the loosemeat burger, usually associated with the Maid-Rite chain and sometimes called tavern sandwiches, comes under the Sandwich Tribunal’s gavel as it approaches the five-year mark of its five year mission: “It’s not good in a fancy, haute cuisine kind of way. It’s salty and fatty and ordinary, like a cheap beef pot roast soaking in its own gravy, but with a crumbled texture instead of stranded, and served on a 10 cent hamburger bun with the cheapest mustard, pickles, and onion you can find. It’s way better than I remember it being.”


Than meat from Paulina Meat Market; I paid tribute to my neighborhood butcher shop in this piece. The New Chicagoan looks at how Paulina has kept up with the times when many German markets could not, and where it’s going now. Which has long been rumored to be a sandwich shop, and may include a fish market as well.


My first thought upon reading that the Trib had written up recommendations for Ali Wong, a comedian playing the Chicago theater last weekend, is that in a niche, streaming world, there’s no such thing as mass pop culture any more. In other words, I’d never heard of this particular niche comedian (but if Kate Berlant comes to town, I’m totally ready to take her for an Italian beef eat-off). Anyway, it’s a nice list of Asian food in the downtown area.


Congrats to two homophonic local writers, Amy and Aimee. Amy Cavanaugh, lately of Plate and once upon a time at Chicagoist and Time Out Chicago, is going to Chicago mag to take Carrie Schedler’s editor spot. And Aimee Levitt, who wrote and edited food pieces among many other things at the Reader, is joining The Takeout.

And congrats to Edzo’s for making the Illinois entry on this USA Today listicle of the best milkshakes in the country. News you can use!


Oh, this one is sad. I wrote about Quiote when it was a possibility in the air for the owner of the Salsa Truck, Dan Salls, and when it was sharpening things up, and about its mescal program in its first incarnation, and about how it had evolved after a year; Salls has always been good copy, a savvy viewer of the restaurant scene he has been part of. Now, alas, I have to say goodbye, as it closed suddenly and a bit cryptically last week, per the Tribune. I loved its blend of midwestern ingredients and Mexican cooking, ranking it the 11th best restaurant in the city in the last Fooditor 99, and will miss it like few places in Logan Square.

Also sad to learn, from the Trib’s middle eastern coverage, of the sudden closing last week of both locations of Al-Sufara Grill, which did fantastic grilled middle eastern meats in both its original butcher shop/strip mall location in Palos Hills and a fancier one in Orland Park. The first time I was on The Feed, I brought food from there to eat on the air, and filled Rick Bayless’ library with smoky beef and lamb smell. It was #49 in the last Fooditor 99.


If you want to know what there is to know about 2020’s hottest restaurant, the Overserved podcast talks to Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser, of the upcoming Ever, about motorcycles and other things. I really liked this quote (about 14 minutes in) where California kid Muser explains why he settled and has stayed in the Chicago restaurant scene: “Since I got to Chicago, man, this place has never not given me one thing I’ve asked for. The city and I—she makes me work, for sure, you gotta work for it, but Chicago is that city… I came here wanting things, I was willing to kill it, I tried as hard as I could—and the city has given me everything I ever wanted.”


Block Club has a story about the mess that the former owners of the Abbey Pub are in—they sold the building in 2015, the bar burned later in 2015, and eventually the landlord terminated their lease and someone else is opening a new “Chicago Abbey” pub in the location. Okay, that’s kind of shifty, but Block Club’s telling skips over anything resembling the landlord’s point of view—which would have to acknowledge that the former owners were negotiating for the landlord to kick in more money than they’d offered toward fixing it up, and at some point they stopped paying rent, and so, is it that surprising that with the building empty for four years now, at some point the landlords started thinking about other possible tenants who could actually get a business up and running? If you want to be there forever… don’t sell your building!


The Breakfast for Ina benefit from some local chefs like Cleetus Friedman and Phillip Foss already sold out before I could even mention it, but Ina Pinkney says there are raffle tickets here, for food and wine prizes (more details to come).