We’re staring down the likelihood of another COVID spike, and I saw notices this week of two restaurants—mfk. and Jeff and Jude’s—closing temporarily because someone on staff tested positive. The possibility that we will have another city-enforced shutdown for restaurants looms on the horizon.

I’ve avoided getting too deep in the COVID weeds in this newsletter, because knowing the restaurant scene is, astonishingly, not the same as being an expert on epidemiology. But another shutdown of indoor dining after only a few months of operation will kill off restaurants, so I think it’s important for all of us to think seriously about what the risks are, realistically. And I feel they do not justify shutting public places again, even if the pictures of 100,000 people at Lollapalooza are enough to unnerve anybody.

Government at various levels has been racing to put us all back in masks and to stay home, even to wear them in front of our own children. As the commentator Michael Moynihan points out, that means that both sides are now effectively peddling the idea that COVID vaccines don’t really work—the anti-vaxxers obviously, but now even the pro-vax side is sending a message that there is no clear benefit to getting vaccinated, you still have to restrict activity and wear a mask and, basically, live 2020 all over again… maybe forever.

And this is just not true. Vaccination has worked fantastically well, which is why the move toward only serving vaccinated patrons (as Josh Noel writes about here) makes sense for bars and restaurants. To avoid getting deep into contentious statistics, I’m just going to point to one document which summarizes the CDC’s own numbers, at the news site Axios (rated “moderate to slightly left” by the Knight Foundation).

The first is perhaps the most reassuring: it’s the percentage of vaccinated Americans who have not tested positive for COVID. It’s a number that would be rounded up to 100%—99.923%. That is enormously effective. In a million people, 770 got it despite being vaccinated. But it was also less harmful to them because they have been vaccinated. According to the CDC, 0.004% have to be hospitalized, so out of those 770, 40 had it bad enough to need to go to the hospital, and ten (0.001%) died. Ten in a million. That’s a vast improvement over what we were looking at a year ago, when 60 or 70 died each day and we feared hospitals being swamped and built emergency centers in McCormick Place as thousands fought for life for months.

The central conclusion to take is that spikes are a consequence of, and take place almost entirely among, the unvaccinated. Ten in a million sucks if you’re one of the ten vaccinated deaths, but in terms of our other risks in life—driving to work, biking the corner of Logan Boulevard and Western, the flu season that we have most years—it’s a moderate risk that we should accept without shutting the whole world down.

Which is where I’m going with this. The reaction if there’s a spike in the next few weeks will be to shut things down again. Politicians will feel the need to be seen doing something! about this risk, and shutting restaurants and bars is dramatic, looks forceful, and doesn’t draw the kind of backlash that actions on other more intractable problems, like crime or pensions, do. (They will likely close beaches and parks, too, when being out in fresh air is an effective way to avoid infection and stay healthy in many ways.)

That need to be seen doing something is how we’ve already gotten other highly dubious recommendations, like the one that vaccinated parents should wear masks at home with their kids—when the rate of infection for children is extremely small and the CDC reported on Tuesday that “a growing body of evidence indicates that people fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) are less likely than unvaccinated persons to acquire SARS-CoV-2 or to transmit it to others.” So a very low rate of infection, a low to zero documented rate of transmission, and a population to protect who almost never get the disease—and that adds up for someone in power to going even further than in 2020 with the masks and isolation. As people say, follow the science—and the science does not support doing this, only the politics do.

But it’s still some risk! Yes but there are other, by no means negligible risks in life. Killing off a major part of the small business sector for no clear benefit, denying young people an entry into the world of work, diminishing social life when people need interaction with others—these are things that create other risks of COVID, like unemployment and mental health problems. The restaurant and bar industry is an enormously effective treatment for being stuck at home, isolated and bummed out. We put the onus of controlling COVID on bars and restaurants, at the risk of destroying that sector and wiping out employment for thousands, of sapping so much of our city’s culture—all for highly debatable benefit.

These are the facts: if you socialize mainly with other vaccinated people, you almost certainly will not get infected by them in a restaurant. If you do, you will be less sick than unvaccinated people, and will almost certainly go home faster than those who were not vaccinated. Making the food and beverage sector suffer will not change those facts from “almost no chance” to “absolutely no chance,” but it will have lots of other harmful effects on our city and state. We who love this industry need to oppose such extreme measures as bad solutions that won’t be effective, and will have disastrous unintended consequences in the weeks ahead.

Eater talked to restaurateurs about what they expect in the near term here:

Rodolfo Cuadros (Amaru), who on Friday is opening his new Wicker Park restaurant, Bloom Plant Based Kitchen, says he wouldn’t mind a mask requirement. If officials try to reinstitute capacity restrictions, however, he’d feel quite differently.

“We’re fully expected going back to wearing masks,” Cuadros says. “But we don’t know what else is planned.”

No, you don’t. Now run a business and hire people!


The James Beard Foundation has announced its award plans for 2021 and 2022. Last year the annual awards for best restaurant, etc. were scuttled because the voting judges apparently failed to honor chefs of color as hoped—a big bungle on the part of the organization, which apparently simply expected all the judges to vote for the right people by mental telepathy, without any plans made for driving that outcome. (If you’re going to rig an outcome, you actually have to rig it!) Instead they produced a two-hour program paying salute to restaurants mostly owned by people of color, and honoring themselves for being part of making them happen (not always clear what the Beards did). Basically they made up for appearing racist with a show whose theme was, “Racist, privileged white elite, us? Look, we have many black friends!” It was not the most riveting food television you’ve ever seen.

So, we had a year with no awards and a TV show that was not well-liked. What’s the plan for this year? Do the exact same thing again:

The first post-audit James Beard Awards will take place in 2022. The 2021 ceremony will be a celebration of the independent restaurant community, honoring those who have made a significant impact on the industry and in their communities during this crisis. Details about this event, which will feature virtual and in-person elements, will be shared in July.

More explanation here:

The Foundation has made the decision to forgo its traditional Awards presentation in 2021, including the Restaurant and Chef Awards, Media Awards, and Restaurant Design Awards. For this year’s ceremony, we will not be accepting recommendations or submissions. We are working with the Awards Committee and Subcommittees to overhaul the policies and procedures for the Awards. The objectives are to remove any systemic bias, increase the diversity of the pool of candidates, maintain relevance, and align the Awards more outwardly with the Foundation’s values of equity, sustainability, and excellence for the restaurant industry.

At this rate the Oscars are going to wind up in the damn train station again. When the Beards finally give awards again in 2022, it will have been two years since anyone has been awarded a standard, competitive, James Beard award. Will anyone have missed them in the interim? Does anyone feel that they played a vital role in helping restaurants through this hard time? Will something else replace them as a food award that isn’t given by a clubby bunch of New York insiders (who are as white as the Greenwich Badminton Club?) Two years is a long time to stop mattering, especially these two years; we’ll see if they can restart that dead battery in 2022.

Buzz 2


Congrats to Anna and David Posey on the birth of their son, of whom David reportsMom and baby are resting and doing great, and we’re still deciding between Thor, Magnus-Hans, and The Wolverine for names.” 

Unfortunately, even the most superpowered of babies probably can’t work in a Michelin-starred kitchen for at least a dozen years, and in the meantime Elske, one of the first places I went for a sitdown dinner after lockdown, is closing for the time being between new baby and the difficulty of finding kitchen staff.


Maggie Hennessy gives us a thorough rundown on one of 2021’s big openings, Esme:

In an era that’s seen centuries of injustice and inequity bubble violently to the surface across communities and professional industries — exacerbated by a global pandemic and subsequent economic downturn — is it enough to open a restaurant that’s just about serving beautiful food? This question anchored every conversation [owners Jenner Tomaska and Katrina Bravo] had over the past few years as they planned their first solo restaurant, a dream of Tomaska’s since he first picked up a chef’s knife. The pandemic only hardened their resolve.

“That’s why we haven’t talked a lot about the food,” Tomaska says. “I’m confident we’ll put out well-seasoned, thoughtful and delicious food, but it’s not necessarily about the food; it’s about using the food to showcase and give name and note to what others are contributing in positive ways. Does the world need another tasting menu? I don’t know. But that’s what we know. ”


Titus Ruscitti rounds up some ghost kitchen options, including three new ones sharing the same space on Elston. One is Sfera Sicilian Street Food:

This is my first time trying Scaccia or Sicilian style stuffed flat bread (pronounced Ska-Cha). Its made with a very thin rectangular layer of pizza like dough that’s filled with a variety of ingredients and folded on itself three or four times. It’s popular on the go and sometimes eaten at room temp or cold. Some online digging revealed this was once a popular snack in Middletown, CT but it seems as though not lots of spots out there still make this Southern Italian specialty. Enter Sfera where they’re making scaccia and arancini in a variety of ways.

Another is called Balkan Kiosk Street Food:

The fried chicken sandwich at Kiosk Balkan Street Food is an absolute beauty. It comes served on a homemade somun that’s typically used for cevapi (also available). The it gets dressed with cabbage, pickles, and an urnebes of spicy peppers and garlic feta. Urnebes being a popular Serbian condiment that varies by region with white cheese and hot chili peppers being the main ingredients. Definitely not your typical fried chicken sandwich.


Chicago mag has its best of (pandemic year) Chicago issue, and needless to say there’s food stuff in it, including best in-restaurant markets (El Che and Daisies) and best virtual restaurant (Bokuchan’s).

Though I strongly disagree with this one.


David Hammond checked out the options for locally brewed beer in Green Bay.


The traditional hot dog in Chicago is steamed, right? Yes, but the char dog is a reasonable variant and not heresy. Block Club puts forth a history of the char dog (though one obvious omission in the voices we hear from is Barry Potekin, who was a char dog king in the 1980s at Gold Coast Dogs):

While Wolfy’s char dog tradition was passed down from [former owner Mickey] Becker, [current owner] Gus Romas thinks the original owner, like other restaurateurs at the time, likely wanted to capitalize on the growing popularity of backyard barbecuing on charcoal grills — particularly finding a way to offer the summer-style of cooking from a commercial kitchen in the winter.

That guess fits with the history of the charcoal barbecuing trend, which began in the late ’40s and early ’50s as a post-World War II phenomenon brought about by the rising popularity of the backyard grill, said Bruce Kraig, a culinary historian and author of “Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America” and “Hot Dog: A Global History.” In its early days, grilling was considered a masculine task that became a prolific activity for returning soldiers and other men.


Kimchi Kids is a new podcast from the guys behind the Korean restaurant Perilla. In the second episode they talk with Steve Dolinsky about why he loves Asian food. I think this is the page for the podcast, but it’s always hard to tell with podcasts because they wind up with a page at every site for podcasts; if there’s a better page for epidodes with more detail, hopefully they’ll point me to it.


WBEZ talks to a guy with a paleta shop about what it’s like peddling while pedaling. Paletero Victor Cruz:

Cruz says it is important to understand what’s popular with different groups of customers across the city. For a mostly Latino neighborhood, he’ll stock up on sought-after flavors like coconut, pecan, and mango. For “gringo” neighborhoods, he’ll add more ice-cream sandwiches. But no matter where he travels in the city, Cruz says he’ll carry cartoon-branded and superhero-branded ice-cream bars, like the SpongeBob SquarePants and Spider-Man treats, because they are extremely popular with kids.

Another trick of the trade that Cruz follows: organize the cart to find flavors quickly, and pack the delicate treats carefully — you don’t want them to get smooshed.

11. IN MEMORIAM (cont.)

More this week about the passing of Le Vichysoisse chef-owner Bernard Cretier. The Sun-Times’ Maureen O’Donnell provides one indelible anecdote in this obit:

While at Maxim’s de Paris, one of Mr. Cretier’s patrons stood out. Artist Salvador Dali would drop by with his pet ocelot, his daughter said.

And at LTHForum friend of Fooditor Alain Maes, of the French Virtual Cafe site, offers his remembrances:

The white brick stylish building looked a bit like a French country ‘’Auberge’’’such as those that you would find in Normandy or in Burgundy.

The large windows of the two spacious dining rooms with well- spaced tables covered with white linen cloth and furnished with antiques, and traditional copper pots, opened on a pleasant small patio. Fresh flowers were always in evidence, and the silver, porcelain plates and pretty glasses were nicely arranged and classy. Art work decorated the walls, and the bar in the lobby where an impressive antique desk was serving as a hostess stand, was a very welcoming place.

Cretier and his family lived upstairs when they opened the place, as it was the case in many traditional provincial restaurants in France in the good old days.

Read it all.


I hoped to be able to report on the friends and family for NoodleBird (not a review but at least some idea of what it’s like) but they canceled Saturday night’s service due to electrical problems. Anyway, assuming they get those fixed, they’ll open on Thursday and we can all try it then.

I was in Washington D.C. for most of the past week. I ate some things there—but I don’t know that I was so excited by anything that I feel the need to recommend it. I liked seeing the Union Market’s food court but other than pretty good deli sandwiches for the trip back, nothing seemed that exciting or out of the ordinary, and a smoked roast beef sandwich was not just ruined but bombed like Pearl Harbor by gooey Cheez Wiz. Staying downtown (in Lobbyist-Land near Capitol Hill) I found everything kind of upscale but not all that exciting. Everything, from pastries to tapas, seemed about a point and a half less tasty than it should be in Chicago. I came back loving Chicago—but then it’s a real place with people who are from here, and most of D.C. is not. (I went to Ben’s Chili Bowl etc. on a trip some years ago, so I do know such things exist there.)

Instead, my dining excitement this week was heading out to Hoffman Estates to get the last round of Georgia peaches—it’s worth noting that the same weight was about 70 peaches when I bought them at the end of June, but 43 this weekend. Being out that far west it was finally my chance to try Chicago Culinary Kitchen in Palatine, which three years began a career as a barbecue star in the northwest suburbs by drawing big lines and serving till they sold out on the weekends. They moved about a month ago into a bigger location which goes full Texas Rowdy with signs telling you to scram if you’re offended by tattooes and skulls (and meat), and surrounded it with a couple of food trucks (I suspect catering is a lot of their business). One thing the bigger location has solved: getting there around 1 pm, the line, though busy, did not last long and they didn’t seem in danger of selling out before we got our food.

How was it? It’s letter-perfect Texas brisket and good, slightly Mexican-spice tinged pulled pork. Like a lot of Texas places, they have a disdain for putting sauce between you and the smoke flavor of the meat, though if you ask they’ll give you a sealed plastic cup of a perfectly decent sauce. Anyway, though the atmosphere (and the booming metal music) was a little thick for my taste, smoked meat-wise, the place is the real deal, and if you’re ever out in that area around their hours (now up to Wednesday through Sunday), it’s well worth the stop.

Buzz List will be off next week, and return August 23.