Buzz List for August 22, 2022

Faulds oven gets a new life in Westmont, dining at the so-called best in the world, the world's attention turns to Italian beef, and Tiki!

Michael Gebert
Pete's Tiki Tiki, Rosemont


Louisa Chu subjects the egg rolls at Chef’s Special—a self-admitted exercise in suburban-style Chinese-American food—to the ultimate test: her mother.

When I first presented my mother with an egg roll by Chef’s Special, the American Chinese restaurant and cocktail bar in Chicago by award-winning chef Jason Vincent and his partners at Giant, she scrutinized the golden offering by turning it around slowly with chopsticks.

Mom Chu’s verdict:

“You can tell they put a lot of kung fu into this,” she said in Cantonese, just one of the dialects she speaks. She doesn’t mean the martial arts, but the kind of work that also requires study and practice, resulting in a power that’s spiritual above all.


Uncle Pete’s Pizza was a pizza spot in Westmont run by a Korean lady, Kim, who was friends with Maria of Maria’s bar. Which explains how the people behind the pizza at Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream (resident at Maria’s in Bridgeport) wound up taking it over and launching Kim’s Uncle Pizza. So, a place with lots of heritage. But what’s that about a Faulds oven, you say?

…they inherited a legendary pizza oven with the space.

“It’s a Faulds, which is a Chicago oven that was originally made for breadmaking, but has kind of made its way into the pizza world, with people like Pat’s and Armand’s using it as their preferred ovens,” said [co-owner Cecily] Federighi.

They had never used one before, but now say out of all their ovens it makes a perfect pizza, though not without its challenges.


Michael Nagrant went to Italy recently and it turns out to be one of those trips that starts with nabbing a much-in-demand restaurant reservation—at Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana in Modena—and the result is a sharp piece about that kind of experience in 2022:

Even when the great Michelin 3 Star, 50 World’s Best restaurants are designed well, they generally express themselves in a style you might call Greige and Linen. The use muted tones and high thread counts that makes you feel as though you’re cradled in the womb of an interior designer who has been instructed to deliver comfort, but brook no creativity that would detract from the food. If the designer is given a little leeway, they express themselves through texture, statement-piece light fixtures, and a heavy batch of very expensive abstract art.

Osteria Francescana is no different in this regard. The salons are relatively tiny, almost claustrophobic by local Chicago standards of Grace, Oriole, and Alinea. There is some perspective shift and asymmetrical cants to a few of the walls that reinforce the Beetlejuice vibe. Black and white photos of old Hollywood starlets like Marlene Dietrich and what I thought was Joan Crawford mingle with expensive very colorful, some abstract, and some not abstract art. It may have been neither of the actresses, but the one I thought was Joan Crawford bore through me during the meal. Every time I took a bite of food I heard menacing screams of “No wire hangers!” in my brain.

But did it prove worthy of its three tire company stars—or did it turn out, like so many such, to suggest that things hit a high point once and have since slid a bit? Read it to find out—though I’ll just say that I don’t travel and dine like that much any more, myself; I’d much rather try the local place that does the local specialty at a reasonable price than the international place that meets Michelin’s standards of could-be-anywhere art cuisine.


I guess Mike Sula and the Reader’s Foodhall series at the Kedzie Inn is venerable enough to warrant coverage by a rival. Lisa Shames in the Tribune:

Once the pandemic lockdown hit with the temporary closures of restaurants and bars, the idea shifted to hosting the virtual chefs Sula had been writing about in the Reader who channeled their creative culinary skills and social media savvy to craft and sell to-go and delivery meals.

“These weren’t celebrated Chicago chefs with household names,” Sula says. “They were line cooks, bartenders and servers who were making some interesting, super-creative food that never would have gotten green-lit in a brick-and-mortar restaurant setting. These were personal concepts, collaborative mashups, tributes to their grandmothers, and cuisines that don’t exist in Chicago.”


I noticed on Instagram that Nick Kindelsperger has been eating barbecue of late—check out Big Ange’s in Arlington Heights!—but missed last week that he had already written up one called Mel’s Craft BBQ in Park Ridge:

I admire the focus at Mel’s. The barbecue menu is purposefully short, with the regular menu listing only brisket, turkey, pulled pork and baby back ribs, each available by the half-pound. “I didn’t want too broad of a menu at first,” [owner Mel] Thillens said. “I do have a lot of fun with the specials, and eventually I’d like to have a rotating special of the day. But I want to nail these first.”


Khmai Cambodian Fine Dining is one of the hot restaurants of the moment and Titus Ruscitti is on it:

If you’ve never had it before it’s a little different from the Southeast Asian flavors you may be used to in that it skews sweet with lots of citrus and sour. It’s not as hot and spicy as other Southeast Asian cuisines but it’s every bit as herbaceous. Chef Mona Sang cooks Khmer style dishes which refers specifically to the cuisine of the Khmer people. Rice is a popular ingredient as is beef so for starters I highly recommend the Sach Koh Ang which are steak skewers marinated in a Kreoung paste which is the Khmer word for the herb and spice pastes that make up the flavors of Khmer cooking. These are a leading candidate for the best thing I’ve ate this year.

He also visits Zad, a spin-off of the Pita Inn chain in the northern suburbs.


I have to admit I’m kind of burnt out on tonkotsu ramen, but one of the places I’ll still hit when I’m in that neck of the woods is Chicago Ramen, which is actually in Des Plaines. The reason is because it’s fairly strong on other varieties of ramen, including tsukemon, which is basically noodles with just enough broth to constitute a dipping sauce. Steve Dolinsky talks about it and the sushi bar next door the same chef just opened:

Staff begin each roll with nori, or dried seaweed, that originates from the Japan Sea.

“We use the quality nori from Japan,” he said.

Next into the dish is warm sushi rice, and then the chilled fish is added in. The warmth and moisture of the rice and fish moves quickly into the crispy nori, so [chef-owner Kenta] Ikehata says it’s imperative to eat them immediately.

“My recommendation is you eat the handrolls very quickly. So 3…2…1…go! Just three seconds,” said Ikehata.


At NewCity, Friend of Fooditor John Lenart recommends two wines for drinking in summer that you may not have thought much about—one is Cerasuolo, a type of rose from the Adriatic coast of Italy, and the other is Fino sherry, which is not oxydized, making it a rare fresh-tasting sherry.


A couple of years ago I wrote about Italian beef as an endangered species, but thanks to a certain TV series, it’s having a moment right now and that means it’s going to have articles written about it by newbies. Like this one at Insider, in which a recent arrival in Chicago conducts a beef taste test, and winds up eating at three chains: Portillo’s, Buona Beef, and Al’s (but one of the franchised locations, not Taylor Street). You wish they could have had a Chicagoan at hand to guide them to the real deal, but it’s moderately interesting to read an outsider/beef newbie’s take. Here’s a rave for Portillo’s:

The flavors of the beef tasted like they were developed and created over time during a slow process.

The French bread that kept the beef in place was soft and fluffy but crusty on the outside, which allowed for the tender beef to nicely mingle with the pillowy inside. It smelled and tasted freshly baked.

I felt like I could taste the time, effort, and care that was put into this sandwich, which was extra surprising considering how busy the chain was.


I’m guessing few who read this don’t know that the thing to do if you’re flying through O’Hare is to grab a torta at Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera. Even so, this Washington Post piece has some interesting info about how difficult it was to make a restaurant work at an airport:

To serve food that lives up to his standards, Bayless says he needs specific ingredients from his preferred vendors in addition to what’s available through [airporyt concession manager] HMSHost. That means bread from Fausto’s and smoked pork and chorizo from Gunthorp Farms, which has worked with the chef for 20 years. Roasted tomatillos with garlic come from a salsa company and go into bases for some of the dishes.

But your salsa guy can’t just swing by the airport for a drop-off.

To meet O’Hare security requirements, Bayless had to get a specialty purveyor licensed to access the airport. He has the other small farmers and producers deliver his order to the licensed purveyor, who then makes one airport delivery. To make things more complicated, deliveries are only allowed at certain times of the day. The extra steps make doing business more expensive than it would be serving the same menu downtown.

If you want to know more about how Gunthorp Farms gets food to Tortas Frontera, check out this Fooditor article.


Monica Eng admitted she’d never been to the state fair in Springfield. So she went and ate:

Walking Deep-Fried Horseshoe ($9): The portable version of Springfield’s signature dish of ground beef or chicken, crispy fries and house beer cheese sauce gets wrapped in a flour tortilla and deep-fried with a final flourish of, um, more cheese sauce.


After a family member dies, a stressed-out chef moves to take over the restaurant he left behind… sounds like The Bear, sure, but this time it’s a Danish Netflix movie called Toscana. Given that the location is Tuscany, you can safely assume that the tightly wound northern European will relax, find love and lots of pretty shots of food traditions like olive harvesting and elegant plates of food there, so this isn’t as gritty or compelling as The Bear, but it’s pleasant food romance/eye candy all the same.


The late British newspaper editor Harold Evans once came up with what he considered the perfect headline for a Rupert Murdoch tabloid: “APE MOTHER STEALS KENNEDY CHILD.” Almost as perfect for its location is this one in Eater: “THE WHITE SOX ARE MAKING THEIR OWN MILD SAUCE FOR THEIR PARK’S FRIED CHICKEN.” Ashok Selvam explains why bespoke mild sauce is part of the park’s attempt to make its food offerings more Chicagoey:

The new items are riffs on iconic Chicago flavors. There’s gyro nachos made with fried strips of pita (not tortilla) and topped with gyros shaved from the traditional Kronos meat cone. Savory parfaits are trendy at restaurants, and the Sox have one with mashed potatoes and pulled pork, served in the same same branded glass as their MVP horchata churro milkshakes. Arancini-like fritters are stuffed with Italian beef and cheese. Maybe that gives Carmy something to strive for in season 2 of The Bear. The balls are already a novelty at Buona (yes, the official Italian beef of the White Sox). The team is also selling a tribute to Maxwell Street Market, the pork chop sandwich — the Sox’ take is grilled and boneless on a brioche bun. The caramelized onions are a nice touch.

But really—trendy savory parfaits? That’s a thing?


I noted the passing of Dominique Tougne (Bistro 110, Chez Moi) a couple of weeks back, but Maureen O’Donnell in the Sun-Times offers her obituary take here. And she also salutes the owner of Evanston’s Mustard’s Last Stand, Jerry Starkman:

In 2016, when [Seth] Meyers gave a commencement speech at Northwestern, the Evanston native said: “Basically, every 20 years or so, a major life event happens for me on Central Street — which is why I’m so looking forward to 2036, when I will finally start my dream job at Mustard’s Last Stand.”

Meanwhile, Joslyn Reed was a server at Girl and the Goat, where she met her husband, Ian Reed; tragically she died following the Caesarean birth of their second child, August 5. A fundraiser for medical expenses is at GoFundMe.


Tiki Bar culture peaked in the 60s, maybe, or even the 50s, yet people keep trying to bring it back. The latest attempt is in Rosemont, in a mall (I think it’s the Fashion Outlet Mall) park area with big bar-restaurant complexes all around it. This one is called Pete’s Tiki Tiki, attached to something called Pete’s Dueling Piano Lounge, and I went to its opening event last week—just because how often do you get to go to the opening for a Tiki bar?

Anyway, it had some attempts at recreating Tiki culture, notably a wooden carving a la an Easter Island head which someone on Facebook suggested has some history in the Rosemont area (though I have not yet found where it comes from). But overall it felt kind of like half-hearted Tiki, Tiki Bar Lite, Margaritaville-feeling even with a guy doing a dancing act with torches (presumably something special for the opening event only). One plus thing about it—only a short drink list, but the Planter’s Punch I had was, let’s say, not skimpy on rum.

Me, next time I need to be in the northwest burbs looking for pineapple drinks, I plan to check out this place, which seems more of a serious and immersive evocation of old school Tiki—not Tiki as one stop among many in a mall food and drink court.

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