Well, I go away on summer trips for a couple of weeks and when I come back we’re wearing masks again, the Reader gets a long-overdue online redesign, Monica Eng has a new job at Axios and Steve Dolinsky is back on TV. I can’t leave you people alone for five minutes…


Not likely. A year and a half ago, John Greenfield, the transit-focused writer for the Reader and other places, who is not averse to food angles on transportation stories while he’s at it, asked me and various other food writers to consult on a map of places to eat in each of Chicago’s 77 official neighborhoods, that convey the character and history of each neighborhood. (Am I the only one who thinks maybe it’s time to redraw all those boundaries, to reflect how the city works now?)

He was just wrapping it up when the lockdown first happened. I never expected to see it, but as we begin to emerge (and despite the new mask rules, we are emerging) it has finally appeared at the Reader. And it’s great! It starts with a wonderfully flavorful illustrated map by Steven Shanabruch—Greenfield says he’s working on a frameable printed version coming soon—and also includes an expanded Google maps version. There’s still time to bike the city this fall, so put it on your phone and get rolling, there’s a city out there to discover.


Amusingly, Steve Dolinsky tells the story behind his return to TV by showing himself getting a new headshot taken for putting up in restaurants. He’s doing one story a week for NBC 5’s Thursday night newscast, and since ABC 7 owns the name Hungry Hound, he’s now The Food Guy. This is at the same time as he’s doing all his other things, including an upcoming Chicago Pizza Fest.

The easiest way to find his pieces is to go to NBC 5’s site and search “Dolinsky”—here, I’ll help—and here’s some recent ones, including one on Rose Mary, one on the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas (hear more about that on his Pizza City USA podcast), and the coolest one so far, on Japanese cafe culture in Chicago.


It’s said to be a two-month wait to get into Rose Mary, and part of the delay is apparently that the pseudonymous Grimod has been seven times—as he says, “with consistent notes and a good sense for the restaurant’s subtle changes over that time.” Here’s his assessment of one of the hottest restaurants in town, in great detail and, as it turns out, considerable familiarity with the restuarant group and the team (many of them from Girl & the Goat). A small taste:

Starting off with the “Vegetables,” Flamm’s dish of grilled radishes might be the only “dud” on his menu. The roots are cooked tender–with just a bit of char–and lent a luscious mouthfeel via the addition of fennel pollen butter. A tinge of orange and gorgeous, golden orbs of whitefish roe add both a burst of flavor and an attractive visual accent to the dish. But, no matter how you dress them up, radishes maintain a bland, dense flavor profile that is hard to overcome. You were no fan of Daniel Humm’s buttered radishes at NoMad–despite the praise they received–and Flamm’s leave you feeling the same way: why try so hard to help an ingredient that has so little character of its own to give? Why damn those excellent accompanying elements of fennel pollen and roe to the Herculean task of putting “lipstick on a pig”? Radishes do seem to factor in a Croatian salad meant to accompany grilled fish, but, as an opening bite, this preparation signals a dearth of flavor that runs opposite the rest of Rose Mary’s menu.

Thankfully, Flamm’s zucchini fritters make everything feel okay. Though the recipe has not changed since opening, the dish’s execution has only grown better. What were once slightly flatter, softer potato pancake-like discs have grown crisper, crunchier, and a bit more rounded like their namesake fritter. Of course, their substance has always been excellent: the zucchini possesses a slight natural sweetness that shines through the addition of parmigiano and pine nuts. An accompanying pesto aioli has an attractive pastel hue–and it cuts through those savory flavors while also serving to cool the fritters’ steaming interior. In its current craggy, dark brown form, the dish is a must-order (and a testament to the manner in which Rose Mary refines recipes that are already quite good to begin with). It’s fried “drinking food” that draws on a deeper vegetal flavors while offering a texture that ensures nobody misses the potatoes.

Buzz 2


Hey, a Tribune review that isn’t behind the “reserved exclusively for our subscribers” super-wall. Louisa Chu on a Mexican family restaurant called Baha—the story of the name is sort of emblematic:

Despite their close family working relationships, one mystery remains: the name of the restaurant. It’s not an alternate spelling for the Baja peninsula of Mexico.

“I literally just asked my mom,” Mejia said. “I don’t even know what the name means. My uncle named the restaurant before he passed, but we don’t know why he chose it. He never told anyone what it meant. We don’t know if the letters stand for something, if it’s an acronym. We have no idea.”


And also not behind the Super-Wall, a new edition of the Trib’s Takeout 100, for consulting when you’re looking to order in.


The writeup on a new hot pot place, Qiao Lin, places it in East Pilsen, though the location (inside the new 88 Marketplace mall) shows that it’s clearly on Chinatown’s expanding western frontier. Anyway, John Kessler explains why you should care about yet another hot pot spot:

We may have had a proliferation of hot pot restaurants in Chicago in recent years, but they are nothing like those springing up in China. There, at new-style purveyors of huo guo, you begin by sipping cocktails in a lounge while the staff treats you to manicures and neck massages. When you move to a table, each ingredient comes out looking more TikToktastic than the last. Hot pot is an evening’s entertainment and meal in one.

At Qiao Lin Hotpot, things are less spa-like, but there’s plenty to keep you entertained. If your previous hot pot experiences have been underwhelming, this outpost of a Chongqing restaurant group, sumptuously decorated like a courtyard manor, is where you will do it right.


The Balkan influence in Chicago is finally spreading past dark, less than welcoming neighborhood joints. Amy Cavanaugh writes about four of them.


If you’ve found it hard to try some of the pop-up concerns that people like Mike Sula write about—always sold out by the time you manage to click on them— the Reader has put together a thing called Monday Night Foodball which will showcase several of them at the Kedzie Inn, a bar on Irving Park.


South Suburban Bridgeview isn’t just for middle eastern food—it’s also home to a Thai market every Sunday:

“Jek” Suthasinee Schembari says this is what the gathering is really for—bringing Thai people together. As codirector of the Thai Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which hosts and organizes the weekly event, she’s watched the market grow from a hub for picking up meals to an affair attracting hundreds of Thai people from around the midwest. Each Sunday during the summer, different vendors, many from Chicago, surrounding towns, and even out-of-state, drive their homemade products to Thai Twin in Bridgeview, setting up shop in tents that line the grass lot behind the restaurant.


David Hammond talks to the couple behind Sfera Sicilian Street Food, a ghost kitchen offering (mainly) scaccia, a kind of calzone, and arancini:

The most common failing of arancini is that the balance is off between the filling (frequently meat, sauce, cheese and sometimes peas) and the risotto. Sfera’s arancini are a little smaller than most of the ones we’d had, and the filling is generous, so you can get a taste of the filling and the risotto in each bite. The exterior is rolled in panko, the large Japanese breadcrumbs, which crisp up nicely and create a crunchy exterior on each orange ball. “We have a few secrets to our arancini,” [co-owner Daniela] Vitale tells us, hesitantly revealing, “We do use panko, but we don’t use eggs, which a lot of people add to their arancini.”


I was just in Michigan and made considerable use of Titus Ruscitti’s posts on Detroit foods in the past, and his new three-part series (so far) on things along the Michigan coast of Lake Michigan. So don’t miss part 3, which includes among other things Il Molino Tortilleria in Sawyer—I’ve bought their masa at the Logan Square farmers market but have yet to visit, and sadly they no longer serve prepared food (that is, tacos). But I’d buy provisions for a feast there:

There’s an heirloom tortilleria movement taking place across the Midwest. Molino Tortilleria in Sawyer is a part of this terrific trend. Though they no longer sell prepared food like that pictured below they’re still selling their terrific corn tortillas which are made with a variety of heirloom corn acquired from distributors like Masienda. Pictured below is a meal that was vegetarian by chance not choice. Squash Blossom Quesadillas and the signature Three Sisters Farm Tacos with roasted yams, refried black beans, green onions, avocado lima crema, and squash blossoms. All on tortillas made with Chalqueño Azul blue corn from Mexico. They still sell taco meats by the pound and offer fresh local produce when in-season as well as other ingredients used to make Mexican food such as Oaxacan cheese and premade salsas and such. If you’re in the area or passing through while headed on vacation to another part of Michigan this is a great stop if you plan to do some cooking.


The Reader’s Maya Dukmasova pens a paean to Devon Market, calling it the perfect grocery store—for one reason, because it has nine kinds of feta. If that sounds familiar it’s because the varieties of feta at Fresh Farms in Niles was a key point in this Fooditor piece. As it happens I know Devon Market well—my kids went to school near there—but it did not quite make the cut for my survey of  the most interesting groceries in the area. Still, it’s a good piece on a section of the food scene we tend to overlook, the city’s rich variety of ethnic grocers. Here’s Dukmasova waxing poetic:

First, coolers of European and Middle Eastern pastries all made in-house, then every imaginable packaged sausage and salami, shelves of pickled herring, mozzarella cheese, beer, Turkish yogurt. The produce section is filled with all the universal basics but also staples of Central American and West African cuisine. [Owner Shaul] Basa, 54, is particularly proud of his fruit selection. When he was growing up in a poor part of Tel-Aviv with five siblings his family struggled—his mom couldn’t work and his father, who was sick through much of Basa’s childhood, died when he was 16. Basa had to support the family from a young age and always dreamed of being able to afford the fruit that tempted him from the carts in the street. His dream was to own a fruit shop long before a cousin of his immigrated to America and started a grocery, which helped him get into the business, too.


NewCity talks to forager Dave Odd, who supplied a couple of the more obscure ingredients we used in the Reader’s Key Ingredient series over the years. Now he’s inviting people onto his own piece of land to poke around:

“I’m moving to the Land of Odd full-time and I can go way beyond foraging to offer people a dive into all of the wacky stuff I’m into. There’ll not only be foraging, but we’ll also be looking at all the wildlife, snakes, reptiles and birds out there, and collecting stuff throughout the day to come back to my cabin and cook,” Odd says. “I have two acres of my own land, with fifty available acres of wilderness surrounding it with campsites in the back with a separate restroom for campers to use. It’s going to be a getaway place where people can come down from the city for a couple of days to just decompress, chill out and be immersed in nature.”


I wasn’t sure if Giant was back or not, but Maggie Hennessy says they are in this piece at Resy—and looks at both some of its favorite dishes and ones that are in the works for a menu refresh.


Oatmeal was a rote meal for Lin Jiang till she decided to explore Asian flavors in them. Emma Krupp at Time Out tells the story of Yishi, a new line of Asian oatmeals.


Comgratulations to Monica Eng and Justin Kauffmann, who are joining an Axios startup in Chicago and will shortly begin a daily Chicago newsletter. More at Robert Feder’s column.

Congratulations to long-ago (pre-Vettel) Chicago Tribune reviewer Paula Camp, who started a cider brewery, Carriage House Cider, in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Their bourbon barrel-aged cider just won a Platinum at the Great American Cider Competition.

And to Mindy Segal, who is taking over the old Red Hen Bakery production facility (I believe it’s 250 N. Western) to make it her new bakery, as she talks about here.


After going nowhere for more than a year, I’ve done more traveling in the last month than I can remember when. Most recently I went to Palm Springs, which was 120 degrees on the day I arrived—who the hell goes to Palm Springs in August? Well, my wife is planning a meeting there (in 2025) so we were invited out to consider different properties, as well as excursions for our participants (I loved the tour of modernist Palm Springs houses we did).

Foodwise, the only things of note were 1) a date shake (a milkshake made with caramel-y date sugar) at Shields Date Garden; and 2) dinner at a funky-hip spot called Workshop, which won a James Beard award for the design of its dramatically black and white space, also dramatically loud on Saturday night; but we were spared that because the only space available was outside. I was apprehensive about dining in 120 degree heat (probably down to 99 by the time we ate) but with misters spritzing the air around us, we were mostly cooled off… and then the wind would shift and we’d get a sudden blast of open oven door, till the misters reached us again. Anyway, the food at Workshop very much reminded me of Chicago, not least because there were pierogi on the menu, and I very much enjoyed an opener of burrata with some exquisite summer fruit and scarlet runner beans cooked with a chunk or pork jowl and collard greens. As for pierogi… well, not something the desert of California is known for.

Next up, younger son and I took a road trip through Michigan. I had Titus’ guides, mentioned above, for our first few stops, fried fish at Flagship Specialty Foods and Fish Market in Lakeside, and for dinner, the venerable Fricano’s pizza, not in their original location but in a development in Muskegon—not much in the way of atmosphere but the pizza is great for anyone who thinks Pat’s Pizza is too thick. This is practically pizza as crepe—see it here (and go through my Instagram feed for more images of the trip).

We worked our way across the state visiting small towns and whatever they have that passes for attractions—though one was truly impressive, the massive car collection at the Gilmore Car Museum (there was Upjohn money involved) in spot-on-the-road Hickory Corners. Marshall, nearby, is a town of striking 19th century houses and buildings on main street, and we had pleasant pub food and beer at Grand River Brewery. In Frankenmuth, with its echt-German buildings, we dined at a 1920s style fried chicken road house spot called Zehnder’s, doing a massive business in heavy country food—the menu says it’s one of the largest restaurants in the state and looking at the customers, they’re pretty large too. Anyway, the main food was decent but what I really enjoyed, and summoned up James Beardy visions of classic American food from the 20s, were the accompaniments that preceded the fried chicken—vinegary-creamy cole slaw, a sweet-tart cranberry salad, housebaked bread served with ice cream scoops of garlic cheese spread and liver pate.

We ended the trip in Detroit, staying downtown at a hipster hotel called The Siren, in the former Wurlitzer Building. I’ve been to Detroit before, usually to go to the Henry Ford Museum complex in Dearborn, but the city itself I’ve treated as something you just race through to land safely at a known destination like a museum, and don’t dare venture beyond. (Despite that I’d already been to some of the top old school food spots, like Lafayette Coney Island and Mike’s Famous Ham Place.) Staying downtown and exploring it on foot, I have to say I was quite charmed and never terrified or in need of the ED-209 to protect me. Now fairly free of car traffic and very walkable, the downtown is pleasantly human scaled, mostly art deco buildings filled at street level with hip new restaurants and bars keeping to a retro theme (slightly futuristic with the people mover running on concrete tracks above our heads, like the Springfield monorail).

We didn’t have much of note here—we celebrated son’s 20th birthday at a place called Parc, very pleasantly overlooking Campus Martius park, but my main course, a veal ragu pasta, was oddly spiced with a salsa-like spicy pesto, instead of the earthy winey flavors “veal ragu” implies to me. Motz, one of the famous slider burger joints praised by Titus, was also less than hoped for; trendy breakfast at Dime Store was better than what I’d had at Ted’s Bulletin in DC. But I didn’t mind; Detroit has the energy of a place coming back to life full of young people, like Chicago had when I first arrived in the 80s, and I found it quite delightful. Younger son thinks he might move there, and I think that might be a real opportunity for someone his age.

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And now I’m back, just lived on delivery food since then so I can’t tell you what the new remasked food scene is like. First, very happy to have an old favorite back, The Art of Chicken, after being closed for three years due to a fire.

Next, I’ve also tried Sfera Sicilian Street Food. On the plus side, the arancini are outstanding, impressive fillings set off by the crispy panko exterior. Their texture survived delivery surprisingly well. But one of the owners said in that New City piece that nobody doesn’t like the scaccia, and well, I hate to be the spoilsport, but that is one heavy gutbomb of cheese and carbs; it may seem more carefully crafted than a slice of stuffed pizza, but the net result is the same. I’d happily order those arancini again but with a very short menu, there’s no way to make dinner out of this place’s limited offerings if you’re not getting the gutbomb, so…

And Sinya is a new middle eastern place, located where Man-Jo-Vin’s used to be in my neighborhood. The menu is the usual stuff—shawarma and skewers and falafel—but it was very well executed; especially with Cafe Orchid looking possibly gone for good, I’m happy to have something like this just blocks away.