I expected restaurants to have trouble saying afloat in this era. It’s a bit more of a surprise that practically the entire food/media awards-industrial complex should disappear into a black hole in the same week.

First up, the James Beard Foundation announced that it will not be awarding any of the chef or restaurant awards (no doubt already finalized) for 2020, nor will it give any for 2021. Instead, a virtual ceremony—hosted on Twitter “from Chicago,” as if that makes any difference—will consist of the following:

On September 25, previously announced winners will be honored from the following categories in a virtual ceremony to be broadcast live via Twitter from the host city of Chicago: America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership Awards.

The broadcast will shine a spotlight on the previously announced nominees and be a night of storytelling surrounding the historic challenges this community faces, and how we can work together to rebuild a stronger and more equitable restaurant industry.

So far as I can find, there is no word at all on what will happen with the journalism awards, for which they have already, of course, collected many thousands of dollars in entry fees, often from freelancers and others struggling to survive in the present economy. One hopes they will get around to that this week.

Perhaps oddly, it seems to me that what they should have done was cancel 2021, but go ahead and award the awards for 2020, which in many ways reflect the world before lockdown anyway. While the ordinary competitive spirit of the awards might seem crass or gauche during a crisis, cancelling them now denies attention to restaurants who could benefit from the attention. As Esquire’s Jeff Gordinier tweeted, “So in a year when [black-owned] restaurants like Kalaya and Cote and Virtue and Han Oak need all the moral & financial support they can get, the @beardfoundation is doing its part by not giving anyone any prizes?”

We’ll see how it goes, but at the moment, the 2020 Beards sound like they’re threatening to be an infomercial for the James Beard Foundation and some bigwigs more than support for restaurants big and small, all over the country.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, the Association of Food Journalists, which had existed since 1974 and given awards since 1988, announced last week that it will be disbanding. The decision reflects how much the organization depended financially on fees from newspapers and magazines (dwindling) and freelance journalists (struggling), as well as on the revenues from conferences, which cannot take place now.

In the last couple of years, particularly under Charleston Post & Courier critic Hanna Raskin as (now, its last) president, the AFJ seemed to finally be finding its way as a voice for a changing food media world. But the organization was doomed by relying on newspapers for its funding for so long.

From my perspective as someone dabbling in food media for the last two decades in new ways, the clubby AFJ long seemed out of touch with a changing world. Pronouncements they issued on ethics in media seemed to assume that all these new media would operate exactly like newspaper reviewing in 1965, with no awareness that new forms of media about food (not least, the whole world of quasi-media influencers) were being invented. I looked at the AFJ awards with an eye toward entering them over the years, but among their traditionally-defined categories, could never find one that matched the new-ish things I was doing, or the kinds of places I was doing them for. (I finally, with exquisite timing, entered them this year—though I still had to ask Raskin directly what the hell category of theirs my work fit into.)

The biggest issue for me is that here, in one of the biggest food cities in the country, they never had the slightest presence or influence. Like the Beards to some degree, they took the Tribune as the only food media of note here, and thus seeing little work demanding national attention, wrote Chicago off entirely. The result is that they missed out on an era of creativity in food journalism here in the 2010s, that could have been a source of vitality and regional representation for them—if they’d bothered to find out that it existed.

So with all due respect to Raskin, who tried, from my point of view the AFJ goes away leaving little mark on the food media scene, a newspaper-rooted organization fighting a rearguard action against the change that was overwhelming them.

Buzz 2


I’m all prepared to believe that some kitchens treat black employees with, at least, the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” But Grace Wong’s piece about a cook named Malcolm Hilliard, now at London House, who relates tales of how he was passed up for opportunities at various restaurants, doesn’t seem to have the goods, either big name places or clear cases of discrimination—at first.

Finally, in paragraph 13, we get the names:

But as he went from dishwashing at C Chicago to being a line cook at Wyndham Hotel to chef de partie at Maude’s Liquor Bar to cooking family meals at The Alinea Group, he also learned over 6 years at 12 restaurants that there was a fine line between discipline and what he described as abuse.

Well, yeah, a lot of people feel that way about Alinea, and a lot of them leave after two months like Hilliard did. The interesting part is that when he made a formal complaint later, Alinea Group did follow up quite seriously—while also casting some “we might know what we’re doing” shade on his complaints:

As for some of Hilliard’s accusations about the workplace environment, [HR manager Lucy] Chelebian said it is “extremely rare” for any chef or employee with such a short tenure to have their input on systems, techniques and operations actually impact changes in a back-of-house that has been operating at a high level for 10 years. What may seem illogical or impractical to someone accustomed to other kitchens may be a point of frustration, and is something management frequently hears from hires, she wrote.

(Wait, she wrote that, or that’s paraphrasing? That seems a little sloppy for the Tribune.)

Anyway, so it looks like he’s probably encountered some stuff, but maybe he also needs to adjust his expectations about walking into Alinea and telling them what to do. Not a very convincing case, let’s just keep reading here…


13 more paragraphs, graf 26, and a lede buried as deep as George Pullman:

Hilliard said his worst experience by far, however, was at Sixteen at Trump Tower in 2018. He felt continually singled out and disrespected on multiple occasions.

He said he would find containers of his prepped food with expletive-laden labels attached, or his mise en place stolen. On top of the personal, petty attacks, he said he fielded racist remarks questioning how his group of Black friends could possibly afford an expensive dinner at Bellemore for Hilliard’s birthday, or remarks perpetuating the stereotype that Black people only eat well-done meat. His relationship with leadership was contentious, and he said the sentiment he gathered was that they believed he didn’t belong there…

It all came to a head, he said, when he found his locker broken into and his chef coat covered in urine.

Let’s think about alternate headlines for this story, which as I write this says “How a Black chef from Englewood battled racism in Chicago’s restaurants: ‘I was never seen as an option to rise”

Here’s one: “Black chef alleges culture of racism at Trump Tower restaurant: ‘They peed on my chef coat’

Hey, I didn’t go to any fancy journabalism school like Tribune writers do, but I know which one I would read a hell of a lot faster, especially if it was rearranged to focus on the worst case which also just happens to be owned by, you know, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. There’s a hell of an interesting story here… if you can find it, and if the Tribune had pursued actually verifying such accusations with other employees there.



Are you excited about Saved By the Max doing takeout? Me neither, but I’ll tell you the most surprising popup to return this year, totally out of the blue, credit actually goes to Son #2 who found it on Facebook: Chimney Cake Island is back! The shop serving the delightful Hungarian/Romanian cylinder of cinnamon-roll-like goodness closed years ago, but in November ex-co-owner Mara Jozefi hauled the imported kürtőskalács oven out of storage and started baking them on Saturdays out of her Rogers Park apartment. To order, go to the Facebook page and shoot her a message letting her know how many you want and what flavors; they’re $8 each, which might seem on the high side until you’ve eaten all that you ordered, and are bitterly regretting not ordering more. I might know what that feels like!


Lots of news about pop-ups downtown, much less about things that are being improvised in the neighborhoods… especially Latino neighborhoods, where street food is a tradition. Well, that’s what Titus Ruscitti is here to tell you all about, in a report that visits vendors in Back of the Yards, centered on the flea market around 42nd and Ashland. Here he is on Tacos Acorazados:

“Battleship tacos” are a regional specialty from Cuernavaca where they load them up with rice, hard boiled egg, grilled onion, nopales, guisados, and more. Not only are these rare in the States but they’re pretty rare in Mexico outside of Morelos as well. Steak Milanesa is a popular filling and is a great choice here. This little stand is ran by a lovely couple from Cicero via Cuernavaca. Ask for “milanesa con huevo por favor”. Their rice is so good.

He also samples some Venezuelan items at a new place, Sabe a Zulia, which apparently has replaced Honduran spot Cafe Izalco, subject of this Fooditor piece a couple of years ago:

When I first saw Sabe a Zulia was open in a recently opened restaurants search I searched around and found their instagram page. It seems as though Venezuelan’s in the States are great at networking with other Venezuelans as their account has thousands of followers and is updated often. It’s all in Spanish but the translation option works pretty well. Through that (and online google reviews) I was able to learn that they focus on food from a specific region of Venezuela. You’ll see there’s quite a few menu items not found at other Venezuelan spots around town.


This is a big deal that feels like it’s gotten less attention than it should: the Southern Smoke Foundation, formed by a Houston chef to provide aid in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, has launched a $4 million aid program  for Chicago hospitality workers. Steve Dolinsky has more info:

Applicants must have worked in a restaurant, bar or coffee shop for a minimum of six months prior to the COVID-19 crisis for a minimum of 30 hours per week. There is no cap on funding per applican; each application is processed anonymously and awarded based on need. Life and death crises take priority. Cases are not necessarily funded in the order in which they are received.

And speaking of Dolinsky, he’s doing his pizza tours again, with appropriate social distancing; David Hammond talked to him about them at NewCity.


For sheer size of ambition running flat into a COVID-19 wall like Wile E. Coyote smacking into a painted railway tunnel, it’d be tough to beat the massive Time Out Market, which shut completely down after just a few months. It’s back as of this Wednesday, with eight of the original vendors, from Duck Inn Dogs to Pretty Cool, and others (Abe Conlon’s stand, John Manion’s, Thai Dang’s) noticeably absent; they promise more in the next wave of reopenings, but I’d bet a number of the original ones will be replaced with new choices.


Tamale Guy Claudio Velez operated enough under the radar to shun stories about himself, but with his new Ukrainian Village restaurant, he’s opened up to Ashok Selvam at Eater about his history:

Velez left Acapulco 23 years ago and arrived in America undocumented. He was 22 years old, without any family in America. He found a room in a Wicker Park apartment, near the corner of Division Street and Marion Court, sharing the space with seven others, a typical scene for immigrants. Rent was $150 per month. Velez paid that with a job at a Handy Andy Home Improvement store.

A man named Ferdinand became Velez’s only friend in the city. Ferdinand taught him the art of the tamale. He took his friend on nightly bar runs selling tamales, and they’d drink with customers and bar workers, making new friends.


The bane of food writing is writing about something just as it ends, so your readers can’t try it. Mike Sula skirts the edge with that this week, but he has hope that Onigiri Shuttle Kororin, doing a take on the rice balls popular in Japanese convenience stores, will return: “Working from a shared kitchen in the Hatchery, he and a classmate start forming 150 onigiri in plastic molds each morning at 6:30, before packing them in coolers, and heading for the day’s drop five hours later. By request, he’s already added vegan options, and he launched a braised pork belly collaborative version with Ramen Tatsunoya, a Pasadena-based tonkotsu ramen-ya operating out of the Kitchen United ghost kitchen, on the near north side… He’ll be back in three weeks or so, working with a third-party delivery service while he expands the concept. But the shuttle will ride again.”


And speaking of things you get in Japanese convenience stores… that’s half of what Maggie Hennessy has to tell us in a story on two popupsNine Bar Market, which does the kind of sandwiches with unusual-in-the-US fillings that you see in Japan. The other half is 3 Little Pigs, which sells Chinese char siu (barbecue pork) and some fixin’s.


Maxwell Street Market closed down as of March 15, and the city finally declared it would not reopen this year. That’s bad news for vendors like the legendary Rubi’s Tacos, as Ashok Selvam reports.


A colorful, cooling video from Chicago mag about the new Mexican popsicles available from Carnitas Uruapan—southwest side location (55th street) only.

They’re actually made for them by Razpacho, a southwest side paleteria thinking outside the box, and Steve Dolinsky has a piece on them that makes me think a paleta run is in my near future: “Another popular dessert that got transformed is the gazpacho. Inspired by childhood memories in Morelia, the capital city in Michoacán, it’s mostly fruit and vegetables. ‘Jicama, mango, pineapple, cucumber and watermelon all finely diced and then we drench it over the top with fresh-squeezed orange juice; add a little bit of spice, a little bit of lime and that’s your gazpacho, and we decided to turn that into a paleta,’ [co-owner Eric Gutierrez] said.


Before the world ended, John Kessler and I went to eat Mongolian food in the near north suburbs, and followed it with Korean fried chicken. Now as things reopen, he writes about the chicken at Choong Man Chicken at Chicago mag: “The birds are cut into three-bite pieces and fried twice for crunch, then sometimes doused with sauce. Pickled radish cubes always come alongside. Great KFC has a dry, shattering shell that gives way to an actively steamy interior, an appealing combination of textures.”


A documentary on Henry Brockman, owner of Henry’s Farm, a longtime vendor at the Evanston Farmers Market, is available to stream through the Siskel Film Center. Go here to view Seasons of Change on Henry’s Farm, go here to read more at the Sun-Times.


La Sardine, which I must admit I never ate at—hey, any path that would take me downtown would send me past its sibling, Le Bouchon, so I went there instead. Anyway, a Trib story on the closing of the 22-year-old French restaurant in the West Loop, which was getting by until its landlord balked at an $80,000 bill for a new a/c unit, as the Trib explains.

Unless you grew up in the south suburbs, you probably never ate at Tin Fish, and neither did I, but the seafood restaurant in a mall in Tinley Park gave a lot of chefs (like Larry Feldmeier, who I wrote about at The Albert) their start, teaching them real cooking. (It’s maybe a little telling, though, that the announcement of its closing at LTHForum was the first comment on the restaurant in a decade.) A Trib piece is here.


Well, of course, the big thing I ate was dinner at Ever.

A few years ago you’d have had food writers racing to get to a place of that level of ambition as quickly as possible. So they’d know about it, be one of the first. I don’t think that’s really happening now, in part because, of course, they don’t have the gig at the place with the budget for it. I’m sure Phil Vettel will, but who else has the $300 dinner beat now? Only those who choose it for themselves, like I did.

Which is ironic to me, being one of the Last of the Food Media Gourmands, since I got started in this racket advocating for $2 taco joints, and when the food scene changed in the late ‘oughts, was big on farm to table places where you could get a terrific, well-executed meal for more like $40 or $60 than $200. The prime example of that, for me, was The Bristol, and so this same week I was back at The Bristol, under its latest chef (and with some moderate inside remodeling—notably, no more communal tables). The chef is Larry Feldmeier, whom, again, I wrote about at The Albert here.

When Chris Pandel was The Bristol’s founding chef, it was rough and rustic, pure Italian countryside with Illinois ingredients well-chosen and sharply heightened for maximum flavor—a counter to clever and overdressed food of the time. The food now is much more refined-looking and upscale, but its soul is the same—at least right now, a very few perfectly in-season ingredients, allowed to shine through without much fuss. A corn pudding; tomatoes and pluots on stracciatella cheese (the one thing I saw that was brought over from The Albert); a white gazpacho with tomatoes, grapes and almonds; chitarra with bread crumbs and pickled anchovies tasting like the Naples wharf; Spanish octopus with Alabama white barbecue sauce; smoked trout with beets and dill—I mean, what could possibly sound better at this very moment than any of those? I ate inside—barely; the table at the very front, with the windows wide open—and I could hardly think of a better way to spend a late summer evening out.

Also in that same simple-and-perfect vein—I dined outside at Testaccio, which is the new restaurant from Aldo Zaninotto (Osteria Langhe), in the former Quiote space. As it turns out I’ve been to the place Zaninotto says Testaccio is inspired by in Rome—the celebrated Roscioli, the Zingerman’s of Rome, which has a meat and cheese market, a bakery and a pizza/sandwich shop, all built on simple, great ingredients. Plates of charcuterie, spiedini of lamb, a perfect little bowl of carbonara, an oven-roasted branzino with lemon and rapini—and a patio with well-spaced tables on a side street. This, too, is everything you could ask of summer dining.

And a couple of quickies: I got Takeaway Bagels (the pop-up inside Superkhana International) and—well, I made bagels early in the summer for my kids. And these taste kind of like my homemade bagels, better made—if I lived nearby I’d pick them up, easy—but I don’t know that I’ll pine for them like St. Viateur or Absolute Bagels. And I ordered more square pizza, this time from Professor Pizza, aka Anthony Scardino, who at least last week was doing it out of Four Shillings in Wrigleyville (a neighborhood where, as you may have heard, they do not believe in masks). Anyway, the crunchy crust didn’t wow me—this is more like my homemade Grandma pizza, not the long-retard ones coming from Pizza Friendly Pizza and others—but the toppings were very nice and robust in flavor; I’d add it to my rotation.