If this year has been anything, it’s been the year of claustrophobia. Not only that most of us have been locked up in our homes with our families—not entirely a bad thing I hope, except for the lack of occasional relief. But most of our activities have felt boxed-in in some way, too.

That’s how I have felt about food writing, as I kind of hinted last week. There are always things we’re all going to be talking about at the same time, especially anyone who does a weekly newsletter like me. But this summer has really felt like our topics were assigned—this is Fat Rice Week. This is Blackbird Week. This is Canapé That Looks Like Covid-19 Week. And the next week, I have it on good authority, will be Acadia Week. (Just wait.)

I’ve missed the quirkiness of a food world where some people went off and did their own thing and came back with insights that none of us were expecting into things we had no idea about. (A lot of those assigned topics came with assigned correct answers, too.) So there were two pieces this week that seemed to recall a lost era of personal obsession in food writing, assigned by nobody.

First up, Steve Dolinsky. Now, you could argue that last week was going to be the week of Sicilian/Detroit square pizza no matter what, in that two places specializing in it—Noah Sandoval and Bruce Finkelman’s Pizza Friendly Pizza, and the Ed Marszewski-Won Kim-Pretty Cool combo Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream (so similarly named that it’s not till the tenth letter that their names cease being identical) both opened within days of each other.

But nobody said we were guaranteed a 6000-word, three-part taxonomy of square pizza:

For the last century or so, ordering a pizza in Chicago meant you had one of three options: a round, thin-and-crispy, square-cut pie; a circular deep-dish – chunky sauce placed over slices of mozzarella set over a fat-enriched and cornmeal-dusted dough – baked in an anodized steel pan; or if you were visiting from out of town, you might opt for a towering behemoth in a round, steel bathtub of sorts, pounds of toppings and cheese crammed between two opposing layers of dough with the entire monstrosity buried beneath a lake of tomato sauce as red as a Ferrari… Despite their varying dimensions and architecture, all three styles have one thing in common: they’re round, typically perfect circles. However, a recent wave of square pies, specifically Sicilian – with a nod to Detroit, a fist bump to Rome and a wink to an East Coast favorite called Grandma – has captured the imagination of a number of pizzaiolos, cooks and fanatics all eagerly creating a significant new chapter in Chicago’s pizza history.

He explains the distinctions—mostly minor, but signs of different branches on the evolutionary tree—between the different styles, mostly in terms of local spots offering their particular takes on a square pizza in a pan. And as someone who does a pro-level pizza podcast, he gets deep in the nerdy details. Here he is on Anthony Scardino (“Professor Pizza”)’s recipe for Grandma pizza, which may get a restaurant soon:

His all-natural starter is used for an initial rest of two days, utilizing Caputo Americana flour. He’ll use just a fraction of active dry yeast, but a lot of hydration – about 70% of the volume is water. Bakers like higher hydration doughs because they create steam when baked, and combined with longer fermentation times – giving the yeast more time to eat the sugars in the dough and create carbon dioxide – the interior “crumb” of the dough opens up, resulting in small air pockets. This adds complexity to the chew; the opposite of pizza crust tasting like cardboard, and more like the experience of biting into a tender ciabatta or a firm baguette.

If you’ve been making pizza at home—and I have, even as it’s never been easier to order out high quality pizza—there’s a lot to study up on and take guidance from here.


Example #2: Birria de Res simply means beef birria, and it’s existed here and there in Chicago before. But as Titus Ruscitti points out, it also means a whole trend in west coast Mexican food that has recently come here:

Birria de Res is basically spiced beef in broth. Exact recipes can vary by state. For example it’s also popular in Zacatecas and Tijuana but it’s made differently in each of those places. About five years ago a place called Teddy’s Red Tacos opened in LA and they served what they call Tijuana style Birria de Res. The red tacos moniker comes from the cooking process of the taco where the tortilla is dipped into the red consommé that the beef is cooked in. The tortilla is then crisped on a hot flattop giving it a red hue. As Teddy’s became an instagram sensation more birria spots started popping up and now there’s tons of places doing it.

One example of how this is a hybrid, border-crossing food is the quesabirria, which takes something Mexican and does the most American thing—puts cheese on it:

I’m not sure where the Quesabirria started but I can say it always seemed like a very Tijuana dish to me. I’ve heard from people that would know say that some parts of Mexico look at Tijuana as basically being America. So some people think the food is Americanized or whatever but from my perspective it’s a place lots of Mexicans move to from other Mexico states and in doing so lots of regional Mexican dishes are mixed together creating a unique cuisine all it’s own. There’s no doubt that social media has played a big part in making birria de res a national sensation. Between the red tinged tacos, the melted cheese, and the dipping action it’s pretty much the definition of food porn.

He’s got half a dozen places to check out in his piece, but more than that, he shows that a whole new style of Mexican food has taken root here, even in the midst of a pandemic. I’m going to grab my mask and check it out.

Buzz 2


This week’s restaurant of the week was Ever, the biggest opening in the country since lockdown started, and Mark Caro had a piece in the New York Times, with co-owner/manager Michael Muser being characteristically frank about the challenges it faces trying to offer the serene comforts of ultra-upscale dining in a supremely awkward time. At one point they were considering (in line with state law) giving everyone a chic little kit with a mask and sanitizer as they walked in:

Days later, Mr. Muser reconsidered, and not just because the apparent $10-per-guest cost felt significant and most people carry their own masks now. If diners are supposed to “get lost in a world of food and wine,” he said, then maybe the restaurant shouldn’t greet them with: “‘Here’s your first-aid survival kit. Don’t die. Enjoy your dinner!”

4. E-I-E-I-OUT

Something is going on at the Wicker Park Farmers Market, which booted out one of the best-known local produce sellers, Nichols Farm, as of this week. The closest thing to an explanation is in this Facebook post, which suggests that Nichols wasn’t observing Covid protocols to a T—it appears they were reported for not wearing masks while setting up (before customers were there), though Nichols’ own statement (also in that thread) suggests that the manager appointed three years ago, Alice Howe, has had a vendetta against them from the start. Whatever the reason, the well-respected farmer (which enjoys a prime spot at Green City Market) enjoyed immediate support from local chefs—Rick Bayless tweeted this, Dean Zanella wrote this:

Nichols Farm and Orchard was at Wicker Park Market since the beginning when they were the only local farm. They helped make this market possible. The market manager’s job is to manage the market, not kick people/vendors out without warning.

And since Nichols had produce Sunday morning and nowhere for it to go, Big Star let them set up in their open seating area to give it away to first responders and people in the industry. Big Star… which many customers of the market will have walked by on their way to the market. Best comment on Facebook: “This is what happens when Karens become the manager instead of asking to speak to one.”


Interesting news via Instagram that Norman Fenton, who I wrote about here when he was chef de cuisine at Schwa, has taken over Brass Heart after spending a stint in Tulum. (Founding chef Matt Kerney said on Facebook that he’s moving to the west coast to be closer to his family.) You can see Fenton’s Mexican influence in this dish posted at Brass Heart’s IG, and more at Fenton’s own IG account. I thought Fenton brought Schwa to new heights—my mid-2019 meal there earned them the #1 spot in The Fooditor 99 this past year—and I’m excited he’s back in town and in charge. Availability will open on Tock this week.

Meanwhile, speaking of former chefs de cuisine at Schwa, Wilson Bauer (also written about, here), who has to be feeling pretty good about the choice of opening a to-go pasta shop rather than a full restaurant right now, will open his Flour Power in West Town Thursday. You can see a little of it here.


Much of the Tribune’s focus of late is about how restaurants are struggling to make it. Phil Vettel writes about—no way!—Brindille, which was trashed on the first big night of downtown protests:

The large front window was shattered, and the wood-and-metal framing destroyed. “We’re very lucky the vandals didn’t physically enter the restaurant,” [chef-co-owner Carrie] Nahabedian said. “Our belief was that whoever perpetrated the crime didn’t realize what was inside — artwork and glass cases and a wine cabinet. Brindille is sandwiched between two bars — Blue Chicago and Fado — and nothing was salvaged from those two places.”

Brindille reopened Friday, by the way.


The Reader’s current issue is a book issue, and in the main food contribution, Mike Sula talks about two midwestern-ish cookbooks from Belt Publishing—a reprint of the Soup & Bread Cookbook from a decade ago (including a contribution by yours truly), and The Belt Table Cookie Cookbook, devoted to the traditional wedding cookies of the area ranging from Pittsburgh to Youngstown. In a side post, he mentions two more e-books—Meathead’s guide to Amazing Ribs, and the guide to ramen available on Google Docs from Ramen Lord Mike Satinover and his brother.


The Independent Restaurant Coalition’s latest video, featuring Marcus Samuelsson over Zoom, urges support for the restaurant industry because it employs not only its own workforce, but so many others that supply it. Watch it here.


The lawsuits by restaurants (Lettuce, Manny’s, etc.) against insurers not covering closings for lockdown begin, as Crain’s reports.

Also suing: Landlord Gino Battaglia is suing Brendan Sodikoff’s Hogsalt over walking out on the California Clipper space. (Eater)


Remember Pink Salt, in that shortlived Fulton Galley food hall? It’ll be back starting Thursday in a pop-up located at Split-Rail, as Eater tells us.

Kusama, the Filipino restaurant from former Oriole team members Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, completely sold out its first three nights. Eater covered it (two sold-out nights earlier).

And a Superdawg mystery, solved.


John Kessler was asked by the Southern Foodways Association to explore how Southern food will fare after all this ends. He starts by talking about a moment in 2013 when Southern food seemed finally to enjoy respect:

Southern food had finally stopped being the butt of jokes about huge portions and fried everything; instead it had started to signify honesty, quality, respectful traditionalism and flat-out deliciousness. The South was becoming a land of destination-worthy restaurants to rival California.

I had often wondered if the South’s bad food rap was, in fact, a referendum on its past, its poverty, and its locus as a center of white racist intransigence. The food itself was viewed as ignorant and wrongheaded. But that had changed. Like Italy, it had become a place where fine dining and home cooking felt of a piece.

You know what that last part sounds like to me? The Midwest! We get the back of the hand from awards, from food writers we wine and dine here, certainly from the perception that we’re still the land of Jell-O salad and hardly worth paying attention to. His prognosis for the South is at least somewhat optimistic—he sees the region as uniquely well-suited to pivoting to meal kits and prepared foods. Anyone care to make a case like that for the underappreciated Midwest?


I walked up the alley behind the Empty Bottle and the former Bite Cafe, to the back patio where Pizza Friendly Pizza slings slices and whole pies. I was greeted by Bruce Finkelman, who pointed out that “more bands have probably broken up here than anywhere in America.” A few moments later, Noah Sandoval came out with two pies and a cocktail kit from Julia Momose, and urged me to eat a slice as soon as I got to the car—I had to have it at its peak of freshness out of the oven.

Alas, I couldn’t do it that time, but after eating a couple when I got home, and thinking, okay, pretty good, I decided to try the reheating instructions on my next slices—450º for five minutes. And what had been a pretty good pan pizza, a crispy bubbly crust and some rather aggressive toppings, melded and melted into a gooey masterpiece, greater than the sum of its parts. So this is good pizza with definitely cheffy toppings (spicy pepperoni, ricotta and rapini in my cases), unless you either eat it on the spot as a slice or stick it in the oven when you get home—in which case it’s really, really good, and not exactly like anything else in town.