But first: There’s still time to give the only gift that matters for the holidays. Get The Fooditor 99 2019 edition in paperback or for Kindle.


The first news about Young Americans, the spot in the Johnny’s Grill space from Nick Jirasek (Old Habits) and Julia McKinley (The Milk Room), focused on using CBD in drinks. But Mike Sula’s cover story at the Reader just gives cannabis a passing mention, focusing more on black food and other aspects of this conceptual restaurant: “Black, or just dark foods in general, are high in anthocyanins, antioxidants that some believe have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties. But Jirasek also wants to prank on the misconception that freshness and wholesomeness is a de facto bright, dewy, market-fresh Instagram post bedecked with edible microflora. A lot of the foods he’s experimenting with will be challenging to behold, and perhaps challenging for some to understand.”


Phil Vettel seems tickled by the concept at Twain, drawing on midwest church cookbooks and paying homage to Mark Twain—but then he drops the boom on what to have there and what not: “Frankly, the appetizers are cute and clever but less than thrilling. The main courses, however, are significantly better. There’s an umami-rich surf and turf of unagi and meatloaf, topped with nori-crusted onion rings and red-miso mashed potatoes; and a pure-Midwest rendering of seared walleye over calico (mixed bean) salad with pickled-egg sauce (sort of a non-emulsified gribiche, per Graham).”


I liked Income Tax, I like it even more under new chef Ellison Park, ex of Parachute, and so does Anthony Todd: “A highlight of Park’s menu is arguably one of the most delicious roast chickens served right now in the city. It’s a dish that requires a lot of thought and planning. Park spent a summer working in Paris a couple of years ago, and finding a bird in Chicago like those he’d cooked in France was a challenge. Eventually, he settled on the Green Circle, a heritage breed that originates from France and is raised free-range in Pennsylvania. ‘They are just beautiful birds — the closest thing I could find to what I experienced in France,’ says Park. ‘The fat is rich and yellow. The meat almost has a red hue to it.’”


There are listicles, lazy and built off Google searches rather than actual experience—and then there’s Michael Nagrant’s listicle “The Definitive Ranking of Boka Group Restaurants,” in which he examines each one. For instance, on Duck Duck Goat: “Whether it’s getting a chili high from the Chonquing chicken or coming down with the cooling sensation of octopus and peanut spiked cucumber, Izard’s menu eschews the complexity of tweezer cuisine and smashes your pleasure and pain sensors with a baseball bat assault of salt, sugar, carbs, and chili.” You don’t doubt he’s been there—and you don’t doubt that the byline says “Michael Nagrant.”


A seafood restaurant in Old Town from the Tortoise Club folks, “Two Lights is a virtual reverse-image of its elder sibling. Tortoise Club is dark, formal and clubby, wrapped in mahogany and warmed by a roaring fireplace. Two Lights has a white-on-white summer-home vibe,” says Phil Vettel. “Make room for the octopus, which comes from Spain but acquires a Greek accent from the accompanying cucumber-tomato-feta salad; the Calabrian chile oil beneath suggests a day trip to Italy, but just enjoy. A honey-Sriracha sauce adds oomph to the crusty shrimp fritters, just as a lively Sriracha aioli enlivens the tuna poke tacos, wrapped in crisped wonton shells.”


Second-floor Baptiste & Bottle gets a middling review from Graham Meyer at Crain’s, who says “Many dishes pique a thoughtful diner’s interest, nonthreateningly,” but in the end, “You could bring a client here. Maybe for a high-importance, low-distraction conversation, though; not to celebrate a deal.”


Bon Appetit introduces us to Fat Rice bartender Anne Beebe-Tron, who makes “the freakiest, dopest cocktails in town” [pronoun is they]: “Their drinks are also a testament to their role as devoted collaborator and steadfast leader at Fat Rice—a job Annie has excelled at as a queer feminist boss seeking to upend the traditional hierarchy. Co-owner Adrienne Lo’s mother is growing ingredients for a house absinthe. A Romanian janitor’s plum liqueur recipe features in the Onu You Didn’t cocktail. The backbar hosts bottles of cardoon amaro, a creation Annie was able to salvage from one of chef Abe Conlon’s infusion experiments gone wrong. It’s just one of many projects Annie tends to with a gardener’s patience—there are currently an estimated 150 bottles (and ‘lots more to go’) brewing and infusing in their personal ‘vault.’”


As Nick Kindelsperger acknowledges, quesadillas can be a cop-out for little kids at Mexican restaurants, but the best ones, made with fresh tortillas, showcase all manner of Mexican ingredients, not just cheese. He has a slideshow of 16 different quesadillas of great variety, from flor de calabaza (squash flowers) at Minna’s Restaurant to the meat-filled (even sliced hot dogs) chilanga at La Chilangueada.


I said last week that we were going to see fewer reviews and more previews which don’t require a dining budget (or the intensity of carefully judging a place dish by dish), and, though he refuted my point wth two reviews this week, here’s Phil Vettel with a “preview” (it was already open) of Yugen: “‘Despite the snow and the holidays,’ said Mari Katsumura, ‘business was pretty steady.’ Thus went the first two weeks of Yugen, which was crazy/brilliant enough to debut just before Thanksgiving, eliminating the possibility of a packed dining room but easing the pressure on what, despite its considerable ambition, is very much a fledgling operation.”


As a fan of the Southern Foodways Association’s podcast Gravy, I was thrilled to hear that they’d be doing an episode on Chicago BBQ and its Southern roots, and happy to talk with producer Ambriehl Crutchfield. You’ll hear me, Robert Adams of Honey 1 BBQ, and Jim Brunetti of Avenue Metal talking about the heritage and future of Chicago BBQ.


I cannot say the hippie food at the Heartland Cafe was ever a favorite, but I’ll give you that it summed up a time and place that Chicago has little left of. Block Club Chicago laments its imminent passing, though I’d also take a look at this old Reader piece and its lively comment section for a truer picture of the place in its heyday.


Gin Khao Eat Rice has gotten attention for its odd location (the nowhere western end of Pilsen) and the fact of it being a Thai restaurant from someone who cooked at places like Fat Rice and Embeya, but I think Chicago mag’s John Kessler is right to say, “Ghin Khao Eat Rice seems less a full-fledged restaurant than a brick-and-mortar food truck… I don’t want to oversell this restaurant beyond what it currently is: a satisfying option for a belly-filling meal when you’re in the area.”


Titus Ruscitti’s latest international destination is Montreal, and how could you resist places like this: “Wilensky’s was opened in 1932 by a Russian Jew who made Montreal his home. There is no grill, or fryers. No plates or silverware either. That’s bc they basically serve one thing which is the famous Wilensky sandwich made with five slices of beef salami, one slice of bologna, mustard, and your choice of cheese (Swiss or cheddar). It’s pressed until the cheese melts and then served on a napkin. Don’t even think about asking for it sliced or served without mustard bc they have never catered to those requests. Don’t forget to try a homemade soda and either some sweet or sour pickles. My cherry cola was made right before my eyes.”


I’m sure no one who reads Buzz List would do this, but Nisei Lounge says, give us our Malört stockings back or else.


Lots of roundups of 2018 cookbooks for gift-giving season. Let’s start at The Feed, where Steve Dolinsky and Rick Bayless offer some favorites and talk to a couple of authors on the show, including chef Michael Solomonov of Israeli Soul and Dorie Greenspan of Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook.

The Trib staff lists ten, including two from Chicago—The Aviary Cocktail Book and Bill Kim’s and Chandra Ram’s Korean BBQ. At Chicago-based Plate (free registration required) they call out several of the same ones in a list of 11 books from around the world, from The Noma Guide to Fermentation to I Am a Filipino And This Is How We Cook.

And WTTW does a roundup of Chicago cookbooks, stretching way back to the The Chicago Record Cookbook in 1896, but also including a number currently in print (like The Adventures of Fat Rice and Cheers to the Publican). Extra special bonus: Martha Bayne’s Soup & Bread Cookbook includes the only recipe anywhere by me!


The word’s been around for a while that Iliana Regan was working on a memoir, and we get a preview of it at Esquire, a slice of Southern Gothic from northern Indiana combined with a little magicl realism, not least in how intuitively she takes to foraging food:

My dad said the chanterelles would smell like the earth but also sweet like apricots and spicy like peppercorns. I said these things quietly. Back to him and to myself. Earth. Apricot. I liked apricots. Peppercorns.

Trust me, you want to read it all, and watch for the book, Burn The Place, out this summer.


Friend of Fooditor Bull Garlington has a new column at The Local Tourist called Wine and Song, where he talks to a wine person who pairs a bottle with a song that has meaning for them. First up: Del Frisco’s Amy Lutchen, with 1985 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and Gerry Rafferty’s archetypal 80s boozy-bluesy saxophone hit “Baker Street.


Earlier this year I wrote about a program aimed at helping Chicago high school students the restaurant skills that could make them instantly hirable. That’s also going to be the purpose of a new venture by Rick Bayless called the Culinary Core Institute, part of an entrepreneurial food facility called The Hatchery including shared kitchen spaces in East Garfield Park: “It’s our goal to train 80 students a year and place every single graduate into a job in Chicago’s restaurant industry,” Bayless told the Sun-Times. 


We still don’t know who’s going to be the new owner of the Tribune, but veterans in many departments have been taking year-end buyouts, and the paper’s union—Michael Ferro’s one lasting legacy, one suspects—has been chronicling who they are and, implicitly, what the paper is losing, at Twitter here.

But hey, new digital media companies have a sound strategy for the future of journalism. Uh, not so fast—Vanity Fair says that all those Vices and Buzz Feeds and Voxes are looking to sell: “‘It’s a moment of real pressure,” one digital media executive told me. “My sense is, it’s tougher times for everybody’… Tony Haile, founding C.E.O. of the Web-analytics provider Chartbeat, echoed that sentiment. ‘No one’s looking forward to this Q1,” said Haile, whose latest project is a publisher-friendly subscription ad-blocking service called Scroll. ‘You’ve got that kind of thing going on where everyone’s for sale.’”

At least Eater’s parent Vox seems the least worst off: “Vox Media seemed to be the horse that people were most willing to bet on, in part because it didn’t take as much money or drive its valuation as high as BuzzFeed or Vice.” Lack of money is the new money!


I’m still in a post-book phase of wanting to just cook comfy things at home, but I checked out two events in the past week. First, Ramenlord Mike Satinover did a ramen pop-up at the Izakaya at Momotaro, and so I got to try his deeply porky miso ramen as well as the fishy shoyu ramen—all good, as were the chicken karaage and goma-ae.

I went to a preview for soon-to-open Brothers and Sisters in Ukrainian Village, one of those all-day places that ranges from coffee (Ruby Coffee Roasters in Wisconsin) to meat and cheese plates (chef Johnny Hunter comes from Madison’s Underground Collective) and other small plates. I liked the retro-hip Greek coffeeshop interior and the comfy food, though I think they are going to need more seating for the coffee part of the day than they have. In any case, it’s a promising new spot, should be open any day now.

And like everyone in food media, I went to Landbirds, which is definitely of the do-one-thing-and-do-it-well school—spicy chicken wings (actually drumettes) a la Great Sea, with a side of rice, pretty much perfect. Four spice levels, I liked 2 or 3 as being kicky but not painful.