Michael Nagrant pulled a smart—I don’t want to say trick like anyone was hoodwinked; tactic will do—for getting a bunch of people to write his newsletter, and then not only read it but possibly help publicize it. Of course, I’m too smart to fall for this myself… oh hell. Anyway, he posed a question for food folks in Chicago—if we were carving a Mt. Rushmore (presumably in North Lawndale) of Chicago chefs, who would you put on it?

He published the results in two parts. In the first one he asked various journalistic folks; of course, being deep in a book about Chicago restaurant history, how could I not race to offer my suggestions? But I wondered if I might be the only one; in the end, I wasn’t even the only one to suggest Jovan Trboyevic. Here’s John Carruthers of Crust Fund Pizza touting Edna Stewart of the once-famous Edna’s, a soul food diner on the African-American west side that was a meeting place in the civil rights movement:

The danger in celebrating Chicago chiefly as a Michelin-studded jewelbox is we lose that essential community and connection that, to me, is the very best aspect of food in Chicago. I don’t necessarily need to get started on how many self-proclaimed Chicago diehards wouldn’t be caught dead outside of their 3.5-neighborhood comfort zone, but I suspect there’s a lot of folks who never got to eat at Edna’s. The biscuits were unforgettable, but it was Edna’s willingness to support the causes she believed in that really made her part of Chicago’s story. History isn’t just things that happened right before getting sanded down to Wikipedia entries. Those folks had to eat too.

My historical perspective is largely confined to the 1960s and later, which is to say, living memory; but a couple, like Grimod of Understanding Hospitality, went way back:

Joseph Seyl (Prussian-born chef of The Palmer House from 1871-1917): “dean of hotel chefs in America” who witnessed the transition from coal to gas ranges, the introduction of electricity to the kitchen, and the delocalization of Chicago’s food system by the railroads but remained successful by ignoring “the culinary fashions that roiled Paris and New York” and staying true to hearty fare served family style.

And thanks to Naomi Waxman of Eater Chicago for pointing to a slice of history told in an Atlas Obscura article a couple of years ago—the pioneering career and strange death of Chinatown restaurateur Chin Foin.

After the writers, he recruited a bunch of chefs to offer their choices—interestingly, unlike the writes they pretty much have a consensus; the four heads would be Trotter, Bayless, Kahan, and Achatz. This seems logical enough, as it’s the most important chefs within working memory (i.e., people who worked under them are still in the industry today), and I can’t really argue with it, as two of them made my list (and the other two were mentioned parenthetically).

What’s most interesting with the chefs is when they start talking about people who are their own mentors. Here’s three mentions of Jason Hammel:

Jason Hammel (can anyone who cares about restaurants imagine contemporary Chicago restaurants without Lula Cafe? It’s an instit[ut]ion and the backbone of an entire neighborhood.)

Jason Hammel (debated about putting him at the top for his focus on seasonality and changing how important farm to table is with sustainability.)

So important to so many. Great cook and mentor, great supporter of local farms, built one of the city’s most beloved restaurants from practically nothing and awesome person to boot.

This is the most interesting part to me, precisely because it is getting away from the obvious names and into more idiosyncratic choices. Nevertheless, in part 3 Nagrant talks about his reaction to the voting—which he ends up putting on a T-shirt that says:


This being 2023, the first thing we notice about such a list is that it’s all dudes. So he looked at the women who got the most mentions, and made another T-shirt:


As Nagrant correctly observes, “No Carrie, No Charlie.” (Carrie Nahabedian was the one who hired Charlie Trotter at Sinclair’s on the North Shore. Find out more when my book comes out!) Anyway, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in these three pieces, if you’re at all interested not just in what to eat tonight, but in how we got here.

One more thing: in his next newsletter, Nagrant tells us that he got laid off from his consulting gig—at Scrooge & Marley, apparently, just in time for Christmas—as his company went public and appears to be using that as an occasion to completely self-destruct. So those T-shirt designs are for real—you can get them here—and now would be a good time to support independent food journalism (again, we’re close to that being the only kind there is) by subscribing to the full version of his newsletter, The Hunger, here.


Louisa Chu visits the mammoth Guinness Open Gate Brewery Chicago in Fulton Market, and finds it “needs time to settle”:

“We exist to remind people that Guinness is a brewery, not just the single beer,” said Ryan Wagner, head of marketing at Open Gate Brewery.

That single beer is still not made in Chicago.

“Every ounce of Guinness Draught stout served in the United States comes from Dublin,” said Wagner. (You may know that “draught” is pronounced “draft.”)

But Guinness brewers Nate Morton and Megan Schwarz do indeed make other beers here, including two early fan favorites.


I remember noting back at Chowhound, two decades ago, that Filipino was the hot cuisine of next year—and had been for years. But it might finally be true in Chicago! The Sun-Times has a piece on our hot Filipino scene.

Meanwhile, Block Club has a Filipino restaurant you could buy…


Titus Ruscitti has been posting about a recent trip to Italy and man, the latest installment, on Liguria (the area that includes Genoa, on the sea facing Corsica), is sheer food-travel erotica, lots of pictures of turquoise water and pasta dishes:

If you’re not pulling up to Portofino in your own yacht you’re much better off staying in a town like [Santa Margherita Ligure] where there’s smaller crowds but more on offer and it’s half the price and still just as nice. The Italian Riviera is by no means undiscovered so it’s regularly busy as it’s one of the prettiest places on earth with its colorful fishing villages backdropped by mountains. But Summer is peak season. All of the towns on the Italian coast are pretty similar but each of them has their own charms. I found Santa Margherita to be the perfect launching pad for exploring the rest of the region.


Steve Dolinsky visits a hot new Thai place, Tuk Tuk Isan Street Food:

The mortar and pestles – to say nothing of the forearms of the cooks – get a workout at the restaurant, just a few yards north of the Century Mall on Clark Street. That’s because som tam – the native dish from Isaan – has to be pounded to-order.

“The Som Tam – Som means ‘sour’ in Isaan – that means you have to have a sour taste for sure. Then follow-up with the salty, spicy and sweet,” said owner Ratchapol Treegamrongrit.

In addition to raw green papaya, there’s a range of flavors. Crunchy Thai eggplants, green beans and tomatoes; salted crab, fresh lime juice, fish sauce and basil, as well as palm sugar for sweetness.

6. DAISIES 9000

If you wonder how Grimod can afford all the meals at Smyth or wherever necessary for one of his deep dives, this week he has a relative bargain for you: Daisies, which is now five years old:

Rather than limping through middle age—warily eyeing each hot new opening as a threat to its dominion—Daisies is undeniably at the peak of its power. The restaurant has not only transferred its success to a bigger building (more than three times the previous square footage) with a renovated kitchen and all sorts of other new features. Located just a couple blocks away from its first home, it not only remains a beloved part of the same neighborhood. But, in an era when many Chicago stalwarts have been lucky to survive (only to slowly, if ever, recover their former glory), Daisies can brand itself using that coveted “2.0” moniker: signaling a clean break, a true upgrade, a new iteration that is (at least) twice as good as what came before.


Chicago mag’s preview of Grammar, from a Lula Cafe chef and the owner of Architectural Artifacts, sounds like it’s going to be your next hot place:

While there’s a through line between the dishes [chef Andrew] Holladay serves at both spots, Grammar is not Lula 2.0 — its menu is broader and more casual, yet still polished. Excellent starters include smoked trout dip with grilled Publican Quality Bread and a salad with seasonal lettuces, herbs, sunflower seeds, and roasted shallot dressing. The Detroit-style pizzas may not have the deeply caramelized crust we crave, but they’re a satisfying centerpiece to a meal. (Try the amatriciana, with Calabrian chile, guanciale, and smoked mozzarella. It’s accompanied by a funky peanut chile crunch and a superlative dill-loaded ranch.)


McKinley Park may seem a funny place to open a Portuguese bakery, but think about where most Portuguese egg tarts are found: in Chinatown, not far away. Mike Sula previews Cadinho, coming soon (and popping up at Monday Night Foodball this week):

That spring, the couple [Alejandra Rivera and Eric Carlson] moved to McKinley Park to be closer to Carlson’s Englewood teaching job, shortly before United Airlines launched a direct flight to the Azores and placed an order for 1,500 pastéis de nata. She and Carlson enlisted neighbors’ ovens for a 24-hour tart-baking marathon, and Cadinho’s catering arm was born.

Meanwhile, they committed to opening their brick-and-mortar in McKinley Park. “We owe it to the neighborhood to stay here,” she says. “There’s no other bakery or coffee shop [where] you can stay and connect with community and neighbors. There’s Dunkin’ Donuts, but we wanted something that would have the same vibe that we had in Portugal.”


Your Turkey Day leftovers are presumably gone, but Jim Behymer of Sandwich Tribunal gives you ideas of things to do with the bird at NewCity:

Sandwich aficionados may look at Pittsburgh’s Turkey Devonshire, a concoction of sliced turkey, bacon, a cheesy sauce and tomatoes served open-faced over toast, and immediately note its striking similarity to Louisville’s Hot Brown or even St. Louis’ Prosperity Sandwich. The comparison is certainly apt. Pittsburgh-based food writer Hal B. Klein, in writing his 2019 piece on the classic Turkey Devonshire, downplayed its connection with the Hot Brown, saying he found no evidence that anyone involved in developing the sandwich had any association with Louisville. In Klein’s story, Frank Blandi, a giant of the Pittsburgh dining scene in the early twentieth century, invented and debuted the Turkey Devonshire at his Stratford Club in 1934. Though this was a full eight years after the Brown Hotel started serving their cheesy open-faced hot turkey sandwich, the Devonshire’s sauce differed from the Hot Brown’s as well, using sharp cheddar instead of pecorino and containing stock as well, making for sort of cheesy, creamy gravy rather than a Mornay sauce.


Pizzeria Uno is having its 80th birthday party on December 4th, and the Tribune runs a story telling, well, the official story of Pizzeria Uno (and Due), in which Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo teamed up to create the whole genre of Chicago deep dish pizza:

Chicago-style pizza may owe its existence to a bad enchilada. When partners Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo planned to open a restaurant, Sewell, a native Texan, wanted to feature Mexican food. But one of the sample meals the partners tested made Riccardo so sick that he rejected Mexican food entirely.

Riccardo suggested pizza, which he had encountered in Italy — as indeed many American servicemen were doing during World War II. Sewell’s complaint with pizza was that it was insubstantial, little more than an appetizer — and readily available in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood besides. Sewell wanted a substantial, meal-size pizza. After some experimenting, the partners devised something with a thick crust and plenty of cheese.

That’s the story that gets told, particularly in The Tribune over the years—but pizza historian Peter Regas has documented how it came to be told that way. For the long version, go to this talk he gave at Culinary Historians of Chicago; at about 15:20 he starts telling the story as it evolved over time. Basically, he says, Riccardo started the business in 1943; Sewell was a liquor salesman, and according to Riccardo’s widow, Riccardo couldn’t get liquor for the restaurant without taking someone well-connected into the business, and so Sewell’s wife was made a partner c. 1944—after deep dish pizza was already a thing. But Riccardo died in 1954; Sewell retired from the liquor distributor in 1966—and he spent the remaining 24 years of his life peddling the story that he and Riccardo had invented deep dish pizza together, back in 1943. (Regas counts six Trib stories during Sewell’s life after 1966, along with a couple of dozen elsewhere.) And to judge by this latest Tribune piece, that story will never die.

As for Mexican food, Sewell can have all the credit for Su Casa, his longrunning Mexican spot just a block over from Pizzeria Uno. Now here’s the truly weird thing: the word “tronc” appears in the byline. Tronc is still a thing, and not just a sardonic memory of the lamentable Michael Ferro era?


I haven’t eaten out much in the last week and a half, because I had Thanksgiving leftovers, and when they were gone I made a big German pot of sausages from Paulina, potatoes and kraut. But it being the holiday season, there’s one thing I wanted to make, to send to relatives—fruit cake. Yeah, yeah, I know all the fruit cake jokes, but I make Fannie Farmer’s Old-Fashioned Fruit Cake (page 516 in our Twelfth Edition from 1979), and it’s rich, dark and delicious. Anyway, so I went to my Mariano’s to get myself the standard holiday season candied fruit—and I couldn’t find it. I went to Da Jewels across the street—and they didn’t have them either, well, except I found green cherries—nothing else, but small deli cups with green cherries. (Why only that color?) I couldn’t think of anywhere else likely to have them—I’ve never seen them at Tony’s or Harvestime—so in the end, I had to order big bags of them from Nuts.com. They arrived overnight, enough to make a batch this year and then seal them up tightly to make more next year.

This is the latest example of a trend I keep noticing—grocery stores are less and less for people who scratch-cook. That is, it can be harder and harder to find basic staples of home cooking. No buttermilk at a Jewel. No shortening at Whole Foods. Sure, you can find mac ‘n cheese in a box or French fries frozen in a bag, for people racing home from work and wanting to get dinner up fast, and of course you can find fresh vegetables and meat (though I will say that more than once, I’ve gone to a grocery store and been frustrated that the fresh herbs have been picked clean—gee, why’s everyone buying sage this week in November? It’s a mystery!) Anyway, I try to buy locally, and in some sense that includes buying flagrantly artificial things like cherries the color of fire engines—but I can’t do it if nobody carries what I want, and that seems to be where we’re heading.


The Joiners Podcast has had a ton of good subjects lately, including Anna Posey of Elske, Zach Engel of Galit, and Joe Frillman of Daisies.

David Manilow talks with John Shields about getting his third Michelin star at Smyth.

And now we know where Nick Kindelsperger went after leaving the Tribune: Molson Coors. He revealed that in this chat with WBEZ’s Reset, in which he talks about food in Chicago generally.