Before we get to the news, let’s ask the most important question—have you read and downloaded The Fooditor 33 yet? It’s Fooditor’s guide to the most creative things to have happened on our restaurant scene in this otherwise dispiriting year, and you are strongly encouraged to download it and keep it in your glove compartment/backpack/whatever, so you have instant access to great choices for lunch or dinner that help sustain Chicago’s culinary creativity. As critic John Kessler said on Facebook, “This right here is some seriously fine service journalism, just when we need it. For all of you who’ve promised to visit once it’s safe, consider this incentive. Congrats, Mike Gebert.”


The Tribune published a well-documented story by Josh Noel on the atmosphere at two Michelin-starred Acadia, which has been closed for many months, with owner Ryan McCaskey reportedly having moved to Maine:

After the last guests had left on a Sunday evening in March 2018, employees at Acadia pushed the tables and chairs aside in the restaurant’s private dining room and began unrolling sheets of plastic across the floor. A going-away party was planned for that Monday.

According to text messages shared with the Tribune, Ryan McCaskey, Acadia’s chef and owner, promised employees that the party would be an “extra naughty” affair. He said he would supply dollar bills to tip the strippers…

The two performers quickly became naked and encouraged onlookers to use sex toys on them, people in attendance said. McCaskey was an eager participant, some in attendance said, licking whipped cream from the genital region of one of the performers. According to attendees, McCaskey encouraged others to become involved and chided those who did not participate, including calling [cook Brendan] Smith a homophobic term for declining to take a turn…

“It was my bad for sure that I decided to have it at the restaurant,” McCaskey said. “If I had it at my own house, no one would care.”

Ah yes, the well-known it-happened-at-my-house defense. Like claiming sanctuary at the Cathedral de Notre Dame, it gets you out of any troubles.

This kind of thing, as I’ve observed before, was widely heard about by people in the restaurant community and food media, even as Acadia enjoyed widespread acclaim and awards. Here, by the way, is the Tribune rating Acadia #8 on its most recent list of the best restaurants in Chicago, in November 2019.

It’s been taken as the case for years that Ryan McCaskey has operated like some kind of time-traveling refugee from the wild and horny 1980s in the restaurant business. As other restaurateurs cleaned their acts up (or at least hid the evidence), he allegedly acted like he’d won the lottery to behave how he wished. And why not? He had won the lottery—a Vietnamese baby who got out on the last plane full of orphans to America, only to be adopted by a family where his father ran Blue Cross Blue Shield in the midwest. (They are not directly related to the Chicago Bears-owning McCaskeys, though Ryan did tell me once about being barred from his father’s corporate box at Soldier Field as a misbehaving teen.) After coming up in the restaurant industry, earning acclaim at restaurants like Michelin-starred Courtright’s in Willow Springs (now closed), he had the family money, like Charlie Trotter, to build his own kingdom in the South Loop.

And the Tribune’s piece paints a picture that it was good to be the king, surrounded by young’uns on the payroll. Noel’s piece is thorough and hard to discredit on the whole; McCaskey’s more or less blanket denials, issued in part through a lawyer, do not convincingly refute it, under the weight of text messages and so much testimony, and suggest someone who doesn’t understand why his employees could find his behavior creepy and predatory. It appears that he got into the restaurant business when bosses behaved a certain way, and had the money (and, as Noel notes, lack of oversight from co-owners) to keep behaving that way after everyone else had to give it up.

So it’s a serious story. But as I read it, here’s what I couldn’t help but think as well.

Imagine if all this had come out exactly a year earlier, December 1, 2019. A year ago, when restaurants were booming, the West Loop had a new opening every week and River North had two, and suddenly the food scene explodes with the news of wild parties and a “toxic workplace” at one of only three two-Michelin-starred restaurants in the city. It would have been just a couple of months after Acadia got their Michelin stars renewed (praise from Michelin’s Michael Ellis is quoted in the Trib piece), and only a few months before the James Beard Awards would have been expected to come to town—and all this comes out. What a noise that would have been! Scandal! Decadence! We wouldn’t have been able to talk about anything else!

Now look at the world we live in. A Michelin starred restaurant may shutter? What’s new? Acadia hasn’t been open in months, and neither has Oriole, one of the other two stars, while two one stars (Blackbird and Band of Bohemia) have already shuttered, and another (Everest) will close at the end of this month. And that’s not all—plenty of others, from Elske to Goosefoot to Spiaggia, are temporarily shut down, and who can say that they’ll all return? So that’s where we are in December 2020. What are we losing if this scandal claims Acadia? Nothing we’ve actually had for a while. A high end restaurant may close? Get in line.

I don’t mean to diminish the nature of the allegations made here—I’m just saying that reality has already dropped so many bombshells this year that one more, of any sort, can barely make a noise. It’s a sign of where we are that this business, which would have led to such a tizzy a year ago, seems to belong to a past already so distant from where we are now.

Buzz 2


Speaking of closings, many outlets will no doubt publish a roll call of the dead restaurants as the year comes to an end, and Time Out’s is a good first draft, containing everything I can think of—well, above a certain price point; I will mourn the loss of an old school Chicago joint like Bombacigno’s J&C or Man-Jo-Vin’s more than many of the places on this list, but I doubt they’ll make lists from others, either. (Though they did include Jeri’s Grill, which was one of the first to shutter and thus got more press.)

As long as this list is, I think there are many more that have shuttered for now, and will simply never come back, even if the most optimistic projections for Q1 vaccinations and a return to normalcy prove true. Sometimes a place I haven’t thought about for months will pop into my head and I’ll wonder—does that still exist, in suspended animation? Maybe they don’t know yet that they’re not coming back. There’s a River North restaurant—I don’t want to say the name because I don’t know anything, but they haven’t said a word on their Facebook page since St. Patrick’s Day. Is that place, which only got off to a fair start, coming back? I tend to think the world has gotten too tough for a place that didn’t already have a strong reputation to relaunch a year-plus later—and make it.

In the meantime, in closing-or-hanging-on news:

Broadway Cellars and Burke’s Public House are shutting down for the winter, but hope to reopen. (Block Club).

Metropolitan Brewing, which drew crowds to its handsome riverfront spot in Avondale, is now facing eviction there. (Eater)

Help keep The Hideout going—buy stuff by artists there. (Block Club).


South Side Weekly does its annual Best of the South Side issue, in a tough year for exploring the city, except at 30 mph. But they do manage to find some worthy food stories even so, including a tribute to currently-under-reconstruction-Taurus Flavors of sweet steak fame, another to the late Carlos Rosas of Calumet Fisheries, a local ice cream place in Pullman, a breakfast recommendation at Atardecer Acapulqueño (I’ve had lunch there, didn’t know it was a breakfast spot) in Little Village, and a shoutout to La Chaparrita’s food truck, resident at 59th & Kedzie.


The headline in the Trib seems designed to rile folks up: “In Illinois, more than one-third of PPP funds, meant for small businesses, went to larger companies that got loans of $1M or more. Search the SBA list.” From a restaurant perspective, that means big names like Gibsons, Alinea Group, Boka, Hogsalt and others got government bailouts—and the hot dog stand on your corner did not. (Eater’s piece on the Trib’s piece has a longer restaurant-specific list.)

Outrage! Well, a little, maybe, but let’s be realistic. This is a loan program—it’s going to go to businesses that show the management infrastructure to be likely to survive to pay it back. That’s really a reflection of the world before COVID, in which the Small Business Administration was the But Not Too Small Business Administration (though some loans on the list went as low as $100—honestly, who is $100 away from closing and expects to make it if they get that?) The failure here is not that steakhouses (my, there are a lot of steakhouses on that list) could get loans, which they will mostly be able to pay back, it’s that government has regarded that as enough, and has not gone beyond loans to continue the kind of outright grants to help keep the really little guys afloat through the coming winter.

To support the right kind of action for restaurants’ futures and those of the people who work in them, please read and sign this letter from the Independent Restaurants Coalition. Here’s another piece that talks about what Congress should do to help small business survive this pandemic.


Frontera Grill is one of the recipients on the SBA list, but applying for that is hardly the only action they’ve taken to ensure the ongoing existence of one of Chicago’s most important and influential restaurants. Rick Bayless, no stranger to television, has started a YouTube channel featuring weekly, in-depth cooking lessons with live Q&As and so on; the $4.99 or 9.99/month goes to support the employees at Frontera/Topolobampo. Go here to watch the preview video and sign up.

Meanwhile, Phil Vettel talks to Bayless about pivoting to takeout:

“I’ve never ordered takeout in my life,” he said. “I’ve never ordered a pizza delivered to my door. And I’m a good reheater. But in the time I wait for food to be delivered, I can make a decent meal, though I know not everybody can. But it’s probably good that I’m not a takeout guy; I create takeout food from the perspective of what I would want.”

Well, I did Leña Brava takeout (when Bayless still owned those restaurants) and it worked just fine—excellent reheating instructions.


Remember The Bedford, the Wicker Park restaurant with Mark Steuer (Funkenhausen) as chef? The space, a former bank complete with old school vaults, was used by a promoter called Vault/All Access for a 300-person party, which the city shut down. Meanwhile, as Block Club reports, “RDM Development and Investments, which owns the property, recently asked the city for a zoning change to convert the building’s rooftop into a bar and restaurant. The future tenant would occupy the rooftop as well as the basement restaurant areas.” Enjoy your next meeting with the city on that, guys.

And The Delta let 28 people hang out there after hours, and got shut down for one day (which sounds like the city giving the mildest punishment they could to me), but now owner Eldridge Williams says he has shut the patio for good and is doing takeout only with a skeleton staff. (Block Club).


John Kessler sings the praises of Dongpo Impression, a Chinatown relation of Lincoln Park’s Chengdu Impression: “In fact, there are so many new Sichuan restaurants that you might overlook a spot like Dongpo Impression, which occupies a modest storefront, if not for the eye-catching red sign out front. But this place is the real deal — one that goes beyond the spicy wallop of Sichuan cooking and explores the regional repertoire with finesse.”


So Antoni Miralda—a visual artist who “built pillars of vegetables and walls of brightly colored bread, staged parades of giant steaks and ears of corn through Kansas City, and held a wedding between the Statue of Liberty and Barcelona’s Christopher Columbus statue with prenuptial documents written on dried codfish”—as one does—and University of Chicago anthropologist Stephan Palmié collaborated to put out an academic-arty publication on Chicago food called Chicago FoodCultura Clarion. Mike Sula writes about it for the Reader, but I suspect he had more to do with it than that, since the list of contributors is weighted with pals of his including Peter Engler and Eric May, as well as Phillip Foss.

CORRECTION: It was linked here in the original article and I missed it in the discussion of the distribution of the physical copies.That’s all good, but the issue is that 2,700 copies were printed—and distributed, fairly randomly, like Wonka golden tickets, among the thousands of copies of the Reader around Thanksgiving, with a concentration in Hyde Park. That’s a weirdly elitist-feeling way to do something like this in this day and age, without an online component making it available to all. Anyway, you can read Foss’s piece here on how he reacted to the shutdown in March, and structural racism in kitchens; as for May on Southwest Signs or Engler on Chicago tamales, tough.


Good piece at Eater on a Colombian-Polish collaboration’s tough road in the pandemic: Polombia was offering its blend of two cuisines in Politan Row, until that shut down; scrambling to keep going, they found a place to work inside another new West Loop spot, The Outpost.


You skip a week and the Steve Dolinsky stories pile up! Here’s a new barbecue spot in Forest Park, Small Batch Barbecue:

After Greg Stinton took top honors at Forest Park’s Ribfest a few years ago, he knew he was onto something. His ribs, smoked over hickory, apple and cherry woods, are now the centerpiece of a compact menu at Small Batch Barbecue in downtown Forest Park.

And he pays tribute to a classic Chicago food—fried shrimp—by noting the 70th anniversary of Lawrence’s Fish and Shrimp near Chinatown.


David Hammond got his turkey day dinner from Alinea, and praises it with faint damns:

Thanksgiving food is a ritualized drag, a pro forma trotting out of tired appetizers, sleepy sides and a main course that may comfort but fails to wow. When we heard that Alinea was planning to send out full dinner packages of Thanksgiving food, we perked up: maybe they could do something different.

But, no, they didn’t do anything different. But what Alinea did for Thanksgiving dinner was perfect, with standard-setting versions of the pedestrian food we’ve grown to feel is part of the holiday and our patrimony.

He could have had Ethiopian food instead—as Rebecca Holland explains elsewhere in NewCity, talking to Demera’s Tigist Reda about Let’s Talk, a collaboration between women restaurateurs in Chicago.

12. 43rd AND CICERO

Titus Ruscitti catches up on some things he never got around to writing about in 2020. My favorite part starts with these first two sentences and a photo of a cart grilling meat standing up on irons over a fire, South American-style:

This summer we saw an influx of street vendors scattered across the city’s streets. One such hot spot is the area around 43rd and Cicero, just south of the highway. The guy behind this eye catching setup is the son of the father who runs a restaurant of the same name in New Jersey. Colombian grilled meat sessions are what they do. Check out that grill setup! You don’t see that every day. Just Friday’s, Saturday’s, and Sunday’s but no telling what their schedule is during the winter. Steak, ribs, pork belly, and turkey legs are what can be found on the unique grill setup which uses charcoal and a rotisserie like rack that holds the meat and goes around in circles. They have a salsa bar like that of a Mexico street taco stand with tons of sauces on offer. Plus arepas con queso and empanadas.

You know, when I did The Fooditor 33 I really had to find a balance between wanting to call attention to relatively little known startups with irregular hours, and not sending people on total wild goose chases. But as Titus shows, if you’re willing to go on wild goose chases, and accept that you may or may not find precisely what you’re looking for for lunch, the city’s never been richer for such discoveries. Though I’d wait for spring before looking for outdoor asaderos at 43rd and Cicero.


Sandwich Tribunal tries something new—video! This despite Jim Behymer’s lockdown haircut, or lack thereof, which prompted Friend of Fooditor Michael Morowitz to dub him Sandwich Claus. Anyway, the look somehow goes with the subject matter, which gets close to Dennis Lee territory but is nevertheless a real food, sort of: he made his own fall bologna, to be specific: Pumpkin Spice Bologna.

First I want to say this: pumpkin spice bologna is delicious. It works way better than you think it should, way better than our calcified tastes want it to. It’s fatty meat, cured and spiced, and what’s so wrong about that?

Also let us firmly state the obvious: that pumpkin spice bologna is a stupid idea, it should not exist, and I was an idiot to make it, [much] less make this video about it.


Want to give a Chicago gift that’s as close to quintessential Chicago as you can get? Co-Op Sauce just released a Bourbon County Stout collaboration hot sauce. You can buy it at Sauce and Bread Kitchen in Edgewater, or for a real hothead, sign them up for Co-Op’s Frequent Fire Club and they’ll get it and others.

Meanwhile, Steve Dolinsky explains the whole Bourbon County Stout phenomenon here, and why you should support bars by buying their bottled cocktails here.


I don’t remember ever getting Hanukkah press releases before, but I’ve gotten three offerings for takeout holiday dinners—two of them no surprise, for sure: Galit is doing it including with a pickup location in Skokie (E.J.’s Place), and Israeli street food restaurant Fiya, as well as its siblings Jerry’s/Geraldine’s, will offer it for four or more. The slightly more surprising one is the Peninsula Hotel doing Hanukkah to Go here.


Everybody seemed down on turkey this year. Making snide comments about how their favorite Thanksgiving dinner was pizza or nachos.

Well, I like Thanksgiving dinner. We’ve become such snobs that even the came-on-the-Mayfloweriest of us eat Thai or Indian or Mexican food but mock classic English food. (Yes, I know it’s a holiday about America, and the pilgrims didn’t likely eat any of what we eat at Thanksgiving. Nevertheless what we think of as Thanksgiving dinner comes out of classic English roasted-meats cuisine, crossed with some Southern things. And I like it!)

So first I got Thanksgiving dinner from Big Jones—Cajun deep-fried turkey with sage-onion dressing, very sweet yams, some starters like beer cheese, pepper jam and chow chow, a pumpkin pie with crunchy benne seeds in the crust. It made me happy on turkey day, and the next day.

But what it didn’t do was satisfy my once-a-year craving, so on Friday, I went to Joseph’s Finest Meats and they scrounged up one 12-pound bird. I immediately dry-brined it and on Sunday, I smoked it on the grill, together with some sides we hadn’t just been eating, like corn on the cob and a panzanella salad. We had another turkey dinner, and then I made stock. So we had turkey sandwiches for a few days, and then we had turkey soup on Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving week!