A few weeks ago, counting down our remaining sources of food coverage, I noted that the most active suppliers of news about new places to eat were Steve Dolinsky and Titus Ruscitti. Now, just two weeks after Phil Vettel’s announcement, we learn that Steve is leaving ABC 7, whose devotion to food coverage was one of those format-breaking quirks of a local station, like the one in my hometown that did news at noon for 15 minutes and then had the weatherman sing gospel songs for the rest of the time slot.

Dolinsky explains at his site:

After 17 years as Food Reporter at ABC 7 News, the finest local TV affiliate in the country, I am moving on to get serious about my own business.

As many of you know, I’ve always worn different hats. Besides covering food for ABC 7, I wrote a book on pizza (and have another coming out in September), launched a pizza tour business and jumped on the podcast craze early. I do media training, restaurant consulting in other states, virtual food and drink events, and curated culinary experiences…

I am excited for the many possibilities — lending my name to projects and brands I’m passionate about, working with restaurants and chefs I admire, and curating the talent for various food halls and music festivals around the country.

Dolinsky is an outsize character on the food scene, with his headshots and Hungry Hound logo all over town—my favorite was at long-gone Szalas where he was just below Pope John Paul II; when I told him that, he said “Shout out to my Polish peeps!”  But he has been as serious and diligent an explorer of our food scene as anyone, and belongs in the class of those who aren’t put off by traveling the far corners of the city in search of authentic foods from this place or that. I’ve gotten tips from him—on the Fooditor 33, both El Fogon de Elena and Razpacho came from seeing him talk about them—and given him tips to check out. One classic encounter was taking John Kessler to Oozi Corner, in southwest Bridgeview, for lunch—and running into Dolinsky having lunch with Titus Ruscitti.

Dolinsky says his new move was inspired by Kevin Pang—”He’s proven there are opportunities for content producers.” Well, he has that, though what Pang has also proven is that they are not about local food coverage—he left the Tribune (supposedly the last straw was a massive potato chip tasteoff) to join The Onion’s parent company to do national food coverage, which meant a lot of writing about fast food brands, and after a time working in PR, he joined America’s Test Kitchen. I’m not blaming him for taking the opportunities that exist when I note that none of that is exactly about pointing you to what to eat in Chicago’s Chinatown; to do that you still have to find somewhere for it on the dwindling freelance market.

Anyway, I expect Dolinsky to continue covering Chicago; his game plan sounds very much like something he once told me he heard at a food writers’ conference at the Greenbrier, which is that you need three gigs at the same time to make it in freelancing, which together hopefully add up to a career. So one of them can be focused here. Meanwhile, we can kind of see where local news on food is going in a piece ABC 7 just ran on quesabirrias… picked up from a station in New Jersey.


With food media folks vanishing weekly, chefs are having to pick up the slack! Anyway, that’s one way to look at two pieces that popped up this week—at Eater, Phillip Foss (who is currently doing Boxcar BBQ) blasts the chunk delivery apps take out of restaurants’ hides:

We’ll start with a $30 check for some smoked ribs, sides, and an appetizer or dessert. Even with a 15 percent commission, the delivery apps take $4.50 off the top. Industry standards for food and labor costs come in around 60 percent, so let’s back out another $18, leaving a remainder of $7.50 to eke out a profit.

Sounds good so far, right? But here’s where the real dilemma begins. Industry standards for occupancy costs such as rent, utilities, waste removal, and the like are around 20 percent in most successful places. Anything higher than 30 percent and an eatery is in serious trouble.

Unfortunately, without butts in seats and highly profitable alcohol sales, most of us are still paying 2019 rents while bringing in revenues so low they look like they’re from the 1960s. Whereas labor and food costs would presumably go down with a lack of business, leases stay pretty much the same, meaning once-stable business models are now scraping the bottom of the barrel just to get by. It would be shocking if there were more than a handful of places with occupancy costs that were less than 50 to 60 percent of total revenue through 2020. And that can even increase for a large restaurant located in the center of town.

And at Medium, Rick Bayless offers a chronicle of the Year of COVID and pivoting to takeout:

I learned first-hand how soul-sapping the static noise of fear can be. It played in all our heads at a deafening volume. Where was the virus? Did you have it? Did she? Was it on my Amazon package or grocery bag or the apples I’d gotten at the corner store? Everyone was sure it was in the taxis and Ubers, on the bus seats. The masked-and-gloved crew we’d scheduled to handle the little business we garnered walked circuitously through our space, avoiding each other. They kept their heads bowed, as though looking up would invite the virus toward them. The roiling fear we all felt surfaced as jerky moves. For some it poured out as tears. Though they wanted to support the restaurant or were desperate for a paycheck, some of the staff came once but couldn’t return for months.

There’s too much in it to neatly summarize, read it all.

Buzz 2


We’ve reopened at 25% capacity—hey, that’s more than a public school has—or as @ChicagoBars summed it up on Friday:

@ChicagosMayor & @BACPChicago releases today your local bars and restaurants CAN NOT serve more than 25 people indoors even when State will allow it, but will be able to serve more people at one table AND at bar seating when IL allows it. None of this makes any sense.

But restaurateurs, for whom hope springs eternal no matter how government jerks them around, keep trying! Here are some I’ve heard about or got PR on:

Friend of Fooditor John Manion, of El Che Bar, moved to Berwyn a few years ago, making him even more the perfect person to do food at the legendary music club Fitzgerald’s out that way. Babygold Barbecue will open this spring with smoked meats and Creole-inspred dishes.

I should be interviewing Bill Kim for my book right as this gets published Monday morning; he’s launching a virtual pop-up called Pizza & Parm Shop starting Wednesday, at which time you’ll be able to get things like Detroit-style pizza with Korean BBQ Ground Beef and Kimchi.

The Press Room is one of those places I wondered about after months of lockdown, if it even still existed. Well, it does, and they just launched a Detroit-style pizza popup called Dough Daddy’s. Given the wine orientation of the place, they’re also selling wines to go.

Doug Psaltis, longtime Lettuce chef (once the P in RPM), is opening a Greek restaurant (his family background) with pastry chef wife Hsing Chen, Andros Taverna, on Milwaukee in Logan Square. This comes just as Lettuce itself revives the Papagus brand for popup takeout—the original offered Greek food in River North in the 90s.

Evette’s, which was on the Fooditor 33, is now open early for coffee and breakfast sandwiches and wraps.

Reve Burger, from Ever, now offers a spicy chicken sandwich.

Wow Bao has had product available in the freezer section at Mariano’s for a while, and now they’re serving ’em hot at the Ravenswood and Lakeview East locations, including breakfast bao and rice bowls.

Three House Chicago is a new concept coming in March, though given the chefs, Two Tylers would be a better name—they’re Tyler Nickson and Tyler Leblanc. Both worked at Sixteen, and individually at places including Schwa and Wishbone.

Sushi Suite, the place offering sushi in a hotel room at the Hotel Lincoln, reopened Friday.

Himmel’s Chicago has indoor dining available. Call for reservations.

I wanted to throw a party once serving TV dinners, but you couldn’t get the foil trays in anything less than massive quantities. Fulton Market’s Marvin’s Food & Fuel apparently bought the full case, as tbey’re now offering nostalgic TV dinners.


This takes me back: Mike Sula talking to farmers about unusual pig breeds like Mangalitsas and Red Wattles:

[Russell] Lee is a 35-year-old mechanical engineer and farmer who owns Russell Road Farm in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, just south of Kenosha. For the past five years he’s been slowly growing a herd of heritage breed swine on about 60 acres of open pasture, where they forage on native plants, roots, and the occasional burrowing critter—and supplemented by a good amount of oats and barley. “That goes to the fat quality,” says Lee. “It makes for a really white, buttery fat.” And that’s precisely the quality the Mangalitsa was historically raised for.


David Hammond tries Peranakan food, a subset of Malaysian food, at Kapitan:

Sometimes you see a new food and just want it, immediately. The first time I spotted couscous, it was the early seventies. I saw this now-common-to-America food served from steaming troughs at a French student cafeteria. Just looking at the couscous, I knew I would love it, and I did. I got the same tingle the first time I saw Otak-Otak, which I had for the first time at a Singapore hawkers’ market a few years ago: a mixture of minced fish and spices, steamed in a pandan or banana leaf, very moist and flavorful, love at first bite. Otak-Otak is served at Kapitan in smaller portions, and we greatly enjoyed the layers of flavor, with acidity coming from kaffir lime, slight sweetness from coconut milk, and the savory fish, all seasoned with chili, turmeric, lemon grass and betel leaf. Ingredient availability is always a challenge with Peranakan food, and Kapitan owner Victor Low says “The betel leaf was the hardest ingredient to find in Chicago, but we found what we needed at a Vietnamese market on Argyle.”


“Every cocktail comes from somewhere,” Puerto Rican mixologist Davíd Leon Jr. says in a short film about mixologists of color and the drinks they think represent their origins. It’s called Culture Shakers, by Storm Saulter, and read about it here at the Reader, then watch it here.


Nick Kindelsperger surveys seven recent additions to the local pizza scene, including Fooditor-approved tavern cut at Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream and Pizza Lobo, plus Indian pizza with an unusual business model in River North:

Like a lot of restaurateurs back in March 2020, Moti Cafe owner Jay Patel realized he needed to act fast to stay in business. His quick-service Indian restaurant in River North was struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic. But he noticed that a certain kind of restaurant was doing better than others. “I noticed pizza sales were off the charts,” says Patel. “We immediately started experimenting with Indian pizza.”

Less than a year later, he opened Masala Pizza, a virtual Indian pizzeria, which other restaurants can partner with to bring in more money. “We provide our sauces to existing pizzerias, so it can give them another source of revenue,” says Patel. “We teach them, give them training documents and recipe sheets.”


Monica Eng and Curious City answer a question about why we have so many Thai restaurants—one for every 38 Thais in Chicago, she says.


Fresh off leaving this food racket, Phil Vettel drops by Michael Muser’s Amuzed podcast to talk about… the economic viability of the inn Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye run in White Christmas, what the food was like at the Playboy clubs, and other burning questions of 2021. It’s a lot of fun with insight to spare into the reviewing game, just as it goes away. Listen to it here.


Cake brand Duncan Hines got its name from a real foodie who published guides in the mid-20th century to help salesmen like himself find the better places to eat on the road. Carrie Schedler does some vicarious travel through his books:

The reviews were written in a no-nonsense Midwestern parlance that occasionally verged on corny. “If you’re against cruelty to vegetables and like your meats well treated too, try Keeney’s,” he wrote of a cafeteria in Wooster, Ohio, in the 1945 edition. Of a spot in Michigan called the Islington, he remarked, “In the pine-scented north where there is no hay fever and plenty of fun. Good food is an added attraction. Their whitefish is very good!” As his readership grew, he started selling seals of approval that the restaurants he had recommended could proudly display in their windows. He was, in some ways, America’s first food influencer.