When I wrote about the decline of Italian beef, I never suspected that one of the factors that would try to kill off Chicago’s greatest indigenous blue collar foodstuff would be that Gonnella, one of the leading suppliers of the right bread for Italian beef, would stop making and delivering fresh bread. But that’s exactly what has happened—I can only assume that Italian beef spots knew. Gonnella is going into frozen dough exclusively—I imagine that means that some chains like Portillo’s or Buona Beef can bake their own from Gonnella’s frozen product, but the smaller guys have likely been scrambling to find a replacement supplier. (Steve Dolinsky says Johnnie’s Beef switched to Turano a year ago—they must have known something.) So Chicago Italian beef isn’t exactly going away—but it tells you where the market is going if it’s not enough to sustain Gonnella in a business it was a big player in for decades. (Tribune)


Shocker: Phil Vettel is favorable toward Carrie Nahabedian’s new restaurant, even though he hints that Kostali, in The Gwen hotel, is like a greatest hits survey of Naha’s tenure: “What remains at Kostali is a menu that has enough echoes of Naha that longtime fans will embrace it… the menu, executed by chef de cuisine Jose Valdez, takes its inspiration from the Mediterranean coast, a healthy amount of influence from the Nahabedians’ Armenian and Greek heritage, and a few more Naha echoes. One appetizer, Our Mothers’ Feta Cheese Turnovers, is a riff on a dish that once graced Naha’s menu, now conceived as a mashup of Carrie’s and Michael’s respective mothers’ recipes. The phyllo triangles are stuffed with kefalotyri, cottage and Mt. Vikos cheeses (the latter a Greek feta), dusted with zaatar spice mix and laid on a plate bearing smears of pumpkin puree and date molasses. It’s a yummy little four-bites-and-gone snack.” Two stars.


Well, I know where I’m going this week. Mike Sula has a lovely story about a Cameroonian woman, Julia Gham, and her struggles to open a restaurant serving her food, which she finally did in the South Loop, called Powerhouse: “Gham’s mom joined her in the U.S. in 2017 after violent unrest made things unsafe back home, and they cook everything to-order, from scratch, including khati khati, a grilled and baked chicken dish seasoned with sharp pebbe, aka African nutmeg, and finished in a bit of palm oil, a specialty of her own Nso tribe. This is served with a spicy side of njama njama, typically the sautéed leaves of the garden huckleberry. Sometimes that’s difficult to get when sources from Atlanta or Minnesota are depleted, so she subs a combination of spinach and bitterleaf, another foundational green that finds its way into the common West African egusi soup, thickened with ground melon seeds, and its Cameroonian cousin ndole, based on ground peanut, and served with a choice of protein (particularly good with shrimp, aka ndole crevette).”


Crain’s visits an actual name restaurant for a change—Paul Virant’s Gaijin. Should I be relieved that they don’t recommend that their business audience flood it for lunch meetings? (“Customers seated at a table with a teppan warmer may find their knees knocking into the heating unit attached to the underside of the table.”) Maybe a little. Anyway, Joanne Trestrail has mixed feelings about the okonomiyaki (“Both were goopy, sweet and had too many things going on for any ingredient to stand out”), preferring the yakisoba bowls.


John Kessler says visit Phodega for the pho and Hainanese chicken rice, come back for the quirky sensibility: “On a repeat visit, I began to appreciate the sly humor of owners Nathan Hoops and Anthony Ngo. The letter-board menu reads like a list of Asian hangover cures. You can start with a pizza puff or crisp chicken skins with chile-garlic sauce, then move on to pho or chicken rice with a sidecar of broth and crunchy fried thigh. The walls are lined with necessities like Spam, Q-tips, and packs of instant ramen (you know, necessities). Like at any good bodega, staff will even cook the ramen for you if you’re too rushed — or lazy — to do it yourself.”

Also eating at Phodega is Titus Ruscitti: “Chicken rice has become very popular over the years and is found at more and more spots outside of SE Asia where each country has their own little version. It’s a simple dish made from poached chicken which when made also makes the stock which the rice is then cooked in. Most spots will serve it with a bowl of the broth which diners can use to dip both the chicken and rice. It’s Asian comfort food at it’s finest… If you don’t like Vietnamese comfort food they also sell pizza puffs, instant noodles, and rolling papers. ”


Veteran local mixologist Benjamin Schiller turns up in a surprising place—Anthony Todd says he’s doing sophisticated cocktails for the new RPM Seafood. And in this case, a mocktail: “Schiller created a nonalcoholic version of Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based liqueur. To do this, he used an induction burner that could be set at a very precise temperature so the alcohol in the Pimm’s burned off but the remaining ingredients didn’t change. Then, he made a Pimm’s cup with raspberry syrup, cucumber, and watermelon. The flavor is still there — all that’s missing is the booze.”


I haven’t linked every turn in the tale of the rapid dimunition of the Chicago Tribune, as it’s been both widely covered and depressing as hell, but I do recommend Vanity Fair’s story on piranha-like Alden Capital, which makes it pretty clear that the eventual liquidation of the city’s largest paper is more likely than not. And that Alden Capital is a company with zero interest in the business of journalism, not least because they are completely inaccessible to Tribune employees or any other journalists—one managed to find the mansion where Alden honcho Heath Freeman lives, and he was quickly chased away to maintain Freeman’s virginity on ever making a public statement about what he has responsibility for. Anyway, good reading to have all your worst fears abundantly confirmed.

My question remains, if the Trib’s ownership is so shamefully determined to flood the streets with their best people, as the current buyouts are doing, why are people still thinking about a white knight savior? A far better move, that doesn’t involve having to touch the Aldens and Ferros with so much as a ten foot pole or enrich them further, would be launching a new kind of journalism model, and cherrypicking talent already out of there where needed. If Alden is determined to suck the Trib dry, why not steal some of its audience away with something new and vibrant before they reap the full benefit of their soulless voraciousness?


The Trib’s food focus this month is spicy foods, and Nick Kindelsperger has news you can use on your food with this piece on the different kinds of spicy sauces available at different kinds of restaurants around town, from Chinese to Mexican: “Spice is also a personal journey. What I might find mild, others could consider lethal. That’s where table hot sauces come to the rescue. Whether it’s a bottle of hot sauce or a container of spoon-able salsa, they allow each guest to customize the heat experience. Many places treat these condiments as automatic and essential, either leaving them on the table or bringing them over after an order is placed. This makes eating an interactive dance of drizzling different sauces to see how they match with the food. Sometimes the hot sauce clashes, and you have to move on. But more often than not, the sauce opens up a whole new way to experience your meal.”


Tony Hu recently announced that he plans to open a lavish hot pot restaurant in the former Won Kow space in Chinatown. But first… he opened a hot pot place! Mrs. Gu Skewers and Hot Pot is the first American outpost of a popular Hong Kong chain, says Steve Dolinsky: “Huddled over steaming cauldrons of soup, hot pot is an excellent way to sample lots of different things while keeping warm in the wintertime. For Chinese ex-pats, the sight of a Mrs. Gu Skewers and Hot Pot is almost like an American spotting a McDonald’s. Families spend time cooking and eating together here, and so when the company approached local chef and restaurateur Tony Hu, plans came together quickly.”


For sheer this-is-really-what-it-used-to-be-likeness, you can’t do better this week than this piece at Chicago about how Chicago reversed its ban on women bartenders, 50 years ago. (You could work in a place you or your family owned, like Wanda Kurek at Stanley’s, but you couldn’t just get a job anywhere.) The answer is that lawyers and judges sniggered their way to ending the ban. Here’s city attorney Benjamin Novoselsky and Judge James B. Parsons on the dangers to men of women working in taverns:

Novoselsky: Your honor, they can sweet-talk them, and they can convince them and they can mesmerize them, some of them hypnotize in some way – a poor fellow would not know what he was drinking and, lo and behold, if something happens in that bar, the licensee can lose his license but Mary can go across the street and get a job there.

Parsons: Do you mean women are in the habit of mesmerizing men?

Novoselsky: Your honor, be it any way any different since time —

(For what it’s worth, my wife says she had high regard for Judge Novoselsky, which he eventually became; it’s just, 1970 was 1970.)

Meanwhile, see if you don’t think that 1970 hangs on in certain precincts when you read this piece at Salon about women food critics not getting the same experience as male critics—no Ruth Reichl-like disguises necessary to get the high hat:

When Besha Rodell reviewed a new, hotly-anticipated restaurant called Otium for LA Weekly in 2016, she awarded them two out of five stars. After she finished writing, Rodell — who at the time was the restaurant critic for the weekly paper — began to read what the other critics in town had to say. That was when she found out about the other wine list.

LA Times wine writer Patrick Comiskey’s review of the same restaurant mentioned a second wine list that had been offered to him immediately. Not only was that list longer, but it had a better selection of lower-priced bottles…

Reading Comiskey and Rodell’s pieces on Otium side-by-side, it’s difficult to believe that they are describing the same restaurant. The second wine list was concrete evidence of how dismissed Rodell felt by the restaurant’s staff, while Comiskey had found the service amiable. Why would the restaurant not give all patrons equal access to all of the menus? How common is this discrepancy in treatment? Eleven interviews with former and current female restaurant critics have suggested that restaurants are a little like living organisms; they respond differently depending on who walks in the door.

Read the whole piece; it touches quite interestingly on a lot of things about trying to review a moving target like a restaurant (like how you do so when you’re a parent, which even a white male such as myself has experienced).


Fascinating essay at Reddit by a longtime poster on Chinese food who’s now more or less on lockdown in his city (Shunde, near Guangzhou); scarcity and time on his hands at home lead him not only to contemplate what he can cook, but the nature of what we tend to eat now—and whether we’re in a post-creative period for food in the last half century or more:

When it was just out-of-touch white American chefs mindlessly smushing together high end French and Japanese food in the 80s, you could kind of get why “fusion” sucked: it was pretty much the dictionary definition of pretention. But now… now we have all these resources… now we have so much more diversity in chefs… and the best the great culinary minds of our generation can come up with is… fucking Kung Pao Pastrami? Seriously?

It circles back to the importance of limitations, I think. Limitations help break you out of functional fixedness – i.e. limiting yourself to using an object only in the way it’s traditionally used.

That’s just a little taste, read the whole thing. (H/t Carlos Hernandez/Nik Sharma)


Phillip Foss’s latest piece is at The Takeout, not Medium, spelling out what you’re really in for if you open a restaurant.


Instead of, or at least in addition to trying to score a deal during Chicago Restaurant Week, why not check out some of the participants February 9 through 16 in Chicago Black Restaurant Week, not only supporting them but exploring your city? Here’s the list, which is now up to 37 participating restaurants in its fifth year.


Breakfast at Ina’s,the documentary about Ina Pinkney which you may have seen clips from at the Jean Banchet Awards, is now available for streaming on Amazon; go here (and watch for the Fooditor family in big puffy winter coats for two seconds!)


Friend of Fooditor Richard Shepro gave a talk a couple of years ago on the historical roots of the “rules” of marrying food with wine in French culture at the Oxford Symposium on Food (you can read a version of the paper here). He’ll be talking on this same subject this Thursday at the Alliance Francaise with fellow scholar Rebecca Spang (The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture); if you feel like getting your French intellectual on with the kind of talk about food that quotes Brillat-Savarin and Roland Barthes, this is your chance.

Here’s a preview piece that gives more details about what it’s going to be about. When Spang first told her Harvard adviser that she wanted to study food culture, he replied, “Miss Spang, you can’t study home economics at Harvard.” (Her book, by the way, was eventually published by Harvard University Press.)

There have been a lot of chances to hear from Louisa Chu and Monica Eng lately, here’s one that comes with food and booze—they’ll be at the Cubby Bear Wednesday night in an installment of Food Booze & Tunes with Cleetus Friedman.


I ate at two restaurants next door to each other this week, and not intentionally (though throw in Taqueria El Asadero and you have a candidate for Best Eating Block in Chicago). First I went to Menya Goku, the newest ramen spot from the folks who have Wasabi, Ramen Takeya and Omakase Takeya. A chic little spot slipped into a tiny slot along Montrose opposite Welles Park, they have fairly typical tonkotsu ramen but also tantanmen ramen, which is a hybrid of ramen and Chinese dandan noodles—so more Sichuan peppercorn heat, as well as ground pork instead of slices of chashu, and the springiness of ramen noodles instead of just the doughiness of Chinese noodles. If you don’t mind the heat, it’s good; if you do, the tonkotsu is good too, as was the very tender kara-age (fried chicken to us).

Then on the weekend I went next door to Lizzy J Cafe, which is an African-American-owned soul food-tinged breakfast spot. I liked the food (though my son’s biscuits and gravy was oversalty), a little pricey but justified by the ample portions, like the fat crabcake on my crabcake benedict. What I really liked, though, was the warm welcome, which reminded me of an all-time favorite, Five Loaves Eatery (see this Fooditor piece). This one’s a charmer, check it out sooner than later.