I feel like I wrote about a chef named Quentin Love doing turkey-based soul food back in Grub Street days, but Louisa Chu says his first restaurant came in 2014, when he opened TurkeyChop Gourmet Grill in Humboldt Park. Now he’s opened a North Lawndale spot, The SoulFood Lounge, offering a $59 tasting menu—though don’t think that means small portions:

There’s a lot of value in that $59 dinner, which includes a nonalcoholic drink and your choice of three entrees. The tasting menu portions are big, but one-third the size of a la carte dishes so large, I can’t help but think of family-style platters served on a Chinese restaurant’s lazy Susan.

Your server will perhaps recommend the Marsala-braised pot roast, and its side of fried Brussels sprouts. It’s a good suggestion to take. The deeply delicious bowls of tender, sauced beef and crisp cruciferous greens will tempt you to eat too much, before you remember they’re just one course. There’s much more to come.


It can stir controversy but tiki never dies, even if tiki bars that go woke do, and the Reader salutes a most unwoke North Riverside tiki joint, Chef Shangri-La—with its own Elvis impersonator:

Even though boozy tiki drinks like the Mai Tai or Dr. Fongs and the expansive Cantonese menu alone could justify the crowd, the main attraction begins shortly after 7 PM. Elvis has entered the building. The restaurant is suddenly quiet and the King himself serenades the tipsy dining room. The live entertainment occurs within the crowd, facilitating an intimate, far more engaging experience than an onstage performer. Suddenly, it’s clear why Chef Shangri-La upholds its distinctive, timeless legacy and why customers keep coming back.


Somehow, Michael Nagrant reviews his teenage son and barbecue at Babygold (next to Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn) in the same piece:

I worry that you see my frustration and not my determination to write. I worry that as I see you housing your cheeseburger with fervor, you see me hunched over my delicious but cognac-spiked and praline-dusted whipped cream infused coffee at 11 AM on Saturday, the same way I see the blonde woman slamming her third glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the corner at the bar: one seeking balm for believing they’ve made so many wrong choices.

My choices aren’t always wrong, but they do seem like a complicated mix of chasing mirages and oases (Obviously, I should stick to the rivers and lakes that I’m used to).

The babyback ribs at Babygold are a lot like this too. They have a nice chew, are well seasoned and accompanied by perfectly piquant pink curls of pickled onion. But the bark, it’s lacquered sheen beckoning like the classic swoop of a headlight housing on a Burgundy Porsche 911, is a touch mushy like it’s been held over too long.


David Hammond talks about the path that led woman BBQ pitmaster Dominique Leach (Lexington Betty) and her co-owner/wife Tanisha Griffin Leach from Oak Park to taking over a food hall in Pullman:

“I never would have considered closing our North Avenue location; that was our flagship,” Dominique told us recently. “But we came in one day to a broken pipe and a broken water heater. It was a disaster. Our landlord said she had no more money to fix the problem.” So Dominique and Tanisha focused on their location in Pullman, where they joined other entrepreneurs setting up businesses in One Eleven Food Hall.

Then… The other restaurant-residents of One Eleven Food Hall packed up and left. This may have been a good thing, as it gave Lexington Betty Smokehouse room to expand. Both Dominique and Tanisha have a lot of drive; they’re always moving on to something new and overcoming challenges, some inevitable, others unexpected—like when someone tossed a Molotov cocktail into their food truck, destroying it. They have a shiny new food truck now.

He also talks about their new venture—wagyu hot dogs, available at Mariano’s and other retail establishments.


Steve Dolinsky talks about deep dish pizza at George’s and Milly’s, the two hot deep dish pizzas of the moment, because it was National Pizza Day recently. Oh, who are we kidding? He talks about pizza because it’s pizza:

“It’s a biscuit dough. It’s really not a bread dough,” said [George] Bumbaris, owner of George’s Deep Dish.

“And I saw in Greece how they were doing it on a bread called lagana, which is similar to focaccia, and I decided, let me try this route.”

…A mile away, at Milly’s Pizza in the Pan, Robert Maleski is a one-man operation. Even though he grew up eating Barnaby’s thin crust, a trip to Burt’s in Morton Grove changed his life. He’s been obsessed with that deep pan pizza ever since.

“It has a nice separation between the dough and then there’s a nice frico crust all the way around – caramelized cheese,” said Milly’s owner, Robert Maleski.


Speaking of bowls of hot food—well, I will be shortly—Dennis Lee recommends a Guatemalan resataurant, Amatitlan Restaurante:

The bowl of red stew comes with a generous amount of bone-in chicken, potatoes, and green beans. There’s a ton of chile flavor packed into that sauce, but it’s not spicy, and since the sauce is thickened with pumpkin seeds, it’s got a rich velvety texture that feels very nourishing. I can certainly see why this is Guatemala’s national dish, I’d be proud as hell of it too.

I imagine that in Guatemala each family has its own slightly different version, all of them pretty spectacular.


I wasn’t sure at first if The Infatuation’s capsule review of the new Boka Group-Daniel Rose French restaurant Le Select reflected an actual visit or just a scan of the menu, but here’s an actual opinion about something I hadn’t heard about:

…for $25 per person, you can get a little rolling cart of hors d’oeuvres where bite-sized canapes are served, and a pillar of butter is sliced tableside. Are the mini eggplant vol-au-vents perfectly flaky? Yes. Is it overall a fun experience? Also yes, but we suggest saving that money for one of the fantastic standalone appetizers (like the raw tuna in an acidic ravigote sauce) instead.


Rubi Ruiz is a staffer at one of Stephen Gillanders’ restaurants—I assume S.K.Y.—who was assaulted and badly beaten in the mid-morning in Pilsen on February 2. A GoFundMe to help her with her medical bills is here.


I don’t eat Eastern European food regularly, but if there’s one time of year I do it’s when it’s bitter cold and a big meaty, carb-y meal of stick-to-your-ribs food will provide the internal combustion to keep you warm and alive. Two places I tried recently to get my fixski:

Baltic Good Polish Food is located exactly where I’d look for a place like that—in the Harwood Heights strip mall just west of the city line on Lawrence, which has long been a international crossroads where, say, Slavic and Filipino food nestle side by side. (Here’s what I wrote about it years ago—almost none of those places still exist, but the spirit is the same.) The size of a sandwich shop, it nevertheless manages to have a lengthy menu, but for a first visit I stuck to a sample platter—slightly vulgar, like ordering a cheeseburger with a slice of pizza and some wings, but you can’t argue with the efficiency of getting a hunk of Polish sausage, some potato pierogi, a splat of sauerkraut and a holubky (cabbage roll filled with rice in a tomatoey gravy). It hit as many spots as one plate of food could; I will be back to try more.

I wasn’t expecting a place near Lawrence and Damen called Sweet Moon to be in the same vein—to judge by photos on Yelp it looked like a bakery. Well, it is a little bit—it has multi-layer cake slices (a typical Russian thing)—but the bulk of its menu seemed to be cooked dishes like crepes for breakfast and some hearty dishes like solyanka (a rustic Russian/Ukrainian soup), while the staff looked Chinese. I guessed that combination meant somewhere like Uzbekistan, and when I asked the guy who seemed to be the owner he said I was close—Kyrgyzstan, which is the next country to the east of Uzbekistan, bordering China. Anyway, it was Saturday breakfast, so my wife had a Nutella crepe (which he told us was a concession to American tastes in the neighborhood) and I had syrniki, which are little pancakes stuffed with quark and served with jam and sour cream. Anyway, fun to have something so different for breakfast not far from me, with Russian voices on phones in the background as if Jason Bourne was going to come in and kick some ass at any moment, but I’m going back for a hot bowl of solyanka.

*  *  *


The book

The book

Friends of Fooditor Monica Eng and David Hammond dig into the history of beloved Chicago foods in Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites, coming from University of Illinois Press on March 21 (and available for pre-order now). From obvious things like Italian beef and deep dish pizza to mysterious oddities like the more than century-old shrimp deJonghe (has anyone actually had that?) and taffy grapes (widely available on the South Side), it chronicles the inventiveness of Chicago joints in coming up with things that give the eater their Chicagoan bona fides. And there couldn’t be two better scholars to deep-dive into all these topics—whatever you know about jibaritos, for instance, goes back to a piece where Eng first explained that local specialty, and Hammond has been a devotee of such things going back to his days on the original LTHForum.

I threw a few graduate-level Chicago foodology questions at Hammond, who answered thusly:

FOODITOR: Why do you think Chicago has so many locally invented dishes that have stuck around? Are there other cities that seem to have so much local creativity? (The only one I can think of that seems to have multiple local specialties is Cincinatti—are there others?)

DAVID HAMMOND: The obvious—and perhaps too easy—answer to your first question is that many of the dishes mentioned in “Made in Chicago” are (with few exceptions) delicious. One explanation for their continuing popularity, and the secret ingredient in all the dishes listed in “Made in Chicago,” is civic pride. How else to explain the enduring popularity of the mother-in-law and Malort? They’re both Chicago things, the people of our city have known many of them all their lives, and even if the taste of some is not generally considered all that wonderful, they still hold a place in the hearts and stomachs of many of us.

Even pathological hatred of a food can be a source of civic pride. Exhibit A: ketchup on a hot dog. To loudly proclaim that ketchup on a dog is blasphemy, sacrilege, a capital crime, etc., is a way of asserting one’s Chicago-ness.

Cincinnati? I dunno. I find 3-, 4- and 5-way chili to be insipid, with a mass-produced vibe that is very unappealing, and goetta (a sausage of grain and sometimes animal fats and proteins) is good as far as it goes, but I had a hard time finding it on any menus in Ohio. That said, I’m not sure there are other North American cities, besides Chicago, that have so many “original” foods – if they exist, I sure don’t know about them. In this way, as well as others, Chicago may stand alone.

And about the continuing popularity of Chicago foods, consider this quote from Jim Christopoulos, owner of Jim’s Original, about the Maxwell Street Polish sandwich: “convenient, cheap, quick, filling, and delicious.” Those are five reasons why food like this endures.

One of the things in the book is the Chicago Chinese egg roll—turns out Chinese restaurants here put a certain secret ingredient in theirs, which you apparently don’t see elsewhere: peanut butter. What turns a dish from being just an ethnic food to being specifically a Chicago invention?

A traditional ethnic dish becomes a “Chicago invention” when that ethnic dish is so modified as to be almost unidentifiable by members of the originating culture. Take the Chicago corn roll tamale; yes, it’s a corn meal jacket surrounding a meat-like core, but it’s a damn tube. I sincerely doubt that if you held one up in front of a person from a traditional Mexican culture, you’d probably get a blank stare. This Chicago tamale is extruded from a machine, and this production method is appropriate for a Mexican food appropriated by a major industrial city.

Similarly, gam pong chicken wings: Asian diners would recognize many of the flavors but would likely not recognize as familiar the frenched wings and dripping sauce. Or consider Chicago’s flaming saganaki: you put a pan of blazing cheese in front of a Greek native, and he’ll be yelling not “Opa!” but rather “Fire!”

Like many Americans, Chicagoans tend to overdo things, and the deep dish pizza is a good example of that. The Margherita pizza, considered by many the first expression of pizza pie, would take up less than 10% of the volume of a small deep dish pizza. In America, we like things big: houses, cars, bombs and pizza.

A lot of them are pretty familiar, like Italian beef. What’s one you wish more people knew about and would eat?

I genuinely enjoy Taffy Grapes (fresh grapes dipped in frosting and drizzled with crushed nuts). The sweet and juicy fruit, slightly acidic to balance the frosting and the fat of the nuts, and the added sweetness of the frosting make this a very fine dessert. However illusory the sensation, eating fruit for dessert (even covered in frosting) seems like a “healthy option” which you might be in the mood for after a big steak sandwich from Baba’s Steak & Lemonade.

Are there local dishes that have died out? (The obvious candidate to me would be chili, which was a major source of nutrition in the early 1900s, but I don’t know if there was ever a specific Chicago style—I suspect there was more likely an early 20th century style common to many places then.)

In “Made in Chicago,” we did not delve into mass manufactured foods that were first offered in Chicago, like Cracker Jack and Twinkies. If we had, some local foods that we would have mentioned would be the candy that was once made in Chicago, like Frango Mints. Like many Chicagoans, I felt we lost some of our heritage when Marshall Field’s closed and the mints were made elsewhere; the irony, of course, is that Frango mints were originally made in Seattle.

What’s something you never got around to trying before you did the book?

The sweet steak sandwich is something I had never tried before writing the book, and there’s a reason for that: I don’t find beef and sweet flavors to be especially appealing. Sweet and pork, fine, but sweet beef, no, not a big fan. And no, I’m not a fan of sweet BBQ sauce on my brisket, either.