I’m looking for that one-armed man… okay, actually, I’m part of a panel on Chicago barbecue that will include tastings from host Dominique Leach (Lexington Betty Smokehouse), Brian Jupiter (Frontier and Ina Mae Tavern), Daniel Hammond (Smoky Soul BBQ) and Ron Conner (U Want Dat Smoke BBQ). The panel, which will talk about Chicago BBQ as a regional style, is led by Friend of Fooditor Cathy Lambrecht (Culinary Historians of Chicago) and includes myself and Monica Eng (Axios). It will be Sunday, February 25 at Lexington Betty Smokehouse, 756 E. 111th St. Tickets, which will benefit Culinary Historians American Midwest Scholarship Fund, are available here.

Here’s an article that includes three of the four pitmasters who will be there (but who you may not know—two were new to me).


Eater Chicago loves a financial scandal, or at least a clusterfark, and that describes the rapid collapse of David Pisor’s restaurant group that broke off from Maple & Ash after a dispute and now mainly seems to consist of locations of Etta in the midst of being closed. But the news that intrigued me the most was a side note in the opening paragraph:

Aya Pastry was a rare pandemic success story. While Chicagoans anxiously navigated the early days of COVID, the desire for comfort foods increased, and baker Aya Fukai — who rose through Chicago’s culinary ranks using her imagination and creativity as pastry chef at highly profitable Gold Coast hot spot Maple & Ash — was there with her baked goods: Fukai took inspiration from a variety of sources, including Girl Scout Cookies, which pushed her to create a supercharged doughnut, a decadent treat that looks like a Samoa cookie. Coffeehouses around town turned to Aya to supply pastries, and the bakery’s wholesale operation boomed, counting more than 50 clients including large grocery stores like Dom’s Kitchen & Market and independent coffee shops like Gaslight Coffee Roasters.

But behind the scenes, Fukai wasn’t exactly enjoying her tremendous success. She quietly left the bakery in October. Fukai’s exit came just 10 months after her backers at What If Syndicate dissolved the company. What If co-founder David Pisor brought Aya Pastry under his newly formed entity, Etta Collective.

Okay, that’s a bummer—Aya left Aya. I’ll be more interested in what she does next than in the ongoing financial saga as it continues to unfold, but kudos to Eater for a solid account of the mess.


I doubt a Chicagoan will learn much they don’t know—maybe some folks won’t know Jeff’s Red Hots in Portage Park—but kudos to Dennis Lee for educating the world on some classic Chicago hot dogs in Bon Appetit:

A fully loaded Chicago dog is absolutely magical. The mustard cuts through the beefiness of the dog, the onions bring an acrid sting, the tomatoes insert freshness, the relish carries welcome sweetness (and a Willy Wonkaesque pop of color), the pickle spear brings vinegar, the sport peppers add a sharp-spicy acid, and it’s all tied together—however strangely—by the celery salt, which leaves you with a satisfying vegetal afterglow. None of this might make any sense, but as soon as you take a bite, it will.


Eastern European food is hard to reconcile with the Western European food (mainly French) we associate with fine dining. It’s more often homey and rough-edged—though not at Anelya. John Kessler tries to reconcile these notions:

In terms of culinary ambition, design, service, and sheer will, Anelya is a captivating aesthetic object and, I’d venture, one of the most significant restaurants to open here or anywhere this past year. It’s also an exciting place to eat, with a menu of more than 30 items, from fresh pastas and cured meats to house ferments and fancy cakes. Over two visits, I sometimes wanted the food to be a little homier, a little less expensive, a little more stop-you-in-your-tracks delicious. Yet I loved it all the same for its brash, creative energy.

Here’s one place I disagreed with him:

Others dishes intrigue but don’t push the yum button. Borscht with duck confit and smoked pear lacks brightness. (It’s also $20.)

First of all, especially after a week at a resort in Palm Springs, $20 doesn’t seem expensive to me. But that exact borsch was the one dish at Anelya that really tasted like what my mom cooks when she gets her sort-of-Ukrainian heritage on (we aren’t Ukrainian, but one side of her family was German Mennonites who lived there for a time, something that tends to come out around Christmas). We may expect brightness in restaurant food, but to me it had the honest earthiness I expect in borscht, dressed up with duck and pear but still mainly rustic.

He also has a column about Ukrainian food in Chicago, and where to try it. He mentions the place I suggested last time (while acknowledging another friend’s problematic experience), Magic Jug on the northwest side. He didn’t ask me, but apparently others had the same thought:

Yet after asking around, I kept hearing that the best Ukrainian restaurant is Magic Jug in Portage Park. I can’t tell you if that’s true or not, but after one visit I will say it’s a sweet place with large, inexpensive portions of Eastern European comfort food. Golubtsi (cabbage rolls stuffed with ground meat and rice) come two to the order, as fat as éclairs and tender enough to cut with a fork. Borsch served with a big dollop of smetana sour cream had a lively flavor and reminded me of the best versions I tried in Russia.


Michael Nagrant visits two very different examples of heritage dining. First, let’s talk Anelya:

Polish food and Slavic food is not Ukrainian food, but the countries share a border. The cuisines may have slight variances in spelling and certain seasonings, but the sausages, the dumplings and the ferments are very similar.

And so while I am not Ukrainian, I recognize what’s happening at Anelya. In a “tower” of appetizers a glittering silvery trio of tiered trays wheeled tableside and piled high with zakusky or little appetizers, I see the foil wrapper platters of pickles and the silvery tinsel-trimmed pine that my grandfather fell with an axe from his own suburban Michigan backyard from my own family Christmas gatherings.

While at the modernized version of the Ramova Grill opened by Kevin Hickey, he gets in touch with his earlier food writer self:

I have further bad news. It’s not the same chili.  But, I also have good news: it’s still very good chili. Kevin Hickey, the culinary mayor of Bridgeport, king of the Duck Inn, he of the best hair of all chefs in Chicago, did not recreate old chili, one because he didn’t have the recipe, but also because he had the original chili recipe for another local but waning institution, Lindy’s.

As Hickey told Eater Chicago in 2019, his dad worked at Lindy’s, and was fired because he asked for a nickel raise. He took the recipe as retribution and the Hickey family built upon it to make it their own.

Speaking of the Ramova, WBEZ has a photo essay on what the revived movie theater (sibling to the Music Box) looks like now.


It’s Lent, so Steve Dolinsky goes for fried fish at Hagen’s:

Back in 1946, a couple of Scandinavian immigrants moved to the Northwest Side from Door County, Wisconsin. They brought with them an expertise in sourcing, smoking and frying fish. The business is still in the same family, now on its fourth generation.

Don’t call the fire department, it’s just another day at the city’s oldest operating fish smokehouse. Hagen’s has been a fixture in Portage Park since it opened its doors in 1946.

He also visited a suburban pizza place with ties to the original deep dish, Georgio’s in Crystal Lake and Barrington:

Both feature Chicago thin, a-k-a tavern style, as well as deep-dish; the latter from a recipe handed down from [owner Brain Coli’s] father, Michael, who in turn, got it from Alice Mae Redmond. Redmond cooked at Uno’s and Due’s in the 40s and 50s, then helped open Gino’s and later Gino’s East. She retired in 1989, but a year later, helped Michael Coli open Old World Pizza in Elmwood Park.

“He asked Alice if she would come over and help him how to make deep-dish pizza; she came over and taught him how to make it,” said Coli, owner of Georgio’s. “You know without her we wouldn’t be here today.”


Dominic Lynch (The New Chicagoan) declares Maxwell’s Trading the best new restaurant in town, beginning with a statement no one has said before:

The star of the meal was by far the Japanese sweet potato. The dish is not too much more complex than its name. A thick slice of a perfectly roasted (you guessed it) Japanese sweet potato is served on a bed of northern style Thai curry sauce (think peanut buttery panang curry) and basil leaves. The potato itself was brûléed to form a crunchy, sugary crust much like the dessert would be. Beyond the curry underneath, the potato was also possibly seasoned with five spice powder; at minimum, anise was noticeable. This dish was so unique and unexpected, and executed so well, that I could dine at Maxwells every day and only order the sweet potato.

A detailed review for a place that sounds like it deserves such careful attention.


I don’t really know what’s been going on at ‘atta girl, in the former Dos Urban Cantina space, but Titus Ruscitti says it’s still turning out Cafe Marie-Jeanne dishes after the departure of that place’s former owner:

According to the TDS team the kitchen is still being ran by many of the same cooks from Cafe Marie Jean who also worked under Bunny during their short collabo at ‘atta girl. I’ve dined there a few times since it’s a short walk from my spot. The most recent of those visits was after they announced Chef Bunny was no longer a part of the operation and I didn’t notice a difference in anything. It was the exact same staff as when they were there as far as I could tell. I didn’t notice anything different about the beloved ham, butter and pickle sandwich that starred at Cafe Marie Jean either. It was as luscious as it’s always been with every ingredient of it coming from the top shelf of the respective food groups.


Louisa Chu, Lauryn Azu and Kayla Samoy talk with Black Restaurant Week founder Lauran A. Smith about the “week” (like Chicago Restaurant Week, it’s more than a week) and ask her for some suggestions, such as:

Sample Haitian cuisine at Lior’s Cafe, which says it is the first Haitian restaurant on Chicago’s South Side and opened last year in Washington Heights. It will serve a prix fixe menu for $55 per person for Black Restaurant Week. Appetizers include pate (a Haitian beef patty) and accra fritters. Choose between a salad or chicken and dumplings for the first course, then pick poule avec sauce (stewed chicken), goat pot pie or griot (pork shoulder) for the second course, along with crispy fried plantains or pickled vegetables as side dishes. For dessert, enjoy either pound cake or banana ice cream pudding.


One of Dennis Lee’s recent Party Cut newsletters has the subhead “a first-timer’s visit to a legendary spot,” but that actuully fits the last two. The first, bearing that subhead, is about the pork chop sandwich at Jim’s Original near Maxwell Street:

I find this thing intriguing for a few reasons. One—pork chop sandwiches aren’t a particularly common thing in Chicago, and two, there’s a fucking bone in this one.

Please note that this is not a complaint. I just love that everyone’s gotten used to dealing with it and have stopped asking questions about it. You’ve got to locate the bone in the chop before you start eating, grasp firmly on the bun around that section, and chomp down slowly. In my case, the bone was really small, which made eating around it somewhat challenging, but I survived.

Then he goes to a place anyone who visits Wisconsin will know, Mars Cheese Castle:

Even being in the parking lot is fun. We watched a family taking photos, who then practically sprinted into the entrance that’s designed to look like a drawbridge. It’s like Medieval Times, but for cheese.


A sweet piece at the Reader commemorating author Tanikia Carpenter’s grandmother’s caramel cake prowess:

My holiday memories are vibrant with Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” on the car radio, shopping at Evergreen Plaza near Beverly on the south side, and eating Grandma’s caramel cake. But the cake wasn’t just for special occasions; there were also regular days that may have seemed mundane until I arrived at Grandma’s house and saw the beloved cake.

The caramel cakes were always there, until they weren’t.

I was also amused to see that the content maagement system kicked up three past stories which reference Brown Sugar Bakery, maker of Chicago’s finest retail caramel cakes… two-thirds of which were by your humble author back in his Reader days.


I’ve tried Trinidadian food in a restaurant in St. Croix, but not in Chicago. At WTTW, Daniel Hautzinger says where to try it:

At D’s Roti and Trini Cuisine, you can enjoy a dish that resembles a burrito, incorporates Indian flavors and names, is an iconic food of a Caribbean nation, and is made by an American. The Trinidadian roti is as unique as the multicultural island where it was created – and D’s Roti is one of only two restaurants in Chicago that serve it.

“When you bite into it, it’s so many levels,” says Dawn Lewis, the “D” of D’s Roti, which is located in Avalon Park. “You have the flatbread. You have the curry potato and chickpeas – channa. You have your curry meat.” Those flavorful fillings are folded into the split pea-stuffed bread to create a handheld wrap. “It’s like a dance in your mouth, honestly!”


Did you know high tea is actually a working class thing, and when the upper crust whip it up, it’s called “afternoon tea”? One of the fun facts you’ll learn from Cynthia Clampitt at NewCity.


En Process talks to Dario Monni. Who’s that? Well, Fooditor talked to him here when he first opened Tortello.

Bayan Ko now has a Filipino tasting menu. David Manilow calls it our most unique tasting menu, though I’d point out that it’s only the second Filipino tasting menu in town. Anyway, he talks to chef-owner Lawrence Letrero.

And Joiners talks to Todd Stein, whose career has stretched from Gordon to Ballyhoo Hospitality today.


That’s the question Sandwich Tribunal asks about the Galette-Saucisse, a Breton take on pigs in a blanket:

According to many sources I’ve read, Galette-saucisse purists insist that it should contain nothing but the sausage and the galette, so that is how I initially approached one. Unsurprisingly, with little else to distinguish this version, its quality will rely largely on the flavor of the sausage, and my chipolatas were up to the task. The sausage had sweet notes from the allspice, the mace, the tarragon, but was salty and savory with a nice kick of black pepper and garlic and plenty of pork fat, which is a sausage’s secret weapon. The buckwheat crepe was soft and flexible but pulled apart easily given the lack of gluten to give it resilience and structure. With the thinness of the chipolata, the galette became almost an equal partner in the flavor, and its earthy, nutty flavors complemented the sweetly savory sausage well.

But most of the videos I’ve seen did use a thicker sausage, and I happened to notice last week that Publican Quality Meats was selling Toulouse sausages, so I picked up a few and tried my hand at more of a stadium-style Galette-saucisse. ch thinner galettes as a result.


I was in Palm Springs/La Quinta* for most of the week, so I ate at a lot of upper class white people restaurants (best one: The Cliffhouse, which is built into the side of a big rock). Food was often skillful but a tad boring—I could have lived on either steak or Chilean seabass all week—but it was fun to return twice to Shields Date Garden, 100 years old this year, which offers the local specialty, date shakes, in an atmosphere that makes it easy to imagine a road trip in the 30s when everything around it was date farms, or groves, or whatever they’re called. (Everything around it now is adobe-col0red shopping malls.)

Anyway, things I ate in Chicago before we left:

Manchamanteles: the new restaurant led by Geno Bahena (Ixcapuzalco, Mis Moles, etc., not to mention the first sous chef at Frontera Grill 30+ years ago). It’s in the former Lazo’s Tacos on Western at Armitage, and what I assume from internal clues is that the same owners reconcepted it with Bahena offering a variety of regional dishes, rather than whatever Mexican-American was served before. I was quite excited when Bahena returned to the north side of Chicago with Mis Moles, where I saw Bahena running the kitchen close to solo, and the food was expertly made. Manchamanteles (named for a mole; it means “table-stainer”) seems to have retained the full staff of its predecessor, and I saw a number of people, but not Bahena, in the kitchen the night I went. I liked the menu, which I recognized a lot of, but the food was less expertly turned out than it had been at Mis Moles or (insert past Bahena restaurant here). Not saying I didn’t enjoy it, just that it was a bit distinguishable from the last time I ate his food.

Ekiben is a Japanese restaurant—maybe actually Thai, judging by the other items on the menu—on Irving Park a little west of Diner Grill. I was actually heading to Diner Grill when I spotted it. Looking it up at home, I saw a lot of rave reviews on Yelp from people in the North Center area, clearly excited to have a Japanese restaurant close by. So I ordered from them one night and… it’s okay, but let’s just say that the locals are clearly excited to have a Japanese restaurant close by. I tried two different onigiri, never a favorite of mine, a couple of pieces of sashimi which were okay, but I wouldn’t stop here for it when Raisu is another half mile or so down the road. The best thing I had was a tray of shrimp and vegetable tempura, quite nicely made and, surprisingly, delivered quickly enough to retain its quality. So I’d order modest, homey things from here, and save the sushi cravings for elsewhere.

Mangall Group is not a restaurant. I discovered it on Instagram (@mangall_chicago); it makes Russian/Caucasus region specialties for retail sale. The trouble was, everything was in Russian, so I couldn’t figure out where to try their products. Finally, the week before last, they showed one of the stores they’re in—Fresh Farms. So I went to the one in Niles and found several Mangall-branded items in the freezer section, picking up khinkhali. which are basically oversized soup dumplings. They had nice texture but the meat inside them had a distinct Russian gray mystery meat thing going on. Oh well, I’ll try something else next time and see how they are at, say, pelmeni.

* Not the national chain, but the Palm Springs-area hangout for movie stars in the 30s, which had its name stolen by the chain.