“Chicago May Lift Mask and Vax Mandates Ahead of Schedule,” Eater announces, optimistically if you ask me. True, Chicago public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady laid out a schedule with benchmarks, by which Chicago will be able to end the restrictions in a couple of weeks. Certainly after recent elections in which parents infuriated by ongoing school closures have voted out officials who backed COVID Restrictions Forever—most recently, in the San Francisco school system—even elected officials in the bluest of blue bubbles are getting nervous. When the pandemic started, there was the least risk in taking the strongest possible stance—think of Lori Lightfoot closing all public outdoor activities (beaches, parks, etc.) when that was by far the safest thing for people to do out of the home—but now the penalty for keeping a strong lockdown position when voters have decided what they’re willing to tolerate could be career-ending.

So will we all go back to crowding in bars and restaurants without masks? In much of America we already have. As commentator Noah Rothman observed on a podcast recently, “The pandemic restrictions are increasingly an esoteric feature of life in dark blue cities and states, and [they’re] not apparent anywhere in red America.” This was certainly my experience on my recent New Orleans trip. New Orleans had mask restrictions and required evidence of vaccination before entering a restaurant—but the whole drive back over two days, I never saw another mask on anybody’s face other than my own and my traveling companions’. That was Mississippi and bits of Arkansas and Tennessee, but it was also downstate Illinois—we grabbed lunch at a burger stand in Mattoon, jammed on a Sunday afternoon, and not a mask in site. It felt awkward to be the only ones wearing them, but no gang of rednecks chased us on the highway like in Easy Rider; we were just the weirdos with stuff on their faces, tolerated for half an hour.

To judge by social media, some are panicking about this imminent removal of our cloth masks, though even CDC officials now acknowledge that masking with the flimsy cloth masks available to regular people at the beginning of it all was pretty marginal in its usefulness. With widespread vaccination—and we’re now at 62% fully vaccinated in Illinois—the clock started ticking toward the day we’d return to semi-normal life, and accept a certain COVID rate as we do a certain amount of flu every winter. Hence Sunday’s New York Times piece, “Should You Still Wear a Mask?”, as if this were an open question in polite society and responsible media the last two years. We’ll hear a lot about the risk of that, as in this Atlantic piece about immunocompromised people in a world grown more casual about COVID. It’s a real threat for some people—but much less of one for most vaccinated people, and they’re going to start resuming normal life as a result. Take your own precautions, as you choose—some will wear masks for the rest of their lives. But the time of everyone wearing one everywhere is coming to an end.

Governor Pritzker expects to lift the indoor mask requirements on February 28; we shall see when the city follows suit. For now, Pritzker still wants K-12 schools to require masking (despite the fact that it’s of minimal efficacy for small children, and probably does the most harm to them developmentally—see the discussion of masks for kids in the NY Times piece linked above). In any case a couple of court cases may render the alliance of government and teachers unions to keep on requiring masks for kids moot. I expect that to be the next area where politicians find themselves between voters and pressure groups—without six feet of distance.


Steve Dolinsky’s pizza obsession will take a new turn this July 23 and 24, when he launches the Chicago Pizza Festival at the Plumbers Union Hall, 1350 W. Washington. Ovens will be trucked in onsite as 40 local pizzamakers offer their own to the kind of people who don’t normally drive to 84th and Pulaski for a pizza. As the website describes it,

…from 40 of the city’s best pizzerias. Working on 10 PizzaMaster ovens, each pizza will be made to-order, so you can experience the pizza as it was meant to be: fresh from the oven. Styles will include: Tavern, Deep-Dish, Stuffed, Sicilian, Roman, Thin, NYC Slice, Detroit & Artisan.

Special guests include Chris Bianco (Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix), Tony Gemignani (Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco) and Dan Richer (Razza, Jersey City) who will share their knowledge and expertise in a series of seminars throughout the weekend.

Get your early bird tickets now.


“Natural” wines are an area of controversy—I’ve had some that were interesting and unique, and others that seemed to be products of the Ocean-Spray company, hardly anything I’d call wine at all. Now you can go down that same rabbit hole at GoodFunk, a new wine bar from the group that has its neighbor, Beatnik on the River. Zach Long reviews it at Time Out:

Bonhomme Group wine director Colin Hofer takes a self-professed interest in “iconoclastic” winemakers, whether they’re using classic varietals like pinot noir and gamay or fermenting tea into a sparkling, low-ABV brew. That leads to a wine list that feels far more expansive than the typical “red, white or bubbly”—on a given night, you could try fruit wine from Sweden, a white blend from Maryland or zippy junmai gingo sake from Japan, plus pages of other options.

…You’ll want to pair your wine with some of GoodFunk’s top-notch appetizers, which range from veggie and jamón ibérico flatbreads to “tinned treasures,” a.k.a. fancy canned fish, served alongside bread from Cook au Vin. Don’t worry about wandering into any bad food and wine pairings, either: When I tried to order some spicy mackerel alongside the aforementioned syrah—an inky, mouth-wicking specimen—my bartender politely steered me in the direction of a breezy Riesling, a much happier accompaniment to the oily fish.

Buzz 2


John Kessler likes the tlayudas at Chile Toreado in McKinley Park, from the brothers behind 5 Rabanitos:

There are meat and veggie versions, and the latter ($10.50) thrilled us with the riotous textural contrasts of roasted squash and potatoes, pickled onions, and tender poblano strips, and the great crisp cragginess of the corn base.


Many years ago I went to the Bay Area, and I think it was in Santa Cruz that I saw Vietnamese fast food everywhere—and felt that banh mi and pho were going to be the next big thing. Not quite yet, but we get a little closer, Titus Ruscitti explains, with a new pho joint, Pho Le 777, calling out its California roots:

There’s never a bad time for a bowl of pho and the dead of winter is always a good time for one. I noticed a new spot that had just opened up north in one of the commercial lots on McCormick just off Lincoln avenue. It sits one lot over from the popular Pho 5 Lua. I was intrigued when I learned that this is the second location of a Vietnamese restaurant from California. They have great Viet food out there especially in some parts of Orange County. Pho Le 777 comes from Clovis near Fresno.

He also visits Roux, the Southern spot in Hyde Park from Charlie McKenna, and Uzbek samsas (samosas, but baked not fried), at Tandoor Samsas in Buffalo Grove.


It’s an obvious comparison but to make it you have to have good examples of both in the same city. Steve Dolinsky puts the Italian beef at The Original Mr. Beef in Homer Glen up against a Philly cheese steak at Mojo’s East Coast Eats in Downers Grove.


Last week there were pieces on the Warsaw Inn, in southeastern suburban Lynwood, closing up after 50 years. This week the Trib has a piece on longtime patrons turning out to say goodbye—and owner Angie Golom thinking maybe it won’t be:

“Since announcing our closing, there are more than 2,000 comments on our Facebook page and we have gotten between 500 and 1,000 phone calls a day.”

“The response has been unbelievable,” she said.

So much so, she may delay the closing.

“We’ll see. I just didn’t expect this kind of support,” she said. “So many people wanting to come one more time.”

Here’s my thought. Sure, you could make your way to Lynwood to try this place just before it closes up—if so inclined, go for it. Or you could also support a Polish or Eastern European restaurant closer to you. There are examples around the city and in many suburbs—and they are, arguably, the most overlooked part of our city’s food culture. There’s no better time for this hearty food than the dead of winter, too. So give one of them a try—before they have to announce their closing to get your attention.


At Resy, Angel Burke tells how the day after her father’s funeral, there was just one place to go: Lem’s Bar-B-Q.


Louisa Chu talks to Josephine Wade, whose soul food business in Chatham—variously known as Captain’s Hard Time Dining and Josephine’s Soul Food—has been around for almost 60 years and soon will have spinoffs on the north side.

10. UBE U.

Grace Wong writes about Side Practice Coffee in Ravenswood, which opened shortly after the pandemic started and uses its space to let people with small food businesses showcase them alongside their coffee.


David Hammond decided to try making coq au vin with actual coq—that is, rooster. (Old stewing hens are usually what I hear should be used, not that they’re to be found at meat markets.) It doesn’t go as expected:

After picking up our rooster, we cut it apart and were amazed at the dark red color of the meat, almost like beef. Taking a cue from Harden, for a marinade we chopped carrot, celery and onion into a bowl, added the cut-up chicken and a bay leaf, poured in a full bottle of Côtes du Rhône, and marinated the bird for three days.


Now here’s a listicle you haven’t seen before: Audarshia Townsend on the ten best scenes of black people eating in movies and on TV:


Nobody locally writes better obitauries than the Sun-Times’ Maureen O’Donnell. and this week brings a classic, a flavorful portrait of a real Chicagoan, Steve Cuneen, owner of Cuneen’s bar in Rogers Park, who died at 86:

It has wooden floors, dim lighting and a clock with a glued-on image of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, an ironic nod to a political boss who was about the opposite of the bar’s beat generation-meets-hippie sensibility.

There was no jukebox. If it had been up to Mr. Cunneen, his turntable would have spun jazz all night. But he believed the bartender on duty should be the boss.

“Bartenders played whatever they wanted,” said Bill Savage, who was one of them for 27 years at Cunneen’s and teaches Chicago literature at Northwestern University. “He wanted chess boards on the tables. Longhairs welcome, shorthairs welcome. Eccentricity was not just tolerated, it was embraced.”

Dogs were fine. Depending on the tolerance of whoever was on duty, you might even find a canine customer on a bar stool.

There’s lots more, read the whole piece here.


It’s nothing unusual to walk into an Italian restaurant in Chicago and find Frank blaring on the sound system, but something about the way he sang “Summer Wind” as I entered Elina’s seemed to put air quotes around the whole experience. Co-chefs Ian Rusnak and Eric Safin worked in New York as well as Chicago, Safin at Carbone among others, Rusnak most recently as culinary director for Hogsalt, and Elina’s seems like the synthesis of all of that in doing classic Italian-American supper club food for a crowd of Don Drapers and their women, popular choices straight out of the Hogsalt playbook. So we started with fist-sized meatballs and a Caesar salad, and went on to comfortable plates of housemade pasta and a chicken parmesan the size of a pizza—all dishes designed to light up the “familiar” receptors in your brain. Other choices include old school classics like Dover sole, clams Casino and shrimp Scampi.

The issue with a short menu of all classics is how well it’s executed. The meatballs were well made, the pasta was good enough, if not anything that felt like it was surprising with the freshness of its flavors. On that count Segnatore a couple of weeks ago did a better job of pleasing me with the basic flavors of Italian food. The chicken parmesan was as comfy as you’d like. But two other dishes missed the mark enough, in kind of the same way, to prompt head-scratching—a Caesar salad had a horseradish note in the dressing that made it nearly unpleasant to eat, and a side of broccoli with a lemon-butter-garlicky sauce of some sort was puckeringly tart, not just lemon but a garlicky bite—again, a little hard to even eat, let alone like.

Another thing Elina’s has in common with Hogsalt restaurants is that it’s been jammed since the moment it opened, in the space that was most recently The Gringo. (This despite not having a liquor license yet.) Now that they’ve established that they have an audience, I’d love to see them get a little more adventurous than rigatoni with vodka sauce and penne with prosciutto and peas in a cream sauce—some of that seafood could go with pasta, for instance. My experiences with Italian food in New York usually introduce me to new flavors or approaches I haven’t seen yet here, but if Carbone does that (I haven’t been), Elina’s isn’t—yet.