1. MY PIE

It’s not exactly a best-of piece, though people took it that way. Christopher Borrelli’s piece on 16 cult pizzas in Chicago—really Chicagoland, as they range all over the suburbs—is more a tribute to an essential feature of Chicago life: “It’s your neighborhood pizza, it’s the pizza you grab on the way home, the pizza you crawl into when 6 inches of snow cover the ground and the pizza you return to decades after you have moved away somewhere. Its makers occupy Chicago storefronts that are closer to urban wallpaper, everywhere and nowhere, seen and not seen, necessary to live here yet taken for granted, paradoxically rooted in your personal history though somehow underrated.”

Anyway, he has ones familiar to me—Bill’s in Mundelein, Pizza Castle in Gage Park, Bob’s Pizza in Pilsen (see the new Fooditor 99 for that one), and others quite unknown. But what they’re really about is that they’re somebody’s place, and they don’t have to be famous to the whole world. As Rich Jensen of Pizza Castle tells him, “Everyone has their pizza that they will never give up on, you know? And we happen to be this neighborhood’s pizza.”

2. MOODY INSTITUTION

Phil Vettel starts his review of Moody Tongue by saying it should join Band of Bohemia as only the second Michelin-starred brewpub. (Which, setting aside why you’d start your review by saying how someone else might review it, means that they’re probably cursed now. This November, the Marquis de Sidewalls will probably give love to Revolution and Dryhop, while taunting Moody Tongue in public.)

Anyway, in the Trib’s second two-man review in a couple of weeks, Vettel covers food and Josh Noel covers beer. But Vettel starts off: “There’s a remarkable synergy between the food and the beer at Moody Tongue; every bite and sip speaks to collaboration and mutual understanding. And a couple of the pairings — the watermelon saison with a Chinese-influenced crab dish, and the lemon saison with the mussels (steamed in that same beer) — were inspiring even to this beer-phobic palate.”

While Noel notes: “Moody Tongue — which, like many breweries has had highs and lows over the years — is making some of the best and most consistent beer of its six-year existence. The velvety Roasted Cocoa Oatmeal Nitro Stout, at an approachable 5.7 percent alcohol, is a perfect hole to crawl into on a winter evening. Sour Cherry Belgian Ale is lush and fruity, pleasantly sweet but tempered by the tart cherries. Toasted Rice Lager is an endlessly drinkable gem: crisp, refreshing and lightly fruity.”

3. RAMMA-LAMMA LAO PENG

I’m not surprised Mike Sula reviewed Lao Peng You this week, since I ran into him coming in to one of 2020’s top openings as I was exiting it a couple of weeks ago. “It is dough that distinguishes Lao Peng You, which extends to noodles as well, from a pile of chewy, cold shoelace-gauge tentacles showered in peanut, cilantro, and green onions, deployed also in chicken and vegetarian mushroom broth soups; to wider slippery ribbons swimming in a beef noodle soup fortified with fermented broad bean paste, the deep bowl sprouting with a bouquet of fresh, green cress… The brothers adhere to a template—aromatic-infused soy, black vinegar, and chili oil—that’s present across their menu. ‘If you like one thing you should probably like everything we offer,’ says Eric [Wat].”

4. EAGLE-EYED

With Jared Wentworth winning praise for his new gig, Anthony Todd looks back at ten years of Longman & Eagle, “an odd duck when it first opened. It wasn’t quite a gastropub, since it was too much like a bar; it wasn’t quite a bar, since its food would soon win it a Michelin star; it wasn’t a fancy restaurant, since it was intentionally too loud for comfort. So, what was it?”

5. GENUINE AUTHENTICITY

Steve Dolinsky visits another of 2020’s best new openings, J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop: “When you think of Midwestern sandwiches, there’s the Indiana pork tenderloin, the Detroit Coney Dog and the Quad Cities’ loose meat sandwich from Maid-Rite, to name a few. Chris Cunningham was inspired by all of them, as well as a few sandwiches from outside of our region to create a unique sandwich shop on the Northwest Side where quality ingredients are the mandate.”

He also visits a little stand offering middle eastern food in the back of a bodega, Yaba’s Food & Middle Eastern Grill: “Yaba Massoud came to Chicago in 1978. His family has grown quite a bit—eight kids help him and his wife out—all inside a small neighborhood grocery store that’s recently undergone a renovation in the back.”

And he visits Hexe, a coffee roaster and bakery: “It looks and sounds like any other coffee shop: the grinding of beans for fresh espressos, the latte art, the case of pastries. But adjacent to the massive renovation project going on at the Lathrop Homes along the North Branch of the Chicago River, the Hexe Coffee Company is doing quite a bit more than just brewing coffee. ‘Coffee shop, bar, bakery, roastery, cold brewery,’ said Parker Slade, the owner.”

Becan X

6. CHICAGO COMMON

There’s a Virgin Hotel in the Loop and it has a second floor dining room called the Commons Club which just started serving lunch again—everything in that sentence was news to me, I have to admit. Anyway, Crain’s thinks it’s all right for a lunch meeting, but gives away how its criteria for business dining really work at the end of this paragraph: “The trying-too-hard quality doesn’t mean it’s trying to eat here. The kind service and gentle noise level make the atmosphere genial. But it’s not ideal for client meetings—the food doesn’t stay in the background.”

7. CRAWL TALKO

At Chicago mag, Titus Ruscitti points to five new taco spots on the north side. Tacos are truly infinite in this city.

8. LEMON LAW

John Kessler is ready to mock the cafe at Lululemon—”But then, almost unbelievably, there’s a stellar cheeseburger.”

9. THIN LIZZY

Block Club tells the story of Lizzy J Cafe in North Center, where owner Jamie Gilmore serves up southern comfort food: “While the other kids in her family were outside playing, she’d find herself inside, watching her grandmother cook. ‘It was originally a punishment,’ Gilmore said. ‘But being with her I learned how to clean greens and put together the buttermilk biscuits. Over time I developed a love for cooking just watching her do it.'”

10. BURN THE RAMEN

Congrats to two Chicago food books longlisted for The Art of Eating’s annual book prize—Iliana Regan’s Burn the Place, and Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan’s Let’s Make Ramen, which we talked about here at Fooditor. I didn’t see the nominees at The Art of Eating, but this blog lists them all.

11. VADA VOOM

I’d kind of seen vada pav, a kind of Indian slider, I guess, but not really paid attention to it. Sandwich Tribunal tells me why I should: “That is a potato fritter with a chickpea flour batter–batata vada, or just vada for short. It’s dressed with a couple of chutneys and stuffed into a hamburger bun that in this case is standing in for the pav, an Indian bread that’s similar to a dinner roll. Until this month, this is the only kind of vada pav I’ve ever had. It’s fine. If I happen to eat one while I’m in just the right mood, it’s a thing of beauty. As vada pavs go though, it can’t be on the upper end of the spectrum.” And so the hunt is on…

12. MUSER EVERYWHERE

The second episode of Amuzed might be a series highlight—at least it’s hard to think of a more perfect conversation for the series than Thai Dang and Michael Muser talking about how not to get screwed over in a restaurant deal.

Meanwhile Curtis Duffy and Muser were on Mark Bazer’s The Interview Show; watch it here.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Boy, you can tell it’s that dreary, sunless part of winter by how bad I was jonesin’ for a road trip this week. I wound up going on two day trips this week to farflung corners of the Chicagoland food scene. First, up to Steve Dolinsky’s find of Dangela’s Dumplings in Libertyville; I liked watching them making the dumplings, fresh and to order, through the glass window, where they had all the equipment for cranking them out en masse. I really liked the fresh ingredients in the boiled dumplings, though the fried ones get too hard an edge.

Then son #2 was out of school Friday, so we went to Hammond for IG @Southsideslither’s recommendation of Golden Gloves Cuisine, a catering outfit that draws big lines on the weekend. Unfortunately they only do the full fledged soul food menu on Sunday, but we got wings and a couple of side sauces (they have a bunch of homemade flavors, from mild sauce to Hennessy) and enjoyed eating them al trunko just fine. And since they take your order and tell you it’s going to be 45 minutes before the admirably crispy wings are ready, we killed the time with a loosemeat burger at cute-as-a-button hot dog stand Madvek’s, which is one of those things I read about on LTHForum in 2006 and finally got to. Thanks, Rene G, for the tip during the George W. Bush administration!

Sparrow Black 2019