The James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists for this year’s awards—note that it’s semifinalists, if anyone says they’re nominated for one, well, nobody’s actually nominated yet—including 11 from Chicago. Chefs from five restaurants were longlisted in the Best Chef Great Lakes category: Paul Fehribach of Big Jones, Tim Flores and Genie Kwon of Kasama, Thai Dang of Hai Sous, Diana Davila Boldin of Mi Tocaya Antojeria and Zubair Mohajir of Wazwan. That list shows a distinct change in how the Beards are approaching the scene nationally, as it’s mostly mid-priced places (though both Kasama and Wazwan have high end tasting menus as well). Still, the focus on restaurants rooted in national heritage more than upscale, Michelin-style posh cuisine is a shift. Even more striking is that a casual cafe with wine for sale, All Together Now, is longlisted for Outstanding Wine Program—a category that seemed highly repetitive in past years with certain blue chip favorites, like Spiaggia, landing a nomination year after year.

Not that upscale restaurants were completely overlooked. Smyth is a semifinalist for Outstanding Restarateur, and Obélix was cited for Best New Restaurant, along with much-hyped Khmai Cambodian Fine Dining (you hardly dare put out a list without showing off that you know about it). Sepia was also longlisted in Outstanding Hospitality; it’s been a semifinalist in that category before as well as a two-time nominee for wine. And Damarr Brown of Virtue, newly TV-famous after being on Top Chef, is longlisted for Emerging Chef.

Finally, two worth noting even if not quite Chicago longlisters. First, Abra Berens, who has worked at places like Local Foods’ cafe and Vie, but currently works at Granor Farms in Three Oaks, Michigan; she’s longlisted for Best Chef Great Lakes. And then there’s Scratch Brewing, which makes beer flavored with stuff they grow on the property; located outside Murphysboro, Illinois, though it’s more of a St Louis-area candidate than a Chicago one, even if it is Illinois.

Since almost certainly not all of these will become final nominees, it’s not that strong a showing for Chicago, but in general one approves of the fact that the Beards are spreading the choices out across more cities as the modern food scene becomes something seen all over the country, not just in a few elite big cities.


Steve Dolinsky visits a Thai restaurant in Forest Park, Habrae, that started as a Thai dessert shop:

The owners of Habraé in Forest Park have been more than accommodating to their regulars. Because as they’ve carefully expanded from a serious dessert shop – offering puddings, tarts and Thai sweets – they’ve taken suggestions to heart. When customers who’d traveled to Chiang Mai kept requesting khao soi, the fantastic noodle curry dish that originated there, they obliged.

“Khao soi is the most popular in Chiang Mai, so after they ask for it, we think we should put khao soi on the menu,” said Jumpol Prasitporn, the co-owner of Habraé.


Michael Nagrant talks about bakeries and, as the subject is Logan Square’s Sugar Moon Bakery, about the challenge of finding a place open:

I am especially concerned for Sugar Moon in Logan Square which though it’s been open for a year, I only experienced last weekend. Though I have just made the arguments I have made, I have been secretly frustrated and honestly maybe passively angry at Sugar Moon because it took me five tries to try it.

But he finally does:

The Cinnamon rolls at Sugar Moon are tufted with thick icing featuring a lilting cardamom perfume. But, it is something that I have never had before, a curry potato stuffed fatayer, which delights most. Fatayer is a middle eastern pastry, crispy outside with a slightly pliable interior. The contrasting crunch and stretch is a real palate seduction.

For the record, I managed to get things there on only my second try.


Nick Kindelsperger decides to see how ChatGPT, the AI site which synthesizes AI bad writing out of bad writing by humans, reviews Alinea. It’s shockingly close to the generic writing offered by other beings who haven’t actually been there, either! Nick gets more playful after seeing that, with the high point being a negative review in the style of Nietzsche.


Chicago mag names its best new bars—and it’s a great list of places to drink now, many of which (like Craig Perman’s Le Midi or Toby Maloney’s Mother’s Ruin) have yet to really be reviewed in any other form. So check the list out!


Mike Sula has another roundup piece on books and other media about food, starting with a film about Ethan Lim’s Hermosa, which will appear this spring on PBS, as part of “the second season of Firelight Media/American Masters’ In the Making series, focusing on emerging BIPOC artists.” Then it’s on to some new books, including Iliana Regan’s Fieldwork, Pulp from newly Beard semifinal-listed Abra Berens, focusing on ways to use fruit, Monica Eng and David Hammond’s Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites, Midwest Pie from Belt Publishing (I hope it has Bob Andy pie in it), and most ambitiously, a massive tome called The Bloomsbury Handbook of Indian Cuisine, co-edited by local Indian food expert Colleen Taylor Sen.

Speaking of Sula, Eater has a piece on why his Reader Monday Night Foodball series of popups moved over to Ludlow Liquors.


At NewCity, John Lenart says to drink Grenache to expand your horizons (and protect your wallet):

Grenache and garnacha offer insane value. In Europe, many high-quality examples can be found for under ten euro, and in the United States these wines are easily found for around fifteen bucks or less.


I’ve mostly ignored the existence of The Infatuation, the food site owned by J.P. Morgan Chase—as I recall I was offended by a review of Monteverde that talked inexplicably about basketball rather than Tony Mantuano and Spiaggia—but jeez, I may have to start including it here. One, because reviews are scarce as it is, and two, because the writing is actually somewhat better these days. It’s still aimed at twentysomethings seeking trendy places, but within that limited worldview, it covers a lot of new places I wouldn’t know about these days. For example, I enjoyed reading about, and being steered clear of, a West Loop place called Gino and Marty’s, which they describe thusly:

Any Chicago restaurant associated with the words “West Loop,” “Italian,” and “bottle sparklers” is guaranteed to be busy. Such is the case with Gino & Marty’s, a buzzy Italian spot on Randolph. It’s also expensive, chaotic, and not very good. The dining room is cramped and crowded, overflowing with people waiting 40 minutes past their reservation time. Once seated, you’ll have an uninspired meal that’ll take way longer than it should.

As it happens, I just ate at a place that’s associated with the words “West Loop” and “Italian” and did not suck (not to mention, it spared me knowing what a “bottle sparkler” is). More on that in “What Mike Ate” below…


PAWS is the Chicago animal rescue spot where, as it happens, I got my own beloved beagle (star of this Fooditor article), so I’m happy to point people to a benefit on its behalf. Known dog lover Louisa Chu has the story:

Piece Brewery and Pizzeria has partnered with PAWS Chicago for a new campaign, Slice to Meet You, with limited-edition collaboration pizzas by notable local chefs including Rick Bayless.

Doug Sohn of Hot Doug’s and Barry Sorkin of Smoque BBQ kicked off the winter series with their Hot Smoquein’ pizza released this month. They topped Piece’s classic white pie with Hot Doug’s brand jalapeño jack brat sausage and Sorkin’s smoked portobellos, finished with fistfuls of fresh basil.

Matthias Merges and Rick Bayless will be among the later chefs whipping up dog treats for humans.


After months of exotic sandwiches from distant lands, Sandwich Tribunal goes down home by making his own Alabama white sauce for barbecued chicken:

My version of the Alabama white sauce has some capsaicin heat from the cayenne as well as that sinus-clearing heat that comes from hot horseradish and mustard, along with a creamy sweet/tart character that caramelizes well on the grill but tastes just fine mixed into shredded chicken as well. When I make it with toum instead of mayonnaise, it also has a massive hit of raw garlic. However, this month I made it using Duke’s mayonnaise, which is popular throughout much of the South in the US.


Mostly been cooking at home, but finally started going out again. Here’s a few of them:

My friend Kenny Z was coming to town and had Monday night open. Most of the things he wanted to try weren’t open on Monday, but he finally found a possibility via David Manilow’s podcast The Dining Table, which featured an interview with Federico Comacchio, who was the chef for some years at Coco Pazzo before opening Gioia, in the West Loop. A place I had walked by, but so far as I can remember, have not seen a single word about in print anywhere.

In the interview Comacchio talked about wanting to do authentic Italian cuisine. Which, you know, everybody says as they then dish up a bunch of plates authentic to what’s making the owners of Carbone in New York rich at the moment. But it sounded like Comacchio is sincere about wanting to do things like he grew up eating and cooking in northern Italy.

If you want a dish by dish rundown, that’s what Kenny offered the next morning on Twitter—start here. I’ll just stick to a macro view—pasta dishes seemed very much like what I’ve eaten in northern Italy, not overdressed or gloppy, but appropriately sauced—cacio e pepe was spare, tasting of cheese and pepper like the name says, and not lubed up like it had an oil change; pici with a meat ragu was hearty but not heavy. A salad of Tuscan kale with roasted Lambrusco grapes (cool!) and little balls of white pumpkin that came off like chestnuts or something, perfectly dressed with a slightly citrusy vinaigrette, was a happy find. Branzino with caponata on the side, and steak with a red wine sauce with marrow melted in it, were solid and satisfying entrees. (Kenny mentioned that the fish could have been deboned better—that was me, picking bones out of my first bite for a couple of minutes.)

I’m rarely either impressed or greatly disappointed by Italian food in Chicago; it’s fine, it’s often exactly what you expect and a little less than you hoped—and unless, say, Aldo Zaninotto owns the restaurant, it rarely makes my pulse race. Gioia didn’t dazzle me, I wasn’t expecting that, but it satisfied with the comforting virtues of well-made Italian food—which is enough. I have a new Italian place, life is good.

Last week I mentioned a place I’d never heard of until it was mentioned in an Infatuation piece—Dell’ Rooster. (Sounds like it’s a spin-off of Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, but it’s not.) A reader wrote in and said it was good, so I went to the West Town spot for lunch last week.

It’s a pan-Latin place, colorfully decorated (or it would be colorful, if it wasn’t as dark at lunchtime as a bar at night). I ordered a kind of torta ahogada, swimming in a brown sauce. It seemed very well-made—what it didn’t seem was particularly Latin. The sauce suggested it might be like mole, or at least have some spicy kick to it, and it didn’t; it was just kind of like a pot roast sandwich. On those terms it was pretty good, but it did kind of reinforce my rule not to go to any kind of midscale Mexican or Latin place expecting it to compare with a family-run Mexican joint for Mexican flavors.

Then again, I only had one thing off the menu. They open on the weekend for breakfast, and I think when I go back, it will be for that and I’ll see how that is.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago Nick Kindelsperger’s best of ’22 list reminded me of the existence of Ragadan, an Uptown middle eastern sandwich shop which makes kind of middle eastern paninis—that is, sandwiches on a type of bread called ka’ak, which then gets the panini press treatment. I ordered the falafel ka’ak (an embarrassing name to pronounce like it’s spelled), and the grilling of the bread made it superior to your usual falafel wrap at your usual pita joint. But eat it quickly, as its charms diminished fairly rapidly as it cooled. I asked if there was something to get as a side—I would have happily eaten a little bowl of Jerusalem salad or something, but there really aren’t any sides to be had besides fries or chips, which seems a miss. I also got, on the advice of another food writer I ran into there (Lisa Futterman), the baklava shake. Which is exactly what it sounds like—a shake with honey and crunchy bits in it. It earned me some favor at home when I passed off the second half of it to my wife.

Speaking of recent dining in Italy, I’ve tried all of the middle eastern doner-type stands within walking distance of the film festival I go to there, and none of them is much good. If Ragadan was in Pordenone, I’d hit it at least twice that week.