There’s a general feeling that omicron’s relative mildness—at least for the vaccinated—marks the end of the worst of the pandemic, and that it’s time to reel some of the extremes of the response in—like letting little kids go to school somewhat normally again (see this piece in The New York Times, hardly a Trumpista publication). But that hardly means that everything just picks up where it left off in March 2020; just heard that the relatively recently opened Verve Wine Bar would be closing due to poor pandemic business, and Rick Bayless describes what he sees ahead for restaurants in the Tribune:

“A lot of the restaurateurs and chefs that I’m talking to are just about to give up,” Bayless said. “They’re incredibly discouraged. Nobody knows what to do at this point, because the numbers are so low.”

…“We are still employing those 140 people, even though we could do with a third less, for sure,” Bayless said. “The only reason we can do that is just because we got federal aid.”

Bayless said he knows of a number of Chicago restaurateurs who didn’t get the funding that are now “laying off employees right and left” because they don’t have the business to support them. For many operators, the situation is increasingly dire.


Peanut Park Trattoria is named for the neighborhood nickname of what’s officially Arrigo Park, says Louisa Chu, reviewing the new Italian restaurant near Taylor Street. (Oddly, she doesn’t mention the park’s other other name—Vernon Park, commemorated in the name of a venerable business nearby, Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap.) Anyway, she likes the new restaurant, a collaboration between Dave Bonomi (Coalfire Pizza) and Tony Fiasche (Tempesta Market), whose family has the also-venerable Ristorante Agostino on Harlem:

Fiasche’s linguine vongole at Peanut Park stands on its own with impeccable handmade pasta that’s beautifully cooked and so loaded with briny sweet clams, it’s as if he’s turned up the volume on the family stereo just a touch.

You will find stunning sauce on his pappardelle ($21), silky housemade ribbons studded with a classic beef and pork Bolognese-style ragù.


The header image—a highly processed photo of patrons thrusting dollar bills at a (trans, presumably) performer at Berlin—hardly seems to sum the Cheers vibe up to me, but Chicago mag has a whole section on favorite neighborhood bars, from actor Michael Shannon talking about his to a tribute to the Skylark, which I like both for having a whiskey collectible of my hometown’s mascot, an anthropormorphic bundle of wheat, and the best Art Deco urinal in town.


The last thing I did before lockdown at Fooditor was a Chinatown survey—in fact I hurried to finish it up because I suspected Chinatown was going to be changed irrevocably by the few weeks of Coronavirus. Here we are, more or less on the other side of all that—we hope—and happily Chinatown is full of new places, like Mr. Deng’s Buns, in the strip mall that contains the former Place by Damao (now Da Mao Jia), per Nick Kindelsperger:

The tiny shop specializes in two kinds of Chinese buns, steamed and pan-fried. I’m much more familiar with the former, which are as large as a fist, yet as soft and fluffy as a pillow.

I chomped into the pork bun ($2.50) and was astonished how the squishy dough managed to hold such a juicy filling. The beef pork bun ($2.50) was even more flavorful, with tender meat mingling with a host of fragrant spices. Order a couple of these, and you have a filling lunch for five bucks.

Turns out, he likes the pan-fried ones even more.

Buzz 2


Spekaing of new things in Chinatown, that’s what Steve Dolinsky is all over in a report on the food offerings at the still pretty new 88 Marketplace.


Here’s one I was unaware of, reviewed by Time Out’s Zach Long: a Mexican-Peruvian place in Rogers Park called Semilla’s Latin Kitchen, from one of the founders of Amaru (which, it is worth noting, has a spinoff in Time Out Market:

Take one look at the appetizers served at Semilla’s and you’ll get a feel for the breadth of its offerings. There’s the hearty hummus-like tontoli (a traditional Mexican recipe that Roque’s mother often prepared) that’s made using ground cashews, pepitas and sesame seeds, served with pita bread for dipping. A Peruvian ceviche exemplifies the country’s seafood-heavy cuisine, with chunks of mahi-mahi that are likely larger than you’re accustomed to, accompanied by onion and sweet potatoes.


Remember Peter Rubi, the oddly-named vegetarian market in Uptown that opened in September? It just sold to a Canadian vegan startup for $1.2 million and will be rebranded as XMarket Uptown, per Block Club.


Time Out interviews Gordon Ramsay about his Chicago hot dog with ketchup on it and other things. Take the bait here.


Friend and sometimes advertiser of Fooditor Meathead sold his successful website to the company that owns the Tony Roma brand. Then it didn’t work out. Crain’s has a story which offers good insight into what is actually marketable in the world of internet content.


The famous pig ear sandwich I know is from Jackson, Mississippi, eaten by A. Bourdain on one of his TV shows. But Sandwich Tribunal says they are also said to be a delicacy of, who knew, Quincy, Illinois. First he’d heard of it, which is ironic, since he grew up in, you guessed it, Quincy, Illinois:

When I dig into it later though, I find one tiny little peripheral mention in an article archived on the local newspaper’s website memorializing Robert Mau, owner and editor of a weekly farm newspaper in Kankakee County, Illinois. The article describes his frequent visits to Quincy and his love for Zim’s Tavern, a small but busy bar and grill at the corner of 12th and Ohio. The offerings at Zim’s, according to this article, had included “such delicacies as pig-ear sandwiches, brain sandwiches and other savory dishes for the discerning palate.”

We learn more about pig ears in Quincy—and Jackson.


Not as much good news as last week, but some: first, Ashley Robinson, who’s been a pastry chef at places like The Bakery at Fat Rice, Dusek’s and Spiaggia, is opening Familiar Bakery at Revival Food Hall on Monday, offering sourdough bagels and sweets like “real strawberry” doughnuts and morning buns.

Mitchell Abou Jamra of Evette’s Cafe (home of my son’s girlfriend’s favorite thing in Chicago, halloumi tacos) has taken over the Subway space next to it and opened All Too Well, “a market that sells prepared food, Lebanese breads and pastries, and breakfast and deli sandwiches” per Eater.

Cafe Cremerie was in the Gold Coast offering gelato, coffees and wine but closed last year. Soon it will reopen in the historic Tree Studios building.


Every time the COVID procedures and the rules change according to some branch of government, both restaurants and customers are left scrambling to figure out how to handle it in a way that doesn’t start off the dining experience with all the joie de vivre of a visit to the DMV. The latest one is the scramble to show your vaccination record to the person at the entrance of the restaurant, along with your ID to prove that the vaccination record is really yours. (Of course government could not possibly have made a vaccination record that included your name and picture…)

What usually happens is that as soon as you show one—either one—they ask for the other. You would, in fact, already have it out, if not for the fact that you’re doing all this in the air—getting your ID out of your wallet, while finding the photo on your phone, while standing in an empty space in the restaurant dealing with these things without dropping them all—all this with, presumably, only two hands. There’s no graceful way to do it efficiently—and there’s certainly nothing graceful about them barking at you for the other one, which seems about as friendly as you making the waitress repeat the dressing order for your salad back to you when you saw her write it down. We are not at war in restaurants; let’s help each other.

So I got my inner Muser on—and the solution is simple and should, in most cases, not cost any more than things already do. One way or another, create a flat podium-like area for the guest, just ahead of the host stand. Put a sign on it asking guests to show their ID and vaccination record—the actual wording is whatever but the main thing is that it communicates to the guest that here is your space, in which you can set out your ID and your vax card, and let them sit there, on a surface, freeing up the guest’s hands and allowing them to put their wallet away, neatly. When it’s this guest’s turn, the host can simply glance at both things at once, say thank you and send them on their way with their stuff—having welcomed the guest to the restaurant, not making them feel like they’re going through customs.


It’s turning out to be a tough year for classic Chicago pizza: first Rudy Malnati Jr. (brother of Lou and owner of Pizano’s), and now Annunziata Palese, better known as Nancy, whose husband Rocco adapted a Sicilian Easter pie into Chicago’s thickest pizza style, stuffed pizza, at Guy’s Pizza, later Nancy’s, in 1971. As the Tribune tells it, she was not happy with her husband’s tinkering:

“When he invented the stuffed pizza, there was war,” she said in a 2016 Tribune profile, her English imbued with Italian. “We fight. I no want to do it. Sometimes we was so busy, and he fool around with the stuffed pizza, and I needed help, because we had nobody.”

Mrs. Palese was 87.


There still has not been an obituary that I can find for Joe’s Imports namesake and longtime Francesca group wine director Joe Fiely. But an industry vet who knew him asked me to pass along the link for his GoFundMe—she says that even though he had good insurance, his family is left with substantial medical bills, so if you enjoyed his hospitality at Francesca or Davanti or Joe’s over the years, please consider making a donation here.


Eons ago a chef named Matt Troost had a short-lived Italian restaurant called Fianco on Southport that I liked a lot. Troost has done other interesting things, including Three Aces and Good Measure, but the dark and neighborhood-swanky Segnatore, in the former Cafe Marie-Jeanne space, is the closest he’s come in all these years to the likably rustic Italian food that caught my eye—and to judge by the crowd on a snowy Wednesday night, the neighborhood has taken to it.

“Everything is meant to be shared,” we were told as I eyed the small two-top wondering how that would work, so I only tried a couple of shareable-sized things. The pasta lived up to my Fianco memories—a dish of deconstructed lasagna (malfade with lots of tomato sauce and cheese) was hearty satisfying. I also really enjoyed a simple, but very well made, salad of celery, apple, walnuts, gorgonzola and poppy seed dressing—you could make it yourself from that description, and I probably will. Less satisfying was a porchetta, which seemed to be a bit underseasoned for the usually garlicky and strongly spiced roll of meat—next time I’ll order more pasta. A chocolate ricotta pie, topped with amareno cherries, was simple but a pleasant end to the meal. Anyway, happy to have Matt Troost back doing what had made me paying attention to him in the first place.

I’m off on a road trip to eat pig ear sandwiches, so Buzz List will be off next week and return on February 13.