When did the modern era of Chicago restaurants begin? I’d say with Gordon, which introduced Chicagoans to New American Cuisine in a playfully extroverted atmosphere in a new dining neighborhood—River North—and quickly became the place to be seen in the 1970s and 1980s. Among the chefs who passed through its kitchens were John Terczak, Michael Foley, Carrie Nahabedian, Michael Kornick, Norman Van Aken and a kid named Charlie Trotter. I’ll be doing the interviewer duties for Culinary Historians of Chicago’s Zoom interview with Gordon Sinclair on Wednesdsay, January 13 at 7 pm. Follow this link for the Zoom link and details.


After missing it last year, I’m back as a contributor to Eater‘s roundup of year-end judgments and snark from various food media (and just plain media) folks in Chicago; go here for the links to all of them. I stirred up some scat bringing up the time last summer when the now-dormant 86d List was a restaurant killer; other high points include Mike Sula’s apt choice of the best dining neighborhood— Instagram”—and Michael Nagrant’s prediction of  a 2021 headline: “Ryan McCaskey Claims He Would Have Gotten Away With Everything ‘If it wasn’t for those meddling kids!’”

My answer for the dining grievances question got edited, no doubt because I drifted a little from the actual question, so here’s my original comment (the first paragraph was included at Eater):

I have no grievances. I forgive all mistakes in my takeout orders, I tipped 30% almost everywhere, I feel for all you good people making food happen and I pray you stay safe and healthy and employed.

But I have concerns, of course. This has gone on long enough that our world will be fundamentally changed when we come out of it. Paradoxically, I think it’s less a matter of all the closings—we’ll be impoverished by the loss of Blackbird, and Band of Bohemia, and this and that, for sure. But that’s the forest fire, and tragic as it is, new shoots will pop up when it’s over. (It’s hard not to sound like Chauncey Gardiner talking about this stuff.) The people and their creativity will still be out there.

There are other parts of our food scene, though, that I think are changed, and gone, for good. Some people will simply be out of the habit of going to restaurants, for instance. For them, all cuisine will be lukewarm and taste slightly of cardboard.

And we haven’t really talked about it, but does anyone believe that the traditional restaurant review didn’t die this year? The last remaining reviewers have basically stopped writing them since March, and I’m sure when Alden Capital is cutting right and left, furloughing writers, one of the easiest things to cut is buying Phil Vettel a $500 meal. So he got Ever just under the wire, Jeff Ruby wrote an elegy for RPM Seafood on the night of lockdown as his last review to date, Mike Sula has switched to covering unusual pop-ups (admittedly, a more interesting use of his beat than reviewing this week’s cheffy fried chicken sandwich)… it’s down to Yelp and The Infatuation, the Tofurky of food coverage, now.

Add in the collapse of the restaurant awards industry, which took one look at the restaurants and chefs that it had fed off of for so long, in their hour of need, and said “Later dudes!” That’s the new world we will be in when we come out of this. It will be harder to be informed as a diner, it will be harder to get word out as a new restaurant doing interesting things. Just when we need a vital, symbiotic food media/new restaurant ecosystem, we will find it largely extinct.

Take that as my year-end statement on 2020, annus horribilis.

2. TAKE 2020—PLEASE!

Or maybe my year-end statement is here—in my 2020 top ten things I ate.

Several Tribune folks contribute to this “best things we ate” piece, though most of them are pretty obscure things turned up by Nick Kindelsperger or Louisa Chu, like the fried chicken sandwich at Chi Tea in Lombard (Nick) or the scallion oil noodles at Meet Fresh (Louisa).

“The wonder is not how many restaurants we lost in 2020; it’s that any restaurants are left,”says Phil Vettel looking back on the year that closed Blackbird and Everest: “These were not restaurants that had lost vibrancy or relevance. These were victims.”

Titus Ruscitti offered his top bites of 2020 here:

Truth is I’m sick of doing takeout and I’m sick of cooking so I’m planning on taking a sabbatical of sorts for the upcoming colder months. I don’t really have a choice bc 1) I cant go out and eat and 2) most people aren’t going out to eat so there’s no point in encouraging others to do so. Plus takeout just doesn’t photograph well nor should it be the only way one experiences a restaurant. The food is never going to be better taking it to go.

But we still need to provide our favorite restaurants with enough business to survive on. So my first round-up of the past dining year will be a shoutout to the spots that have kept me well fed during the pandemic

He also tweeted a best tacos of 2020 list here.

Time Out looks at the year in pizza:

Infinitely riffable, easily transportable and relatively cheap, the already-beloved dish was a no-brainer for culinary greats everywhere. And let’s face it, Chicagoans aren’t complaining either. Entries to the scene came in many shapes and sizes, from Paulie Gee’s picnic-ready slices and Ruth’s buttery deep dish to Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream’s impossibly thin tavern-style take.

Most Eater lists are full of things I know about, but here’s a highly useful one: the best virtual restaurants, nailing down info on new places you’ve heard about but don’t have storefronts.

The New York Times pays tribute to 20 examples of the restaurants we lost in 2020. Of course, Blackbird stands in for the ones Chicago has lost, but at this point I was more saddened to read that two of my favorite Minneapolis restaurants, The Bachelor Farmer and Grand Cafe, both closed this year.

I liked Esquire’s list of places we can’t afford to lose as soon as I saw the first Chicago name on the list—Iliana Regan cites Anteprima for not being a trendy place you’d typically find in this kind of piece:

The chef is not a celebrity. No Michelin Star. It’s not on the James Beard Foundation’s radar. These are the very reasons Anteprima is perfect to me. The dining room is always full. The owner greets you at the door. The waitstaff in their long white aprons remember your names and if you prefer sparkling or tap. Anteprima’s menu changes daily. With each micro season we see dishes pristinely representing fresh ingredients. Hakurei turnips, breakfast radish, ramps, and morels in the spring. Corn and tomatoes in the summer. Roots in the fall. Squashes, truffles, and alliums through the winter. I love this place.

Not every place on the list that I’ve been to wowed me (Brigtsen’s seemed… pleasant) but in general it’s a nice list of real world, no airs places aeound the country, too good for Michelin to know about.


i’m not trying to give the impression I’m the last working food writer in Chicago, but I had another piece in another publication last month—in NewCity, David Hammond invited me to write about The Fooditor 33 and the importance of leaving behind primary sources for future writers.


Mike Sula talks about the city’s biggest indoor mushroom farm, Windy City Mushroom—1500 square feet of mycological productivity, plus a walk-up window:

The company is working on developing a retail business, but for now the window, open Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM, is the easiest way to get ahold of some freshly harvested lion’s mane, chestnut, pioppino, and four varieties of oyster mushrooms, between $7-$10 a pound.


Kevin Boehm talks to Bloomberg about the position that restaurants are in, and his efforts to pass a restaurant bill:

This bill was going to help save restaurants. Back when they were arguing over a $2.2 trillion or a $1.8 trillion stimulus bill, the Restaurants Act sat in both of those bills. Then it got stuck in an awful political cage match, and we ended up left out in the cold despite bipartisan support. You hope that people lead with empathy and humanity, but it’s tough not to be a little cynical after all of this. I mean 125,000 restaurants have closed. There are only 500,000-something independent restaurants to begin with.

It’s maddening because I know the history of America bailing out specific companies and specific industries that were often culpable in their own demise. We bailed out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We gave Chrysler $1.5 billion in the late 1970s so it could avoid bankruptcy. But somehow the disrespect that’s been given the restaurant business — it’s hard not to feel, every time a stimulus bill comes out, like we’re the last kids picked on the kickball team.


John Kessler looks at the latest COVID-era fad—Japanese curries, which he says are better than the boxed versions you may have tried:

These chefs aren’t using the blocks of additive-laden curry roux found in supermarkets. Instead, they’re making flavor-packed sauces with caramelized onions for body, apples for sweetness, fresh spices, and a few secret ingredients.


Slate did a piece on Google’s indexing of recipes, and why you shouldn’t trust the high placement and ratings they give recipe sites, talking to actual expert cooks like Meathead Goldwyn:

“I think I was the canary in the coal mine—the first food writer to warn about” how Google displays recipes in search results, said Goldwyn, who first wrote about the “pain” and “panic” of the site’s recipe search system in 2011. Since then, he has watched some of his site’s best-loved recipes slide off the first page of Google results, supplanted by “oven-baked” barbecue and “crockpot” ribs.

“But it’s Google’s world, and we just live in it,” Goldwyn said. “If you’re trying to make a living on the internet, you have to worship Google.”

It’s difficult to overstate the power Google has over food publishers: Most major food and recipe sites derive two-thirds or more of their visitors from the search engine, said Faith Durand, a digital food publishing veteran and editor in chief of the Kitchn. The holy grail, for recipe sites of any size, is the featured recipe carousel at the top of Google’s search results page.

At The Cue Sheet, Robert Moss (I got his revised Barbecue: The History of an American Institution for Christmas) explains further:

Several years ago, after the New York Times made a big deal out of launching a new cooking app, I wrote a short piece scoffing at it, noting that increasingly I didn’t see the need for specialized recipe apps or even going directly to visit recipe-centric sites, since all you had to do was punch “homemade apple pie recipe” into Google, and a solidly reliable list of candidates immediately popped to the top.

Boy, has that changed in recent years. The steady parade of algorithm “enhancements”—and the resulting efforts by publishers to game them—have transformed the first page of Google results into a swamp of culinary mediocrity. Canned soups, pre-mixed spice blends, and frozen veggies abound. Many top-ranking entries are obvious retreads of someone else’s recipe, and they appear on generic aggregator sites instead of publications with a recognizable brand.

Moss suggests searching with the nme of a trusted author—so “Meathead pulled pork.” All I can suggest is look at more than one recipe, and cook enough that you can spot a crap recipe when you see it.


A big loss downstate, of the most important Illinois restaurant figure outside of Chicagoland. Mike Mills was a storied competitive barbecue champion, who helped bring barbecue to New York City by partnering with Danny Meyer in the Big Apple Barbecue Party and the restaurant Blue Smoke. But at least as importantly, with his restaurant 17th Street Barbecue, he and his daughter Amy helped revitalize a rust belt town (Murphysboro, IL) and made it a tourist destination for BBQ-heads. I first got to know him when I made this Sky Full of Bacon video about his BBQ competition, Praise the Lard, and connected with him again for this Fooditor piece, though he overslept the next day and so I only interviewed Amy. But I saw him again in 2019, when he showed Nick Kindelsperger, David Hammond and my son Liam and myself around 17th Street. Here’s to a gentleman who turned his little town around with the sheer force of barbecue.

And Dennis Ray Wheaton, who was the restaurant reviewer for Chicago magazine in the 1990s and the early 2000s, died last weekend according to Friend of Fooditor Gary Alan Fine, who knew him not only through food but because both were sociology professors. Fine writes, “I found him the most important food critic in Chicago in his heyday. He was respected by sociologists who loved restaurants. He was twice a nominee for the JBF award for best restaurant critic.”