For five years it was one of the more innovative partnerships in farm to table cooking and dining, which Fooditor explored here—a Kankakee area farm called The Farm grew interesting and sometimes unusual varieties of produce for Smyth and The Loyalist, and in turn they bought up everything The Farm grew (and often visited and worked it to be closer to the source of their food). But that relationship is reportedly a victim of COVID-19—it’s prime growing season for The Farm and the restaurants weren’t able to take it all and use it. Elliot Papineau, whose parents run The Farm and who introduced them to chefs John and Karen Shields, says that Shields and the Papineaus “didn’t have a falling out—it’s the reality of the pandemic.”


Anthony Todd would normally have been the first person I talked to about happenings on the local food scene. Listen to find out why, instead, I saved him for last, as Fooditor Radio Is All Dressed Up And Has No Place To Go goes out for the time being, anyway. We talk about Blackbird’s closing, what Anthony’s growing, when and if we’ll go back to restaurants, and how we feel about this idea of cancel culture. But keep your subscription to Fooditor Radio—it’ll probably be back with something, sometime, when the mood strikes. Listen here or here:


• Goya food products, because a business leader dared speak well of a (supposedly pro-business) political leader, normally the least interesting, dog-bites-man story imaginable, but fraught with political implications for a Latino food company praising an anti-immigration president. Many boycotts announced! (I’m glad I have two bottles of Goya Mojo Criollo in stock and can avoid having a position for at least a couple of months.) If you want to switch your brand allegiance to Chicago-based La Preferida, not a bad thing in any case. More here at CNN.

• Band of Bohemia, which came in for accusations on Instagram account The 86’d List, continuing fallout from the accusations made a year and a half ago about then-chef Ian Davis by a former girlfriend and others, as well as newer accusations relating to how they’re handling the lockdown, which led to the firing and/or departure of chef Soo Ahn. Eater Chicago recounts the story very much from the workers’ side, while this Josh Noel piece at Tribune gives owners Craig Sindelaar and Michael Carroll their say—for instance, in Eater Ahn says he was let go, but from the Tribune’s piece it appears that he disagreed with Band of Bohemia over the lockdown-era solution (picnic dinners) that the owners saw as their one viable option, and they decided to do it without him.

What’s interesting to me beyond the story itself is how social media is stoking all these flames—Ahn admits he contributed anonymously to The 86’d List, while note how both an accuser—former bar manager Stephan Jurgovan—and owners Sindelaar and Carroll use nearly identical language to publicly atone for, well, everything over the last three years, apparently. Some of it sounds like things they ignored and then CYA’d on, some of it sounds like the difference between having to make practical choices as an owner and being an employee, but in this hothouse atmosphere, how do you come back when every decision will be nitpicked anonymously and employees will feel free to post about every internal meeting you have? (The one commenter at Eater asks much the same question.) We will find out, the hard way, in this very hard time for restaurants.

• The Alinea Group, specifically the rooftop AIR—Alinea in Residence—restaurant across the street from Next, for poking fun at Coronavirus in a canapé that was made to look like Coronavirus—a ball of something studded with spiky little bits of freeze-dried raspberry. Most of the online discussion of this has since been taken down from whatever social media platform it was on, so follow along with Eater’s recap here.

A doctor posted the image (he liked it, medicine has a rich tradition of black humor). A former Roister sous chef named Dave Baker set off the controversy (“How unbelievably disrespectful to anyone who’s [sic] life has been lost. I don’t care how you spin it, this is unacceptable”), and others in the culinary community followed. Nick Kokonas defended the joke with some hifalutin’ words about the nature of art being shocking, which only increased the fury. Rafael Esparza (Finom Coffee) asked how Grant Achatz would feel about a tongue cancer-themed dish. Michael Simmons, who has admitted to sensitivity over his possible role in helping to gentrify Latino Humboldt Park with a French cafe, went wildly over the top calling Alinea “a white supremacy stalwart,” which brought Alinea Group fan Phil Vettel in to say, “You can certainly argue about the appropriateness of the joke, but extrapolating this into a racial issue is absolutely absurd.”

Which, of course, it is. Unless you’re totally devoted to notions in which fine dining, and pretty much everything in America, is about nothing but irredeemable racism, in which case I doubt you’re subscribing to a dining newsletter. I’m of the mind that restaurants are complex phenomena that both define the social order at times—certainly high end ones do, and at their snootiest can feel like tests of who belongs—and yet also provide places for mixing the social orders up, and are a source of economic mobility for entrepreneurs and young talent of all backgrounds. In any case, though Simmons also tags Tock with that foolish white supremacy notion, you know what’s not on a Tock form for a reservation? A check-off box for your race. Anybody who has the scratch can book it and eat at any Tock restaurant, Alinea included (where the audience was distinctly Asian when I went—the result, Kokonas says, of Chef’s Table being seen in 150 countries). So Ku Tocks Klan? Ridiculous.

But let’s get back to a more basic question: Coronavirus canapé, funny or sick (or both?) There’s long been a strain of dark humor in dining. Check out the postcards here for The Devil’s Rendezvous, in which diners ate off coffins while sitting in headstone-shaped chairs; that existed in the late 30s at Clybourn and Division. Drinks have long had names like Corpse Reviver and Death in the Afternoon. As someone who had his sensibility honed in the 70s by Monty Python doing bubonic plague jokes and National Lampoon sending up Chappaquiddick, it’s pretty hard to shock me at the dinner table with anything other than the check. I can’t relate to these kids who don’t have the conviction of youth that they personally are indestructible and thus, all dark humor is funny.

I think it’s too bad that Kokonas fell back on a pokerfaced, art-must-épater-les-bourgeois-to-be-true argument for Coronapé. He and Achatz get all serious in the Eater piece, and a subsequent Tribune piece which is grim and judgemental enough to constitute a Peoples’ Bureau of Acceptable Humor tribunal—if comedy dies when you take it apart, that’s literally what Achatz is subjected to here:

“It is my fault 1 million percent,” Achatz said about the critical response, saying he should have posted a photo of the amuse-bouche with an explanation of his thought process. “I probably should have taken a photo of it, pry it open, put it on Instagram and wrote a couple paragraphs on (the mindset behind it).”

Well, I refuse to live in that world just yet, and I also think the actual presentation deserves more than the same old Jeff Koons “isn’t it daring” modern art justification. As Eater describes it, they take your temperature as you enter the restaurant. Once certified as being uninfected, they take you up to the rooftop—and then the first thing you are confronted with is the very virus itself, in edible form.

I think that’s brilliant as conceptual food goes—it’s certainly more audacious than the tamer food jokes that I had at Alinea a few years ago. And, dare I say it, I think it’s precisely because Achatz had his own brush with death that he wants to acknowledge the moment we all find ourselves in, when going out to eat is an act of defying the virus while being acutely conscious of it. Comedy is all about timing, and like Lenny Bruce on November 22, 1963, his timing right now is impeccable—though reality always has the darkest punchlines. Shortly after the kerfuffle, a server tested positive for Coronavirus—and AIR shut down.

Buzz 2


Michael Nagrant talks to Michael Muser (of Ever) a little more about what a fine dining restaurant in the age of Coronavirus will be like:

Those that jumped on reservations, I feel as if there was an energy being released. The guests were looking at us like a beacon, a sign that it’s not all over, that not all restaurants are dying, that one has actually not been given birth to yet. There are still construction guys bibbly bopping about here and we don’t open until July 28, but part of me wonders if those people were dying for an experience, to be excited about something.


This is a short Buzz List this week—despite my own best efforts to go on and on, some would say—but Steve Dolinsky is tireless, still roaming the city like a dark knight of food. And having failed to mention the Georgia peach truck story last week (I was actually in the very line in Gurnee you see in his piece), I now face a backlog of his stories: here he talks about reopening for ramen at Menya Goku and Chicago Ramen (I’ve tried both and liked both a lot, the former especially); here he talks about Argentinean bakery treats at Hyde Park’s venerable Piccolo Mondo, and here he talks about new bagel shops in the area, something we can always use.


Meanwhile, speaking of tireless—guess who else is back! Yes, Titus Ruscitti, who apparently had a computer failure around the time Covid started and was enjoying a little break from writing about oddball haunts all over the city. But he’s back with a bunch of posts since the first of July. Here’s a Puerto Rican snack truck in a park, here’s L&M Fine Foods, a new gourmet shop with sandwiches in Lincoln Square, he actually tries the burger at Old Fashion Donuts, and he finds a blue collar spot with a mixed bag of food: “This was a pretty sad ex. of a Chicago style. Aside from the lifeless hot dog there was no celery salt and the bun was plain. They redeemed themselves with the fresh cut fries though. The medium sized spuds were some of the best fries I’ve had in Chicago. I cant recall a spot where there’s a bigger gap in quality from hot dog to fries.”


Like you, I’ve seen all the cakes that look like tacos or human legs that I need on social media this week, but I found this story by David Hammond about Acadia cranking out cakes to be just the frosted cheering-up I needed. Here’s chef-owner Ryan McCaskey: “We have the two people who make the cakes and they frost them. Then they give them to me, and I do all the decorating. Every cake you see, I basically just did. At some point every day, I say, ‘Guys, I need some cake decorating time,’ and they drop the temperature of the dining room to fifty-five or sixty degrees. It’s pretty cold for an hour. The whole credenza in the dining room is full of cakes. I go down the row, and there are all these cakes with their special requests and notes with an explanation of the occasion, anniversary, graduation, whatever.”

There’s more to how Acadia has adapted to Covid (and is getting ready for post-Covid), but that’s the image that won me.


A few years ago I wrote about the surprisingly well-informed food scene in northwest Indiana, like a gourmet shop in Griffith, Indiana. And Mike Sula says it just got that much better with The Wurst, a butcher shop selling meat from local farmers that opened on a wing and a prayer, thanks to butcher Ricky Hanft and farmer Steve Howe:

Howe and Hanft developed standards with the farmers, all situated within 150 miles of Griffith—cows are grass-fed and grass-finished; pigs live on pasture; there are no GMOs in any animal feed; and they’re given no antibiotics.“I was able to put together a deal with them that we’ll buy all their animals so they can just focus on farming and then they don’t have to worry about being salesmen on top of that,” says Hanft. “We collectively determine what everybody needs to make in order to keep the lights on.”

Meant to mention this last week, too, but forgot after going long on Blackbird. It’s a well-reported piece by Ari Bendersky on how restaurant closings will impact the real estate market—including a lot of secondary effects. Scott Weiner of The Fifty/50 Group:

Weiner feels the local governments, which collect real estate taxes, have to work with local businesses, otherwise more issues may arise.

“It’s fair to say our buildings are only worth the occupancy we can put in them,” Weiner says. “My buildings are essentially worthless if no one can go in them. If the law won’t know when we’ll have 100 percent occupancy, the reality is my building is worth half the price, so I shouldn’t have to pay real estate taxes on that amount.”


This is a food story happening largely out of view of English-language media, but a poster at LTHForum saw a Chinese-language announcement and offers some Googlefied translations of what’s going on with the highly ambitious plans for an extension to Chinatown across Jefferson:

According to general manager James Zhang, 88 supermarkets have an area of ​​more than 80,000 square feet, and will provide more than 20,000 commodities, north and south groceries, vegetables and fruits, seafood and meat, ginseng and sea cucumber… Seven food and beverage companies will be stationed in the food court in the supermarket, including special drink boba, exquisite pastry, Japanese food, Vietnamese pho, traditional roasted meat, trendy Thai food, pure Korean food, Chinese food, so that customers can spend their shopping time Enjoy convenient, fast and diverse authentic cuisine.

A few days later, the same poster points to the first opening, Qiao Lin Hot Pot.


Robert Moss’s Cue Sheet barbecue newsletter points to a Reuters piece on a fake meat startup that includes a video of the fake steak being 3-D printed that kind of has to be seen to be disbelieved—to me, you might as well just eat Play-Doh.


I’m still mostly cooking, though I took a break after seeing that the pizzas that longtime Chicago chef Dean Zanella is making in the backyard at his Tripoli Tap in Lincoln Park were available via Caviar (making them I think only the second meal I’ve had delivered in all this time—hey, I’d been to the eye doc and was still dilated). Anyway, nice fluffy crusts, really flavorful toppings, maybe too much cheese (especially on the alleged Margherita) but I would recommend them for something new and different—especially since the place I looked for initially on Caviar, Pizzeria Bebu, is still closed.

And I went back to the very last restaurant I ate at before the lockdown—El Asadero Colombiano, located at Central and Lawrence (the old Beefbelly location, and actually the fourth place I’ve been to in that spot). They do Columbian whole chickens over charcoal with a spicy salsa (aji), as well as empanadas and other South American things, and I picked up two pollos entero for barely $30, we ate one the first night and made chicken salad and chicken burritos out of the second all weekend.

By the way, I’m doing interviews like crazy for this book about Chicago’s dining scene over the last forty years, focusing right now on the old old days—Le Francais, Gordon, etc. If you are, or know somebody, who’d be good to talk to about that era, feel free to contact me at mike at fooditor dot com.