Big news this week with one of our iconic restaurants, Spiaggia, announcing closing after 37 years. To be honest, I’m not surprised after what Tony Mantuano told me a couple of years ago in this piece:

It’s always been such a crazy, high-fashion neighborhood, still is. But West Loop didn’t exist then, Logan didn’t exist then, this is where you wanted to have a restaurant then. Maybe you ventured into Lincoln Park. And now, there’s like no restaurants here—obviously there are some, but it’s not a hot restaurant neighborhood.

Real estate is destiny for restaurants, and now Spiaggia is closing because they couldn’t meet terms with the landlord on a new lease in the restaurant reality of the 2020s, where the north end of Michigan Ave. is a high-priced backwater.

But when I moved here, working in ad agencies on Michigan Ave. while my future wife attended Northwestern law school, this was where you went—Water Tower for movies, and Cafe Spiaggia, the more modestly priced sibling, for a romantic night out overlooking water (coming from Kansas, anything that looked out on water was a novelty). And because we had our wedding in Chicago instead of our hometown, we could afford to do the reception in Spiaggia’s event space for the much smaller number of guests. That felt so big city.

I can’t say I went there a lot in later years, but I always regarded it as an important restaurant. Partly because to me there was a troika of restaurants that opened within 18 months or so in the mid-80s that set the course for new ways of dining in Chicago—new American with Charlie Trotter, scholarly Mexican with Frontera, and haute Italian with Spiaggia. Spiaggia was a restaurant that scattered its children all over the city—especially hot restaurants of the moment Rose Mary and Monteverde, but really any good Italian restaurant in Chicago works in the world Spiaggia made. Mantuano in that same interview:

It’s one of those places that you go to if you want to learn to cook Italian, I guess, in this city. We’re going to teach you the right way. That’s what I’m hoping our legacy is, and that all started 37 years ago, when we first went and lived in Italy, and we worked in restaurants in Italy—when I say we, I mean Cathy Mantuano and I, and she’d work the front of the house and I’d work in the kitchen.

And they’d be like, “You know, whenever somebody in the States wants to open a really good Italian restaurant, they usually call and we send them a chef. But you guys are the first ones that are over here,” workin’ in the kitchens, before the word “stage” meant something. We worked in six different restaurants, and I don’t remember ever seeing any other Americans. I saw Japanese, but they’d always say, you guys seem to be the first Americans over here.

He told me about growing basil because the idea of getting fresh basil from a vendor was unimaginable. And now, we all buy bubble packs at the grocery store, or grow our own. Of course Spiaggia isn’t the only reason that happened, but they’re all part of how things changed. Mantuano one more time:

Cooking with charcoal and wood for 35 years—that defines us. Fresh pasta for 35 years—that defines us. It’s just funny to see that stuff today is what the next generation of chefs wants—okay. We’ve been doing it all along.

Mark Mendez’s newsletter has a remembrance of going to work at Spiaggia:

Service was very different than what I was used to, it was intense just in a different way. Where I worked the food had to get out of the kitchen as fast as humanly possible, the sous chef would mix and match whatever came in the window until he got a complete table, the cooks many times got so lost they just cooked a lot of stuff and hoped for the best. At Spiaggia, it was much more controlled, much smoother, and the food was timed to come out together, if it didn’t, the cooks replated everything or made it over again. I had never seen anything like this, even though a couple of times a couple of cooks got very busy, it was still very calm and seemed to flow well. At the end of the night, the sous chef asked me what I thought, which I don’t remember what I said other than I thought it was very cool. He asked me to come and stage another day if possible, this time I was going to cook something, and they would watch me in action. I said sure, but the thought of working in that kitchen frightened me, I was nowhere near as skilled as the cooks I saw that night. The other thing he mentioned was that the other stages had left before service, I was the only one left.


Chicago magazine put out a special issue of Chicago’s iconic eatsyou can see it online here—and it’ss well worth checking out for its assortment of tasty things all over town—but man, being deep in the history of our food scene with this book I’m doing, all it makes me think is how much early LTHForum (c. 2004-2010) changed the way we look at food in Chicago. Where once the iconic eats would have all been at Gibson’s or the Berghoff, now it’s exactly the sort of neighborhood food with origins in other lands that LTHers championed when hardly anyone else did—and I don’t mean the same kinds of food, but exactly that food, things like the apple fritter at Old-Fashioned Donuts in Roseland, lengua tacos at La Chaparrita, the Mr. G sub at J.P. Graziano, lollipop wings at Great Sea, Hienie’s sauce shrimp from Hienie’s way on the southeast side, and birria at Birrieria Zaragoza.

Some of these I remember when they first appeared at LTH and there’s no doubt in my mind that that’s where most of them started—I was in one of the first groups that Peter Engler dragged to his discovery Birrieria Zaragoza, at a time when Dennis Ray Wheaton or whomever wouldn’t have been caught dead at 43rd and Pulaski. (That’s a little unfair on my part, because Chicago mag had always made room in its capsule reviews for an earlier generation of ethnic joints, the Army and Lou’s and so on, but this is clearly the 2000s generation of same.) There’s one LTHer among the contributors who put this issue together, Titus Ruscitti (there’s also at least one LTHer among the honorees, Eddie Lakin of Edzo’s), but everybody who contributed owes LTH a nod, whether they know it or not.


Meanwhile if you want the undiluted Titus Ruscitti experience, check out this piece on what he calls The Illinois Fried Chicken Trail, old school places in small towns doing up chicken in a serious way:

Continuing along on the I-88 West route aka Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway brings us into Dixon. The 40th US President spent his youth in Dixon, IL – Home of BBY Chicken. They’ve been serving takeout fried bird since the 80’s. While there’s a few spots to sit inside your best bet is to bring your box of chicken across the street to the public park on the Rock River. The thick crisp bird has that golden hue that lets you know it’s the real deal as soon as you see it. Paired with the scenic backdrop it makes for a great lunch. Also of note is their signature orange dipping sauce. Some sort of honey mustard / thousand island concoction.


Rick Bayless returns to the stage starting in October with an original play called A Recipe for Disaster, satirizing influencers while serving appetizers and cocktails. It’s produced by Windy City Playhouse—but staged in a space above Petterino’s. Eater tells more.


I’ve been in the West Loop a couple of times lately, and twice I’ve thought of getting a J.P. Graziano sub but thought, I should try something new. So I get a sub from another restaurant, often the side project of a grander place, and they’re artfully made… but before I’m done, I find they’re just too much, too much extra stuff like pickled artichokes or pepperoncini or whatever. Too many notes, as the Emperor tells Mozart. Shoulda stuck with the perfectly balanced harmony of Graziano’s.

Anyway, on that note, David Hammond puts forth a sub at Gaetano’s Artisan Foods in Forest Park as the best sub in Chicago:

The excellence of this sandwich comes down to the quality of the bread and meat, but there’s something to be said for the composition of the sandwich, the disposition of ingredients on the bread. On my sandwich, the soft texture of the mortadella contrasts with chewier capicola, and the lushness of the porchetta makes for luxurious bites tempered by the spiciness of the giardiniera, the acidity of the tomato and the pepperiness of the arugula. Incidentally, there is enough arugula on the sandwich to qualify as a side salad, but that’s not to say this sandwich is overstuffed. It is a foot long, so there’s a lot of room to add ingredients.

Is it a Mozart—or a Salieri, jealous of an effortless master? I guess I’ll have to taste for myself.


At NewCity, Rebecca Holland talks to Zach Engel of Galit about letting his Southern self come out at Lou’s Backyard:

“When you come into someone’s home in the South or the Middle East, people are very welcoming,” he says. “They’re hitting you hard with food and drink, and there’s a sense of community that’s very strong in those different cultures. And the way the food is prepared and served is similar—family style, big portions, lots of fun, a lot of dipping things.”


It’s all about DIY cookbooks at the Reader of late. Mike Sula talks to chef Hugh Amano and illustrator Sarah Becan about their new book, Let’s Make Dumplings. Here’s Becan:

We had so many discussions about how to define dumpling, what foods counted as dumplings. Is a pierogi a dumpling? Ravioli? Samosas? Empanadas? It can be easy to get lost in the philosophical details with a question like this. To my mind, a hot dog isn’t a dumpling because it isn’t sealed, but then again, if a dumpling has to be sealed, is a shumai not a dumpling? I saw a tweet a few years ago about whether a hot dog was a sandwich and it said, “it’s an edge case that demonstrates the weaknesses of any taxonomic system.” It’s a thought I come back to pretty often when these questions come up. No taxonomy is going to be perfect.

The title Pizza For Everyone raises the question, when was it ever not? But the book of pizza recipes and far-out ideas collected by ManBQue guy John Carruthers is dev0ted to the house of pizza having many mansions. Mike Sula talks a little more about it here, and you can get yours here—it’s already on a spiral bound second printing.


Louisa Chu talks to Jose Andres, who just opened Jaleo in the old Naha space, and he drops some big names as if to ward off any accusations of being a carpetbagger in a town that can be tough on out of town restaurateurs:

I was in Chicago doing a fundraiser — for what, I don’t remember. I met a man in the basement of Ba-Ba-Reeba. A young man, but older than me,” Andrés recounted. “I asked, ‘What do you do here?’ He answered, ‘I’m a dishwasher.’ He seemed happy and knew everybody….

“It took until after I left Chicago to find out that the man was (Lettuce Entertain You founder) Richard Melman himself….

“I wouldn’t be there if Rick Bayless didn’t call me,” said Andrés. “He said, ‘Say José, there’s a place near me and if I could choose the people I want near me, I would love if it was you.’

If you follow food media people you probably saw them chowing down on jamon iberico on Instagram. One you didn’t see was me, as I was not invited. One thing you can definitely say for it, though—apparently it’s booked months out already. So I’ll get to it… or not.


Good piece at Forbes about how FitzGerald’s, the venerable Berwyn live music spot, was taken over just in time for lockdown by Will Duncan (Thalia Hall), and how he kept it afloat through all that time:

“I learned the importance of retaining and maintaining a team. I think it was a very quick choice – and a very obvious and easy choice for a lot of business owners – to close and furlough, just have no staff and have as little expenses as possible. Of course we had to furlough our bar staff – because there were just no bar operations – but I retained the management team,” he explained. “And all of these pivots and adaptations and all of this stuff that we tried to do during the last year were only possible because there was a team in here talking about it every day, pulling their weight and working on the execution, the marketing, the graphics, the social media, the booking – it was a lot of work. So I definitely learned the importance of having a team of dedicated people around you.”


There’s a new documentary about Anthony Bourdain, from Morgan Neville who did that beautiful film about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, called Roadrunner. But all the commentary on it this week has been about the revelation that they used AI to simulate Bourdain saying things he merely wrote. Many people view this as an ethical lapse—look, I wouldn’t necessarily believe that anything in a movie these days hasn’t had some digital jiggery-pokery done to it. But my issue is that whenever Bourdain’s voice was recorded, it was for his show at the time, and it represented to some degree Bourdian playing Bourdain for the purpose of telling a particular story and making his product. If he wrote something, that was him by himself, without an implied audience and market. Not that I think Bourdain the showman was a fake, but he was making a show. And I’d have preserved that distinction between Bourdain’s show and Bourdain’s private self in some formal way, like letting someone else read those parts. Not just for the ethics of it, but because it’s central to his story, I think, that the public man and the private are not exactly the same.


Maybe more than you wanted to know about tripe from Sandwich Tribunal, as he explains an Italian peasant delicacy called lampredotto.


Not  a whine, but that very happy thing, a new Substack newsletter about wine, and its proprietor Sam Noss tells me that this very newsletter you’re reading was part of what inspired it! It’s also for his Master’s, which is probably greater inspiration. Anyway it’s called By the Bottle, and he interviews people about wine—starting with One Off’s Eduard Seitan.


I forgot to link this listicle by Titus Ruscitti on places to eat in Madison last time, which is ironic since I was right in the process of consulting it for choices as my wife and I headed there for a long weekend at a legal convention she goes to. I used it for several of our choices, such as the letter-perfect old school supper club we went to, Toby’s, which was the most satisfying meal of the whole trip—brandy old-fashioned sweet, relish tray (my wife was amazed by the cinnamon roll that came as an appetizer—who knew you could have a cinnamon roll before dinner!), ribeye steak, waitress who did everything but call me “Hon,” vinyl tabletops and red glass candleholders like they had at the Pizza Hut where I grew up… it’s a trip to a lost time worth revisiting and, for residents of states near Wisconsin, easy to.

Other meals in Madison—well, they were usually pleasant and friendly, but as I often find outside of Chicago, cooking and seasoning are not as precise as here. Meals also tend to look like what you were eating in Chicago half a dozen or a dozen years ago, though that’s often a pleasure—I was charmed by discs of foie gras mousse arranged geometrically atop bombolini (aka doughnuts) with fig jam and balsamic; in its own way it was a time trip to Chicago dining in 2012 or so. Okay, I’m sounding pretty insufferable by this point, I’m happy to see our food trends percolate to the rest of the midwest and shouldn’t be such a snob, and I was charmed by the young couples around us asking each other what burrata and porchetta are. Made me feel young.

So no mockery for A Pig in a Fur Coat, which I enjoyed—though a perfectly executed chocolate dessert kind of put the main courses in the shade as not being as sharply refined. (Crisp the fat on the porchetta next time.) And no shade for Madison Sourdough, a bakery which executes Tartine pastries flawlessly, which gave us something to eat for breakfast every day and spared us spending $15.95 for the hotel buffet.

I was less impressed by Cento, an Italian restaurant whose menu could be found anywhere in America, executed acceptably enough but with nothing about it to surprise or delight versus other Italian restaurants in malls everywhere; it made me miss Nostrano, the charcuterie-focused Madison Italian restaurant from Tim Dahl (Blackbird) and Elizabeth Dahl (Boka), which had a personality and a vision. There’s a lot of Asian food in the areas where students cluster, but I was disappointed by somewhat greasy Taiwanese noodle bowls and a so-called taco bao at Taiwan Little Eats, otherwise kind of charming as a laidback collegiate hangout. And after visiting the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, we had diner lunch at the Hubbard Avenue Diner, which comes from a local group called Food Fight; lunch was a bit ordinary, needed some originality a la Indianapolis’ Milktooth, but I had no complaints about the pie that followed, which I gather is the big draw anyway. (You can see pics of several of these here.)

Being there on Saturday, of course we went to the farmers market, and though it seemed to have fewer of the cheese vendors it had a decade ago when I went on a Milk Board junket, there was still incredible variety and, just as impressively, a steady crowd out to support the farmers. So, though my critical self takes a critical eye to much of what we ate, it was a great pleasure to go to a new city and walk around and have an almost all-new set of places to pick from. That’s something I haven’t done in more than a year, and Madison was a good place to do it again.