Let’s start with a happy story, shall we? We could use a happy story. Manny’s Deli put the word out on social media on Tuesday:

We are struggling. This isn’t a joke. Support your fav deli for dinner tonight. Thx

Manny’s may be in the South Loop but it was suffering the same problems as any other restaurants serving the pretty-darn-empty Loop. Lots of people retweeted that message, include myself. So that was Tuesday. Wednesday, per Block Club:

On Wednesday, supporters came out in droves and waited in a line that went out the door to savor 6-inch-thick corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, brisket, potato pancakes, matzo ball soup and other longtime favorites.

On Thursday, CBS Chicago reporter Charlie De Mar tweeted pics of the second day’s line. And owner Ken Raskin spoke from the line. A longtime customer named David Axelrod tweeted:

Manny’s is a Chicago institution. I’ve been going there for forty years to clog my arteries and clear my head! If you’re looking for great deli in and around Chicago, give ‘em a try! Food is delicious!!

By Saturday, Manny’s was the subject of this piece by Scott Simon on NPR. As fourth generation owner Danny Raskin says, “One or two busy days won’t be enough to keep us going. But it’s enough to make us want to keep going.”

Place your pre-orders (for the next day at present) here.


Kuma’s Corner, which came in for heat on The 86’d List over the alleged behavior of owner Ron Cain. (Imagine, in a metal bar…) Block Club published a story about the manager of Kuma’s Indianapolis location coming in to take over as a manager, or at least barrier between Cain and more trouble, but after reading the story he apparently bailed, deciding life was too short to put yourself in the middle of that.

The allegations are, as Block Club put it, “Cain made racially insensitive remarks and business decisions, failed to address sexual harassment cases and abused his power by parking in the only handicap spots available.” This last one caught me up a little—apparently Cain’s license plate says KUMAS, so easy enough to spot him in a handicapped spot.

Dick move, sure, but how much into such details of the life of every owner of a place where we stop for a Malmsteen burger with a Zombie Dust are we all supposed to get? Is there any threshold below which for me, I can say hey, it’s just a parking issue, let me eat my damn burger in peace? Can anyone say where that line is drawn for diners in 2020—and how restaurants are supposed to survive in such an era of unsourced, unproven allegations?

Food writing. The New Republic, not usually a place one goes to for food coverage, published a piece by a New York chef named Kate Telfelyan, who had worked at Mission Chinese in San Francisco. It’s a very good piece on a not exactly new but perennial topic:

Celebrity chefs and food writers need each other—to build their brands and “do numbers,” whether online (for the writers) or at the point of sale (for restaurants). The food media is complicit in the creation of kitchen tyrants, building their profiles, massaging their egos, exploiting their personalities for clicks—and chefs, in turn, help elevate the careers of food writers with access and exposure...

When so much of food coverage is devoted to celebrating and cultifying chefs as eccentric, demanding “creatives,” unbeholden to the ordinary rules of the workplace, can we be surprised that this new moment, in which many chefs and restaurant owners are being revealed as the abusive, domineering bosses they really are, has left the food media flat-footed? A pivot to a more critical, adversarial approach to covering restaurants seems unlikely as long as the food media is built on the idea of the chef as a singular creative mind.

This is all good and fair (if a bit New York-centric), though I’m tempted to say that worrying about what food media is built on seems a bit precious when it’s racing headlong toward not existing at all—at least outside of New York. And the reaction to the piece seemed to me to be out of touch with these real issues. Telfeyan writes:

Food journalists rarely, if ever, take the time to get behind the scenes and talk to the “little people” in restaurants—the line cooks, dishwashers, and servers—to understand what these workplaces are really like. They engage only with owners and operators, which means their reporting on restaurants is necessarily superficial

That led to Twitter discussions about how writers should talk not just to the chef, but to everybody who works there, to find out if the great chef is also a dick. I mean, sure, in many circumstances that should factor in, but as others quickly pointed out, that’s putting the onus on low-paid workers to risk their positions to educate writers about what’s not visible to outsiders. That’s unfair to them (and unlikely to get much cooperation from chefs, if they feel that every profile is going to troll the whole staff for dirt). It’s the 86’d List model made universal, the reporter as special prosecutor, and no chef who has ever fired anyone will survive it.

But to me, just as importantly, it’s imposing a model on every story that it should be chef focused. Now it’s about trying the chef and rendering a verdict—but still, basically a celebrity profile. And, you know, there are other kinds of stories—it wasn’t all about glorifying chefs before and it shouldn’t have to be all about damning them now.

Similarly, Eater Chicago’s Ashok Selvam made a point that would have been a better one a couple of years ago:

IMHO it’s impossible to discuss this without discussing who gets to be a food writer/critic (mostly white guys!) and the marginalized voices left behind.

At the moment, there’s hardly a request for writers on food subjects online that doesn’t specify women, people of color, LGBTQ, and so on. And you know, again, I’m all for that! On the ice floe in 80 degree waters that is food media, sure, why not give some chances to people who’ve been denied them up to now. At the same time, as someone who’s commissioned work, I will say that diversity in writers, admirable in itself, may just get you more of the same pitches off PR firm press releases that you get from white guys. It’s aiming for diversity in subject matter that matters to me—and will also, in my experience, bring you diversity in writers.

Anyway, lots of interesting things to think about here, even if I do find my own chosen field less and less interesting to read about it as it carries on (like most of the culture at this moment) in this hairshirt, everybody’s-guilty-of-something, month-four-of-being-trapped-inside-and-crabby manner.


Big names continue to make big changes: Rick Bayless is selling out of Leña Brava and Cruz Blanca to his partner in the two Randolph Street spots, Manny Valdes. Bayless retains the Clark street restaurants Frontera, Topolobampo, Xoco and Bar Sotano (plus side ventures like Tortas Fronteras).

I’ve been predicting that one of the things we’d see in the big groups is doing triage and getting rid of their hotel partnerships—and so Boka Group and Lee Wolen have exited Somerset and their other properties in the Viceroy Hotel. One Off exited Nico Osteria across the street some months before Coronavirus.

The new thing is Sicilian and/or grandma pizza—and I don’t just mean at my own house (I’ve made it at least twice). Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream opened this week in Bridgeport (in the old Pleasant House space next to Maria’s and Kimski), though I sampled a different Marz-related business (see below). Meanwhile Noah Sandoval’s Pizza Friendly Pizza opens next week, but Friend of Fooditor Matthew Mirapaul posted a friends and family report.

Several years back I did some pieces on family meal at different restaurants for the Reader, and at Boka, I was introduced to the Korean food of one of Lee Wolen’s associates, Eddie Lee (not to be confused with Chef Edward Lee, or the owner of Landbirds). He’s doing a popup called Joomak highlighting Korean food, which will be at Cold Storage (another Boka property). Go here to make a reservation.

Galit was all ready to go with Galit on the Street, as Lincoln was closed in front of it, but then they had to shut down because a worker tested for Covid. No word yet on when they’ll reopen.

So many places open for patio seating now, if you feel up to it, it’s a good time to spend some money on restaurants. I received a special request to point out the patio dining at Bistronomic, so yeah, what could be a better escape from America 2020 than classic French food? Go here for a reservation.

Speaking of classic French food, Eater reported that venerable River North French spot Kiki’s Bistro had closed, but Kiki’s say they haven’t! (h/t LTHForum)

On the other hand, Eden in the West Loop closed for real on Saturday.

But there are still openings! Miki’s Park, a Korean street food spot in River North (which would ordinarily be exciting news), which opened for takeout after lockdown started, has now opened a semi-hidden bar, Miki’s Tiger Bar.

Want to see gooey food porn of Ann Sather’s cinnamon rolls? They were featured on a web video series called Legendary Eats.


Chef Edward Lee (not to be confused, etc.) and his Lee Initiative, known for working with The Fifty/50 Group to feed out of work folks (listen to this podcast if you don’t know what that’s about), launched a new effort this week pairing vegetables from farmers with The Restaurant Reboot Relief Program. Participants on one side in our area include Three Sisters, Gunthorp, Mick Klug, Seedling and others; on the other side, 5 Rabanitos, Bayan Ko, Birrieria Zaragoza, Kimski, Lula, Parachute and others. Read more here.

Buzz 2


I just recommended Uptown’s In-On Thai—the second iteration; it opened and closed once before—to a certain Roscoe Village-resident farmer who was looking for something new in Thai food. He loved it, and Mike Sula has details on why you should too:

[Owner Atichat] Srisawangpan was born in Chicago but grew up in Bangkok after his parents graduated from college here. Back home, he met Inon and married into the family business, a small food court spot specializing in khao rad gang, or rice and curry dishes.

When they moved to Chicago in 2001, Srisawangpan cooked in a handful of Thai restaurants… But the soul of the food comes from his mother-in-law. Initially, In-On nominally represented the food of central Thailand—Bangkok and its surroundings—then started offering dishes rooted in the north, south, and northeastern Isan region of Thailand. The menu is all over the map.


Titus Ruscitti is back to blogging and he recaps some of the things he tried so far as restaurants adapted to quarantine time, from Sicilian pizza at Ludlow Liquors to Chinese style BBQ pork from pop-up 3 Little Pigs, and the south side ice cream spot Shawn Michelle’s Ice Cream.


Speaking of Boka, Phil Vettel has a piece on how one of Chicago’s top restaurants has made pivots to meet different audience desires as the lockdown has evolved:

Shortly after the shelter-in-place rules kicked in, Boka became the first restaurant in the Boka Group to offer curbside takeout — one featured protein each day. That was the first pivot.

“It was really good,” Wolen said. “We did dinners for two or four. The food really didn’t have anything to do with Boka’s style; we did chicken, cauliflower, lasagna, short ribs — numerous proteins, all with vegetable, salad and dessert.”

But that was, as he says, merely step one…


I’ve seen this barbecue sauce at Paulina Market, but didn’t know anything about it. Josh Lukach explains its heritage, which goes back to former slave Arthur Watts, and the family’s heritage of barbecue businesses around central Illinois.


David Hammond on a woman-owned business making hard kombucha, which you need without knowing it yet!


So I tried a new restaurant… Fiya, a Israeli-style middle eastern restaurant in Andersonville, with which the same owners replaced a Jerry’s sandwich shop. I liked a brisket pita and a veggie one with onion and goat cheese (though beware, the zhug on both is H-O-T), and the housebaked pitas, small and plump and cooked in a woodburning oven right in the center of the room, went well with creamy hummus. I don’t think it’s Galit 2 just yet, but it was something different in middle eastern food. Also, attention Sandwich Tribunal: sabich!

And Marz Brewing’s location on Iron hosted a pop-up from a guy named Joseph Yim, who has been studying Southern barbecue and is cooking under the name Knox Avenue BBQ. I schlepped way down there, to find more people than you’d expect to make their way to the industrial end of Bridgeport, lined up to pick up BBQ or beer. How was it? The smoking technique (and maybe some brining for the ribs) was very good; but I felt the rub was a little salty (meaning it didn’t really need any more salt from barbecue sauce). Still, good work, looking forward to seeing how this progresses toward opening a permanent standard.