It’s a quiet week…


Steve Dolinsky talks Mexican-Cuban fusion at Avondale’s La Celia.


Time Out tells how Candlelight in Rogers Park has remained a neighborhood pizza favorite—and is now available at Time Out Market:

Candlelite’s focus on families and the surrounding Rogers Park community extends to its iconic sign, bearing a marquee on which Fowler and Vernon frequently place messages that celebrate all sorts of achievements. From anniversaries to the MVP at baseball games in nearby Warren Park, the messages (all posted at no charge) commemorate individuals in the neighborhood that have sprung up around the restaurant, as well as the folks who have been coming back to Candlelite for decades.

“For a lot of people, Candlelite is in their heart. Sure, they enjoy the food, but there’s some emotion attached to the place,” [owner Pat] Fowler says. “We do a lot of post-funeral events because Candlelite is where [the deceased] loved to go.”


Titus Ruscitti has just what I want in July: more old-school drive-ins to check out.


“You saw news reports of long lines of cars in Texas for food distribution. You didn’t see that here. There’s a reason for that,” says Nicole Robinson of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, in a piece in the Reader which tells how community organizations in Chciago got underserved communities in food deserts through the pandemic:

Cook County has 450 food pantries, only 35 percent of which have a paid staff person. Robinson said many of the rest are volunteer led. “Some are connected to faith-based organizations, some are connected to grassroots organizations, some are anti-hunger organizations. There are 4,000 volunteers working across the pantries. Many of them are older adults. These are the heroes and the people who got us through the pandemic. That’s what I think about when I think of the strength of the food system.”


Always happy to see the byline of old Friend of Fooditor Lisa Shames, who’s in Eater this week talking about five chefs who pivoted to food products, including spices from Kristine Subido and granola from Chrissy Camba.


I mentioned Mark Mendez’s Substack newsletter a few issues back. Here’s a really nice piece about a childhood food awakening from the former Vera and Carnivale chef:

I went and stood right next to my mom while she peeled the plantains, not saying a word, just watching, transfixed by these green bananas. She smiled at me, but told me to go outside and play, it seemed like she was always trying to get rid of me, I probably hung out in the kitchen a little too much in her mind, I should be outside playing like other kids, but watching my mother cook was an endless source of entertainment for me, I was fascinated. My mother was a good cook, of course, I sort of knew this at the time, but I came to really appreciate her cooking later in life, she had a natural ability when it came to cooking. Good cooks have great instincts borne from years of practical experience, this was my mom to a tee, she had been cooking from scratch her whole life.


Grimod has quite a screed about the state of restaurant criticism in town. A lot of it is just plain mean toward individuals, which I’m going to carefully avoid endorsing—I like these people personally, and it just may be setting a bar too cantankerously high for critics who need to be people who people will warm to and want their opinions. The mainstream should be the mainstream. But I did quite like this part about what the Tribune can do to have its own voice:

Food critics are not supposed to be cool. They’re not supposed to be liked, but rather feared. That does not mean courting controversy. Instead, stoke the flames of Chicagoans culinary passion. Provoke the sort of conversations that drive the city into distinct camps. For those who may not see eye-to-eye in matters political might find themselves marching hand-in-hand when it comes to matters of taste. (They surely do when it comes to pizza crust and hot dog toppings).

Go scorched earth and rewrite the ranking of Chicago’s “greatest” restaurants starting from square one. For, by propagating his list year after year without the requisite number of return visits to accurately assess enduring quality, Vettel merely reconfigured Michelin’s own rankings. The Tribune, if anything, should stand as a beacon of how local tastes distinguish themselves from international rankings and traveling influencers. No fine dining restaurant should coast on a newspaper review from its opening year forever. And Chicagoans–to say nothing of our Midwestern brethren–should not be left to trust Michelin’s word alone when it comes to spending big bucks in their own city.

Of course, this is exactly what I did in The Fooditor 99—shake up what the top was (and not even worry about covering everyone else’s number one, because Alinea doesn’t need my puny publicity help). But as I’ve often said, there aren’t really camps to divide into, because everyone really does mostly agree on what’s good—nobody thinks, say, that Paul Kahan is a fraud or that farm to table is a stupid way to source. Even the things Grimod champions, like Smyth, are by no means overlooked, usually making the top 3 or 5 on anybody’s list. There really hasn’t been a food scene divided into camps since LTHers started making big noise about ethnic food and obscure neighborhoods in the early 2000s—and everybody agrees with that now; all those mainstream lists have Birrieria Zaragoza and La Chaparrita on them now.


Adam Lukach has left the Trib’s food section. I’ve never met him, but he posted his own choice of some favorite pieces here, so say goodbye by taking a look at some of those.


The founder of the local Taqueria Los Comales chain, Camerino Gonzales Valle, at 81. The Sun-Times:

In the early 1970s, Mr. Gonzalez recognized that Little Village, once heavily Bohemian, was becoming a point of entry for Mexican immigrants. “Like any smart businessman, he saw a need and fulfilled that need,” his son said. “He would always be open for Christmas, always be open for Thanksgiving. He knew his [immigrant] customers would be without family that day.”


One of the restaurants I was waiting for, that would signal that things were back, was mfk.—not least because their other restaurant, Bar Biscay, was a casualty of the pandemic. It also just seemed to sum up everything about the world we lost during those months—cozy and intimate (so impossible to socially distance), with a short, tight menu of Spanish-influenced mostly seafood dishes—the epitome of the places that choose to just do a very few things, very well. And that’s exactly what it still was, in its first week of reopening. Under new chef Matt Ginsburg, I’m not sure which dishes are new or evolved, but that’s a good thing, that he steps in so seamlessly to the spirit of the place. But I especially liked the folksily-named Clams ‘n’ Ham, manila clams with chunks of house-smoked pork, and the fideos (a longtime dish I’d somehow never had), shrimp, mussels, and clams with cappellini in a saffron cream broth. Beyond that, in a city of big brash and busy restaurants, mfk. is small and friendly and precise, a treasure I’m so glad is back.

Another new pizza in town—after a Facebook post by Dennis Lee it seemed like everyone was talking about Naudi Signature Pizza, a new spot in Lakeview doing very thin crackly crust, allegedly rolled out with a wine bottle, topped with very moderate amounts of cheese, slightly sweet tomato sauce and sprigs of basil. The owner is from Kyrgyzstan and it does have a not-quite-Italian thing I’ve sensed from that part of the world—it reminded me a little of pizza in Turkey, for instance, not quite sure why. Anyway, for those who often find Chicago pizza too big and heavy, this is a delicate pizza with a dancer’s step through the oven, well worth a try next time.

Buzz List will be off next week, and return on 7/19.