The Tribune’s monthly theme for June is the black south side. Here’s the slideshow, and they kicked it off with a piece by Sadé Carpenter that has some interesting thoughts about how to write about African-American food (including why they’re capitalizing the B in Black, AP Stylebook be damned), but was also kind of grandly self-congratulatory for things they hadn’t actually published yet (“This month’s focus is but one small step forward as we continue eating at and writing about restaurants on the South Side, as we continue to prioritize coverage that is inclusive and reflective of the diversity of our city.”) Me, I just write about what I eat that tastes good…

More interesting to me is this piece by Nick Kindelsperger, which looks at how soul food is evolving, for reasons ranging from health concerns to debates over its name: “‘Nothing has been vilified like soul food,’ says Stephanie Hart, the owner of Brown Sugar Bakery (328 E. 75th St.). ‘Mac and cheese is definitely soul food. What makes it any different than fettuccine Alfredo?’ Hart thinks other cuisines aren’t subjected to the same kinds of scrutiny as soul food. The soul food she ate growing up ‘featured rice and beans, plus all kinds of vegetables that were grown by the people preparing the food,’ Hart says. ‘My mom mostly cooked in season. She jarred and canned vegetables. That’s what I consider soul food. What’s wrong with that?’”


Maybe one reason that I was a little skeptical of the Trib’s commitment to south side food diversity was this piece by Phil Vettel, which purports to outline the new places you should eat at this summer: “Inspired by the summer reading lists that teachers hand out at the end of the school year, my Summer Eating List names the recently opened, about-to-open and opening-one-of-these-days restaurants that should be on your summer-dining radar.” And, you know, it’s fine so far as it goes… but I’ll tell you where it doesn’t go: Chinatown. Or Argyle, or Little Village. (It does have one place from the Black South Side.) There’s lots of new restaurants in all those places, but mainstream media often seems to have immigrant neighborhood-shaped blind spots in roundups like this. Anyway, for downtown restaurants and such, it’s a decent checklist.


If you really want a South Side-focused list of things to check out, here’s South Side Weekly’s guide to more than a dozen events happening south of Madison this summer.


Maggie Hennessy hits a deer at upscale Nepali restaurant Vajra, or at least she says, the deer’s a hit: “Each of executive chef Min Thapa’s nuanced, beautifully spiced preparations lingered on my mind the way aromas from a long-cooked meal sometimes pervade the kitchen for an extra day or two. But none haunted me quite like the tandoori venison. Smoky bark enveloped the succulent, earthy meat, which is marinated overnight in yogurt, spices and young papaya. We spritzed it with the juice of a blistered lemon and drizzled it with smoked makhani, a mouth-coating butter gravy. I’ve never tasted deer meat this special.”

Titus Ruscitti went there too: “The naan is so good I could go there and be totally happy with it and a bunch of sauces such as their terrific madras curry. The coconut based curry will take you straight to the palm trees and sandy beaches of its native land… It’s honest Indian cooking with respect given to the ingredients many of which are secured locally.”


Some immigrant cultures open restaurants; some serve wonders in plastic tubs at local groceries and fly under the radar. Mike Sula clues us into an example of the latter in Glenview’s Kairali Foods & Events: “The food of Kerala is ‘shaped by its position at the epicenter of the spice trade, resulting in centuries of exchange with Phoenicians, Arabs, Jews, Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Chinese, Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British’… Last October… Kairali Foods & Events, was taken over by a group of friends who continued to stock its tiny strip-mall grocery HQ with an astonishing number of dishes in recyclable circular takeaway containers. The food is great, but penmanship on the containers is sometimes cryptic, and though there are quite familiar pan-Indian dishes among the 150-some item repertoire, more than a few could use some clarity for the non-Malayalis among us.”


Ji Suk Yi goes to Passerotto, the Korean-meets-Italian-meets-whatever-Jennifer-Kim-thinks-would-be-good gem in Andersonville: “The chef/owner stresses that Korean food — is “the heart and soul” of Passerotto with a nod to her favorite Italian comfort foods, which she first discovered in Little Italy while a student at University of Illinois at Chicago and then later on her travels throughout the European country.”

Kim is also the guest this week on The Feed, cooking softshell crabs.


West side Dominican restaurant Morena’s Kitchen was a foodie find in 2018, enough that it’s now expanded, says John Kessler: “Exposed brick, a pressed-tin ceiling, and a floor of dark-stained wood have transformed Morena’s into a handsome bistro… But what’s unchanged is the soulfulness of [owner Miriam] Montes de Oca’s food.”


Last week Steve Dolinsky found solid banh mi on Harlem, this week it’s jibaritos at Jibaritos on Harlem: “Whenever you’re talking jibaritos in Chicago, you’ve got to talk plantains. And at Jibaritos on Harlem – a sister restaurant to Jibaritos y Mas on Fullerton – they know this starchy fruit.”


One of the South Side places in the Trib’s slide show is the vegan soul food restaurant Majani, and at New City, Molly Sprayregen has more about it and the ambitions of owners Nasya and Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel: “‘If we can create a restaurant row here in South Shore,’ says Tsadakeeyah, ‘we can create hundreds of entry-level jobs that will boost the economy, and if we can create an area in the city that reflects Black cuisine broadly… That’s what we’d love to see happen here. Not only would it uplift South Shore culturally, but economically, it would put us on the map for more than just violence. So that’s part of our longterm vision, to inspire other businesses to come and uplift South Shore.’”


Titus Ruscitti also spots an LA chef offering Japanese soft serve at Wicker Park’s Rakki Cafe, and hopes there’s more to come: “Chef Johnny Lee is well known in LA’s restaurant circle. He still has a project back there that does pop-ups and such… Soft serve is whipped up in two flavors (Matcha / Black Sesame) and served a variety of ways. The best bet is getting dessert from the top shelf by which I mean the Rakki Royale. It’s your choice of soft serve with a swirl option available and topped with all the toppings including but not limited to red beans and rice puffs with a slice of matcha souffle cake sitting next to it. It’s one of the best desserts in town and a possible preview of what’s to come.”


An outfit called Salvage Foods sent me a couple of bottles of vinegar made from waste products in the apple cider brewing process; I was a little stumped as to how to taste and judge it, but I made some pickled beets, and more recently used it in making rhubarb ketchup, and for vinegar, it’s nice, flavorful stuff. Louisa Chu has a piece on what they’re making from what local breweries use in the making of beer, which includes a balsamic vinegar: “Salvage Food turns Old Irving Beezer, a double dry-hopped India Pale Ale, into a balsamic-style and tropical fruity vinegar used in the kitchen, said [co-owner Nicholas] Beaulieu… It will fall into a balsamic condiment classification since we’re not in Modena, said Beaulieu. Or neighboring Reggio Emilia in Italy, for that matter. They’re the only two places to make the deep, dark, true traditional balsamic vinegar, according to purists, and their names are legally protected under the European Protected Designation of Origin system, so expect controversy to ensue.”


Two really sad ones, both having to do with baking. Nellcote and RM Champagne Salon opened with grand ambitions, including in Nellcote’s case ambitiously grinding their own flour (see this video) and making their own pastas (see this video). But as time went by, somehow they didn’t last as a hot destination on the Randolph strip, and closing for the big space seemed inevitable a long time ago.

And an LTHForum poster reports the end of one of the most distinctive places in the city—Argo Georgian Bakery on Devon, which specialized in things like hachapuri (a pastry twisted into a shape like an eye with eyelids, often with an egg in it) and other breads cooked in a big cement oven that looked like a cistern. You can see that oven as well as the sad news in this thread.


What’s the St. Clair Supper Club? Well, it’s not on St. Clair, it is a new restaurant from Alinea Group which will be located in the same block as Next, The Aviary and Roister, and beyond that we don’t know if it will be the music-focused concept Grant Achatz has often talked about (though this piece in The Robb Report from a year ago sure suggests so… and breakfast, too!), nor if that’s the intended destination of Nick Dostal (Sixteen), whom they hired a while back and who is currently making things to eat with your drinks at The Aviary. Stay tuned.


Jason Vincent of Giant is on Food and Wine’s podcast talking about work and family balance.


Mike Sula offers an introduction to Todos Santos beverage director Jay Schroeder’s book Understanding Mezcal.

16. L.A. IS A LADY

So California’s tourism board gave Michelin six figures to underwrite bringing the Michelin Guide back to California. (They had dropped down a decade ago to just reviewing the Bay Area and Napa.) The guide came out and… eyes are rolling, are heads next? The general reaction to the inaugural (return) list was that Michelin whiffed, giving no three star ratings to Los Angeles at all, only one star in all of hot San Diego, and being seemingly uninterested in Mexican, Thai, Korean, etc., all cuisines that California has a nice little scene in.

In other words, Michelin was Michelin! And if you were expecting them to slobber all over how fabulously weird Vespertine is, that is not how the French react to your presumption. Personally, I don’t mind if they don’t fall in lockstep with everyone’s what’s-trendy-now lists, and take a bit of a longer view. At the same time, part of the point of going out to LA is surely to have the wayest-out-there thing at the moment, and it’s just sort of humorless to not appreciate that; LA is making Pet Sounds, and Michelin is Mike Love.

Anyway, Helen Rosner had a good reaction in The New Yorker (“The ultra-high-end restaurants that stand out most in the city are ecstatic departures from the rigid formula that Michelin tends to reward”) and there’s a discussion on the Good Food podcast here.


Eater Chicago is part of Vox Media, whose political site Vox publishes articles advocating new relations between capital and labor and against the kind of capitalism that exploits youthful enthusiasm, and reports favorably on labor disputes in corporate America. Vox is also a VC-funded startup, which means when those youthful writers wanted to form a union, it fought unionization in ways that would shame a robber baron.

All this came to a head last week when a large proportion of Vox workers walked off the job on Thursday over failure to reach an agreement for more than a year since first announcing plans to form a union. In Chicago that included writer Ashok Selvam; it’s not known if others joined him, since Eater Chicago’s mostly freelance coterie of writers publish on irregular schedules. The site spent the day retweeting past stories (this one in particular had the feel of something meant to tide people over for the long haul)—but honestly, they retweet past stories regularly anyway, like most sites, so it wasn’t clear at first what impact the walkout would have.

In any case, by Friday, after 29 hours of negotiation, an agreement had been reached. But this is a sign of the times, in which the media and influential tech companies like Google and Facebook—ostensibly progressive in orientation, certainly when it comes to things like who they ban and demonetize—nevertheless are building themselves around a model in which vast amounts of content are created at the lowest pay for writers, photographers, etc. that they can get away with. At some point, they can’t get away with it any more, right? We’ll see. The Chicago Tribune’s union’s Twitter account spent the past few days sharing stories of what unionized and non-unionized, non-full-time employees get paid for what we read; if you wonder where food writing fits into that, well…


After writing about how enthusiastic I was about the Israeli food coming to Chicago at Galit, it took me a couple of months to get a reservation—and it’s not hard to see why, as the joint was jumping on Friday night. Mostly, it’s refined versions of what you’ve had before, and some people may not see much difference—but the hummus is so creamy (I had it with the brisket, a dish which needs a large size), the falafel tastes so much like spring in a crunchy little fried ball, the labneh is such a bracing blast of creamy tartness, and so on, that if you know these dishes well, you should try them at this exceptional level.

Entrees tended to be simpler and more comforting, drawing more from Eastern Europe than the Levant—cabbage rolls with deeply caramelized tomato sauce on top, chicken thighs with harissa and peas in whipped feta. Given the sourcing (Rancho Gordo chickpeas, that sort of thing), the pricetag comes in fairly high for a food we’re used to seeing as a cheap eat, but it was hard to see any signs of dissatisfaction in a busy room full of people reconnecting with their roots, or (as in my case) somebody else’s that nevertheless spoke deeply to them.

We were on the South Side the next day but nobody was in the mood for Mexican (“You need to be in a mood for Mexican?” thought Dad), and then I remembered from last week’s Buzz List that Steve Dolinsky had reported on the new Bob’s Pizza in Pilsen. We took home a sausage pizza, and then a recommendation from—Bob? Hard to say, since everyone’s T-shirt says “Hello my name is Bob”—the pickle pizza, which has housemade pickles (super-thinly sliced), ham and garlic cream. I had my doubts, frankly, about the concept, but actually it’s fantastic, though more like deli food than a pizza in flavor profile. Anyway, both pizzas were received enthusiastically, the puffy, beer-fed crust comparing favorably to Middle Brow Bungalow’s—but if you’re adventurous that pickle pizza is something else, go try it.