My internal debate last week about whether to cover Tribune reviews when they’re hidden away behind a reserved-for-subscribers paywall attracted the most responses of anything I’ve written in some time. First, I got several suggestions of how to get around the Trib’s paywalls. But my own access wasn’t the issue; I do subscribe to the Tribune, no matter how much of Alden Capital’s chump that makes me feel like right now. Others generally voted for me covering it, whether or not my links would work for non-subscribers.

And it seemed like after I squawked, less of the content was “reserved” for subscribers this week—though the closest thing to a review last week was “reserved,” a preview of Dom’s Market (which for that reason I am not linking to). Beyond that, the most notable pieces at the Trib, all available if you haven’t used up your freebies, were:

Cocoa Chili is an Afro-Cuban food business operating out of food incubator The Hatchery in Garfield Park. Says Louisa Chu:

Cocoa Chili has appeared on nearly every best and hot restaurant list in the city since opening in February. The beautifully executed dishes have not necessarily developed from family recipes or global travel — but many are born from Collins’ careful study of food that is quintessentially Chicago.

Take for example the poulet yassa ($13). It’s inspired by Yassa, the venerable African restaurant on the South Side. The chicken dish, smothered with softly sweet onions, is typically balanced by lemon and mustard.

Lettuce Entertain You is 50 years old, and Nick Kindelsperger talks to some Melmans to look back at it. Here’s #1 Melman Rich on how it all began:

We opened up R.J. Grunts in ’71. That might have been one of the worst restaurant names of all time… I believed this restaurant was what my generation wanted: The music, the people that worked there, the whole philosophy. There were hippie-style restaurants that were around before me. But the thing I remember about those places was if you had an eight o’clock movie to go to, and you got to the restaurant at 6 o’clock, there was no guarantee that you were going to be out by 7:30 p.m. to make an 8 o’clock show. They were sort of run loosely.

They also reprint excerpts from Lettuce’s Trib reviews over the years.

Nini’s Deli is coming back. The thoroughly canceled Cuban coffeehouse/restaurant, or rather owner Juany Riesco, whose Christian and anti-gay, anti-Muslim and anti-Black Lives Matter sentiments led to a mob shutting him down, said on Facebook that the business was coming back, “if the Lord wills it.” The Trib story had no details that weren’t on Facebook, so we’ll see.

This will make an interesting test case of whether you can come back after you’ve been declared too un-woke to be fit to serve food—and how much people think a mob should be able to shut down a business. If Riesco has extreme, indeed cranky, religious views that make him hostile to things you believe in, by all means don’t patronize his business if that suits you. But what happened last summer looked an awful lot like a white mob forcing a brown person permanently out of business for having the wrong views about brown people by their lights (and for being a Lebanese Christian with the wrong views on Islam). If a similar mob tries this summer to outright prevent him from earning a living, and letting customers decide, because of his strong (but hardly uncommon) Christian views, you can easily imagine him becoming a rightwing cause celebre this time.


I recently heard about a chef launching a pasta company—and it’s not the one Mike Sula writes about (mine was Craig Degel’s, once of Ceres Table, whose business will be in Woodstock). Sula’s was Tony Quartaro, the opening and Jean Banchet Award-winning chef of Formento’s. It all started in his backyard:

…He was itching to make pasta again. “I reached out to 12 people in my neighborhood just to see. ‘Hey, I’m gonna make some pasta if you’re interested. I’ll take whatever you feel it’s worth, and send me any feedback.’” That week he made 20 orders of rigatoni Bolognese and bucatini cacio e pepe with a KitchenAid extruder attachment near the beginning of the Great Bucatini Shortage of 2020.

Quartaro started a mailing list that jumped from 30 neighbors to 500 within the span of eight months.


One of the first places I picked up food—and recommended it here—after lockdown was the new, much closer to me location of Bridgeview’s Al-Bawadi Grill in Niles. Grilled middle-eastern meats over live charcoal—sold! But they were in tough shape—a slambang opening with two hour waits ran right into a COVID wall, and business was way down. But they got through it and are still standing, and Steve Dolinsky tells and shows more.


Brad Cawn at Last Meal Chicago goes to Three House for the burger but finds the future of food:

Three House, for better and likely worse, is the future of restaurants. What, you ask, makes it so exceptional? By design, absolutely nothing. Concept > vibe here: every marker of pre-pandemic retail culture is here, from the all-day café approach (hence the name) to the hip hop played slightly too loud, the $6 matchas, the fried chicken sandwiches, and so on and so on. It’s Starbucks and/or Foxtrot as a fast casual restaurant.


WBEZ has an audio piece on the ins and outs of Chicago’s favorite condiment, giardiniera:

According to industry estimates, we eat about 15 million pounds of it in the Midwest each year. So we put the question out on social media, asking our Curious City readers for their best giardiniera tips and uses. Lots of you said pizza and Italian beef (both delicious) but we also got a bunch of surprising ideas for how to eat it that we included here. Enjoy!


Block Club salutes Friend of Fooditor J.P. Graziano Grocery, home of the best subs in the known universe, on 84 years in business:

Jim Graziano, now 40, recalls going to the shop “kicking and screaming” when he was a kid.

“My father would tell me, ‘If people don’t walk through that door, we don’t put shoes on our feet,’’’ he said. “My father wanted me to work there growing up just to establish a work ethic, establish appreciation for the tradition, what it is to run your own businesses. … He never forced me into the business.”


Titus Ruscitti has three reviews this week: first, he finds Babygold in Berwyn promising:

I don’t order brisket outside of Texas and expect to get the good stuff save for a few special instances but this wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t expecting a guy that decided he’s going to do bbq for a business model to be able to put put a smoked brisket similar to those in Texas smoked by lifetime pitmasters. Still it was better than alot of brisket I’ve had. There’s tons of bad brisket out there and you’ll realize this if you ever try the signature stuff served at some spots in Texas. This wasn’t quite that. It could’ve used more smoke flavor and better texture but I still ate it all and enjoyed it for what it was which was decent brisket for outside the Lone Star State… the thing with barbecue is you get much better the more you make so lots of barbecue spots get better over time. If that’s the case here they’ll have a setup that cant be beat locally in the warmer months. I look forward to a return trip later this summer.

KFire is a fast casual Korean food spot in Logan Square, which I’ve enjoyed a few times:

One thing the neighborhood definitely didn’t need was a Qdoba or Chipotle type setup. Something so corporate it’s traded on the Nasdaq. So I consider the addition of KFire Korean BBQ a win. Not just bc it’s not a Jimmy John’s but also bc it’s a great neighborhood place. People are living in those brand new overpriced apartments they built whether people like it or not. So somebody might as well make a living off their presence and in the case of KFire it’s a team of two local Chicagoan’s, both of Asian descent, who are bringing fast casual Korean BBQ to the area.

And Dr. Bird’s Jamaican Patty Shack brings Jamaican patties to Wicker Park:

So first things first let’s quickly introduce those who may not have had the pleasure of enjoying a Jamaican beef patty. It’s not the official dish of Jamaica (jerk chicken) but it’s one of it’s most popular for sure. Jamaican beef patties are the perfect snack and found all over the island and anywhere else there’s a heavy Jamaican population.


The Sun-Times looks at the Ethiopian food in Uptown at Demera Restaurant, made by owner Tigist Reda:

Known for its flavor and spices, Reda calls Ethiopian food an “experience.” Some of her favorite dishes are served family style and meant to be shared with a table of people.

A typical Ethiopian dish consists of spicy stew (wot), sautéed meats (tibs) — such as beef, chicken and lamb — a variety of vegetables and/or legumes. Meals are meant to be eaten with your hands, or diners can use injera bread to scoop up bites.


Sarah Grueneberg’s Chicken Parm from Monteverde, topped with J.P. Graziano giardinera among other things, will be a special at Shake Shack in River North on Thursday only, benefiting Inspiration Kitchens. There’s so much goodness in that sentence, I can’t believe they didn’t find a way to work Malört in.


Years ago I made my first food video at Maxwell Street with David Hammond. More recently he did a guide to Maxwell Street for Fooditor. And now for NewCity, Hammond looks at how the venerable market is doing after lockdown and reopening:

The market has survived the expansion of the University of Illinois, the move to Canal Street and now the move to its present location. It’s going to take more than a worldwide health disaster to wipe it out, though there’s no doubt it’s been weakened in the past year. Some vendors have probably left the business. A few of the best vendors, however, have returned, and if you’re interested in picking up on the oh-so-Chicago vibe of walking the market looking for weird curios, Frida Kahlo t-shirts, tube socks and fantastic Mexican food, stop by the Maxwell Street Market this summer. It’s open for business on the first and third Sundays of every month, from 9am until 3pm, on the stretch of DesPlaines between Roosevelt and the Eisenhower. It’s a big bite of Chicago history.


Titus Ruscitti is also in Chicago mag this week doing a top ten of Chicago hot dogs, as well as a list of road trip destinations (like Leon’s in Milwaukee). As it happens, I just interviewed “Hot Doug” Sohn about dogs, and for him, so much of it is avoiding doing things wrong, like leaving dogs too long in the water. Titus’ list is very much about the places that do it right—and have the abbreviated menu and turnover to keep the dogs fresh. Another thing to note: no one comments on stories any more, but rank the best hot dogs and you’ll get an amazing-in-2021 72 comments so far, most of them hostile…