I remember seeing the signs for the soon-to-open Sideshow Gelato in Lincoln Square, and thinking WTF? The idea of a gelato stand with magicians and jugglers working the place seemed, well, improbable. A piece in the Trib explains how it happened (and among other things, won Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller as a backer):

The path to becoming founder of this offbeat gelateria was not a straightforward one. [Owner Jay] Bliznick originally arrived in Chicago in 1990 as a student at Columbia College, intent on becoming a filmmaker.

By 1994, he had founded the still-running Chicago Underground Film Festival, serving as a leading coordinator of the event for eight years. After his stint in the film scene, concluding with an unceremonious tenure as a movie theater manager, Bliznick decided to pivot.

…Bliznick acknowledges that his shop may not be for everyone. “Some people aren’t gonna want to see somebody put a power drill up their nose, or swallow a sword. That’s fine. It’s not for everybody,” he said.


I wonder what percentage of tacos sold in Chicago are beef—undoubtedly upwards of 50, with pastor (pork) the next 25%. But vegetable tacos exist, and Nick Kindelsperger calls out three places doing veg-y things on a tortilla:

Most Chicago taquerias still have limited vegetable taco options, if they have any at all. Fortunately, three new vegan Mexican restaurants are hoping to change Chicago’s opinion on the genre. Don Bucio’s Taqueria, Penelope’s Vegan Taqueria and El Hongo Magico Taqueria all prove there is a serious demand for meat-free Mexican food in Chicago.


Grimod promises a review of Jinsei Motto, which I enjoyed last year, but he starts with some thoughts on Lettuce’s Miru in the St. Regis—and given the author, “some thoughts” is long enough to be a review in itself, so I was quite interested to read about one of the priciest sushi offerings in town before volunteering myself for open wallet surgery at the top of one of the city’s most luxurious high rises:

Miru extricates the “Nobu scene” from that brand’s absurd West Loop hotel and places it snugly on the Chicago River. Knowing that prime views and a feeling of exclusivity are like catnip to conspicuous consumers, the restaurant need only bide its time. The crowds that perpetually pack the Aba rooftop and jostle for spots on RPM Seafood’s balcony are sure to come and make themselves at home. Attracted by the space (and each other), they will then—through osmosis—find themselves acclimating to a higher caliber of sushi. They will learn to expect (and maybe even seek) more in terms of ingredient quality and finesse. In this manner, Miru is poised to inject Japanese luxury into the mainstream of the city’s dining culture with that gentle LEYE touch.

But on to Jinsei Motto, which he rates highly compared to some other well-known sushi spots in town, which he has had words for before:

Kyōten “2.0,” which combines luxurious finishes with bursts of Otto Phan’s own personality, still sets a high bar. Yet Jinsei Motto provides a refreshing counterpoint to places like Mako and The Omakase Room that reflect a high degree of planning and investment but very little soul. Yume, you think, benefits from the energy of its husband-and-wife dynamic even if it is not all that impressive aesthetically. However, B.K. Park and Kaze Chan preside over counters that ultimately communicate nothing. This starkness, when you are truly in the presence of a master chef, can be quite captivating. At Mako and The Omakase Room, it merely feels like a means to play things safe by offering a bland vision of “luxury” that demands little of those working the bar so long as other creature comforts are in place. This is all to say, Jinsei Motto feels singularly and irreplaceably like itself. Mako and The Omakase Room mimic a more “serious” sushi restaurant you might find in New York but fall short of the standard set there. They do not represent Chicago—its people and its own unique understanding of luxury—nearly as well as Bouaphanh, Choi, and Frausto do with a disarming sense of sincerity.

He also offers insights into the subculture of pop-ups, and the fetishization of Malört, now owned by Jinsei Motto’s home base, CH Distillery:

Malört paints the Chicago palates of yore as particularly unrefined, reducing alcohol consumption into a frivolous kind of dare that only celebrates one’s tolerance for disgust. Yes, it characterizes the broad-shouldered city as being made up of unapologetic drunkards who care nothing for taste—who even revel in their ability to negate the notion of “taste” altogether—so long as they get their fix.


After two weeks of steak places, Steve Dolinsky talks about a vegan place on the north shore called Spirit Elephant (with siblings called Elephant & Vine in Evanston and Lincoln Park) doing some more unusual things than Beyond Burgers:

What about the calamari?

It’s made from trumpet mushrooms; the stems are hollowed-out to be those rings that you’re familiar with,” [owner CD Young] said.

Meaty, nutritious Lion’s Mane mushrooms are rolled in cornflakes, fried then tossed with chili spice.

“And then we have a harissa dipping sauce and a pineapple chutney,” said Young.


Thattu needs no introduction to me, but a reintroduction given its new permanent location. Titus Ruscitti offers precisely that:

The Kerala inspired kitchen is the product of a husband and wife team who first started doing pop-ups before finding a space at the now defunct Politan Row. When the West Loop food hall closed, Thattu was left without a home. Chef Margaret Pak and her husband Vinod Kalathil went back to doing pop-ups and that brought them into contact with the people at Guild Row in Avondale. It’s a social club and working space for local creatives ranging from artists to chefs. Pak and her husband hosted a dinner there that left the founders of Guild Row so impressed that they offered up space for Thattu to go full fledged brick and mortar.


The Infatuation is none too infatuated with Smoque Steak:

Smoque is one of the best BBQ restaurants in Chicago, and Smoque Steak is their foray into the already-crowded Chicago steakhouseverse. And just like how Michael Jordan wasn’t very good at baseball, Smoque isn’t very good at steak. Their strategy is to smoke and then sous vide the meat, which makes everything—from the ribeye to the filet—taste like ham. The meat is also underseasoned, making the long list of toppings (like chipotle butter or red chimichurri) a necessity.

I would just note that every steak seems to come with a small dish of salt, so paying for an extra seasoning is not in fact necessary.


When did anyone last write about Club Lucky in Bucktown? The faux vintage Italian joint from the 90s, modeled on the much older Club Lago in what’s now called River North, is old enough to be authentically vintage in itself by now, but Maggie Hennessy writes that it’s in a post-lockdown renaissance:

You could chalk up Club Lucky’s soaring popularity to the fact that nostalgia is very much back in fashion, as are slick, retro red sauce joints and oversized martinis. But longtime executive general manager Thomas Kleiner thinks there’s something deeper that accounts for the restaurant’s longevity.

“Over the years, we’ve grasped onto this notion of people really being desirous of comfort, of the feeling of returning to a simpler time,” Kleiner says. “Keeping things the way we have for decades — the atmosphere, the food, the look, the hospitality — embraces that desire to hang onto something we feel was as beautiful, wonderful, and special as a night out in the 1950s or ’60s.”


I had some good experiences with natural wines at Telegraph and Next a decade ago, but then I drank a lot of cranberry juice in wine bottles. But it’s something everyone who likes wine should have some experience with for themselves, so this is an interesting piece at the Reader about a wine club in Pilsen which focuses on them:

While most foodies spent lockdown baking bread and making cocktails, the cofounders of Bummer Wines wanted to enjoy natural wine at home, which was a bit of a challenge.

“We realized that accessibility to natural wine was not available in communities like Pilsen, and getting it delivered was such a hassle,” [Victor] Sanchez recalls. “And I guess that was like our catalyst for starting [the wine club].”


It’s a bit late for planning for Father’s Day, but John Lenart’s column on big wines for Big Daddies is worth reading anyway:

When I think of big wines, zinfandel comes to mind. While this variety can be made in a range of styles, to me, zin is a big boy. Perhaps my favorite U.S. vineyard for zinfandel is Monte Rosso. Located high on the Northwest side of the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma, this vineyard was originally planted in the 1880s. The terroir of the vineyard offers wines of bright acidity and intense minerality. Add this to zinfandel and you get a big, bold, yet balanced wine that’s perfect with food.


After just three days shy of three years off writing for his blog, John Kessler had the urge to stretch his writing muscles and posted about a chain taco place (unnamed) which he skewers a few times:

The tone of the menu nods in a non-explicit way to diners who are more concerned with portion, healthfulness and satiety than with the pursuit of flavor. It is like a meal from the Whole Foods hot bar.

but then admits he’ll probably visit again. Anyway, bookmark it and who knows what may show up there, and when.


Another bummer in the wake of last week’s closings of Claudia and Brass Heart: Wherewithall, the non-Korean restaurant from Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, is closed. Well, it was already closed due to the same kind of crumbling water infrastructure problem that Table Donkey & Stick faced, and they’ve decided to close permanently as a result. Per Eater:

While the restaurant, which opened in July 2019, immediately earned positive attention, the pandemic and the dining restrictions that came in March 2020 halted the momentum.

As the restaurant world approached a new normal, Wherewithall was hit with another obstacle. In May, a sewer line collapsed and the restaurant had to wait for the city to dig up the street for repairs. The collapse also caused damage to the pipe system, which the restaurant had to pay for itself. Between the pandemic, which led the state to suspend indoor dining twice, and this latest challenge, Kim and Clark didn’t have the reserve for a third reopening in four years.

I really liked the format of Wherewithall when it first opened—a tasting menu, but a short one, about five courses for around $50, made of very fresh farmers market produce. (In some ways it was Kim’s answer to her time at Charlie Trotter’s—a similar ethos, but minus the only-rich-people-prices and the kitchen abuse.) But I had not been since lockdown, except for a special Ukrainian menu last winter. So, a very good place with unfortunately unlucky timing that no one could have foreseen. In any case, it makes me want to get back to the new iteration of Parachute; and it makes me wonder if the rise of that near northwest side part of town as a hot new restaurant area is going to be betrayed by too-long-neglected Chicago infrastructure.

In other closings (and other food named John), John ‘s Pizzeria on Western, which has been there since 1957, said on Facebook that they were going to close (h/t Bill Higgins):

Long story short, we lost our lease.
We’ve loved serving up Chicagoland’s best pies 🍕 since 1957 and hosting all your birthdays, graduations and celebrations over the decades.
Stop by or order by June 30. We’d love to serve you one last pizza or other Italian specialty.

I have had this pizza less than I should, given how close it is to my house, but it’s classic old school Chicago pizza in a very retro space. David Hammond had a nice piece on the retro charms of John’s at NewCity, but I can’t find it.


At The Hunger, Michael Nagrant draws his sword and charges (however quixotically) at Influencers:

What I describe below is based on my two decades as a food journalist interacting with both traditional PR and other forms of paid influence.  As you likely know, because I talk about it all the time, I generally do not attend free media dinners, or take free food. I did a few times early on in my career and the experience made me feel like a prostitute. I estimated that I have received less than ten (I’m hedging), maybe even less than five, free dinners in my entire career.

But hey, Other Food Writer Named Mike, you say, I’ve heard That Mike say that many times over the years. True enough, and you’ve probably also heard me offer some defense along the lines of, I’ve ignored more than a few meals I’ve been treated to when they didn’t prove to be worth talking about/not being a reviewer reviewer, I see invites as a way to stay on top of the scene and network with other writers, valuable in itself/there are subtler and craftier ways to co-opt writers than with mere food—make them think what they say is important to you as a name chef, and we will just roll over for more tummy scratches.

But I feel my defenses ringing a bit more hollow in the era of Influence, when there’s so many people offering their names up for a couple of drinks and a very Instagram-ready dessert. This time, more interestingly, Nagrant contrasts the industry of wooing influencers with the anti-PR of what is certainly the hottest new restaurant of the moment (as chronicled by Eater in this piece), Warlord:

You only have a few choices promoting a new restaurant in 2023.

You can spend a lot of money on PR or you can spend less money, i.e. pay a per post fee or give away free food and or experiences i.e. have a “media” night to attract influencers and whatever remaining food journalists still exist.

…[Or] you can differentiate your product, be a real creator and build a truly inspiring concept, gently let people know you’re open, and provide democratic access to people who are willing to pay for your work and value it. I.e. you’re waiting and seeing if indeed you have created the high-quality experience you believe.

That’s what he said Warlord did. And it’s sort of true, so far as it goes. The issue though is that it may be true, but it’s not something you can plan on. A place like Warlord is a unicorn—of all the places to open on Milwaukee with interesting food, why has this one taken off with such lines out the door? You can say that that’s because it didn’t make itself available to Instagrammers all posting the same thing (and in the process communicating that the restaurant is desperate for attention). But playing hard to get only works if someone actually wants you. There are worthy new places that nobody has really talked about, or that the word has trickled out about very slowly, compared to Warlord’s blitzkrieg, or that never catch on at all—that was the point of my occasional “the best restaurant you’ve never heard of” series, when a genuinely extraordinary place (Arbor, Munno) had gone unnoticed by the city. In the end, people have to hear about a place somewhere, and avoiding publicity only works, ultimately, if you become famous for it, and nobody knows how to make that happen.


We’ve pretty much all written an Italian beef listicle by this point, but I’m sure nobody has written one quite as eccentric as Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu just did for Bon Appetit. It has the places you have to include—Johnnie’s, Al’s—it has the chains, which aren’t really that great but are certainly easy to find for beef newbies—Portillo’s, Buona Beef—it has at least one place I’ve never had the beef in (Odge’s, a quirky piece-of-another-time hot dog joint in West Town)—and then, somehow, it has Kasama, which does a Filipino, pork-based combo—


Yeah, that’s not beef. (I’d copy the whole description, but every time I try to it sends me to an ad for washers at Best Buy, I kid you not.) Maybe it’s inspired by Italian beef, but it seems to me that the baseline requirement for “best Italian beef” is right there in the name.


Ari Bendersky has launched a podcast at his Something Glorious Substack; the hitch is you can apparently only listen to it if you are s subscriber. So if you are, listen to him talking here with ace bartender Charles Joly, or read excerpts of their conversation for free here.

Speaking of ace bartenders, Danny Shapiro of The Scofflaw (and cohost Tim Tierney) talk to John Shields of Smyth and The Loyalist (as well as some places named Trio and Charlie Trotter’s).


Conde Nast Traveler published a listicle of the top 20 places to eat in Chicago, just in time for one of them (Claudia) to close. See the list here.