The chef and restaurant awards will be Monday night, but congrats to the James Beard Foundation Awards media winners Saturday night, which included Toby Maloney (The Violet Hour) and Emma Janzen’s The Bartender’s Manifesto in the Beverage With Recipes category (which Janzen also won last year for her book with Julia Momose of Kumiko). See the full list here; they really liked a publication called The Bitter Southerner.


The Tribune has an editorial about the restaurant industry’s problems, which in the classic form of its editorial page, which exists to give a voice to the downtrodden editorial page editors of Winnetka, blames the restaurant industry for the restaurant industry’s problems:

Message to the restaurant industry: Sympathy is giving way to frustration and customers are feeling gouged…

Our advice is to phase out the digital menus that need to be pinched or expanded on smartphones, the igloos and yurts for outdoor dining during Chicago’s frigid winters, the deceptive service charges sneaked into bills that wind up going to restaurant owners rather than workers. And, please, stop shoving devices in our faces that start the tip options at 20% and go up from there.

Above all, customers hate the rise of what economists call “price partitioning,” where the true price of a meal is hidden by breaking it into little pieces. That cursed notion is behind paying for bread that used to be free and the 3% surcharge several restaurant chains in Chicago are now adding to checks without giving that money to their tipped staff. This stressful, anti-consumer practice should cease. Menu prices should be honest. And it’s not enough to say customers can request the surcharge’s removal: Restaurants are taking advantage of our reluctance to look cheap in front of family or friends.

Normally reading a piece written in the tone of rich white guy grievance like that is enough to make a socialist out of me, but they might have a point or two. Let’s go through the specifics:

• QR Menus: There are things you could say about restaurants pretty much forcing you to have a smartphone to be able to order food and drink—like places that don’t take cash, it has a subtle, probably mostly unintentional but nevertheless real, classism to it that says you don’t get to eat here if you don’t have the right middle class technology/credit cards. But places mostly have a few backup menus for the Luddites who walk in these days, at least. The real problem with phone menus is just that the industry hasn’t standardized design, with the result that you get menus with too many subcategories to scroll through, and no way to keep track of your thoughts as you look at page after page.

Some UX experts need to work up a design where you don’t have to go too deep into menus, and you tick off things that look interesting, then make your final picks from that short list (doing it that way would almost certainly lead to ordering big as well). If the QR Menu was actually helpful and encouraging, instead of a chore to look at on a tiny screen, it would be fine. Hell, give me a button that says “Favorites for 2 People” and let me order a whole dinner of your most popular dishes with a single click, or start there and alter it to my tastes. There’s real possibilities like that in QR menus’ interactivity, besides just saving paper.

• Igloos and yurts. I just don’t believe this is a problem. It was a response to a specific issue, in the winters of 2020 and 2021, and the ability to dine inside again has taken care of it. When did you last actually see one?

• Tip options starting at 20%. Oh jeez, how terrible that I might wind up tipping 20%—oh wait, I always tip at least 20% for real service. (Any food writer with sense does, too—there’s nothing good for me in people going around telling other people “Mike Gebert came in and you know how little he tipped me?”) At the same time, I am a grownup and know how to assert myself. Presented with a screen that tries to get me to tip a bunch of money when there pretty much wasn’t any service—when I placed my own order on a screen, and picked up my food myself when my number was called—I know how to skip the tip and maybe stick a buck in the cup, or do the computer equivalent of that.

• “Price partitioning.” Well, I just learned a new phrase. I don’t exactly mind this, though I do think unless there’s a very specific reason to separate certain charges out—which legally there often is, since you can’t distribute tips to kitchen workers and things like that—I prefer to see them all lumped together. I consider it the Ticketmaster effect—if you tell me tickets for Taylor Eilish are $100, then tickets are $100, but if you tell me they’re $50 plus a $35 service charge and a $15 handling fee, then you’ve invited me to feel like you’re screwing me on a $50 ticket. (I’d be very curious if Ticketmaster, whose picture is in the dictionary next to “nickel and diming you to death,” has ever done studies to determine if they scare people off from going to shows at all with all their extra fees, versus charging one price, whatever it is.) This is very much what I see on GrubHub etc., and has more than once led me to kill an order in progress—when I see a delivery charge, a service charge, and a tip, it sure sounds like I’m paying for the same service three times. (And of course, there’s only one of those that I can opt out of—the one going to the immigrant worker pulling up in his Chevy. Obviously I’m not going to stick it to him, just because he’s the only one I can stick it to.)

The thing the industry needs to do is be clear about what it is tacking on fees for—health care, supporting the kitchen, whatever it happens to be. When there’s an extra X% on the bill and I don’t know whether it’s going to workers or the owners, that’s no good. If an owner wants more money, they should get it the old fashioned way—by running a place so freakin’ fantastic I’ll pay whatever to eat from there. As for charging for bread, the places that charge for it typically make it more of a dish in itself than the usual basket of white bread. If it’s crafted well, why wouldn’t you expect to pay for it?

Interestingly, Michael Nagrant wrestles with many of these issues in a review of George’s Deep Dish Pizza this week. He talks about his own price flexibility—getting Domino’s on the cheap for a kid party versus what he’s willing to pay an artisanal place like George’s or Paulie Gee’s:

Derrick [Tung of Paulie Gee]’s pies, like George’s also cost a bit more than your average Domino’s coupon special. The pie I paid $42.66 from George’s (includes Tock delivery, tip and service fees) cost $26.17 from Dominos (medium pan with four ingredients, same tip and delivery).

Paulie Gee’s US Pizza Cup winner is not available via delivery, but if it were (using Doordash rates from Paulie Gee’s Wicker Park), it would be roughly $33 dollars delivered. This includes a 20% service fee that Tung distributes to his staff for benefits and pay.

What are we learning?

I believe Domino’s is the one that is robbing me. Dominos is ok. It’s not inedible. It’s gotten better relative to what I remember from my youth, but it is mostly tolerable. I never yearn for it. It doesn’t leave me satisfied, inspired, or rewarded. I mostly order it when we have a ton of kids over and I need to feed a lot of them fast and cheaply. I am a good critic, but obviously a mean dad.

I think this is the real issue: there’s a value equation that is about more than the food itself. If all you want is some greasy bread with cheese and tomato sauce called a pizza, that can be had cheaply all over, and cheaping out by getting that pizza isn’t going to harm anybody, because those places are built scientifically to make money at the price they charge. But if you want 1) pizza of a different higher quality, 2) made by a locally-owned business 3) that offers its employees a better working life in various ways, you’re not going to find that in megachains, generally speaking. Be willing to pay for it—and if you want to pay a little less, be willing to go pick it up yourself and not pay three times for whatever those extra charges are. Hell, I’m even willing to pay for the Tribune, even if the last thing I’m likely to read is its editorial page.

3. FIFTY/50

NewCity publishes its biennial-ish Big Heat top 50 in food and drink, which alternate between chefs and non-chefs each time—interestingly, this year they don’t count down from 50 to 1 but divide the 50 into different subcategories, so there’s a group of restaurateurs, a group of media and influencers and so on. (It’s hard to know which influencers actually have anything in the way of a following, they all seem to be famous to 15 people and pretty much the same, but one who stood out, with a real niche which he covers seriously, is Jeremy Joyce, who finds lots of south side picks at his Instagram account, BlackPeopleEats.) Go here to meet some new people worth knowing about; fwiw, I am #31 on the “media and influencers” list.


Middle Brow Bungalow, which has interesting pizza and brews beer, is now getting into the wine business. Mike Sula tells the story:

Pizza Wine is one of some nine new wines Middle Brow partners Pete Ternes, Bryan Grohnke, and Polly Nevins will release this year, now that they’re officially licensed to make, sell, and distribute it from Bungalow by Middle Brow Beers. Last September, Ternes and Grohnke appended the word “Wines” to the brewery’s name, when they’d hit the point of no return in the midst of a three-year application process that required them to switch their brewpub license to a brewery manufacturing license, and acquire three separate permits from the state Liquor Control Commission to make and sell wine.


Is Korean food going mainstream in America? I think it’s getting there, with fried chicken chains like Choong Man Chicken (which has six Chicagoland locations), and fast food spots like BopNGrill and KFire making Korean flavors accessible. Another indicator is people who did Korean-American fusion a few years ago getting… well, more Korean, even if still kind of mixing cultures. Amy Cavanaugh talks about both Kimski and Parachute going that way. Here, Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark:

Since opening the acclaimed Avondale restaurant (3500 N. Elston Ave.) in 2014, the two had been serving a menu that Kim has called “a hybrid,” melding Korean cuisine with global ingredients like ras el hanout or nuoc cham. Leading up to their pandemic closure, they had started to explore a more classic Korean menu. Upon reopening, they decided to go all in. The change allowed them to stretch their creativity, and  their customers were ready for it, too. Because diners have become more familiar with Korean food in the past decade, Kim says, she and Clark can now serve less expected dishes. In addition, high-quality Korean products like cold-pressed sesame oil, doenjang (soybean paste), and umami-forward soy sauce are now available here. “Before, we had to use commodity products, which did not let you taste the true essence of Korea,” Clark says.


If the only thing missing from my review last week of Asador Bastian was juicy pics of steaks on the grill, Steve Dolinsky has what you need in his piece at NBC 5:

“We’re fortunate to work with great French dairy cows – Simmenthals – British ones; Holsteins that are produced here in California, and the Galiciana as well,” said [co-owner Doug] Psaltis. “So we bring in all our sides of beef, mature them in-house; we take liberties from the chuleton – the classic steak of the Basque region – which is a rib steak cut about two inches thick, all of them are cooked on the bone.”

And cooked over intensely hot charcoals that could melt a radiator. But that high heat sears the aged beef, melting fat and caramelizing the crust. Don’t order these anywhere past medium.


Logan Square, says Titus Ruscitti:

The reason I would list it over places like Chinatown or the West Loop or Pilsen and Albany Park and so on is that it seems to have a little bit of it all as far as what I’m looking for in the best food neighborhood. That includes everything from international options to tasting menus and so forth. I want good cocktail bars too as those are typically something you do paired with a restaurant. What about variety? That’s also a major factor and not just in terms of cuisines on offer but in pricing too. At the end of the day when I gather a list of all the great restaurants in Chicago and list them by neighborhood there’s more below Logan Square than anywhere else. Even though I live in Logan Square this is in no way a homer pick. There’s simply a ton of great dining destinations worth visiting no matter where in the city you stay.

He also visits Itoko:

One of the main reasons I found Itoko to be more intriguing than the other spots was that they tapped Chef Gene Kato to run the show. That and I love Japanese food. Kato also runs Momotaro and was the guy behind the now closed Sumi Robata Bar which I enjoyed when it was around. Itoko means cousin and it’s meant to be that to the more glamorous Momotaro. Itoko aims to be more of a neighborhood place with a menu that includes a variety of sushi styles, robata (grilled skewers) and donburi among other things. One of the more popular menu items early on has been the “TCD Tuna Toro” which is one of two Chirashi Don on offer (sashimi on sushi rice). It’s not cheap ($35) but I did find it to be a hit. It consisted of kaluga caviar, pickled onion, sushi rice, nori and fatty tuna belly.


Lisa Shames does a Pride month piece at Open Table on three gay-owned restaurants and how they make their places inclusive, talking to Zoe Schor of Split-Rail, Emanuel Nony of Sepia and Proxi, and the owners of Kit Kat Lounge:

“Pre-pandemic, while I wasn’t hiding who I was, Split-Rail was never promoted as gay-owned or woman-owned. It was just a restaurant,” Schor says. “These days people ideally want to be more thoughtful about how and who they are spending their money with.”

…Creating an inclusive environment for staff is equally important. “We hire with an eye towards it,” Schor says. “During the interview process, we talk about inclusivity and we talk about being queer-owned.” Health insurance, vacation time, and a bonus for those without unexcused absences are ways Split-Rail prioritizes taking care of its employees.


So I was chatting with Dennis Lee at a Beard party this weekend, and we were talking about places he’s written about for his Substack The Party Cut that have been written about long long ago. He said that sometimes he gets the response “everybody knows about that, there was a piece on that ten years ago.” As if you never need to have your own opinion on places if it was settled once (on sites that often don’t exist any more). Now the odds are fairly good that I’m the one who wrote that piece ten years ago, but I still believe in people going back to places to see if they’ve changed, or are still good, or because nothing in food is settled. On that note, here’s Dennis Lee on a place that needed no introduction in 2006, when LTHForum talked about it constantly, but deserves being called to attention every so often, and that’s what he does. Honey 1 BBQ:

…the real move is to order the tip and link combo. This is a non-negotiable. After all, that’s what the heart of Chicago barbecue is, and if you don’t live near Bronzeville, might as well snag an extra large order ($23.99), which comes with an extraordinary amount of meat, and take the excess home. Unfortunately for my last visit, they forgot to pack the hot links, which are a beautiful spicy sausage that’s aggressively seasoned, but that’s okay, it’s just another reason to go back.

The tips themselves (pictured in the header) are glorious, but I can understand why they’re not for everyone. Rib tips are the portion of the rib that are chopped off when ribs are being squared off for a prettier presentation. They’re sort of like Buffalo wings in that there’s an art to eating them, and they usually have bits of cartilage that need to be mined out. If you get them sauced like I do, they can be a glorious mess. It’s fine if you want to get the sauce on the side if you want to focus on the meat itself, but I’ve been getting them sauced since day one, so it’s entirely up to you.

Note that he orders one thing I’ve never had in all my visits: fried shrimp.


It wouldn’t be the James Beard Foundation awards in the 2020s if something didn’t blow up in their faces. First there was controversy over a nominated Atlanta chef named Timothy Hontzas yelling at staffers—okay, I’m glad we’re in the post-yelling period of chefdom, but for many years it was practically in the job description—and then, in a moment straight out of the feverish, rats-eating-each-other summer 2020 days of lockdown, or maybe The Crucible, they apparently got one, count ’em, one complaint about social media posts by a woman chef named Sam Fore in Lexington, Kentucky, and set the dogs on her:

…With the award announcement ceremony less than a week out, Kentucky chef Sam Fore, a finalist in the Best Chef: Southeast category, told the New York Times that she’d also been questioned by investigators. An anonymous tip into posts on her private and public social media accounts—several of them purportedly speaking out against domestic violence and sexual violence—had put her at risk for disqualification. Fore, who owns the Sri Lankan–Southern pop-up Tuk Tuk in Lexington, Kentucky, said there was little credence to the tipster’s allegation that her posts were evidence of “targeted harassment” or “bullying,” as the investigators had allegedly suggested. The fact that one person’s anonymous account imperiled her standing—with minimal opportunity to defend herself—is evidence of a flawed vetting system, she told the Times.

This is what many people have feared about the present culture in many areas—if, on the one hand, we’re trying to make a field more diverse (a good thing in itself), and at the same time we’re dropping the boom on people for offenses that didn’t even exist a few years ago, it’s inevitable that we will end up going after, say, women chefs and chefs of color for things that the old white guys club never even thought of as problematic ten years ago. Anyway, if you’re confused what exactly is going on at the Beards, Bon Appetit has an excellent piece summing up how an organization with its own checkered history is passing itself off as holier than thou to the whole restaurant industry. The glamorous “Oscars of food” takes place Monday night!


Dave Raymond, the Sweet Baby Ray of the barbecue chain in Wood Dale and Elk Grove Village, and more notably, the BBQ sauce sold in groceries nationwide, has been named to the American Royal Barbecue Hall of Fame. Nick Kindelsperger tells his story here; you can see Dave, and his nephew Duce who runs the Elk Grove location, in this Sky Full of Bacon video about the Praise the Lard BBQ competition at 17th Street BBQ in Murphysboro, Illinois.


If you’ve ever thought about getting a CSA, a box of produce every week or two weeks through the summer, WTTW has a list of ones serving our area.


The schedule is up for the Tree-Ripe Citrus trucks, which truck glorious Georgia peaches to the area and sell them alongside Michigan blueberries. They only briefly touch down in some Chicago-area suburbs—you have to be in the right Menards parking lot during the hour and a half they stop—but I went to one in Glendale Heights last year (straight west on North Ave.) to get mine, and as always, they were one of the best things about summer.


With more and more stories about restaurant businesses getting burglarized, I wondered how long it would be before the businesses started hiring private security; it takes years to turn a derelict area into a hot restaurant neighborhood, but it wouldn’t take much to turn it back into a place that people would be afraid to venture into. Block Club reports on efforts in Fulton Market backed by some top restaurateurs:

The Fulton Market District Improvement Association was formed in November, according to public records. It’s headed by Donnie Madia, owner of One Off Hospitality, the parent company of acclaimed Fulton Market restaurants The Publican and avec.

The organization’s board also includes some of the area’s biggest movers and shakers: developer Jeff Shapack; BoKa Restaurant Group partners Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz; Kivvit founder and CEO Eric Sedler; Sterling Bay’s Managing Director of Security Erin Belknap; Dan Dorfman, partner at Fox, Sibel, Levin & Carroll; and Jay Stieber, executive vice president and general counsel of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.

…They want to hire P4 Security Solutions, a private security firm, to patrol Fulton Market to deter crime, which would cost $800,000 annually, according to the group’s presentation.


Joiners podcast talks to R.J. Melman, president of Lettuce Entertain You, on the occasion of their 50th episode.

On The Dining Table David Manilow talks about the Beards being in Chicago with their president/COO, Kris Moon.

One of my favorite people and author of three (so far) of my favorite cookbooks, Abra Berens, is on Santa Monica’s Good Food to talk cooking with fruit. If you don’t know Berens (chef at Granor Farm in Michigan and a vegetable vendor and sometime chef in Chicago in the past), here’s a Fooditor piece from when her first book, Ruffage, came out.


I don’t link many outright listicles, but Block Club’s list of places to get ice cream in all its forms this summer is an impressive 98 entries long. Use it to have a mangonada or a paleta this summer!