Buzz List for March 15, 2021

Big stars are reopening, what to eat in the Loop now, and in praise of non-ghost kitchens

Michael Gebert
Polka Dot Diner on Route 66 in Braidwood, Illinois

Not much this week, if anyone wants to start going to restaurants and reviewing them for a Substack newsletter, you’d have the field nearly all to yourself…


Like the crocuses poking through the matted leaves and microwave burrito wrappers in my front garden, restaurants are returning with spring. Grant Achatz is posting some pretty spectacular-looking new dishes for Alinea’s return at his Instagram account, making it clear that when Alinea returns it won’t be doing Beef Wellington like it has been for the last year. Reservations can be had at Tock for Schwa, whose pics are here. Elske hasn’t reopened, but they’re launching a newsletter to tell you when they do; sign up here. The Hopleaf reopens on April 1, per this Trib piece. Big Star Wrigleyville has reopened, as has its neighbor Smoke Daddy; and so has Harry Caray’s downtown, and the Dearborn.


Is anyone in the Loop? Someone must be (though not my wife, who hasn’t seen her office in a year), because the Tribune devoted space to two articles by Nick Kindelsperger on the food options there now; here’s one about the best places for lunch, and one calling new openings in Revival Hall “Chicago’s best new restaurants”:

Two of those people were Rafael Royal and Elizabeth Royal, the sibling owners of Bianca’s Burgers. “We used to work out of a cloud kitchen on Grand Avenue,” Elizabeth Royal said. “It was actually costing more to operate there than it is at Revival, plus now there is some foot traffic. We really need that. We love interacting with people.”

Rafael Royal agrees. “(Cloud kitchens) are so impersonal,” he said. “Customers don’t know where the food is coming from. Honestly, there are so many burger places. Yes, our burgers are great, but our name goes with us. Our customers now just drop by to say hi.”


“Over the span of four years, Sheal Patel converted his entire family of lifelong vegetarians into meat eaters,” begins Mike Sula’s piece on an Indian grilled meat popup, Dhuaan BBQ Company, which has been operating out of Pilsen but is contemplating next moves:

While there’s usually at least one low-and-slow smoked item on each Monday’s menu, Patel offers a few other Indian or Indian-ish street food mashups each week like beef or lamb frankie rolls, the Mumbai street food roti-egg wrap staple; or masala egg sliders, spicy garlic butter scrambles with cilantro, onion, and Amul cheese on pao bread, soft rolls baked by the Hoffman Estates outlet of the south Indian bakery chain Hot Breads.

The runaway best seller has been his Philly Masala, a gooey cheesesteak seasoned in the style of the famous seekh kebab from south Mumbai’s legendary Bademiya.


Friend of Fooditor Elliott Papineau has a piece on making maple syrup at The Midwesterner:

You can smell the end of the process. The sap, which initially looks, tastes, and smells more or less like water, takes on a sweet, candy-like aroma, perfuming the woods. In the boiling pan, the bubbles begin to look less like the bubbles you see in boiling water and more like bubbles in a fizzy soda. They tighten up.


Titus Ruscitti finds an obscure spot serving fish… wait, that was last week. This week he goes to a little place you may know called Shaw’s, and gives it a shrimp shack guy’s review:

Even though this is a seafood restaurant I love how they have all the common steakhouse sides. This makes for a great place to go with a group bc of that. But you don’t want to fill up too much on the sides bc the seafood is what they do really well here. Particularly the lake perch when it’s available. For my money it’s the best you can buy in the region. Smaller filets (they’re more tender) are lightly pan fried which is just perfect bc they’re the type that will fall apart if you try to pick up a piece from one end. A sign of their freshness in terms of not being fried to a crisp. Some spots serving lake perch get the breading too crisp. Sure the lake perch dinner cost a little more here than it would from a shrimp shack or whatever but the quality difference is worth it from what I’ve tried. It hits the spot.

Also a standout taco spot near O’Hare in Addison, Tacos Puebla:

The real star of the show at Tacos Puebla is their perfectly constructed Cemita sandwiches. The specialty sandwich from Puebla has two distinct characteristics. The first of which is the bread of the same name. Egg rich buns turn crunchy and come studded with sesame seeds as is the case here. Pictured below is the Cemita Poblanito which comes with chicken milanesa, enchilada pork loin, head cheese, hot dogs, Queso Oaxaca, grilled onion, avocado, chipotle peppers, and the other key ingredient – Papalo. A common herb in Pueblan cooking that has maintained popularity even after the Chinese introduced cilantro. This sandwich definitely has alot going on so I took off the hot dog and ate it solo. Actually it made for a great palate cleanser dipped into an array of homemade salsas from a free for all salsa bar (pre-corona) – just another reason this spot is a top shelf taqueria so to say.

And he calls out some star items at much-loved (and Fooditor 33 member) In-On Thai.


Writing for his old Atlanta paper, John Kessler tells about getting some random wrong orders from a meat vendor, including rabbit, and what he did with them to not waste them.


The most recent Amuzed is a random bunch of stuff, but there’s some good stuff early on about how Reve Burger took off in a big way and what a line full of DoorDash delivery guys means for your restaurant.


My suspicion-slash-fear is that there are young people who will never develop the habit of going out to eat or drink because delivery culture got so ingrained this past year. Grub Street has a pretty good, if a bit harsh, piece on the deficiencies of ghost kitchens and delivery:

In theory, the articles will tell you, ghost kitchens are a way for restaurateurs to experiment with new concepts. The lower startup costs could foster experimentation, evangelists say; this should be an exciting time. So far, though, in practice, ghost kitchens are mostly serving uncomplicated comfort foods, largely inspired by what tech platforms say people are searching for on apps. For now, “it’s a lot of chicken wings, a lot of grain bowls, and sandwiches and pastas, things that travel well,” allowed one restaurant strategist to Eater, insisting that the space is still “ripe for innovation.”

Ultimately, the piece is really a paean to the temporarily lost art of encountering the unexpected in actual restaurants:

…reading about the production of ghost sandwiches does not make me excited for the future of delivery. It makes me ache for restaurants. To eat a meal in a restaurant — even a bad meal, even at a fast-casual bowl chain — is to participate in an immersive experience. Things are happening. You are talking to another person, or you are eavesdropping on other people talking. You may be seated, for example, next to somebody who is extensively recounting their transformative experience with energy healing. You might chat with your server about their favorite foods. You might then take that server’s recommendation and find you have unexpectedly ordered a giant plate of curried bamboo shoots.

Yes, that is the good part. Read it all.

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