Buzz List for March 18, 2019

Discover the hidden wonders of suburbia, deli is delicious, Young American contains multitudes, and New York reviews Au Cheval (hint: Chicagoans like meat)

Young American/Facebook
Prosciutto wrapped okra & popcorn grits at Young American

1. SOUP & RAD

Want to go to something cool on Monday night? Won Kim is in charge of a soup-and-DJ-event called Community Soup 2 at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan, starting at 6 pm. $15 at the door gets you a chance to taste soups from more than 30 people, ranging from actual chefs (Abe Conlon, Kevin Hickey, Dan Salls, Bo Fowler) to ringers from the edges of the food scene… like me. (There will also be a grilled cheese station, if soup is unimaginable without grilled cheese.) Proceeds will benefit Lumpen Radio/Co-Prosperity Sphere, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and Hope For The Day. See ya there!

2. BURBLING

Chicago magazine’s current issue has a long section on the suburbs, including several food pieces. The main one to check out is a compilation of 30 top restaurants scattered around the suburbs, worth making a drive for, from burgers at Edzo’s in Evanston to the Indian-Chinese fusion at Bombay Chopsticks in Hoffman Estates; the list is by Chicago’s Carrie Schedler with the indefatigable Titus Ruscitti. Those who recall the controversy John Kessler stirred up a few months back by suggesting, among other things, that food media didn’t travel the burbs enough will be interested by his piece surveying the cultures of food to be found on Algonquin Road, from Filipino and Bulgarian in DesPlaines to Sichuan in Hoffman Estates. And if you haven’t been out to Sparrow Coffee in Naperville, here’s an intro to the coffee cafe of the future.

3. HELLO DELI

There, I just used the oldest subhead pun in all of food writing history. Anyway, Joanne Trestrail looks at two delis for Crain’s lunch beat: “Half Sour is a traditional deli that’s also a bar, complete with house cocktails, serious wines, crafty beers and bingo nights. It makes its own superb bagels daily and offers homey corned beef, matzo ball soup, latkes and half-sour pickles… Tasty surprises (pumpkin seed hummus!) lurk everywhere, thanks to a kitchen willing to go out on a limb.”

While at Steingold’s, “The food is as indulgent as the room is austere. Hot sandwiches wow, and not only because they’re huge. Grandma Rachel ($11, with chips) layers moist roasted turkey, pickled red-cabbage slaw, havarti and Russian dressing on thick slices of challah. Uncle Rube ($13) goes for broke with corned beef or pastrami (or pastrami-spiced mushrooms, $9) and traditional accompaniments.”

4. NEW DELI

At the Trib, Louisa Chu tried 31 corned beef sandwiches to come up with the 17 best. You could probably guess a lot of them, so for me the question was, would there be anything I hadn’t heard of? Yes, and it’s not even that far away from me, #6, Chitown Sandwich Club: “Owner Zakary Dana not only cooks and may make your sandwich himself, but he’ll tell you the life story behind his corned beef, balanced between lean and fat…  The result is a surprising, stupendous, thickly sliced, supple stack.”

5. WE COULD BE HEROES

Maggie Hennessy has mixed feelings about Young American, the glam-Goth CBD-infused cafe headed by Chef Nick Jirasek and bartender Julia McKinley: “His creativity sometimes yields magic, as was the case with the habit-forming bar snack Calmonds, nuts coated in lemongrassy CBD oil, honeyed chamomile and savory chicken salt. The savory, quietly funky brandade may as well have been crafted by merfolk.” But “there was the ubiquity of so many health-preserving elixirs, which frankly bummed me out. More than once, the menu sacrificed pleasure in the name of creativity.”

6. IF YOU CAN MAKE IT THERE

At Eater New York, Robert Sietsema reviews the first Au Cheval to open in New York, apparently selling the vision of Chicago that New Yorkers expect: “Inside, the retrofitted warehouse is very Chicago, with high ceilings, darkened woods, bare brick walls, cast-iron columns, and a clubby atmosphere — channeling some long-ago Midwestern steakhouse… Ahead is a greeter, who remains cheery in a Midwestern manner as she is assailed by New Yorkers hoping to get seated in under three hours.” Anyway, this sounds like the real deal we know: “Bite into it, and the thing oozes and drips and then floods your plate with oily fluid. It’s really too much.”

7. SO IF YOU HAPPEN TO BE JUST PASSIN’ BY…

Stop in at the Friday Night Fish Fry, says Titus Ruscitti, after attending a lenten one at St. Benedict in Blue Island: “On your plate will be a couple pieces of fried haddock as well as some fries. Each table also has a big bowl of both sliced red beets, and a long time cole slaw recipe that seems to be almost as popular as the fish itself. Of course packages of rye bread and big bowls of tartar sauce are also included. A somewhat unique offering if you ask for it is a salsa made yearly by some members of the parish. St. Benedict has a quite a large number of Hispanic families in their congregation and this is the Mexican touch to the fish fry so to say.”

He also visits the latest entry in the wave of arepa and empanada places, Luna Empanada Shop: “Luna makes a few of their own creations including this bomb ass breakfast sandwich type bite. It’s made with bacon, egg, rice, beans, and cheese and comes served with some piping hot yucca fries. I don’t want to eat regular old bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches anymore after this one.”

8. REEFER MARKUS

A thread recently popped up on LTHForum titled “Marijuana: Hot New Ingredient for 2011,” which kinds of sums up how I feel about using weed in food as a perennial not-quite-trend. But it starts to get more interesting when it involves someone of the caliber of Rod Markus of Rare Tea Cellar dabbling in, but as yet not selling, culinary cannabinoids: “Chefs are often the first to introduce ingredients to the general culinary lexicon. That doesn’t seem to be true when it comes to CBD. ‘Everyone’s taking really pedestrian ingredients right now and trying to make something inexpensive and make a lot of money on it,’ says Markus. ‘I think if you put the really good stuff behind it people are gonna be really into it. If you start with something great it’s gonna taste great.'”

9. PIZZA STORIES

Last week Capri’s Pizza on the far south side burned down after 65 years. Here’s a tribute to a neighborhood’s pizza joint by Tribune writer Gregory Pratt. Second generation owner Len Ciannamea: “Early on, he got a lesson in the pie’s appeal when his mother would put slices into his lunch bag. His classmates would light up at recess, trading slices for sweets like Twinkies, Ho Hos and Sno Balls. ‘When I looked at my lunch bag and took the pizza out, all the kids went, ‘Capri’s Pizza!’’ he recalled.”

10. MAYOR OF WRIGLEYTON

Another tribute, this one by Dave Hoekstra to an old school Wrigleyville tavern owner, who passed away this week; Hoekstra shares a column about the guy from 1996: “Everybody feels comfortable around Floyd… From left-field bleacher bums to Eddie Vedder, but especially women. I don’t understand the attraction. Everybody wants to have their picture taken with him. He is the mayor of Wrigleyville, as far as I’m concerned.”

11. THE STATE OF THINGS

The food world was scandalized last week to learn that Felicity Huffman—sorry, I mean Michelin—had accepted $600,000 from the California tourism board to help underwrite its new California restaurant guide. Many saw this as a payoff that violates journalism ethics. To which my response is—somebody’s got to pay for it, right? And who benefits? California tourism. There’s enough distance between individual restaurants and Michelin’s reviews for me to believe that they will be the same, refined and a little fusty and aimed at the 1%, as their reviews anywhere else on the planet. But we’re at a point where a lot of industries—dining, tourism—depend on journalistic chatter hyping them up while the media scrape by with no clear revenue source, so why shouldn’t the beneficiaries kick in to support them?

Another issue last week shows the situation we’re in with regards to that content creation. David Tamarkin of Epicurious advertised a position on social media. This tweet sums it up with particular elegance, but basically, it came down to this great position being… “fulltime freelance,” no benefits or anything else. Which might be a violation of New York state law! In any case, it had to be quickly walked back in a storm of social media scorn. It’s unfortunate that Tamarkin will be associated with this publicly for at least a while, because it plainly came down from bosses at Condé Nast, and represents the new normal, in which your media job at the once-poshest of media conglomerates has to be supplemented by your trust fund so you can live in New York while doing it. We get the media we pay for, and so for the answers we’ve come up with are tourism boards, and Mommy and Daddy. That, not the answers in themselves, is the problem.

12. CURTAIN RISES

Rick Bayless’ Bayless Family Foundation has announced the first of its grants to Chicago theater companies, each aimed at helping a group get to the next level in its development. The recipients are Albany Park Theatre Project, Porchlight Music Theatre, and Steep Theatre. Bayless has many grant programs for the food world through the Frontera Farmer Foundation, but I like that, as a theater fan who starred in the food-theater crossover Cascabel a few years ago, he wants to break out of the silos that often separate aspects of the city’s culture.

13. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE JEWISH

How did Jewish corned beef become the quintessential Irish treat? Justin Kaufmann asks Dan Raskin from Manny’s and others about that on the new Extension 720, his revival of the late Prof. Milt Rosenberg’s legendarily heady talk show on WGN Radio.

14. IS YOUR DOG GETTING ENOUGH CHEESE TEA?

“Cheese tea,” which is really tea with a salty milk-foam top, was one of the things I talked about in this week’s Chinatown piece at Fooditor, and it’s one of the topics talked about on an episode of The Feed devoted to beverages, which also covers cider by visiting Cidercon, and natural wines.

15. TOCK TALK

An interview with Nick Kokonas about marketing his reservation system Tock, and how being a restaurateur shapes the system:”[Part of our advantage is that] I can at least go, Hey, when I did this, this, and this, this is how it changed the bookings at my own restaurant. And, forget Alinea. That’s irrelevant. Look at Roister, look at Aviary, which are essentially a la carte restaurants. Those are very typical. Part of what we do is that we build case studies, not only of my restaurants, but any other restaurant that is willing to share actual financials. Anecdotal evidence is kind of useless in business. You need real hard numbers and you need to be able to prove those numbers and trace them.”

16. OUTRO

Remember Intro, the restaurant in the old L2O space that was giving chefs tryouts? Some of the chefs who test-ran their restaurants have done well since—of course, Stephen Gillanders opened S.K.Y. here, and Lettuce brought C.J. Jacobson on staff to open Ema and Aba. But Erik Anderson’s Brut in Minneapolis never happened, and he has since gone to the celebrated Coi in San Francisco (where he replaced L2O’s Matt Kirkley). Now a bummer as Jessica Largey, who opened her Simone in Los Angeles just five months ago (she tested dishes here in early 2016) but got a pretty damning review from Bill Addison in one of his first pieces for the L.A. Times, has left the restaurant she worked on for years after making her name at Manresa. (Eater LA)

WHAT MIKE ATE

A lot of Chinese food is what I’ve been eating, but I’ve hit a few other things. The fancy one is Jeong, the new restaurant from Dave Park and Jennifer Tran, the couple behind the late Hanbun out in the burbs. Now they’re in West Town in the old Green Zebra space which they’ve made into a cozy hideaway (like Bar Kumiko, hidden from street noise and glare by an antechamber as you enter). The menu aims for Korean flavors mixed in with classical and modernist techniques—and to judge by the tasting menu, Park has a superb hand with well-crafted, French-tinged dishes.

The only thing I’d say against the tasting menu is that I’d have liked a little more of the Korean flavors—in fact, the ones I liked the best were the ones that combined tasting menu finesse with the shock of the new, like a hunk of bavette steak with a delicate (!) kimchi-truffle sauce that is likely to be on my ten-best list this year, or the last dessert, a spice cake which had a bit of barley-tea rusticness to it. Next time I think I’d order from the a la carte menu to dial up the Korean flavors, but no question in my mind that this is already one of the year’s top openings and another fantastic addition to what I think is the defining trend in Chicago right now—international food with a Korean touch.

After my very last visit to Chinatown (to sample milk tea and shaved ice), I felt like trying something else entirely for lunch, and thought of Cafe Indigo on 18th street. You know you’re in a different kind of Mexican joint when the TV is tuned to The Office. I knew a fried chicken sandwich was their thing, so I ordered that; it turned out to be a kind of fried chicken torta, on a telera with avocado and beans. And… sounds promising, but to me, the earthy torta toppings kind of muffled the crisp juiciness of fried chicken. It seems a good place, I’ll go back and try something else.

Finally, I returned to Le Sud, in my own neighborhood of Roscoe Village, for the first time since the visit I reviewed in The Fooditor 99. And what seemed promising then is a completely pleasing neighborhood restaurant now, turning out skilled French food with a kiss of smoke from the woodfired grill, a very good wine list and warm, relaxed service. The best thing is that anything I tried that I’d had before had stepped up a notch—the foie tart, the grilled escargot, a beautiful plate of grilled trout with an oyster sauce. The only thing I wouldn’t recommend was a plate of octopus with potato puree, which kind of took the life out of the octopus. Otherwise, this is a fantastic date night spot—as all of Roscoe Village seems to have figured out, to judge by how full it is whenever I go by.

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