Buzz List for March 25, 2019

Koreatown is out of town, a poem to Detroit coney dogs in Chicago, a Turkish food consulate, and see the trailer for a short film about Charlie Trotter

Michael Gebert
Detroit Coney Dogs at Lola's Coney Island

1. KOREABURB

John Kessler, in That Piece in Chicago Magazine, wrote that “Good restaurants in the suburbs, or even those in urban neighborhoods outside the well-known ethnic corridors, don’t attract enough city dwellers to sway the conversation.” We need local food media to devote serious effort to looking at areas beyond the city where there were clusters of a particular cuisine, just like they might for Chinatown or Vietnamese on Argyle.

And that’s what the Tribune does in this terrific roundup of Korean in the near northwest burbs. They focus on the offerings at three Korean-leaning markets—Assi Plaza, H Mart, and the new branch of Joong Boo—and on restaurants around them on Milwaukee, Dempster and Golf. The markets all make it easy to sample a variety of different items, and that’s a good place to start, but don’t miss the discussion of the standalone restaurants in the area, which range from grandmotherly spots to bar snacks and karaoke, especially as you head north into the newer places around Glenview. It’s a whole spring and summer of terrific dining ahead of you—if you have a car, that is; this is the suburbs.

2. G.O.A.T.

At Mark Bittman’s new Salty magazine, name about to change (see below), Mike Sula writes about a place of which he says, “Whenever someone asks of me the impossible — ’What’s the best restaurant in Chicago?”’— my answer is reflexively Birrieria Zaragoza.” If you’re reading this, odds are you don’t need an introduction to this place, but Sula’s piece goes beyond south Pulaski to follow the Zaragozas to the village they came from in Mexico, where paterfamilias Juan learned the art of birria—and to especially evocative photos by Jim Newberry.

3. L-O-L-A

Michael Nagrant takes the opportunity of Lola’s Coney Dog opening here with Detroit-style Coney dogs to wax poetic on his Detroit homeland: “Like Chicago, Detroit is full of die-hards and armies of third shifters. In Chicago, that’s why 6 a.m. bars exist. In Detroit, a Big Three assembly liner often caps off a shift with a coney dog breakfast. That’s why American is open 24 hours and Lafayette closes briefly at 4 a.m. and reopens at 8 a.m. The Stanley Cup story is that in the late 1990s just after 4 a.m., second generation owner George Keros (who died in January 2019 in Naperville, IL) saw two dudes knocking on Lafayette’s plate glass windows, holding the Stanley Cup. Though he just closed, he opened up again and let the historic silver chalice and some reveling Detroit Red Wing players inside to celebrate.”

4. BROW BAR

At the Reader (which, curiously, is editor-less again), Mike Sula checks out Middle Brow Bungalow and finds that the greatest act performed with yeast is arguably not the beer but baker Jess Galil’s pizza: “It’s built on 75 percent stone-ground red wheat flour from Wisconsin, activated with a sourdough starter, and fermented for four days before it’s tossed into pies and baked in the oven. She’s used to working with that kind of whole-grain flour—it was the refined 00 pizza flour that threw her. In the days since I’ve last eaten these pizzas, I haven’t thought much about anything else but the tanginess that’s infused in their fluffy crumb.”

5. RONNIE ROCKIT

I didn’t know that the original Rockit Bar had made a transition from Led Zeppelin to The Cure at some point, and now back again, but so Graham Meyer tells us in Crain’s: “Lunch switched on again in November, and if you ate there in its late-aughts heyday, you’ll recognize that Rockit has gone back to what made it successful (Free Bird!). The menu of burgers, sandwiches and big, happy-hour-type appetizers largely has sloughed off the upscale ambitions of its emo phase, but it’s still one rung above bar-food standard.”

6. TACO ARIGATO

Titus Ruscitti uncovers five new taco spots, of varying levels of obscurity, ranging from the new location of Carnitas Uruapan—don’t expect it to be closer to you unless you live near Mezquite Pollo Express, which is around 55th and Kedzie—to one hidden deep inside a wholesale grocer on South Damen, and one called Arigato Market that is part Mexican, part Japanese—and part butcher shop: “The guy behind the tacos here is basically making the comfort food of his childhood. I tried the cheeseburger, pork tonkatsu, and chicken curry. All served on flour tortillas from Tortillería Atotonilco on 47th st.”

7. MOMOTARO CHALLENGE

Anthony Todd talks with Gene Kato about what the former Sumi Robata Bar chef-owner is doing at Momotaro: “It’s a high-volume restaurant, which I’ve had experience with at Japonais, but it also focuses a lot on tradition, which obviously Sumi was all about.”

8. KUMIKO’S MADELEINE

Punch talks to Julia Momose about Bar Kumiko. My favorite bit is Momose, who was born in Japan, describing her most nostalgic meal: “When I touch down in Japan I go to a conbini (convenient store) the first chance I get and buy a coffee, green tea, Kaku highball, salmon onigiri and a tamago sando (Japanese egg salad sandwich). This is the meal with the smells, sounds (of cracking open the highball) and tastes that remind me I am home.”

9. YOUNG TURKS

Steve Dolinsky checks out the new Cafe Istanbul in Wicker Park with an expert on the subject—Turkish Consul General Umut Acar, who says, “I find the taste here, especially the kebab, the gyro/doner, closest to the taste that I’m used to in Turkey.” Dolinsky also talks about his multiple gigs with a podcast called Side Hustle School—recommended for anybody trying to make it in food writing.

10. Y MAS

Jibaritos Y Mas is getting even more mas—opening a second restaurant next door. Block Club Chicago tells you mas.

11. CRAZY RICKSHAW ASIANS

I paid little attention to a Crazy Rich Asians popup, but it turns out that the canny folks at Rickshaw Republic, the Indonesian restaurant in Lincoln Park, are using it to market an introduction to the hawker stall cuisine of Singapore: “‘Chicago is a big foodie place, but there’s really a lack in diversity of Southeast Asian cuisine,’ [owner Oscar] Setiawan says. ‘We’re an ambassador of Indonesia, but we’re being an unofficial one of Singapore now. We want to be a bridge that connects people through food discovery.’” (Chicago)

12. A TROTTER PROJECT

After Love, There Is Only Cuisine is the name of a short about Charlie Trotter making the festival circuit, directed by Renee Frigo who co-founded the Lucini olive oil brand. See the trailer here, as well as a short cartoon that explains why Frigo became so interested in telling Trotter’s story.

13. WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Brothers and Sisters, the all-day coffeeshop/restaurant thing in Ukrainian Village, is no longer called that after a legal challenge from a restaurant of the same name in the DC area, which laid claim to having impeccable moral rights, having stolen the name of an Allman Brothers album first. It’s now All Together Now, which is totally not connected to any band that already made Yellow Subs in Lawrence, Kansas change their name.

More seriously, Mark Bittman’s new online magazine Salty (see Sula story above) belatedly found not just that the name already belonged to a feminist magazine—the logo was even strikingly similar. He’s changing it.

14. OMGKASE

Why are omakase meals the new hot thing in Chicago? Bon Appetit looks at the answer in New York, where the trend is already in progress.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I haven’t eaten out much, but speaking of omakase, I did return to Kyōten, to compare it to my experience at Omakase Takeya a few weeks ago. I said the other new omakase place compared to about 2/3 as good as Kyōten, but at the same time, Chef Otto Phan has been telling me that his place has improved since my visit when it was less than a month old, I think. And it has, I think—and I think I was wrong; there is no comparison anywhere in town to the magic at Kyōten, where each piece seems a fully composed dish, a subtle, deeply intuitive pairing of a fish, its texture and temperature, the setting (his extra-large rice and two intensities of vinegar), toppings or marinades in many cases. He has brought sushi into the same realm as our top tasting menus, Oriole and Smyth and so on, and if you haven’t been, go, while it’s still relatively undiscovered beyond Chicago; it’s only going to get harder to get into.

And I had Detroit coney dogs at Lola’s. Seemed a damned good representation of the originals to me, though Son #2 inexplicably ordered the burger. It looked pretty good to me but the sharp cheddar seemed too strong for a thin-patty burger. Oh, and when Son #2 and I visited Lafayette and American back to back, we favored Lafayette, too.

Note: I’ll be off next weekend, so we’ll see if the Buzz List newsletter comes out Sunday night or Monday morning.

Got a tip or a link for Buzz List? Send it to [email protected]