Before you read anything else, I want to tell you about a fundraiser. The lovely Ina Pinkney, Jewish grandma to the entire Chicago culinary scene and heroic survivor of polio as a child, is recuperating in her apartment after a fall and surgeries in December. For now she’s in a wheelchair and so friends have launched a fundraiser for her to help her get her apartment outfitted for the months of rehab ahead. Please consider giving whatever you can here, and know that anything extra will go to the cause for which Ina has spent much of her retirement time speaking, Rotary’s drive to eradicate polio worldwide.


The James Beard restaurant awards semifinalists—the shortlist from which the actual nominees will be drawn—are out, and… you think they look at the Jean Banchet Awards to see who’s up and coming on the Chicago scene? Looks that way to me. Anyway, congrats to many first-time spots getting attention here, even if it may not translate immediately into a nomination, but it’s important recognition all the same to people and places like Kyoten and Passerotto (best new restaurant), Birrieria Zaragoza (service), Income Tax (wine program), and Alisha Elenz of mfk. for rising star chef. See the full list here; NBC Chicago culls the Chicago semifinalists here.


So Nick Kindelsperger ate 71 burgers? Hell, my first thought was that that was a typical week for me when I was home with both boys in the summer (a careful examination of the calendar indicates that that is an exaggeration). Anyway, he picks his top 25 out of those, and it’s an estimable list if, to be honest, not one overly filled with surprises—Chicago knows its top burgers pretty darn well, and even when I tried to stump him with a favorite one he’d left off, it was almost always in the supplemental list of runners up (Butcher and the Burger, Big Guys, Poochies). He apparently hasn’t had the burger at Superdawg, though. (It’s good!)

Anyway, if by chance you haven’t been to Fatso’s or made it way south to Top Notch in Beverly, here’s a reminder. As for Table, Donkey and Stick’s burger being #1—I can’t remember if I’ve tried it or not, but I’ve definitely watched my kids eat it while I had something else there.


Indo-Chinese is one of those fusion cuisines that is on the periphery of our food scene—notably at Bombay Chopsticks in Schaumburg—and Mike Sula finds a version of it tailored to our tastes (since it includes lollipop chicken legs in an Asian spicy glaze, fast on its way to joining deep dish and Italian beef as an essential Chicago food) at a place called WokNChop: “WokNChop could stand alone on those fearsome-looking lollipops. If challenged to a duel I’d choose these sculpted cudgels of flaming chicken over the righteously gnarly gampongi, but that’s deceptive. That turmeric-strained batter is crunchy and adhesive, but it protects a juicy interior, well preserved from the ravages of the fryer.”


Titus Ruscitti likes Brothers & Sisters, the hipster cafe/bottle shop/charcuterie spot in Ukrainian Village: “One of the best brunch plates I’ve ate of late came from a dish consisting of silky smooth creamed eggs over toast with pork fat collards, pickled pearl onions, lemon, and Aleppo pepper. It’s a fantastic plate that I think has been on the menu since the get go. They switch it up here and there which is nice bc places like that can keep neighbors coming back to see what’s on the menu that day.

And he approves of Cajun at Fifolet: “I tend to stay away from jambalaya at restaurants where they tend to cook it with seemingly a few gallons worth of tomatoes. I like mine with minimal tomatoes in it and I appreciated the fact that Fifolet does the same. I’m not sure what the squirts of yellow and orange sauce were but they manged to serve a jambalaya that scratched my itch. Usually this is an honor that only the folks at Coop’s Place in New Orleans have bestowed upon me.”


And the answer to what the two concepts replacing Restaurant Michael in Winnetka will be is… three concepts! George Trois will return, with a brasserie called Aboyer and a more sedate room called Silencieux joining it when they open in May. (Tribune)


Ashok Selvam has a profile of Jennifer Kim, chef-owner of instantly-loved Passerotto, who is “committed to bolstering the industry’s push toward eliminating misogyny and racism, while curbing abusive chefs.” (The latter, apparently, included wearing a jacket attacking 42 Grams to the Jean Banchet Awards, where Passerotto was nominated for best new restaurant, though I missed her and it.) Her efforts will include workshops for women seeking to start businesses. It’s interesting that she’s putting herself forward so much on these issues now—when I interviewed her shortly before Passerotto opened, in April 2018, she was smart and thoughtful about being a Korean-American opening a restaurant for mainstream American tastes, but had little or nothing to say then about toxic masculinity or other such issues. I’d be curious to know—just something she had to put on a back burner till the restaurant was open, or has running her own restaurant changed how she views things since then?


Louisa Chu reports on the reopening (after a fire a year ago) of Central Gyros, which includes this impressive restaurant industry boast: “‘The food is the same of course,’ said owner John Toumplis. After emigrating from Sparta, Greece, in 1978 when Toumplis was 18 years old, he got his first job at Central Gyros. ‘I have the same employees with 100 percent return. I’m not missing one person.’”


“Folks that eat out in Chicago are like scholars… They want a true Nepalese taste. I can offer that,” Shalin Shakya, owner of West Town’s new Nepalese restaurant Vajra, says to Grace Wong. Read more about freshly made (not from a can) Nepalese food here.


Joanne Trestrail takes a look at the offerings in Brendan Sodikoff’s Aster Food Hall and honestly, nothing captures the culture-clash-of-everything scene like stringing this many items together in a couple of sentences: “We loved the delicacy of steamed pork dumplings ($6.99 for five) from Lost Lily’s and also Ginza’s robust miso ramen ($12.99). Boardwalk Seafood Company’s lobster roll ($21.99 with chips and coleslaw, the priciest item on the menu) is generously heaped with perfectly cooked lob. Equally scrumptious, if less glamorous, are the giant griddled bratwurst with sauerkraut ($5.99) from Chicago Char-Dogs and the famous double-patty hamburger ($8.99) from Small Cheval.”


As noted above, Ina Pinkney is dining at home these days, but she takes advantage of that fact to explore delivery breakfast for her breakfast column. The verdict: “Breakfast served to you in a restaurant is a challenge, as any breakfast cook or server will attest. Ordering breakfast for delivery seems almost impossible.” Read what survived the trip here.


The Feed visits the 11th annual Food Innovate Summit, to tell us where food is going.

Meanwhile, back in 2019, Steve Dolinsky looks at three places to get your gumbo on in Chicago for Mardi Gras.


So vaguely-celebrity chef Cat Cora tried to bluster her way into Alinea and the inevitable happened. By which I mean, Nick Kokonas put up a Medium post full of Tock data about it. The incident is amusing, but most interesting to me was learning more about how places like Alinea handle keeping a certain amount of capacity for celebrities/VIPs available at nearly all times. (Friend of Fooditor Ed Fisher has an alternate theory of what happened worth looking at here, and others have suggested is that what it looks like is a simple confusion of Friday and Saturday, escalated to Def-Con 4 when no one would admit the mistake.)

The surprising thing to me, though, is—why no mention of trying to accommodate her at one of their four other spots (Next, Roister, The Aviary, The Office)? In any case, I’m all for rough justice over social media as form of very modern entertainment, though Pete Wells’ comment is worth considering, too.


Here’s how you introduce a new reviewer: the San Francisco Chronicle, which has been reviewerless since the departure some months back of (widely considered to be ethically dubious) Michael Bauer, launches Soleil Ho with a bunch of pieces including a review attacking the Bay Area’s most sacred cow, Chez Panisse, as being over the hill, and another one which goes looking for cultural appropriation at Thomas Keller’s Mexican joint (but excuses it on grounds of good food).

There are also several who-am-I-and-what-am-I about pieces—she kills star ratings in this one, blows off reviewer anonymity in this one (“I’ve been on the Internet and posted all kinds of goofy stuff on websites since I was 15 years old… Being relatable on the Internet is an important currency for my generation”), and shoots down clichés of food reviewing here—I care less about not calling things “crack” (though that’s so 2008) but completely agree that too much food reviewing has been a form of real estate market hyping (“In the neighborhood context, ‘up-and-coming’ means that they’re in the process of kicking all of the working-class people out”).

That said… I have a certain sneaking admiration for Mimi Sheraton (in a now deleted tweet) weighing in in exasperation at millennials and their need to talk about everything: “So far, new SFChronicle food critic, Soleil Ho, is too full of herself. Should stop explaining what she stands for and just start reporting…” Honestly, kids. I’ll want to hear all about you when you’ve slept with Elvis, like Gael Greene.


Hey. at least he wasn’t gonna make sushi out of it: the chef of West Town Thai restaurant Thai Nang, Sittipat “Ong” Satangmongkol, got a year’s probation for trying to import 24 endangered dragon fish for his home aquarium, as they’re illegal in the U.S. (but top dollar overseas).


Remember when a bunch of Neapolitan pizza places opened right after Spacca Napoli? I remember thinking, if they’d opened a year ago, any of them would have had six months as the best Neapolitan pizza in town… now they all ranked as #2 at best.

That gives some idea of how I felt about Omakase Takeya in the basement of Ramen Takeya. It’s a cozy little room, letter perfect to how a 7-seat sushi bar should look and feel. Rice was well made, fish was high quality, flown in from Japan and ranging from buttery otoro to subtle saltwater eel. The omakase—about two thirds sushi, with some hot dishes thrown in—was nicely varied and satisfying; a little shabu of A5 was the one that stuck in the mind. Service, from both sides of the counter, was solid. It’s a high quality, professional experience.

But then there’s Kyōten, quirkier and more reflective of a chef’s intellect behind it (as well as more entertaining, if what you want is a chatty chef talking through the meal). Omakase Takeya is about 3/4 the price of Kyōten, and the ingredient quality mostly justifies it (though I didn’t as often have the feeling that, oh yes, this is exactly the right way to present this fish). I can’t say it quite came off as 3/4 the experience Kyōten is—though that’s not to fault it for being near the top of Neapolitan pizza, I mean sushi, in town.