The Jean Banchet Award nominations came out this week; selected by Chicagoans, they give a good idea of what’s taken seriously by Chicago observers of and participants in the food scene, and not what the view from New York looks like. You can see the full nominees here.

With restaurant reviews halfway to being a thing of the past, the Banchet awards have become more influential in who gets attention and goes on to national media attention—in some cases, creating rising stars seemingly out of the blue if no media has written about them. So little-known Brass Heart gets a Restaurant of the Year nomination alongside much better-known Oriole and Lula Cafe, and somewhat well-known Jeong and Moody Tongue.

In contrast to the somewhat warmed-over Beards semifinalist list released last week, the Banchet nominees do a good job of representing the variety of food that has sprung up in the time since COVID hit, most notably in the Alternative Dining category which includes five non-standard restaurant offerings from non-white male proprietors: African-American owned The Hot Dog Box, Japanese weekly popup Mom’s, Brazilian catering/event site Sinhá, African-American barbecue spot Soul & Smoke, and weekly Indian popup Tasting India (all of which are also woman-owned or co-owned, incidentally).

But you also see it Rising Chef nominations for James Martin, African-American chef of Spanish restaurant Bocadillo Market, Zubair Mohajir of Indian tasting menu The Coach House at Wazwan and Cambodian-born Ethan Lim of Hermosa. Another sign of reflecting a changing scene is the number of south side nominees—including Thai Dang of Hai Sous for Chef of the Year, Duck Inn for best neighborhood restaurant, The Alderman in Pilsen for best bar and Denisse Soto of Osito’s Tap for Best Bartender.

But the point of media today is to find something to fault a subject on in relation to identity politics, so here’s how Eater describes a list of rising chefs that is 3/5 people of color:

Rising Star Chef, a category that highlights prominent up-and-comers in Chicago’s restaurant industry, also features an all-male nominee list

The awards will be given on May 1 at an event benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.


Okay, this is awkward: a week after announcing the Chicago James Beard award semifinalists, the Beards announced, whoops, we forgot one! Eater:

A Chicago chef was left off the list of James Beard Award semifinalists that was released last week due to a clerical error. Jason Vincent of Giant was added to the outstanding chef category on the James Beard Foundation’s website yesterday, six days after the list of nominations was originally released.

A spokeswoman for the foundation confirmed the addition in an email, saying, “That is all the information we have to share at this juncture.”

I feel reassured by a response in opaque bureaucratese! There were other things that needed to be tidied up after the first announcement; three chefs were taken off the list because it turns out their restaurants are closed or they don’t work there any more, the kind of thing you’d think a big prestigious organization might check ahead of time.


Hey guess what! People are giving out awards for food and restaurants again! The Chicago Tribune announced its Critics’ Choice Food Awards, though by doing so in an article only readable by subscribers they somewhat mute their impact. Winners, very diverse (though not enough for Eater, no doubt), include Kasama as restaurant of the year, “Best Cinderella Story” to African-American-owned Italian restaurant Provare, and “Pizza Trend We Can’t Get Enough of” for the caramelized crust at George’s Deep Dish.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Reader put out a Best of Chicago issue, or go straight here to the Food & Drink section for winners like Korean corn dogs, written about by Leor Galil (“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to visit this place because I had trouble processing the concept of a salty, savory meat stick adorned with a sugary cereal forbidden to me for most of my childhood”) or Philip Montoro on Talard Thai (best Thai food for the money):

Talard doesn’t just sell familiar favorites such as panaeng, massaman, and khai phalo. The hot bar is one of only two places in the city I’ve encountered kaeng tai pla, a pungent, spicy southern curry made with fermented fish entrails—Talard’s version uses kabocha, bamboo shoots, fish, Thai eggplant, and long beans, and sometimes includes snappy, vividly bitter pea eggplants too. You’ll also routinely find kaeng hang le, an unctuous northern pork-belly curry that balances sour, sweet, salty, spicy, and funky, with plenty of ginger and Thai pickled garlic.

Talard is, by the way, also nominated for best heritage restaurant in the Banchet awards.

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Everybody loves the atmosphere at Hogsalt’s Armitage Alehouse, and is a bit puzzled by the food. Nick Kindelsperger is no exception:

Since becoming one of the Tribune’s food critics last year, I’ve been trying to center reviews around the food, with everything else (atmosphere, service) orbiting around. But Armitage Alehouse is one of those exceptions that’s too stunning to deny. It’s lovelier than Au Cheval, cozier than Bavette’s, and more polished than Maude’s Liquor Bar (which sadly closed in 2020). If you’re looking for Chicago’s most transporting space, the only competition might be the Cherry Circle Room.

If the food were as irresistible as the atmosphere, we’d have a new Chicago hit on our hands. But unlike other Hogsalt operations that arrive fully formed, Armitage Alehouse’s menu feels needlessly full of misfires.


Titus Ruscitti goes to Elske, and although he has several sharp observations to make, I’m just going to quote one line about the celebrated sunflower seed parfait dessert: “I could eat that every night right before bed knowing if I croak while sleeping my last bite was a real winner.”

He also pays a visit to Chattanooga, which I went to with the kids a decade-plus ago, found the food scene a little thin but was generally charmed by the city; I suspect, like most places in America, it’s a lot better place to eat now, and I should go back sometime.


Steve Dolinsky visits Wazwan, which offers a new take on Indian flavors, including via a tasting menu, Coach House at Wazwan:

“The goal is to talk about the collaboration that’s happened in between the South Asian countries and the sub-continent like India and the Philippines, and Indian and Indonesia,” said chef and owner Zubair Mohajir.


This piece reminded me of one I didn’t mention in last week’s roundup of places that might or might not have reopened: Menya Goku, a tiny but very good ramen spot, is now back open Wednesday through Sunday evenings. Anyway, what made me think of it was John Kessler reviewing the otherwise unrelated Tengoku Aburiya:

Sangtae Park has earned local renown and a Michelin star for Omakase Yume, his six-seat sushi bar in the West Loop. While it’s a nice destination for a splurge, his real gift to the dining scene is the under-the-radar spot he debuted just next door in 2020, Tengoku Aburiya. Here, Park and his head chef, Keisuke Ito, serve Japanese comfort food at lunch; at night they bust out a big menu with skewers cooked over a binchotan (white charcoal) grill (the restaurant’s name translates to “grill heaven”), an extensive lineup of small plates, and seriously good drinks.

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Actually Alpana will be Alpana Singh’s fourth restaurant, and her most personal, says Anthony Todd:

She’s taking everything she learned from those experiences and putting it together at Alpana. Part of that means she’s made the choice to not have a chef. “In the past, when I’ve worked with a chef, you hire them, they have their artistic vision … and you feel like you have to do what they want,” says Singh. “I’ve been studying food for 20 years, and I love cooking.” That doesn’t mean you’re going to see Singh in the kitchen on the line — she has no illusions about her ability to put out plates — but she’s creating and refining the entire menu herself. The food will have strong influences from Mediterranean and Asian flavors that match Singh’s preferences.


I got pitched a story on suburban dining getting trendy based on Chris Curren’s new restaurant The Graceful Ordinary in St Charles, and my response was, there has to be more than one to make a trend. It sounds really good, and I’ve always been a fan of Curren’s cooking (Stout Barrel House, Homestead on the Roof), but at the moment it seems suis generis for new suburban spots of quality—as far as the challenge goes, I always think of Paul Virant telling me that when he opened Vistro people in Hinsdale said “I’m so glad you finally opened up a restaurant in Hinsdale,” because previously they had been forced to cross the border into Western Springs to eat his food at Vie.

Anyway, David Hammond has more about why it might, someday, be part of a thriving suburban scene. This was interesting to me:

I wondered though, if simply accessing ingredients—the produce and the proteins needed to serve the public—is more challenging in St. Charles then it is in Chicago. Chef Curren mentioned that in Chicago, if he needs, say, a few extra steaks, or the supplier missed some items on a shipment, a truck that’s scheduled to make deliveries in the area can bring out the necessary items. Those kinds of last-minute shipments are more possible in the city than in the suburbs because there are simply way more purveyors—and delivery trucks—in the city. “But many of our suppliers are in the suburbs,” Chef Curren notes, “and we’re very, very close to many local farmers. Nichols is one of those local farms, they’re in Marengo right next door to the town I live in, and there are five or six farms around here that we work with, and one is growing specialty items just for us.


Apparently it’s a thing that we’re going to get a Twitter fight once a year about recipe posts where you have to dig through a long memoir about the recipe to get to the basics. Someone made this not exactly witty observation on Twitter and got browbeaten into an apology by writers deeply offended at someone not wanting to read every one of their precious words.

But here’s the thing: these posts exist like this because, probably back around 2012, some consultant thought this was the way to get the most value out of recipe posts in a way that could be sold to advertisers. (Which almost certainly turned out not to work.) So everybody builds these posts around an anecdote about how much the recipe meant to them when they ate it as a kid. And I don’t believe them. 98% of the time, these memoir-posts are so cookie-cutter about how mama made the recipe for their birthday that the verbiage and the fakey-sounding yarn doesn’t add anything to the recipe. You want to put up recipes, just be proud of a good recipe! You can make something just because it’s tasty, not because it supposedly pulls a Proust madeleine on your childhood.

This guy gets it.

(P.S. If you want to see this done well, which is to say, someone telling an actual story when they have one, check out former Trib writer Emily Nunn’s Department of Salad newsletter.)


This is kind of big news to me, albeit even Mike Sula buries it deep in his story. Molino Tortilleria started up in Sawyer, Michigan, selling heirloom masa and tortillas and, a couple of days a week, serving tacos on them. Well, I never got there to try it before they shut down the taco part, but I did buy some of their blue corn masa at the Logan Square farmers market and really enjoyed making my own. Now they’ve closed the Sawyer shop—and you’re starting to see their masa everywhere here:

Molino is currently operating out of the back of Paper Plane Pizza in Lincoln Park, hosting Saturday pop-ups selling fresh masa, tortillas, tamales for home cooks, and quesadillas and other made-to-order food under the direction of Jonathan Zaragoza, who brought Molino masa into the kitchen at Con Todo in Logan Square. “Whatever he’s got we’re using,” says Zaragoza. “The flavor is just on another level. It tastes like actual corn.” [Rick] Bayless has picked it up too, using Molino’s blue corn masa for the taco course at Topolobampo, and masa dumplings at Bar Sótano. Molino is also on the menu at Mi Tocaya, Pilsen Yards, and Antique Taco, and their chips and tortillas are sold over the counter at Ørkenoy and Foxtrot.


The city raided a building in West Ridge that was being used as a meth lab, and will demolish it. What’s interesting about that for Fooditor? Well, a few years ago before Jared Leonard opened The Budlong, he was recipe-testing in the space next to Rub BBQ, which he used for teaching barbecue classes. I interviewed him and took the cover image for the story there. And that—needless to say, long after Leonard left it—is the space that was being used to make meth, at 6948 N. Western.


Good news: the very mod test 1960s kitchen at Ebony magazine was saved by Landmarks Chicago, and you can go see it. Bad news: you have to go to the Museum of Food and Drink in Brooklyn to see it. More about the iconic space, and how it got away to NYC, at WBEZ.


Chef John Shields (Smyth and The Loyalist) has always been perfectly happy to talk with me (or even let me hang out with him and his family) but for whatever reason, I feel like he’s a chef who everyone admires but who we haven’t really gotten to know—however it is we get to know chefs these days. Anyway, that’s by way of saying you’ll get a full in-depth hour of him on the latest Amuzed podcast, as he and Michael Muser talk about growing up in the 70s, how he got into food, and life in Trotter’s and Achatz’s worlds (where Muser’s partner Curtis Duffy was at much the same time). Highly recommended.


If the only thing you had against 2009’s Julie and Julia was that it had scenes which did not involve Meryl Streep as Julia Child, now you can have 100% Julia Child-based entertainment in the new HBO Max miniseries Julia, with British TV star Sarah Lancashire (Last Tango in Halifax) as Julia, David Hyde-Pierce as her CIA husband, Paul, and assorted other people including Isabelli Rossellini as Simca Beck. Watch the preview and judge Lancashire here.