Louisa Chu and Monica Eng’s Chewing podcast launched a Live Twitch Stream—if you know what that is, please tell me—anyway, I was the inaugural guest to talk about last week’s topic on the regular podcast, the question of whether newspapers need reviewers for high end restaurants. We talk about that, spam, spam, an open can of fermented black beans and spam, filthy things the Big Baby hamburger could have been named and spam, Shamrock Shakes on spam on Oreos, and spam. Check it out here.


It’s almost a year since the restaurant business changed forever thanks to COVID, and all it took was a year, and lots of restaurants closing and lots of people being out of work for your government to spring into action. Last year the industry-backed Restaurants Act went down to defeat by a single vote, but now it’s part of the COVID relief bill and $28.6 billion in grants to restaurants passed the Senate. (It’s expected to pass the House on Tuesday.) Kevin Boehm, who was one of the leaders behind the grassroots effort, shared a video on Instagram that shows the industry’s arguments—as Tom Colicchio says, if you’re looking for a way to stimulate a post-COVID economy, restaurants, which spend 95% of what they take in, are a very efficient place to put that money out into the economy.


There will be new growth in the spring… and lots of reopenings, and reopenings of interiors from places doing takeout until now. Funkenhausen, Steingold’s in a new Southport location near the Music Box, Testaccio, Gaijin, Flat & Point, Revolution Brewing’s Avondale Taproom, Old Town Pour House, La Shuk and a Filipino concept called Boonie Foods at Revival Food Hall, Three House in the Bar Biscay space. It’s spring!


Already in the doghouse for attending Trump’s January 6 rally/riot, the owners of Tank Noodle in Uptown are now in trouble for violating labor laws and owing 60 workers some $700,000 in back pay, per the U.S. Labor Department—while taking a $150,000 state grant. (Tribune)


That was the slogan that owner Marcus Ward put in the window of his Uptown restaurant Urban Grill. The Sun-Times tells the story of a restaurant’s struggle to outlast the pandemic:

The Wards didn’t qualify for significant loan help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) intended to help businesses stay afloat.

“People were saying, ‘Marcus, there’s money out there.’ But when we researched, we didn’t qualify. A lot of those grants said you had to be in business two or three years,” Ward said.

“They didn’t account for businesses that just opened, and had no financials from previous years to show. That whole program was problematic. They were calling small businesses those with 1,000 employees. Mom and Pop businesses like us, we got overlooked.”


If you’ve been to Kimski, you’ve probably seen Won Kim’s painted wall out back. The Sun-Times tells its story.

Buzz 2


Fried chicken sandwiches will always say 2020 to me. With so many new entries, Nick Kindelsperger revises his best fried chicken sandwiches list.


Someone’s serving Cambodian food at popups and it’s not Ethan Eang Lim. Mona Bella is a new popup from a cook for Lettuce restaurants. Mike Sula explains.


Can Croatian food be as popular and refined as Italian food? That’s what Joe Flamm, ex of Spiaggia, hopes to show with Rose Mary, per Rebecca Holland in NewCity:

Italy and Croatia share the Adriatic Sea, and both cultures prize seafood, risotto, good olive oil and good wine. Driving along the coast of Croatia you’ll see large charcoal grills. “I was like, man,” says Flamm, “I want to build one of those.”…

The Rose Mary menu will feature typical southern European dishes: shellfish and vegetables on the hearth with quality olive oil, four to five pastas, and two to three risottos.


Someday I will dine inside restaurants again. And some day after that, I will go out to visit Chris Curren’s new restaurant, The Graceful Ordinary, in St. Charles. Inside Hook previews what the restaurant from the chef of Stout Barrel House and 7 Lions will be, though it understates the history of suburban destination dining—in the 70s and into the 80s, when Chicago was still pretty rough, the suburbs were where you went to have a fancy dare night at places like Le Français, Le Titi de Paris, Trio, and so on.


Two years ago I finally took Titus Ruscitti’s advice to hit a lenten Fish fry (at St. Andrew’s on Addison) and loved it, deciding I’d do that every year. Well, you can guess how that worked in 2020. Anyway, Titus talks fish sandwich culture in downstate here:

The other reason for the fish sandwiches popularity in more rural Midwest areas may be simply bc it’s really easy to make one. You don’t need much and odds are lots of these spots are using frozen fish so it’s not like that ever expires like the fresh stuff does. I’d hoped to visit a couple more Illinois places popular for a fish sandwich for this post but I’ve been hoping so for a few years now and that still hasn’t happened. So it’s time to post some old finds from over the years. Lets take a look at some spots downstate popular for fish sandwiches, especially on Friday’s this time of the year. Places like O’ Jan’s down on the Mississippi where they fry up buffalo fish and throw it in-between some white bread with raw onion, mustard, and hot sauce. Or then there was the Seaboat in Champaign (RIP).

He also went to Dear Margaret the same night I did, and tries Indo-Chinese in Evanston.


Steve Dolinsky is reworking his website to sum up his post-ABC 7 activities; the page you’ll want to follow is “The Latest.” Besides reports from his recent trip to Florida’s Panhandle, he’s digging up old pieces—there was one with Charlie Trotter (link temporarily unavailable) and at the moment there’s one with Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on the Latest page.


Andrew Friedman’s podcast Andrew Talks to Chefs talked to two Chicago chefs recently: in February, Rick Bayless expanded on his Medium piece on the past year of COVID life. And most recently, Friedman talked to Beverly Kim about “her personal journey to chefdom to the challenges of being a woman and Korean-American in the pro kitchen, to the coming restaurant reset.”


This video borders on mocking its subjects, but it has some perceptive moments, like the laborer who says he’d eat it before you noticed it was gone. Tribal people try Chicago deep dish pizza.


I doubt very many were hoping for another rehash of the Fat Rice business last summer, but there is one, written by an ex-employee named Thomas Hawkes at a site called Class Unity, published by the Democratic Socialists of America. Hawkes run through a lot of the stuff you’ve heard before—though he starts by making a pretty good case for Fat Rice:

Women made up the majority of management, and — at least during my time there — the lucrative dinner bartending and serving positions were filled by a crew that represented the cosmopolitan diversity of Chicago itself. Of the ten or so people working the best-paying serving shifts, no more than two were white men at any given time, a significant departure from the hiring and promotion practices typical of high-end Chicago dining. Furthermore, Fat Rice was one of the first independent restaurants to offer health, vision, and dental insurance to all full-time employees. The restaurant also marketed their Macanese cuisine as preserving an endangered cultural heritage.

But one time the white guy in charge told him he looked like a slob, so the place was actually evil. “Because we lacked effective legal protections and had no immediate recourse besides quitting, Abe forced us to choose between our dignity and our ability to pay rent.” Well, yes, it was a business in a capitalist economy. Hawkes seems to think professionalism in service is an affront to dignity, and not the source of it. Anyway, there’s 3000 words if you want to read about it again, can’t say I recommend doing so wholeheartedly. But the one interesting part is that halfway through, Hawkes makes a case that the people who drove the attacks against Fat Rice were the real problem, for making the wrong case:

Unfortunately, the terms of the story were dictated by aesthetically radical but essentially capitalist voices and their allies in the liberal press. Incoherent allegations of cultural appropriation and racial insensitivity drowned out criticism of Abe’s universal mistreatment of his employees. Indeed, the critique leveled at Abe Conlon along cultural and identitarian lines served to naturalize the inherently exploitative structure of restaurant employment. This episode represents a tremendous missed opportunity to demand meaningful reform along the line of working-class solidarity…

A key player in the posting drama, Joey Pham, who uses they/them pronouns, demands special introduction. They worked at Fat Rice briefly in 2014, and now operate an online cake business in Chicago. In addition to being a full service restaurant, Fat Rice also included a bakery. Pham’s marketing of their business overlapped with Fat Rice’s in many key respects: both were high end, twee, and consciously self-presented as progressive. With many businesses pivoting to delivery as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, Fat Rice’s bakery would have been a formidable direct competitor to Pham’s online cake business. Pham’s business interest in destroying Fat Rice gives a sinister spin to their relentless call-out. None of the extensive press coverage of this controversy makes any mention of this conflict of interest.

So in Hawkes’ view the proletariat uprising inside Fat Rice was cut short by the twee capitalist Joey Pham urging “Let them eat my cake!” Last summer workers were united against the capitalist bosses, but by now their movement has splintered between the class warriors like Hawkes urging worker solidarity, and the identitarians who see it in terms of the white guy making food he shouldn’t be allowed to make (who are unwittingly tools of the revanchist cake-making cabal).

I dunno… the whole affair strikes me as coming from the planet Zoob at this point, in the way people look at it. Fat Rice was, to me, just a small business, never hugely profitable, but honorable in its efforts to work within an interesting cuisine—just read its cookbook and you see how seriously and respectfully it took the Macanese cuisine it wanted to showcase in Chicago. So a business with more noble aspirations than your average Lincoln Park tacos-and-beer joint making money off Mexican food, say.

But maybe being more or less progressive in attitude deluded employees into expecting something else from it and when it turned out that Fat Rice was a business, and the boss was the boss, and so on, like 99% of other businesses in America, they reacted unrealistically according to whatever ideological framework they had already absorbed. And so Fat Rice had to close for valuing quality food over worker solidarity or identity politics, the real businesses of a restaurant. Reading this I hope, more than ever, that Fat Rice—or Abe and Adrienne—can come back, and this time just be a business; and everyone knows it from the get-go, and doesn’t convince themselves that it is anything else on the vanguard of progressivism.