Who’s the best food writer in Chicago? Is it someone that we restaurant writers have met at PR events and new restaurant previews? Or is it someone whose books pile up on my shelves of late? That seems a pretty good measure to me—my own money spent on books—and by that measure it has to be Emma Janzen, who got two James Beard media nominations this week, one for the latest book she co-wrote with a notable figure on the cocktail scene, Toby Maloney of The Violet Hour with The Bartender’s Manifesto: How to Think, Drink, and Create Cocktails Like a Pro, which got a nomination in the Beverage With Recipes category, and a Beverage writing nomination for a piece in Eater National, “The Great Mezcal Heist.” But that’s just this year—Janzen and Julia Momose of Kumiko won the Beverage With Recipes category last year for The Way of the Cocktail: Japanese Traditions, Techniques, and Recipes. (Unfortunately she’s not officially listed in the Beards’ award database, which is often poor at making sure everyone’s name gets listed, as I can attest personally.)

Besides Janzen, Chicago also saw a nomination for veteran food writer Monica Eng, for her Chicago magazine piece on Paula Camp, the transgender former Tribune food writer and editor, and I suppose we could count Mason Hereford, who’s a partner in Big Kids, for his cookbook Turkey and the Wolf: Flavor Trippin’ in New Orleans, while the Charlie Trotter documentary Love, Charlie was nominated in Documentary/Docuseries Visual Media.

Not a lot of nominations, but at least it proves they know that the city the Beard awards are held in actually exists and has to some extent, its own food media culture. Which is nice for a national food media establishment that mostly ignores us, comes to our city for the awards but resolutely does its best to avoid getting to know anyone actually working in the field here, or exploring our city any deeper than going to a few hot West Loop restaurants, so they can go home and write about how Chicago isn’t an interesting food city any more.


Meanwhile, here’s the most interesting thing I’ve read about the Beards—it’s from Charleston-based Hanna Raskin, who you’d think would be all smiles since she got two nominations this year for her Substack newsletter The Food Section. Raskin plays up the fact that she’s an indie food writer:

The Food Section is still just me: The Beards draw entries from enormous media organizations with million-dollar budgets. For example, in the Dining and Travel contest, I’m up against Garden & Gun and Bon Appetit, which is published by global media conglomerate Conde Nast.

Well, true so far as it goes—but there’s no question that Raskin is a well-connected food media insider, among other things the former president of the now-defunct Association of Food Journalists. Still, she’s got her teeth in something revealing about the Beards this year, as they continue to try to stress their diversity and inclusion:

I figured I’d sunk my own chances with my non-alignment “alignment statement.”

Folks who’ve assumed the sane position of not following the James Beard awards closely may not have come across that phrase before. In short, the foundation overhauled its award procedures after its 2020 Restaurant & Chef ballot reportedly didn’t produce enough Black winners. I’ve written previously about my hunch that those adjustments wouldn’t produce hoped-for change, so won’t belabor the point here, except to say the adoption of “alignment statements” was at the core of my concern.

Under the new system, restaurants and chefs are invited to self-nominate by submitting an alignment statement, via print or video, “reflecting on the James Beard Awards Mission and the James Beard Foundation’s Values, and how the entrant expresses them in their work.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the foundation’s values, which include equity, integrity, and respect. But it feels like requiring entrants to fall into philosophical lockstep with an award-giving body runs directly contrary to the goal of diversifying participation. Plus, many talented food-and-beverage professionals have neither the time nor PR money to produce polished statements.

So basically you’re supposed to write up something softsoaping the Beards as a key reason you’re serving your African-American Grandma’s recipes; if there’s diversity in your food, you sure want to thank the rich white people in the Big House, because you wouldn’t be doing it without them. Raskin’s own alignment statement took aim at the whole exercise:

As an independent journalist, I’m not in a position to align with organizations or advance their missions. I am beholden only to the truth and the readers I serve, and obliged to put their interests first.

The bylaws of the defunct Association of Food Journalists spelled out this situation explicitly: “Membership is open to food journalists who report or edit food stories intended to deepen audience members’ understanding of the world around them, for reasons other than the advancement of non-media corporate interests, charitable causes, or partisan politics.”

In other words, adopting or prioritizing the James Beard Foundation’s values would amount to a violation of my ethical integrity and conflict with my professional responsibilities. But I’m happy to review here the values that inform my work, and hope you’ll consider that an acceptable substitute for what’s requested.

Alas, she goes on to talk about why she started her Substack:

My goal is to recalibrate harmful inequities by providing industry workers and patrons with the information they need—and respect they deserve—and prompting the privileged to reconsider their prejudices. The Food Section strives to help locate the balance of joy and justice that’s at the heart of hospitality by challenging assumptions, holding power to account, and publishing stories that readers aren’t likely to find anywhere else.  

So in the end it comes down to, she and the Beards both think the purpose of food writing can only be to advance “joy and justice” (oh brother) and not just because you found something interesting to write about, involving interesting people who might happen to be part of a racial/ethnic food tradition. No wonder the Beards expect you to help them make sure you check the right boxes in your alignment statement—that’s more important than them reading a bunch of pieces and picking the ones they thought were the best.


It may not be time for a road trip yet, but it’s never too early to start thinking about one, and for that you’ll want Chicago mag’s issue about places to go in the midwest—John Kessler visits newly hopping Cincinatti; Cate Huguelet focuses on cheese in the Driftless region of Wisconsin; Titus Ruscitti names six old school burgers (I’ve been to three of them, each of those more than once); Anthony Todd tells you where to stop for a beer (or mead) driving up through Michigan (though oddly enough, he leaves out a brewpub that went nuts on him about a piece he did about a year ago). And more!


If you’ve ever been to a barbecue competition, or eaten barbecue in Texas, or—hell, had barbecue almost anywhere other than Chicago, you’ve probably seen an offset smoker. Think a big chamber, like an iron lung or a sarcophagus, with a fire box at one end. The idea is that the smoke permeates where the meat is, but the meat is never directly over the fire—unlike in a Chicago-style aquarium smoker. It’s a common way of smoking meat elsewhere, but as Nick Kindelsperger points out, not one that will make you any friends in Chicago officialdom:

…as Barry Sorkin, owner of Smoque BBQ, found out the hard way, the city of Chicago doesn’t make it easy for restaurants to use them. “We were working on installing big 1,000-gallon offset smokers here because I love to cook on them,” Sorkin said. “But we couldn’t figure out the way through the city code. The city wanted the whole thing under a hood, which would have been 28 feet long and prohibitively expensive. I worked on plans for 1½ to two years, and then decided to work on the Smoque Steak project because it was such an easier route.”

Well, it’s hardly the only way to cook barbecue that runs into bureaucracy—Honey 1 wound up on the south side because their Western Ave. location faced constant problems/harassment over the smoke output, two stories up, from their aquarium smoker. Anyway, after making the case for offset smokers, Nick calls out some pop-up pitmasters using offset smokers, including Knox Ave. Barbecue, Umamicue, and Heffer BBQ, whose brisket I tried at a recent event at Kimski. (Though oddly, no mention of Offset BBQ on California; I have no idea if they actually use an offset smoker or not.)

Meanwhile, speaking of Smoque Steak, Louisa Chu talks to Barry Sorkin about the soon-to-open neighborhood steakhouse.


In case there wasn’t enough meat in Nick Kindelsperger’s barbecue piece this week, he also reviews Kindling, the new restaurant (in Willisears Tower, of all places) where James Beard-winning chef Johnathon Sawyer is cranking out wood-smoked food, in contrast to his previous Chicago gig:

That mismatch was especially evident during an early course at Adorn, when foie gras wrapped in edible silver leaf was apparently meant to honor Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate, but instead looked like a manhandled Hershey’s Kiss. Sawyer moved on a few months later.

Fortunately, Sawyer fits right in with the more casual Kindling, a project from The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, co-owned by Scott Weiner and Greg Mohr. As the name hints, the restaurant features a massive wood-fired grill, and Sawyer apparently took that as a dare to use it as much as possible. “The older I get, the less I want to do anything but wood-fire grilling,” Sawyer said.

Alas, they missed their chance to put it higher up in the building and replace Smoque’s Revival Hall location as the tallest barbecue pit on earth.


Titus Ruscitti checks out two food cultures, geographically close but worlds apart. First, French at Obélix:

It’s French at heart but by no means traditional, it’s updated so to say. Updated with a little bit of energy and I could totally see the food here being a hit in Paris which is saying something for a city with 45,000 dining options. Obelix is the type of restaurant that would be popular in every major metropolis. The foie gras taco was what caught my eye when I first glanced at the menu. It’s called “The Foie-co” and it’s constructed with a piece of seared foie gras on a house pressed corn tortilla with huckleberry jam, salsa macha, pickled red currant. It’s an awesome snack but unfortunately it’s just that. I could’ve eaten a few of these.

Then, English food at a pub called The Green Post:

If you asked me to name my Top 20 cuisines I’m not sure if English food would make the cut. It’s not bc I think it sucks, in fact I think it can be pretty damn good. But the problem is there’s not a ton of variety as far as I can tell. But they do some things very well such as savory pies and fish and chips. English food might not be high on my list of favorite cuisines but a tour of pubs in England is up there as far as bucketlist trips go. I also wouldn’t mind seeing a few more English focused pubs in Chicago. We got a few but we could use some more spots like The Green Post in Lincoln Square.


Steve Dolinsky checks out the three new spots from Boka Group in the former Southport Lanes building:

Stephanie Izard is back in town, having re-opened her Little Goat Diner just this week, near a familiar corner in Lakeview. Comfy bowls like Chili Crunch Chicken and Dumplings fit in perfectly with the neighborhood vibe.

In front of the diner, GG’s Chicken Shop – named for the chef’s mom – is an all-day ode to the bird, where you can have it slowly cooked, spinning before your eyes. The kitchen will chop it up, or pull the juicy meat for use in sandwiches or salads. A bit of breading and a hard fry turns it into messy, two-fisted sandwiches.


Just steps from Frontera Grill, Michael Nagrant praises the very 1960s Mexican charms of Su Casa, an amusing piece about a place that has lasted, a bit out of time, for decades:

I was there for the same reason I step foot in every small mom and pop Tex Mex joint in any small town in America I happen to be visiting: my nostalgic obsession and desire to recapture the glory days of dining at Chi-Chi’s. And also because I was dying of hunger after touring the nearby Driehaus museum. I’d thought about hitting Eataly, but every time I do it makes me sad and I ruminate on how the orange-clogged-parm-king Mario Batali was such a jackass.

Batali’s idiocy was Su Casa’s gain.  As discussed already, the dining room is glorious. Honestly the only thing missing was a neon lit active volcano, but I can always hit San Angel Restaurante at Epcot for that fix.


I haven’t linked to Bob Benenson’s newsletter/site Local Food Forum for a bit (that’s Benenson in this week’s photo, in the blue shirt to the right of the cake and the guy in the maroon shirt; you can read his account of the event here) but as farmers market season starts, it’s well worth subscribing to for info on the markets, the farmers, and what’s good right now. Anyway, I’ve just been writing about the origins of Green City Market for my book, so I was interested to read this week’s compare and contrast on Green City Market and its much more modest rival in the parking lot of Lincoln Park High School:

As market manager Elsa Jacobson (photo below) puts it, Green City is a destination market and The Lincoln Park Farmers Market is a neighborhood market. It’s the kind of market where it’s easy to get on a first-name basis with the vendors and get a bit of face time with them, and to browse the tables without holding up the line.

I often hit Lincoln Park when I know that there’s only going to be one or two things (say, strawberries and asparagus in the next few weeks) at the markets that I really care about, and it’s much easier to go there on a Saturday morning. The vendors generally aren’t certified organic, but their products are midwestern grown, pretty non-industrially, and indeed, I have often chatted with them and enjoy stocking up there.


That short film about Ethan Lim’s Hermosa restaurant and his Cambodian heritage can be watched now. Go here.


Iliana Regan’s new book will be the subject on Monday, when she talks to Culinary Historians of Chicago about Fieldwork: A Foarger’s Memoir.

Another interview with Monica Eng and David Hammond about their book—but this one is at their publisher’s site, and asks some different questions.


Friend of Fooditor Kennyz—Ken Zuckerberg—is, for reasons that have been explained to me but still baffle me a little, taking two separate vacations in Sicily this year. He’s on the first one right now, and his tweets chronicling the food he’s finding there are some of the most flavorful food coverage you’ll see this year—I really want to try the herb that tastes like ricotta cheese. Start here and check out what else he’s eating.


…for a full recovery to Chicago writer John Greenfield, whose poster of old school places to eat hangs in my bathroom. Bicycling enthusiast Greenfield was hit by a pipe in the back of a pickup truck in Marion, Illinois on April 21st. Per the Tribune:

Around 12:30 p.m. Friday, Greenfield, 52, was biking at the intersection of West Deyoung and North Russell Streets in Marion, Illinois when a culvert became dislodged from a nearby pickup truck and struck him, Marion Police Department said. An ambulance took Greenfield to the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale following the accident, police said.

…Greenfield’s brother, Dave Greenfield, told the Tribune Monday that his brother hasn’t fully regained consciousness since the accident, but “there are positive signs,” as he’s becoming more responsive with time. Greenfield’s doctors say he’s making good progress, his brother said.


There are stories in Chicago food that never get told. A notable Los Angeles Italian chef-restaurateur moved to Chicago, and opened a place in the shadow of the John Hancock tower, and has anyone ever written about him? Well, actually Crain’s did, though since you can’t read it without a business expense-level subscription, it’s almost nobody. Anyway, his name is Jean-Louis de Mori and the restaurant is called Osteria del Pastaio. Somehow the aforementioned Kennyz mentioned it to me once, though I can’t find why he knew about it or what he was praising about it, but it was not long after we dined at the similarly unreviewed but quite excellent Gioia in the West Loop. I wasn’t as impressed by Pastaio, I must admit, but it’s a place that has its Italian shtick down—the main draw seems to be a bowl of pasta scooped out of a wheel of pecorino romano, flamed with brandy and served with burning rosemary; this show was put on at the three tables closest to us, in fact I suspect that the only patron near us who did not order it, an older gentleman who seemed to be on first name terms with the staff, was de Mori himself, to judge by the one photo I could find.

Anyway, it’s a respectable place that knows its Italian food; we started with a very pleasant burrata salad and quite a good appetizer of grilled shrimp and squid in a creamy tomato sauce. It also plainly knows what Chicagoans expect from an Italian restaurant; we paid $4 for bread service (a small plate of housebaked foccaccia with caponata), and I had bucatini carbonara and my wife had cacio e pepe, and both were swimming in sauce—Antonius would not approve (that’s a joke for old LTHers). Especially after seeing Kennyz’s austere Sicilian dishes I’m a little surprised he was as pleased by this American excess. Still, I tend to divide Italian restaurants in Chicago into two categories—basically, actually Italian and Italian-American, the latter of which I mostly skip, or rather, make at home for myself. Pastaio falls into the middle ground, actual Italian Americanized a bit for its audience, but by no means completely separated from the homeland, and I’d put it somewhere in the middle of that middle ground, it has its virtues and rewards.