1. FOODITOR RADIO IS ALL DRESSED UP AND HAS NO PLACE TO GO

After talking to restaurateurs the last couple of weeks, it’s time to get back to talking about food media, if there is any left in this godforsaken void. I spoke with Jeff Ruby, restaurant reviewer for Chicago magazine, about what use writing about food is in a world with no restaurants. And we look at Chicago’s Best New Restaurants issue, which hit newsstands but hasn’t come out online. It’s actually a fun conversation, listen to it here or here:

2. LAND OF MASKIN’

Governor Pritzker announced his plan for reopening the state, which includes dividing it into different sectors—recognizing that there’s differences in how the virus affects the highly urbanized northeast of the state versus the rest of a fairly agricultural state—and has different levels of reduced lockdown over time. For now, that means restaurants can’t reopen for limited sitdown service until Phase IV, which requires two 28-day periods of monitoring beginning May 1—so not opening until the end of June at the earliest. But it could be more than that—Pritzker said that “Until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment or enough widespread immunity that new cases fail to materialize – the option to return to normal doesn’t exist.”

The Illinois Restaurant Association replied that this is too slow: “This delay is excessive even by the most conservative national guidelines, does not take into account our industry’s pre-existing expertise in health and safety practices and unnecessarily threatens the viability of a critical sector of our state economy… The restaurant industry is accustomed to operating by the highest of standards when it comes to sanitation, food safety and other health-focused requirements… our already health-focused industry is eager to implement clear guidelines around safe reengagement, including limiting capacity, table spacing, PPE for employees and other preventative measures.”

But whenever they open, how quick will people be to return to restaurants? That’s what no one knows. To judge by the walk I took (fully masked!) to my neighborhood Mariano’s yesterday, plenty of people have already decided this whole thing is over and a nice day is excuse enough to ditch the mask (bonus points to the woman, walking side by side with another, who was carrying her mask in her hand while talking at high speed). Others—will I feel comfortable sitting back to back with other people in a busy restaurant? I do not think I will for a while. It will be a big experiment for all of us—with us as the lab rats.

Eater has a good recap of the announcement and industry responses here.

3. BARE-BEARDED

“Chicago Nominated For Eight James Beard Awards!” several sites said hopefully, trying to put a positive spin on a none too impressive showing in the nation’s top restaurant and food journalism awards this year. The reality is that 6 of those 8 nominations are in a single category, Best Chef Great Lakes, the category we routinely dominate to the detriment of other cities in the region (as Anthony Todd noted again). Congrats to the six chefs nominated due to a tie (that’s right, Detroit and Indy, at best you placed seventh): Gene Kato of Momotaro, Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe, Noah Sandoval of Oriole, John and Karen Shields of Smyth, Erick Williams of Virtue (featured in Fooditor’s current cover story) and Lee Wolen of Boka. (The one really positive thing you can say is, congrats to Boka Group for landing two out of the six, Kato and Wolen.)

Otherwise, though, we were eligible for a dozen categories and landed precisely two: Spiaggia got a nomination for Best Wine Program (can’t argue with that), and Lost Lake got a bar program nomination (we do think other things have happened on our bar scene in the past half decade). That’s it. On the journalism side… for the first time we can recall, it’s zip. Bupkis. Not even Steve Dolinsky.

I think all these things are interrelated. Our journalism, much of it conducted under conditions resembling that of a medieval city under siege by barbarians, isn’t big or ambitious enough to attract outside readers, nor do our writers land in the publications that do get read nationally. The result is, people don’t read about the things happening here, so those chefs and bars and restaurants don’t get attention and nominations on a national scale.

There was some hope for a higher profile in internal Beard committee discussions when a new chair for Chicago restaurants was appointed by the Beards—who then promptly left the city to take a job and live in New York. With outlets shrinking, we’re basically blacking ourselves out of the awareness and influence that would be required for us to make the kind of showing at the Beards that was routine 7 or 8 years ago. There will be times we succeed—I mean, one assumes Curtis Duffy and Ever will get some form of attention next year—but especially with further economic damage from Coronavirus ahead, we seem likely to be the hosts, but not doing much of the celebrating, at the Beards for the next several years.

Which will happen, they now say, on September 25th. In Chicago.

4. OPENINGS

More and more places that shut down early in this business are coming back. Right after I posted last week’s list, I saw an announcement from Elske that they’d be serving as of 5/8, and you can read about my Mother’s Day dinner at the bottom. They’re on Tock.

More Boka restaurants have jumped in with offerings, including Momotaro and Swift & Sons Tavern (the Wrigleyville one). Go here to see them all (including GT Prime and Bellemore, coming soon).

Big Jones was already doing all kinds of southern dinners, but added a special menu this weekend that included burgoo and mutton; if I hadn’t already ordered Elske, it would have been Mother’s Day dinner. Anyway, I’ll be watching to see what they do next week.

Monteverde is one I’m excited to see back—mostly pasta meal kits. Go here.

And speaking of pasta, Ryan Poli is back in town—and making pasta kits at Bakin’ & Eggs on Lincoln under the name Pasta Peddler. Morgan Olsen has the full story at Time Out, but I was especially intrigued by this: “Most of the sauces are from my recipe books from 1995, when I first started cooking on the South Side. I worked for a chef named Tom Gradisher who taught me all about Italian cooking. … It was a lot of fun for me, digging through old recipes, reliving my early days as a cook.”

If you listened to the podcast with Jeff Ruby, you know that the last place he reviewed was RPM Seafood. Well, now you can order from it too.

Bayan Ko will be back as of Thursday with family meals. Go here.

Lao Peng You has been off for a couple of weeks, but returns on Thursday as well.

I loved loved loved getting Indian takeout from Thattu, and they’re doing it again on May 12. Go here.

My son hoped to deliver a favorite cake to a friend for his birthday—specifically, caramel cake from Brown Sugar Bakery. They were closed then but are reopened now on 75th street.

5. DEPT. OF INGREDIENTS

A couple of years ago I wrote about how Whittingham Meats, a supplier in the south suburbs, was shifting for a changing market. Well, Coronavirus is another change, and Nick Kindelsperger tells how they adapted to home delivery when all their restaurant customers closed.

Chef Bruce Sherman may have retired from North Pond, but he’s still committed to farmers—and he launched a CSA collecting produce from six local farmers/purveyors, all women, called Thumbelina CSA. It’s already sold out, but you can go on the waiting list. Phil Vettel has more.

By the way, if you’re looking for a CSA, I did one last summer from Growing Solutions, a farm worked by autistic adults in the Illinois Medical District, and was very happy with the mix and quality (and am doing it again). Go here to find out more.

6. GOOD GUYS

Got a note from Mitch Einhorn (Lush, Twisted Spoke) saying I never write about what he and his brother Cliff are doing. I said, tell me more! That’s all it takes—let me know about it and believe me, any local restaurant will jump ahead of the 73 PR pitches for probiotic kelp-based CBD seltzers I get every day. So first up, they kept their staff on the payroll, even with diminished business, and they’re offering produce at Lush’s locations via 5th generation produce monger Tom Cornille, and they make dinners for hospitals—and also for you, along with cocktail specials for which they’ll sell you the bottles and give you instructions. And other stuff—you can get ramp pesto from them! More stuff than I can list here, you should just go subscribe to their newsletter (go here, scroll to bottom) or go to their order page to see what’s happening right now.

7. CLOSINGS

Sad to see that Income Tax, a terrific neighborhood spot (the name came from their intention to blend into their Edgewater neighborhood like an accountant’s office), which won the Jean Banchet Awards’ first award for Best Bar, won’t be coming back. I wrote about them when they were under construction, and how that came about is a funny story—owner Nelson Fitch is married to novelist Veronica Roth, who wrote the bestselling Divergent young adult series, and apparently he was tired of pre-opening publicity that was headlined “Husband of Divergent Author To Open Bar.” So their PR person suggested they talk to me, and I’d actually write about the bar—not the celebrity in the family.

A real slice of old school Chicago—well, 60s-70s old school, anyway—is closing with Jeri’s Grill at Montrose and Western. It was never quite my place, though I remember one time I took my son, maybe 16, for a late night snack there after he hung out with friends, a first taste for him of the joys of hanging out late at night in a 24-hour diner. The owner wrote an especially flavorful and poignant note on closing, which you can read here. This Patch piece tells its history, and here’s a little salute to it from the book 1,001 Chicago Afternoons, too (making this an oddly literary edition of closing announcements).

And Baobab BBQ, the South African-tinged barbecue spot, has closed. Fooditor wrote about it here.

We’re also going to see a lot of people moving around as places close, or seem precarious after reopening, or who knows what. Here’s the first I’ve seen: Todd Stein, most recently at The Bristol and Formento’s, has joined Quartino’s/Gibson Group, per his Instagram.

8. HOW CAN A POOR MAN STAND SUCH TIMES AND LIVE

It’s dangerous for an underground thing to get too much above-ground publicity, and that seems to be the case with Claudio the Tamale Guy; after some publicity in recent weeks (as well as a fundraising T-shirt which one of my sons now proudly owns), there’s an unconfirmed report on social media that the Man has come down on him, because why not take the opportunity of a pandemic and a recession to shut down what someone’s been doing for a decade. Thanks for looking out for the little guys in hard times, government! That said, we don’t have a confirmed report on this so far as I can find, so consider it developing. In the meantime, there’s a fundraiser for him here.

9. GRUBHUB STRIKES BACK

CEO Matt Maloney makes the case for poor poor GrubHub to Crain’s: “’If it wasn’t Grub, or one of these platforms doing delivery, restaurants would have to pay the $5 per delivery to the delivery person,’ Maloney said on the call. ‘That’s 20 percent on most orders. You have credit card fees with or without us. We charge restaurants only for what they want. . . .Our delivery competitors came in and charged a 30 percent blanket fee.'”

10. BAR BACK

Twitter account Chicago Bars is selling Zoom backgrounds of local bars at Etsy.

11. LESLEY GORE

A little bit of award good news for me: the Peter Lisagor Awards, given by the Headline Club, created a food category for the first time this year, and Fooditor is nominated in it, along with Block Club Chicago for this and Phil Vettel.

12. AUDIO/VIDEO ZONE

Overserved talks in depth about what the Coronavirus time has been like for Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark (Parachute and Wherewithall).

I talked about the whole situation and Fooditor Radio on Outside the Loop on WGN; go here to listen.

Mexican bakery customers are used to picking their food out themselves with tongs. Steve Dolinsky talked to one small chain, Aracely’s, about adapting to the new world.

13. MEATHEAD CROWNED

Congrats to friend and sponsor of Fooditor Meathead Goldwyn, proprietor of the definitive BBQ how-to site, for being named a semi-finalist for this year’s list for the BBQ Hall of Fame.

IN MEMORIAM

Jose Avila, who worked at The Peninsula Hotel and Grace, appears to be the person of that name who was shot and killed in Back of the Yards Tuesday.

WHAT MIKE ATE

My dining (from) out was mainly for Mother’s Day—breakfast, an excellent asparagus-ramp quiche from Bang Bang, plus I picked up a blueberry rhubarb pie, meant to be dessert that evening. Then Elske opened up takeout, so I ordered Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, rolls, cucumber salad—and chocolate cake for dessert, too. So we had two desserts. Anyway, the Elske dinner was fantastic, so well made, I recommend you do not hesitate to order from them next weekend.

Sparrow Black 2019