The first thing that tells you that it’s a different time than Phil Vettel’s tenure as reviewer for the Tribune is that when the paper announced that Louisa Chu and Nick Kindelsperger would be the Tribune’s new reviewers, they ran a picture of the two of them.

No one’s keeping reviewers’ faces secret any more.

When Vettel retired a few months ago, a number of people asked me who I thought the next reviewer would be, or if I had thought about going for the opening. My answer was, what opening? There certainly didn’t seem to be any appetite at Alden Capital for a nationwide reviewer job hunt like other papers like the San Francisco Chronicle or the L.A. Times have conducted; they were likely to give the title to someone already on the payroll—a good thing if you have good candidates.

And it was pretty obvious who the candidates should and would be. Both Louisa and Nick have done excellent work expanding the Tribune’s restaurant coverage out of downtown and upscale neighborhoods—if you’d asked me a few years ago what we needed more of, I’d have said coverage of Chinatown, an endlessly fertile neighborhood fueled by recent immigration but too often ignored, and the inner ring suburbs whose restaurant scenes are fueled by recent immigration but are, well, too often ignored. And Louisa has done great Chinatown coverage, Nick has done great Indian food coverage in the suburbs around Schaumburg, and they both have done so for the Korean communities around Niles and Morton Grove. (They weren’t the only ones working on either project, but they seem to have been the most dogged investigators. And if anyone takes “dogged” as a high compliment, it’s Louisa.)

But Tribune coverage of late has been fried chicken sandwiches and hamburgers, even as restaurants began to reopen—or open for the first time, with no Tribune reviewer to tell us about Dear Margaret, or Rose Mary, or Andros Taverna or Apollonia or Adorn, and restaurants coming in the months ahead from Jenner Tomaska and Brian Huston and Donald Young. On the one hand, I think it’s great if the Tribune doesn’t live and die on those places any more, but the world seems disturbingly quiet without anybody—no Sun-Times or Chicago mag or Time Out or anybody—pronouncing on the high end for upscale diners and tourists. If Grant Achatz splatters a table and there’s no one to review it, does it make a splash?

So to my mind the Tribune is making a commitment to get back into that space just in the nick (no pun intended) of time. It will be interesting to see how these two do it, as they do not come to the high end as naturally as Vettel did—Louisa has worked in it as a cook, so she’s certainly knowledgeable about how it happens, but doesn’t seem as interested by it on the table. While Nick edited Serious Eats Chicago while it lasted, very much devoted to street/dive food in various forms (I wrote for it then, and wrote this remembrance when it ended), and obviously by his Tribune work he remains focused on immigrant food and populist things like chicken sandwiches (and photographing soup in his car). He digs deep into things, so I can see him doing a terrific job on something like Rose Mary, rooted in the chef’s heritage from a fairly obscure culinary corner of Europe—but I wonder how either one will respond to pure art food, the Alinea/Moto/Ever level of conceptual dining and ultrarefined service, which is one of the things that taken our food scene to international prominence over the past decades. And of course, if one is going to review a new example of that class of restaurant, one really ought to have already been to Oriole and Smyth and the other standard bearers of the moment. (Let’s spend all the Kindelsperger family’s money!)

At least we know this much: they’ll do a better job than no reviewers at all at any of the city’s daily papers or major magazines, which is where we’ve been until now. Congrats to them both, and I look forward to reading about my city’s restaurants at all levels.


Specifically Mike Sula, who won a Peter Lisagor Award from the Chicago Headline Club in the Food Coverage category, with this piece cited in the award.

While Maureen is Maureen O’Donnell, the city’s best obituary writer (for the Sun-Times), who won a Studs Terkel award for her work (which always includes insight into interesting food world figures who might go unnoticed otherwise).

Buzz 2


Mike Sula describes what happens when you get a vibrant scene in some cuisine—you start getting strikingly different takes on the same dish, as in the Revival Food Hall stand Boonie Foods, which does longaniza (sausage) in the style of the Filipino region of Vigan:

Take the longaniza at Ukrainian Village’s modern Filipino Kasama, which [Boonie Foods owner Joe Fontelera] maintains is the best in the city right now, and which is more in the style of the sausage from Pampanga province: bright red from annatto, sweet and garlicky, whereas Vigan longganisa is heavy on black pepper, soy sauce, and the cane vinegar Ilocos is known for.

And now you almost certainly know more about Filipino sausage than almost anyone in Chicago did a week ago. Read on.


Chicago finally gets the modern Greek restaurant it deserves,” says Steve Dolinsky of Andros Taverna, and I’m sold as soon as I see the horizontal gyros spit over charcoal.


Rose Mary is the real deal,” declares Dominic Lynch at The New Chicagoan of the Italian-Croatian hybrid from the Top Chef winning former Spiaggia chef:

Most patrons of Rose Mary will be familiar with the Italian side of the menu, but much less so with the Croatian aspects. Lepinja, for example, appears frequently on the menu and for good reason: it is a bread most comparable to focaccia and yet distinct; it is perfect for dipping in sauces (of which there are plenty), using as a vehicle for spreads (also plentiful), or just snacking on between courses. Sturdy, versatile, and tasty, the lepinja was good enough to order as a separate side.


Titus Ruscitti posts about a grab-bag of downstate places he’s enjoyed, including a terrific looking truckstop diner in Gilman.


When I was at Leo Burnett, I had tacked up on my door a William Hamilton cartoon from the New Yorker of some crusty old businessmen saying, “Apparently we’re not appealing enough to those annoying little bastards nobody likes.” It came to mind reading this Reader piece about how TikTok videos are big influencers for a certain audience:

young people increasingly use TikTok to help inform their purchasing decisions, especially when it comes to choosing where to eat—62 percent of the platform’s U.S. audience is between the ages of ten and 29.

Though no one really understands how the app’s algorithm works, the “For You” page, TikTok’s personalized and curated feed, is known to be creepily attuned to users’ tastes. That makes content creators trustworthy sources on the city’s eats, [Jenna Drenten, a Loyola professor who studies social media] says. As of May, the hashtags #chicagorestaurants and #chicagofood have a total of nearly 100 million views. More than 2.4 million of them, accumulated in just two days, come from Cori Hanna’s post of “spots to impress friends in Chicago.” The “vibes” at the Goose Island restaurant Azul Marisco are “immaculate,” she says to her 127,600 followers. The video transitions to Hanna amid a teetering margarita tower, stacked with four bottles of Patrón tequila.

It works—for a boba tea shop with a kawaii mascot, or something else that can appeal to a trendy young audience.


A veteran sushi chef opens his own place, Haru Sushi, in Logan Square. This being Chicago, he’s from Puebla, and his name is Florencio Flores, reports Block Club:

Flores has lived in Chicago since 1992, but he is originally from Puebla, Mexico. When he told his friends and colleagues he was planning to open his own sushi restaurant, they all responded the same way: “You’re Mexican. Why are you doing sushi?”

However, Flores said he’s confident he’ll win over patrons with his years of experience — and fresh fish delivered daily.

“When people try my sushi, it’s going to be different,” he said.


A few weeks back I linked to a Culinary Historians of Chicago program with Peter Regas, who has done some seriously deep dish digging into pizza history. The first one was on the early origins of pizza in America (i.e., New York c. 1900), and the earliest pizzas in Chicago (c. 1920s). His latest one is on the ur-legend of Chicago deep dish, that is, Pizzeria Uno. Many claims are made about how that style developed, and he makes quite a case that none of them are exactly true. You can watch his presentation from last week here.

And speaking of Culinary Historians, you can join live this week as Adrian Miller, who won a James Beard award for his book Soul Food (I interviewed him for the Reader in 2014), talks about African American barbecue history and his new book Black Smoke. Go here to register for the online talk, Wednesday, at 7 pm.


Michael Nagrant is the guest on Michael Muser’s Amuzed podcast. It takes a while to get to food—there’s a lot of talk about MTV’s The Real World—but if you wait till about 48 minutes in, there’s good talk about how the pandemic has affected both the restaurant industry and journalism—particularly the loss of mentorship in the field.


As the South Loop gentrifies, history is wiped out by coffee shops and chain restaurants. But Overflow Coffee makes its location a tribute to the previous tenant—Vee-Jay Records, the label of Little Richard, John Lee Hooker and others.


Here’s a most timely listicle: Time Out on beer gardens that are actually open right now.  And there’s more at this one on restaurants with patios.


Heard about this one from longtime PR guy Jeffrey Ward: the SOAR Farmers Market (Streeterville Organization of Active Residents) will kick off Tuesday, June 1 in MCA Plaza, 220 E. Chicago, from 7 am to 2 pm. Vendors include familiar names like Nichols Farm, Ellis Family Farm, Phoenix Bean, Bennison’s Bakery, River Valley Ranch and Gayle’s Grilled Cheese. Go here for more info.


Mark Mendez, former chef of the beloved Vera and Carnivale, has time on his hands at present and launched a newsletter of things that tickle his fancy on the internet. Check it out here, and if you like, subscribe.


My anniversary is this week, and I asked my wife where she’d like to go to officially inaugurate returning to restaurants (though we went to Adorn last week). “Oriole or Elske,” she said. Oriole has yet to reopen, so Elske it was. I have little new to say, but that in itself is a review, that Elske reopens as the Elske we knew, experiencing the same travails as every other restaurant, hard to find people and to keep them, but maintaining the high level in a casual atmosphere they’re known for.

Of things off the regular menu, a halibut dish in blobs of a hollandaise-light-like sauce dotted with colorful bits and blips fit the classic Elske profile—vaguely Scandinavian, not conventionally pretty but somehow lush and austere at the same time—while a bowl of creamy green chickpeas with barley porridge and hen of the woods mushroom was the kind of vegetarian dish you hope for in vegetarian cooking and rarely get, something that makes you rethink familiar ingredients. Anna Posey’s desserts remain wonders—the servers recommend the sunflower seed parfait, as perhaps they need to because no one would pick it over chocolate just on the name alone, but served at present with sour honey, bee pollen and licorice, it is tart and tasting of grain, not conventionally cravable but fascinating; I would have it multiple nights in a row to plumb all it mysteries and depth. Elske reopens as one of the best restaurants in Chicago.