Some Michael Nagrant reviews turn out to have more to do with their opening ten paragraphs than others, but the one about Galit is genuinely thought provoking on how you can justify higher prices at a superior example of a type of restaurant—and also, how we ought to be justifying some price for food writing, but mostly aren’t:

If most people offer free content, irrespective of its quality, and people have gotten used to that model, you will often have a very difficult time charging more than zero or marginal. Free market people will fight me to death on this idea. And yet, on every corner, in every two-bit town, there is a person telling you how much meaning music has in their life as they consume it for the price of zero.

The same thing has happened in the restaurant industry. Irrespective of costs or value, but because of certain pressures, many restauranteurs have held their food prices to an artificial level. Sometimes, savory dishes are produced at a loss, or, at most, single digit margins. Restaurants have often tried to make up these profits on desserts or liquor, or, as has happened lately, additional separate line item fees to subsidize healthcare or general employee welfare, to stay profitable…

$16 for hummus you say? Well, yeah, because you are sitting in a space that cost over a million dollars to build out, and the chickpea dip is not scooped out of a sad plastic Sabra container with a sketchy pretzel in your dinky Lakeview apartment. At Galit, your nostrils flare at the whiff of charcoal smoke used to roast the tenderest brisket, whose savory juices dribble in to a puree of chickpeas so silky, you could shave with it. That hummus is served with pita pillows billowing yeast and wheat, made to order in a wood-burning oven located just past an expanse of handsome teal-colored glass tile.

If you run out of that pita, because you have entered a carbohydrate catatonia due to the pita’s deliciousness, and house the whole thing mindlessly, they will bring you more.

Read it all—it is worth it, to know what Nagrant thinks is the year’s best restaurant, but also, to think about so much more in 2019 than just food.


Maggie Hennessy likes the Filipino food at the new Cebu, and then she goes beyond liking it to gorging on the lechon belly: “To the raised eyebrows of our server, our entree order didn’t stop with the sisig, chicken inasal or even a heaping plate of eggy pancit noodles. We blamed this on the fact that he sold us on the three-hour roasted lechon belly, offered as a daily special mainly because restaurant only churns out 15 or 20 a night, and they go fast. (Who can resist the lure of a finite quantity?) The skin crunched like hard candy; the succulent, lightly smoky meat beneath whispered of spicy star anise and sweet lemongrass.” (TOC)


The first rule of using a word no one knows in a review is to make sure that at least it is onomatopoeic—that is, that it gives you a picture in your head whether you know the meaning or not. H.L. Mencken was a master of that, trotting out four-dollar German words whose galumphing would do the job even if meaning did not, and he would surely smile at Mike Sula’s review of Lakeview’s Barangaroos Aussie Pies, in which there is “minced ground beef hiding a claymore of melted cheddar like an Anglo-Saxon Jucy Lucy.” (A claymore is a type of land mine, but even if it wasn’t, you could feel that claymore laying heavy on your stomach.) By comparison, a lengthy opening diegesis of the place of meat pies in classical literature, particularly as a vehicle for feeding your enemies their own children, lays there heavily at the start of the review, like… an antipersonnel mine developed in the 1950s. But I’ll never not think of that claymore when going to Barangaroos.

Anyway: “on the day I tried seven of [owner Arjun Seigell’s] nine pies, he was sold out of the aforementioned Mexican. Other flavors will probably be more familiar to the formerly colonized. Interestingly, these are all built around diced chicken breast, a muscle that by its very nature requires aggressive seasoning. The tikka masala (another top seller) is a sweet, lightly curried vehicle, while the buffalo chicken is also a bit cloying, but still layered in a foundation of spicy, buttery, blue cheese lava. Of them all the only one that backs down from any kind of fight is the chicken and mushroom, which seems to build a sturdy bridge between English sobriety and midwestern blandness.”


Happy to see Ina Pinkney out and about again on her breakfast beat, and happy to see she takes in three favorites of mine (in fact all three are in the most recent Fooditor 99). She goes to Astoria Cafe & Bakery for the massive Serbian specialty Komplet Lempinja—”Who can resist a house-baked, large round bread filled with house-made Serbian cream cheese? It’s an ethereal mix of butter and cream cheese, with an egg baked in, and covered with roasted pork shoulder and its juices.”

Then she stops in at two of my offices away from home—first, Finom Coffee, where she finds that “Hungarian food is often thought of as heavy. Think again. Every spoonful was balanced, delicious, mellow and calming. We finished every morsel, which is the true test.” And finally, a return visit to Arbor: “The coffee is carefully sourced: Tonka Bean Latte is made with caramel ‘infused with magic.’ When a menu describes something with magic, I’m all in. It was soul satisfying.”


I can’t remember the last time I ordered a shrimp cocktail—I get my fill of them attending events or weddings. But somebody must, because they’re still on lots of menus, and Nick Kindelsperger has two pieces on the iconic appetizer, and why it has a name that suggests a drink. (Short answer: it descends from an oyster cocktail, which you could actually knock back from a glass.) In piece #1, he delves into its history, including why a seafood dish has so much ketchup, and how it traveled to Mexico to become coctel de mariscos. In piece #2 he looks at some of Chicago’s better examples of the form, including Prime and Provisions’ version containing a single, half-pound shrimp, and Leña Brava’s Mexican-spiced version, Baja Coctel 2.0.


I loved her chicken restaurant Pecking Order and I have picked up the occasional Filipino empanada (tasty if a bit claymore-crusted) from Kristine Subido and her mom at the Logan Square Farmers Market, so I’m excited to hear that she’s taking over Free Rein in the St. Jane Hotel, as Anthony Todd tells us: “Pecking Order closed a few years ago, but Subido has been insanely busy, running a popular catering business based on Pecking Order’s menu, doing meal kits for the uber-health-conscious CrossFit crowd, and oh yeah, raising her two kids. But it was time for Subido to jump back in, and this was the perfect gig. ‘I know what it’s like to run a hotel, and a restaurant, and to give it personality, and not just become a hotel restaurant,’ says Subido.”


There’s some serious randomness to Titus Ruscitti’s latest collection of reviews—Twain, where he tries the Provel-cheese-coated burger but really likes the beef tallow-fried fries; a Shaanxi noodle joint in Hoffman Estates; and Honey Baked Ham Company, where he finds a perfectly satisfying tavern ham sandwich: “When I learned that Honey Baked Ham Co. was founded in Detroit I got a little more confident in them. There’s nowhere else in the States where they take ham sandwiches as serious as Detroit does. Turns out as far as a sandwich franchise goes these guys are pretty serious about ham sandwiches too.”


I had to check the date on Crain’s roundup of hot chicken sandwiches for lunch, as they’re all places that have been around a while—and at least two have closed locations along the way. (While the newest contender, Fry the Coop, doesn’t merit inclusion because it’s too far away in Oak Lawn and Elmhurst.) Anyway, Gus’s comes in for a serious burn: “The chicken tastes like a much better, spicier version of grocery-store heat-lamp chicken.” While Roost scores the best: “The good-hurt slow burn of the chicken alone merits the visit, but the true artistry lies in the quilting of textures and temperatures: crunchy breading, juicy hot chicken, flaky warm biscuit, firm pickles and cool coleslaw.”


Lisa Shames goes into wild and wonky Machine (the place with the in-house florist and the drinks whose ice you smash with a little baby hammer): “But lest you get the wrong idea, Machine is more than just the offbeat talking point the Florist offers. Chef Trevor Hoyte, who has worked at IPO and AraOn, creates food that connects to the restaurant’s midwestern roots as well as his own, which includes growing up in Barbados and living in New York.” (Sophisticated Living)


As a trend, food halls are currently producing both more food and news than I can quite keep up with, but Block Club Chicago has two stories about food hall news that does interest me. In Politan Row Food Hall—aka the one in the new McDonald’s headquarters—I’m excited to see the new business started by Friend of Fooditor Margaret Pak, who got her start cooking at Kimski, a Keralan restaurant called Thattu: “Pak’s dishes are heavily coconut based and use an assortment of aromatics. The Thattu menu features hearty Kerala curries, house-made appam, and savory masala cookies, as well as Pak’s signature egg curry — boiled eggs simmered in coconut gravy, served with fermented rice flour pancakes.”

And way down south in Pullman, a food desert for sure, there’s now three African-American-owned startup businesses in the new One Eleven Food Hall.


You’ll want to clip this ice cream roundup from the Sun-Times and keep it in your pocket (you could also just bookmark it on your phone, but hey ice cream is about retro pleasures) and eat your way through it this summer, as it has everything from classics (Rainbow Cone) to new sensations (Pretty Cool) to Filipino and Mexican treats.


The headline puns “Pleased To Meat You,” but if you’ve shopped at Butcher & Larder you likely met McCullough Kelly-Willis, who worked there for four years before starting Chicago Meat Collective: “There are no vegans seeking schooling on ethical meat consumption, nor casual meat-eaters with a lot of free time on their hands. These are people who appreciate the kind of flavor, texture and satisfaction only meat can offer, but feel conflicted about the legitimate concerns of sustainability around meat-eating, or alienated by the quality of industrial meat processing. On both issues, the CMC educates consumers on the sustainable practices of their local source farms and the ways that cutting meat with precision ensures less waste and a greater yield.” (NewCity)


One of my favorite places I’ve ever been is Istanbul—friendly, buzzing with vitality and with food that’s simple and totally likable. Steve Dolinsky recently went and so the new episode of The Feed, chronicling his trip including a food tour, was mezze to my ears.

While on ABC7 he visits another Fooditor favorite, our Best Restaurant You’ve Never Heard Of For 2018, Munno Pizzeria & Bistro.


Jacob Bickelhaupt’s Stone Flower opened this weekend, and if more of the national media paid attention to Chicago food other than just popping in one weekend a year to eat in the West Loop, it’d be a big deal that a chef who—as Eater Chicago points out every chance it gets—had both two Michelin stars and a domestic violence charge for assaulting his then-wife is already back with a restaurant where he is front and center, cooking and serving.

That leaves it to local media to stake a position, and Michael Nagrant is first out of the gate on Twitter, announcing, some might say ostentatiously, that he would not be going there and would give “a portion of the funds I might have spent on my $300 dinner here and donated them to the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network.” Soon after, Jeff Ruby followed by saying he would not review it either.

A reasonable position—but so, I think, are the arguments made by Twitter user “Brbinchicago” (a respected local foodie, who I’ve met once or twice in restaurants) following Nagrant’s announcement: “I applaud the donation idea. But I’m still troubled by this trend in social media of making people feel guilty about the decisions they make. So people can’t return to a restaurant until 75% of social media posters agree that a person has served his/her debt to society? I’m wondering where the line is between redemption and life sentence?” Whatever you think of Bickelhaupt and what he did, we haven’t really settled these questions overall.

What do I think? I think before I have to answer the harder questions—is contrition sincere or convenient, what should the penalty be beyond what the justice system already dealt out—there’s a pretty simple answer for me. I helped sell the idea of 42 Grams representing a beautiful union of two souls as much as anybody in food media, writing about them early on and glowingly. Maybe that was all crap from the get-go—in which case I was unwittingly one of crap’s top salesmen. So I’m gonna sit this one out, chief.

More here.


Fascinating piece by Hanna Raskin on how Southern restaurants desegregated in the Civil Rights Era—mainly an oral history of black customers finally getting to go to certain restaurants at last, but also from the restaurateurs’ point of view of either implementing or resisting the change. Talk about irony: “for reasons that would horrify the latter-day farm-to-table crowd, some holdouts experimented with buying only local ingredients. They reasoned that since the Civil Rights Act was passed under Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce, they could get around integration by serving their neighbors’ greens.” (H/t John Kessler)


One of the good things food writing on the internet did was kill the idea that a restaurant, once reviewed, stayed fixed in place. Every review is a provisional report on a place subject to change at any moment; every restaurant is a work in progress. I went to Flat & Point, the sort of barbecue/sort of cheffy dining place in Logan Square. What does that mean exactly? It’s built on smoked meats—you can see a big drum smoker in the kitchen—but it’s not a Smoque wannabe, even if it has a standard BBQ-rustic look. For instance, owner Brian Bruns, who worked at Spiaggia and Tru, serves up first-rate Wagyu brisket with, instead of a pile of fries, a neat row of Hallenbeck potatoes and a small portion of cooked kale. For starters, you can get a pork pate with cherries and housemade mustard. And so on.

I think it will puzzle people looking for ‘que, fries and cole slaw—and I think it will probably all seem more coherent in three or six months. Even so, I have to love that he’s taking classic barbecue and doing his own thing with it. I’ll be back, in less than three or six months, to see where it goes.

I wrote about Temporis, I heard not so great things from a bunch of people who went to a preview dinner, I heard it had a new chef and was better, I went for the first time—and it was goodish; sort of imitation-Alinea food, a lot of perfect little spheres and cubes with a sauce, not much that said, that’s who this guy is.

That was the first two years of its existence. I went again and report that, having survived thanks to Michelin, Temporis is no longer goodish—it is very good indeed; and jumps into the front pack of tasting menu spots and places to take your wife for your anniversary (exactly what I did). Chef Don Young’s food now is freer and looser than in its era of cubes and spheres, sometimes playing with memories and hominess—a rabbit pate under a potato-based sauce is a tribute to meat loaf he ate as a midwestern kid, complete with corn spooned onto the plate from a metal can. Other times he’s just working with flavors you rarely see in a tasting menu—the visual and flavor stunner is, basically, a scallop in an Indian-spiced carrot broth, but on a plate that’s a design riot with sliced fresh almonds and lots of drips and plops.

Service in the tiny (20 seats, no bigger than a condo living room) restaurant is exceptionally warm and attentive (you can see why they won a Jean Banchet award for service last year). I’ve been saying “Jeong” to everyone who asks me where to go for an upper-end meal, but now I’ll have to say “Have you been to Temporis—lately?”