John Kessler reviews Kindling, from the Fifty/50 Group and chef Jonathon Sawyer, in the Willis Tower. The food, mostly smoked over a big open pit, is promising:

My favorite bites have been among the appetizers and side dishes, where Sawyer’s perspective best shines. His signature confit chicken wings are spicy on the lips but silken to the teeth, a texture that makes you want to strip the bones clean. A Greek salad arrives as a compressed square of diced and dressed veggies to pile atop Little Gem lettuce leaves. The “schmaltzy” beans and greens, a brothy mixture of cranberry beans and Swiss chard, would be the most memorable side dish at any luxe steakhouse. I also enjoy the Julia Child–style fries cooked in beef suet, so named for her love of old-school McDonald’s fries. Once I can track down our server to bring the forgotten “gardinieraioli” and ketchup, the fries are almost worth the $11 price.

But as that last sentence suggests, service is the problematic issue:

The kitchen goofs up, and the servers find themselves in the weeds too often for the prices charged. Over three visits, I’ve had to ask several times for silverware, water, and other amenities. As a guest, you may revel in the brash vitality of this place, or you may find yourself lost in the shuffle of an understaffed and undertrained crew.


As you probably have read here, I recommend Daisies a lot to people, and in describing it I usually call it “a pasta restaurant, but not exactly an Italian restaurant.” What exactly does that mean? Louisa Chu explains it further:

The restaurant’s identity has expanded beyond the initial guiding question posed by chef and owner Joe Frillman: If the Midwest was a region in Italy, what would the food look like?

We can go to Italy and find wonderful things. But we can’t go anywhere except Daisies to find its particular and sometimes peculiar collection of dishes — beef tongue, salmon collars and parsnip gelato, for a start.

Lots about how the food continues to evolve at Daisies, but the most interesting part to me is the discussion with pastry chef-partner Leigh Omilinsky about the intent behind the (substantial) service charge on the bill:

“A lot of people do not realize the difference in pay between front of house and back of house,” Omilinsky said. “Especially at places like a big steakhouse where servers can bring home six figures, and line cooks are not making that.”

A lot of people say we’ve got to do something about it, she added, until it’s their money.

“So here is a person who has the ability to make a change and educate,” she said of [chef-owner Joe] Frillman. “The more restaurants that do things like have a service charge, and make health insurance just part of your job, the better we are as a whole.”


Atelier, the successor to Elizabeth in that Lincoln Square space (now with a sign for the first time), impresses Grimod, who offers a detailed history of chef Christian Hunter’s past experiences at vaguely similar farm to table restaurants (I learned a lot) before getting to his work here:

Atelier’s owner [Tim Lacey] would reveal that he “didn’t have any sort of style or aesthetic in mind” when searching for a chef. “If it wound up being classical French, great, if it wound up being, I don’t know, this Bosnian-Basque mash-up, great,” he said, so long as it was somebody whom he “could get excited about and get behind and support to do what they love, what they’re good at.” This kind of philosophy connected to the restaurant’s namesake, the aforementioned Trio Atelier in Evanston where owner Henry Adaniya “was finding people whose time it was and giving people the opportunity and the space to do what it was that they were passionate about and good at.” Lacey “really liked” where Hunter’s “head was at with what he was trying to do with his food” and, upon conducting a tasting, found his flavors to be “just really tight and complex without being overwhelming.” The owner, as Adaniya had done, felt it was time for the chef to have “the opportunity to do what he was excited about….to have that shot.” Most of Elizabeth’s staff would be staying on to help him fulfill that potential.

Stylistically, it was clear that Hunter’s “priorities matched some of Regan’s.” Namely, as the earlier chapters of his career demonstrate, he is “really focused on utilizing local products, but trying to be inventive and creative with [them].” Despite that experience, the chef described himself as coming in “from a place of respect and humbleness” because Chicago is not his hometown. Still, he would “try to represent it and use the local food and really try to become part of that community”—the goal being “to push the food” the way he wants to, “which is supporting local, but having really cool, awesome flavors to go with that.” That would include celebrating “the different nationalities and flavors and everything that makes a place a place” including his community and himself.


A hotel downtown just started serving Japanese breakfast. (Steve Dolinsky just went, so I suspect he’ll do a story on it soon.) To be honest, what the Japanese eat for breakfast is a bit of a mystery for me, since my attempts to explore this in Tokyo led me to a lot of French pastries and one place which did American breakfast with milk bread (and was fantastic, but not convinced it was very Japanese). Anyway, Japan isn’t the only one doing cross-cultural breakfast in Asia; DaNang Kitchen on Argyle is now doing Vietnamese brunch, though as Mike Sula points out:

There’s no such thing as brunch in Vietnam.

That’s according to Jeanette Tran-Dean of the Vietnamese-Guatemalan pop-up Giống Giống. “It’s eat morning or eat night,” she tells me.

Nevertheless, Argyle Street’s DaNang Kitchen recently started offering a “Vietnamese brunch,” featuring a few relatively uncommon dishes that can address a Western appetite for hangover-mitigating egg skillets.

Turns out that the Vietnamese don’t have the brunch tradition—but they’re quickly inventing one.


Michael Nagrant reviews Thattu (Thattwo-Point-O?), the new Avondale incarnation of Margaret Pak’s restaurant, which I enjoyed multiple times when it was in the COVID-doomed Politan Row food hall, as well as when it did pop-ups at Kimski, and explains why it’s something new in South Asian food in Chicago:

Pak is making little earthquakes with her cooking. This is very little if any compromise made for the white bro-set. Thattu is not a butter chicken concern. There is fried chicken and yes, sure, there are tater tots on the menu, but they’re sprinkled with a sweet and spicy chaat masala reminiscent of the defunct sweet spice-dusted fries at Susie’s Drive Thru (RIP) and accompanied by spicy beet ketchup.

…Pak’s chicken curry is rife with coriander perfume and slick with silky cashew gravy.  Sopping it up with a bubbly fermented coconut crepe, also known as appam is a privilege. I don’t know if Thattu is planning brunch, but I would kill for a short stack of Thattu’s Appam stuffed with chutney and drizzled with some kind of infused syrup should that come to pass.

Hey, you never know who’s going to start serving brunch.


On vacation I try to hit as many places as I can, so if I return to one more than once on the same trip, I must love it so much that I want to experience it as often as I can before I leave. (See: Japanese milk bread breakfast place.) One of those for me was a cag kebab place in Istanbul, Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebabi. What, you ask, is cag kebab? Well, let Steve Dolinsky tell you, as he visits perhaps the only cag kebab place in the U.S., Chicago’s Cafe Istanbul:

Döner is everywhere in Istanbul.

The majestic towers of lamb and beef are essential to the Turkish diet. But there’s also cag kebab, the vertical döner’s horizontal ancestor, made from all lamb. Both have one thing in common.

“It all starts with quality meat,” said Turkish food writer Cemre Torun. “And then the craftsmanship of the usta – the master – who stacks it and then cuts it so it’s really thinly cut. For both of them, charcoal is essential.”

But words only get you so far—it’s the video images of a lamb log cooking in front of a fire that will make you want to try it, sooner rather than later.


Titus Ruscitti goes to once-essential dining strip Taylor Street to eat at Peanut Park Trattoria:

Peanut Park opened right around the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. So it’s been around for more than a year. It’s a joint project from the guys behind Coalfire Pizza and Tempesta Market. They wanted to bring an old world feel back to one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods while giving the food a little bit of a fresh feel. So they opened a spot that fits right into the neighborhood as far as looks and feel, but the menu isn’t quite like you would find at other spots on Taylor. It’s seasonal and includes fresh made pasta among other upgrades. Take for example a linguine made with blue crab, honey espelette, chili butter, and chive. No tomatoes, no cream, no need for any cheese. Safe to say this is a pasta dish you would not find on Taylor back in the 80’s. We were told it’s the most popular of their pasta offerings so it seems they’re giving the neighborhood a little bit of the change it wants.


I’ve driven by the big flea market near 41st and Ashland, but never ventured inside it, so Lisa Futterman’s piece on the Maxwell-like array of food stands inside it, at WTTW, reveals a world largely unseen by most Chicagoans:

The actual cooking of all of this food happens under tents and awnings on portable griddles, or in tricked-out food trucks. One regular vendor, operating out of an empty loading dock on 43rd street just west of Damen, carves pork al pastor off of a traditional trompo, which resembles the cone-shaped skewered stack of meat that gyros is cooked on, then crisps it on the griddle before piling it onto fresh tortillas. An elaborate salsa bar allows you to dress your own taco with your choice of almost a dozen condiments, like pickled jalapenos and fiery red salsa, before indulging at a table inside.

Vendors hail from many of the regions that make up Mexico’s complex and culinarily diverse culture. Sinaloan-style ceviches share the street with tacos “Estilo DF” (from Mexico City) and carnitas de Michoacan. Some days you might find Venezuelan arepas (look for the flag!) or the aforementioned pupusas in the mix.


Mezcal expert Lou Bank explains why you need to drink more. Well, mezcal, from the right fields:

…that romantic picture that was painted? It still exists. You’re not drinking it, but it’s out there. Less than a million liters of mezcal were produced in 2010. And while some of the people making that mezcal have changed their operations to meet demand, many have not. And some of that can be found in bottles that make their way up to the United States. It’s more expensive than what your bartender is pouring into your Oaxacan Old Fashioned, but, hey, it should be. Romance isn’t cheap.


Can’t say I go out for Ethiopian that often, but I did go to Tesfa in Uptown once, and I think it made the Fooditor 99 that year. It hasn’t gotten much other attention (though I think Sula wrote about it once), so The Infatuation reviewing it is a pleasant surprise:

These platters are like a painter’s palette, with a choice of six to eight dishes laid out on spongy injera. But one should be front and center: the doro wot. Each bite of berbere sauce-covered chicken blankets you in warmth. The asa leb leb is also fantastic—the catfish is the ideal canvas for jalapeños, garlic, onions, and ginger. And vegetarian options like ater kik alicha, with cumin and turmeric-seasoned split peas, deserve a seat at the table (or spot on the injera), too.


You probably don’t need a piece introducing you to Chicago’s greatest summertime street scene… Mario’s Italian Lemonade. But the pictures at WTTW capture it well even if you already know the story.


Certainly at collaborations up and down the food chain. Next Saturday there will be a collaboration between Chef Jenner Tomaska of Esme and J.P. Graziano’s—a beef tongue sandwich. The real indication of how worlds meet is that (all week) you can also get Esme’s giant Cheet-Os—in a giardiniera flavor from Graziano’s house giardiniera. Precise details to follow, but you can see some awfully enticing pics here.


The word “excellence” in Chicgao restaurants tends to go with one (deceased) chef—in fact he wrote a book called Lessons in Excellence from Charlie Trotter. This interview with the chef-owner of Virtue and Daisies suggests, there is another:

If I can teach you how to cut lemons uniformly as a garnish or for what we call speed lemons — ones you squeeze on food to give it a splash of acid — then I can start to create a process where your attention to detail becomes a little bit more acute.


Won Kim is on the Joiners podcast.

Brian Enyart (Dos Urban Cantina) is on Amuzed.

Monica Eng interviewed Rick Bayless at the Rotary podcast “about his community projects and the ways food can create connections.”


Michael Rubel, who was a bartender at The Violet Hour, Billy Sunday, Estereo and other hotspots, has died at 54. Eater calls him “the cocktail savant who steered Chicago’s unfluential The Violet Hour,” which could just as easily describe one Toby Maloney, but Rubel is worth commemorating as well:

Equipped with an encyclopedic knowledge of spirits and a drive to share his expertise with colleagues and customers, Rubel uprooted his life in 2007 in New York City and moved to Chicago where influential cocktail lounge the Violet Hour would open. One Off Hospitality’s Wicker Park bar helped recast the neighborhood and altered how the country’s bartenders viewed Chicago’s drinking scene.

Impressed by Rubel’s commanding presence, renowned bartender Toby Maloney says he hired him on the spot as general manager at the Violet Hour. The two were also roommates during Violet Hour’s first year. Maloney also works as beverage director at Mother’s Ruin and Loverboy in New York.

“Cocktail bars, especially outside of New York City, didn’t really exist then so there was no assurance of success,” Maloney says. “I’ll be forever indebted to his sense of adventure. The Violet Hour, and the bartenders who worked with him there, benefited hugely from his leap of faith in coming to Chicago.”


All the talk is about a certain French restaurant, which I have not been to, but I happened to go to two less talked about French-ish restaurants in the last week, so let’s be the ones to talk about them.

Brasserie by C&C’s name refers to the fact that it grew out of Bradley Newman’s previous restaurant (and Green City Market stand), Cookie & Carnitas. Sounds an unlikely path to a French brasserie, but Newman worked at Charlie Trotter’s and Tru, so not so unlikely at that. And actually my first thought when I made the reservation was that I would have the three-course cinco de mayo dinner—but I miscalculated and that was the week before. So instead of anything Mexican I had steak frites, a reliable choice, but Newman—who pointed out that the last time we had spoken was probably this event, in the before times—sent me out a couple of extra goodies.

As it happened, I liked the small stuff on the side better than the entree (which wasn’t bad by any means, but needed salt—and a sharper knife), not uncommon in restaurants but a clue as to how best to order here, perhaps. A croquette topped with salmon roe; a bread and butter plate of housebaked crusty bread and herbed butter; a course of asparagus with canned mussels; a taste of something they were making for a catering job, raw tuna topped with fresh strawberry, which Newman said was inspired by a dish that Kee Chan (Heat) used to make—all these were happy, interesting bites. As I left I noted that across the street was the space that formerly held another favorite of mine, Income Tax, which was the epitome of a modest but interesting neighborhood place, and it seems like the very reasonably priced Brasserie by C&C is filling the same slot for Edgewater.

Then, I went to a media dinner at Amy Morton and Debbie Gold’s new French-Moroccan restaurant in Evanston, LeTour—and speaking of the before times, I suspect that I had not been to Evanston since before lockdown. Still I know it well enough (from years of the kids going to school in Rogers Park) that just from the address as I drove up I instantly knew that it was in the empty modernist bank building opposite Comix Revolution, a common after school stop for the kids and me. It’s actually one of the best-designed restaurants I’ve seen in a good little while, making good use of the circular building and its panoramic windows, but then if anybody knows what they’re doing with a restaurant, it’s a Morton.

Anyway, so as I said the concept is French crossed with some Moroccan—a good choice for adding some variety to a French menu, and one I approve of based on my last trip to Paris, where North African food was nearly always the best food we had. (That said, the menu’s not that strict about it, since one of the things our party had was taramasalata, which is Greek.) If I had eaten by myself, this would be a rave review, because I thought both of the things I had were ousttanding—a slice of pissaladiere (carmelized onion, anchovy and olive on a crust baked in the oven, and a pan-fried skate wing served with butter and hazelnuts. I was completely happy with both.

But the people I dined with had less luck with their choices—an eggplant and chickpea salad came out as a kind of softball-sized ball, which was bland and gloppy, while all I know about the steak frites one of them ordered was that it was underwhelming and a bit chewy—surprising given the sales pitch we’d gotten up front about how Amy Morton, as a daughter of Arnie, knew her steaks (and the place it came from, Meats by Linz, is generally well-regarded). Another at our table had lamb with couscous, which I thought had good enough Moroccan lamb flavor, but didn’t do anything to wow me beyond what I might have at a neighborhood Moroccan restaurant, like Shokran.

Still, I liked what I ordered quite a bit, so I think it’s a worthy place, but peruse the menu carefully. Our server was very good, probably why he was assigned to us media types, but otherwise—well, it’s Evanston, so the servers are going to be Northwestern students, and drinks and dishes will arrive somewhat randomly in front of someone who may or may not have ordered it. Okay, it sounds like I’m getting Kessler-cranky about service, but really I enjoyed it, and would consider it again if I was meeting someone in the area; for Evanston it’s pretty big time.