This week I spoke with Scott Weiner and Greg Mohr, owners of The Fifty/50 Group, who were one of the first to pivot immediately to feeding hungry industry people, shortly teaming up with The Lee Initiative to turn donated produce into meals for the hungry during the Coronavirus era. Listen here or here:


No lengthy screed this week, but a short one about the Alison Roman business, which (somewhat awkwardly) was my way into various subjects last week, saying I was happy not to care about it. A couple of people replied to me saying, but it shines important light on important issues about race and cultural appropriation in food. Which indeed it might.

But two points. The first is kind of a Twitter sanity point. If a fight breaks out on Twitter, and you’ve barely heard of the people involved, that’s an excellent reason to go on not hearing of them and not getting dragged into it.

The second point comes back to one of the famous aphorisms of the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.” This became a cliché so quickly that few understood its great insight—that the nature of the medium itself is its true content, over its content. For example, some watch Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, some watch Sean Hannity on Fox News. In a sense those are the two sides of the debate, left and right. But you know what’s on both sides? Television. There is no side, when it’s framed that way, in which “not getting your politics from TV,” and reading books and taking walks in the woods and preferring jazz, is a side. You must take a side in which TV sets the terms of the debate. In which you bow down to the box and its constant stream.

This is true of all media—a Twitter fight is still all on the Twitter side. A celebrity fight still celebrates celebrities. A New York media fight still stresses the primacy of New York media and the insignificance of everywhere else. There may be important issues about POC chefs being stolen from underlying the Alison Roman fight—but as long as you are talking about the New York food media celebrity on Twitter, what you’re not doing is writing about POC chefs in Chicago. Well, I just did. So I don’t buy that I’m neglecting those issues because I’m not dealing with them within the narrow boundaries of how celebrity-driven media tells me I’m supposed to deal with them. Somebody else can win the award for that piece.

(Speaking of last week’s rant, Monica Eng tells me she was in Best Food Writing—a different series, but functionally the same—in 2009. And John Kessler helpfully points out that he was in it a couple of years ago with a piece ragging on Chicago—probably this one. Well, at least they know what they like from our city!)


Good news! We’re going to get a casino! We can’t decide how people will people will be able to go to restaurants that we already have, but we’re planning to pack hundreds into an unbuilt casino.

Meanwhile, hope for the restaurant industry was extended by Governor Pritzker, who said restaurants would be able to start reopening in Illinois on May 29, and promptly snatched away by Mayor Lightfoot, who said Chicago wasn’t ready, which is true in that Chicago’s mayor has not actually issued safety guidelines for restaurants, which makes it kinda hard for them to plan. Maybe you want to get on that one now that you’ve won the casino, Madam Mayor. Maybe in June!

Eater also sums up another issue: “There’s also confusion over whether bars without food will be permitted to operate. The state’s rule mentions ‘restaurants and bars,’ but it seems that refers to businesses that include both, like “bar & grill” restaurants…. Licensing adds to the confusion — taverns can’t have sidewalk patio licenses without food.” It’s only been sixty days, what’s your hurry?


I meant to link to this lovely piece last week, and forgot, which is probably just as well. Chandra Ram in Plate (registration required) on what restaurants will have to revive beyond their finances and their staffs: “What I miss most from restaurants are the moments — inhaling wood fire and wine as you walk into a warm room on a chilly night amid the sounds of people laughing and pans clattering on the stove. The luxury of sitting on a sunny patio with an icy cheap beer. Diving into a basket of French fries straight from the fryer and hastily dipping them into a ramekin of aïoli before they burn your fingers. Falling into a real conversation with the bartender or person next to you at the bar and leaving your phone untouched for a whole hour.”

Anthony Todd asks what writers should say at a hard time for restaurants: “Once I started looking, I saw this sentiment popping up all over the internet. Food criticism, both amateur and professional, isn’t appropriate right now, because of the immense stress the restaurant industry is under. Bitterness about Yelp reviewers seems to have hit a new high, which is quite a feat given how high it was among chefs before the world descended into chaos.”

Mike Sula tells you about a documentary (which you can stream through the Siskel Film Center) about grand old dame (or maybe God-dame fits better) of Mexican food Diana Kennedy.

Nick Kindelsperger talks to Phillip Foss about the latest turn in what has proved to be a career of ping-ponging between fine dining and delivery food.

Louisa Chu talks to restaurateurs about what reopening will look like.

“People who cook want to make food that makes people happy, and nobody gets mad when they see a sandwich,” Ryan Pfeiffer of Blackbird tells Amy Cavanaugh by way of explaining Sandwich in Place, a social media effort to cheer people up by enlisting other chefs in creative sandwich making online.

Eater talks about a cool collaboration between two restaurants run by immigrant women, Saigon Sisters in the West Loop and Demera Ethiopian Restaurant in Uptown—they’ll each offer food from the other to takeout customers.

Liz Grossman has a nice piece at Plate on Margaret Pak and Vinod Kalathil’s Thattu—they were all set for a research trip to India when they had to close: “Pak was especially interested in diving into the northern Malabar region (where she first had the coriander chicken curry) and the tropical town of Alleppey, home to another curry that intrigued her. ‘I fell in love with a duck curry dish there, and that’s when I realized there’s so much I don’t know about the intricacies of Kerala,’ she told me. ‘I knew I needed to go back and figure out how to make it.’”

I mentioned that Todd Stein had left The Bristol and Formento’s for the Gibson Group’s Quartino, and Michael Nagrant interviews him about that and gets this dose of cold, hard reality in the chef’s life: “I went to work with John [Ross] and Phil [Walters] at B Hospitality, because I wanted one last shot at food. Quartino’s is part of Gibsons. They have high volume, high sales, and a reputation for taking care of their employees and providing a good work and life balance for 15 years and that’s amazing.”

You could watch Steve Dolinsky’s piece on how two South Side doughnut institutions—Old-Fashioned and Dat Donut—are doing. You could also turn the sound off and just have a zen moment of doughnuts being made…


Another thing I’ve meant to link to for a couple of weeks is a magazine site called The Quarantime Times, started by Ed Marzsewski and others, covering (as you might expect, art, social issues, food and drink. There’s lots to read here, including Won Kim interviewing Bill Kim about how his restaurants have handled the situation, a piece by the bartender, Laura Kelton, of (so far, short-lived) Mundano about why she launched a support group for laidoff industry folk, and Dana Cree talking about shutting down Pretty Cool except for takeout:

Restaurants can see millions of dollars flow through them each year, but they capture such a slim percentage of that revenue that when the flow stops, there isn’t nearly enough reserved to pay rent, insurance premiums, and the backlog of invoices for food, supplies, and beverage purchased on consignment terms: delivered today, but paid for after it is sold to the customer. The larger the business, the bigger the gap, the faster they can come crashing down. Likewise, the smaller the business, the smaller the regular revenue, the faster they can come crashing down.

Anyway, add it to you regular internet stops.


Hecky Powell, African-American restaurateur who owned Hecky’s Barbecue in Evanston and was a fixture on the Evanston restaurant scene, died of COVID-19 related causes. Maureen O’Donnell’s Sun-Times obituary is here.

And Steve Dolinsky reports the death of Carl Bonavolanto Sr., one of the original owners of Mr. Beef on Orleans.


Katana, the Japanese steakhouse which I think I described to Anthony Todd (or it could be the other way around) as looking like a Bond villain lair; Mable’s Table, a kind of cozy American spot in Bucktown; Habana Libre in West Town, one of the better Cuban cafes in town.


It was a big anniversary and so we wanted to do it up fancy—we got French food from Le Bouchon. At first it looked more like a meal kit than takeout—I had a rather pale duck I had to roast myself—but it proved a worthy feast by the end, with excellent instructions (though they could label the components; I had a little session of tasting and deduction by elimination to figure out what went where). The kids discovered they like foie pate on crusty bread.

That said, after three fancy meals and about a hundred deli cups in a week, I kind of hit a wall on fancy food for at least a short time, and the only thing I’ve ordered since is pizza (Jimmy’s, since it is about to get pushed out of its building). We’ll see how long cooking every meal lasts this time.