Nick Kindelsperger tried pastrami around town (and, one assumes given the salt content, tap water offerings around town as well). He reports on the former at least, noting both deli classicists (yes, Manny’s is there) but also—you’d never guess—what different barbecue spots in the region do with a brined hunk of brisket or beef navel on a smoker, for example at Station One in Plainfield:

Brad Hudetz became intrigued by pastrami in 2009… When he helped open Green Street Smoked Meats in 2014, pastrami was on the menu from the beginning. But the version he’s serving at Station One Smokehouse in suburban Plainfield is closer to his original recipe. Briskets are brined for 10 days, soaked for a day, and then smoked for 12 to 14 hours. The result has a brilliant pink color, except for the dark black pepper-crusted exterior. With a strong smoke backbone, this pastrami isn’t the least bit shy.


An idea seems to be taking hold, which I am happy to go along with: the idea that Daisies, Joe Frillman (and pastry chef Leah Omilinsky)’s pasta-but-not-exactly-Italian restaurant and, now, coffee and pastry shop in Logan Square, just might be the best restaurant in town. What’s interesting is that it’s not a high end fancy place (Alinea, Oriole) or even a step down from the top (like, say, Elske) but very much a midpriced accessible neighborhood joint. A restaurant for the people! I mentioned that it’s my all-purpose recommendation for people who ask me for one here, and Tasting Table a couple of months back may have been the first to officially put it on top of a listicle. Anyway, Michael Nagrant makes the case in depth:

Certainly, Frillman who studied under Rick Tramonto, inventor of the caviar staircase at Tru, traveled around Europe, and apprenticed at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck (then one of the best restaurants in the world) could have gone the pre-fixe arty high-end route.

But, Frillman also worked with Chris Pandel (at The Bristol and Balena) and Paul Virant (at Perennial Virant), masters of executing popular accessible and local and seasonal ingredient-driven cuisine at profit, scale, and with longevity.

Instead of leaning on one of these guys heavily, Frillman is basically like a chef version of Voltron. He has taken the best traits of these mentors and influences and distributed them equally within himself, and added his own Midwestern sensibility and regard for traditional European foodways to create a style that is greater than the sum of all its inspiring parts.

I had to look up what the hell Voltron is (I was thinking it was a Voltaggio brother at first), but it’s interesting that Nagrant, characteristically, uses his advocacy to explore some questions about what you have to be to get major awards and acclaim in the food world:

Michelin will probably reward Daisies one star.

The James Beard awards may recognize Daisies for the best “new” restaurant category next year, but maybe not, since this new incarnation of the restaurant is a reboot of the OG smaller Daisies that launched in 2017.

Even if Daisies and its chef/proprietor Joe Frillman make the finals they might not win because the James Beard awards, which were once given mostly to white male chefs [but] are now rewarded predominantly to BIPOC folks, and a lot more women, (based on the last two years of awards data). This is not a dog whistle or lines to be read between. All I’m saying is that the trends for these particular awards are measurably no longer in pale dudes’ favor. Most everything else, for now, still is.

If you’re a critic playing by the “rules”, you’re not allowed to award the true numerical greatness of Daisies. You can gush of course, but you can’t give Daisies four stars because you been made to believe that rating is only reserved for certain kinds of restaurants and chefs, and only given out once a decade during a blood moon, and only after the ghost of Joel Robuchon has been spotted in its crater formations.

(Incidentally, the one award that I think you can say Daisies has rightly won, and in its very first year, was the 2018 Jean Banchet Award for Best Neighborhood Restaurant.) Anyway, Nagrant has some points to make about how a certain amount of price snobbery is often built into how we judge restaurants—you basically can’t get four stars or their equivalent from anybody without charging a ton of money, because we build certain assumptions about ingredients and level of service into how we judge restaurants, and they have to charge commensurately for them. I was just thinking about that recently… because of a Twitter exchange about sandwiches, burgers and tacos between Nagrant and Titus Ruscitti, which gets into philosophical discussions (follow the subthread here):

@MichaelNagrant May 18
…I would argue there’s also a right answer in one of those cases if not both when the gun is to the head and you have to choose. Like irrespective of everything else the Loyalist Burger is better than Red Hot Ranch.

@chibbqk1ng May 18
It’s better if I need to choose a place to take some clients for drinks and eat and I want a burger. But RHR is better if I’m alone and want to grab a quick dinner under $10. Both v good but they’re not same. Gimme Roadfood type spots over chef driven when it comes to burgers.

And so on, as it demonstrates that it’s very hard to get class out of your head when talking food (even when the upscale joint is deliberately doing a downscale-style burger). Personally, that’s why when I did a burger list for Chicagoist one time, I made it a list of burgers under a certain price, because they’re really in a different business than steakhouses making $15+ burgers. We go to different restaurants for different things, including different levels of experiences, but whichever one you go to Daisies for, I think you’ll be happy.


El Xangarrito is a solid example of what I call square plate Mexican—because modestly upscale places this always seem to have square and rectangular plates to make things seem classier (of course serving on china at all instead of paper or a basket is in that direction). I wrote it up a little here last year and now Steve Dolinsky touts it:

Just two cooks run the small kitchen at El Xangarrito, a straightforward Mexican restaurant on a Ravenswood side street. One of them is Rogelio Benitez, a veteran of several Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. He and his wife opened the restaurant during the pandemic, with a combination of his recipes and her front-of-the-house hospitality.

“We thought that we could start up a restaurant to showcase his food, his ideas,” said Erika, Rogelio’s wife and the co-owner of El Xangarrito.


Titus Ruscitti goes to a couple of new restaurants. First up, Boka Group’s Itoko, which has more than just sushi:

I also had to check out a couple of the non sushi offerings starting with a pork and foie gras gyoza. I remembered there being some good gyoza back at Sumi Robata Bar and it was cooked with a crispy skirt or a lattice like crust which is how I like them. I wasn’t sure how the flavor of foie gras would work mixed with pork but I really liked these in big part because the foie gras was announcing itself to where you knew it was in there. They tasted like pate dumplings so of course they’re going to be delicious. The Beef Chahan (wagyu beef, kaiware, maitake, soft poached egg) was equally delightful and came with a table-side presentation as it’s delivered sizzling and mixed up by your waiter upon arrival (have your camera phones ready, influencers). It had a really nice crispness to it.

Then, Ben Lustbader and Sarah Mispagel-Lustbader’s Loaf Lounge:

…the type of spot that shoots to the top of my hit list upon opening. You can tell they’re doing good things just from looking at pictures and descriptions from others. It was included in a recent list of the ten best new restaurants in town at Chicago Magazine and deservedly so. I already know I’ll be including their sausage, egg, cheese breakfast sandwich as one of the years best bites as it might be the best breakfast sandwich in town right now. It starts out with what they describe as a garlic and maple sausage patty. I asked and they make it there. The rest of the components are pretty straight forward with a fried egg and American Cheese wedged in-between a homemade English muffin that’s slathered with an “herby mayo”. This might not be the best sandwich to eat if you have a ton of things to do or if you’re trying to eat in your car as it’s a glorious mess of runny egg, melted cheese and mayo that along with a sausage patty makes for a pretty slippery sandwich but damn is it delicious.

By the way, if you’re jonesing for Mispagel-Lustbadder’s chocolate cake from The Bear, she published a recipe for it at Food & Wine. Though you might find this a little offputting:

Total Time:
11 hrs 55 mins
But 8 hours of that is chill time for the chocolate mousse.


The Infatuation has two new (to me) reviews! A capsule for Warlord, which sounds aggressive but:

…this New American spot in Avondale is actually very welcoming. We’re talking comfy banquettes and barstools, and chefs dropping off dishes while telling you to stay at your candlelit table or counter seat for as long as you want.

Everyone who’s mentioned it to me has been positive about it; I look forward to more substantial reviews (that’s about half of theirs right there). The other one is a few weeks old, not sure how I missed it, but it’s for a steakhouse called Fioretta:

This Italian steakhouse on the edge of Fulton Market channels mid-century-era glamour, complete with bartenders in waistcoats and a checkered marble floor. But Fioretta delivers on both style and substance.


“If you had asked me a few months back which Chicago chef should start a line of hot dogs, I would have said Dominique Leach,” says Amy Cavanaugh in Chicago. And if I had to name one who already had, it would be Kevin Hickey with his Duck Inn duck fat dogs, which is what I went shopping for—but my Mariano’s was out of them, while they did have Dominique (Lexington Betty’s) Leach’s wagyu steak dogs, so I bought some of those for Memorial Day grilling. That’s in the future as I write this, so I can’t tell you how they were yet, but here’s Cavanaugh:

I can confirm that the smoky sausages are tasty grilled and dressed with mustard and onions, but Leach doesn’t stop there. “I’ve made jambalaya and breakfast sandwiches and mixed them with scrambled eggs,” she says. At her Pullman restaurant, she serves them three ways: dragged through the garden; with pico de gallo, avocado crema, and pickled jalapeño; and with spicy barbecue sauce.


At NewCity, Monica Kass Rogers visits Windy City Mushroom, which grows for restaurants near Ford City:

Going far beyond the little white buttons or porcini most of us have eaten, Windy City specializes in exotics, growing Chestnut mushrooms, Elm, Italian, Blue and Black Pearl King Trumpet Oyster mushrooms, Maitake, Comb Tooth, Reishi and two kinds of Lion’s Mane.

“They are all delicious, with huge health benefits,” says  [co-owner John James] Staniszewski, explaining that research has shown Lion’s Mane to help prevent memory loss, and Oyster mushrooms are low-calorie, low-fat, high-fiber morsels loaded with vitamin D and potassium, plus containing all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein. But good stuff notwithstanding, most home cooks need coaching on how to prepare them.

Great pictures by Rogers, too.


Bon Appetit has a listicle on the best New York City slices to be found outside of NYC. I thought Jimmy’s might turn up on it as the lone Chicago entry (there’s only eight in total), so I skimmed it—no Jimmy’s, but instead a place in Lakeview I don’t recall ever hearing about called Zazas:

When Brett Nemec was developing his pie at Zazas Pizzeria, he was intent on achieving a crust that his customers wouldn’t want to discard. “A lot of times, if you eat crust on its own, it just tastes like underseasoned bread, which is why a lot of people just leave their crust on the plate,” he says. Nemec’s solution? He infuses Sicilian olive oil with rosemary and garlic, lets it sit overnight, and then brushes it over the crust of every cooked pie, along with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. The toppings at Zazas are similarly exalted: whipped ricotta dollops on a white pie with a sesame seed crust; locally made soppressata paired with fennel oil and Mike’s Hot Honey; ’roni cups and basil. Nemec is a particular fan of Zazas’ chimichurri pie, which has a base of garlic cream and mozzarella, layered with fennel sausage, pepperoncini, charred shallots, feta, and drizzled with house-made chimichurri.


Congrats to Mari Katsumura, who had a rollercoaster ride when she took over the Grace space with Yugen, which earned a Michelin star but apparently never did much business (it had an… interesting habit of “being closed for a private party” when, many suspected, it was closed for lack of reservations in the book). It finally closed for good with owner Michael Olszewski saying that Katsumura was leaving the industry, which I was told then was news to her. Well, she’s back—at the Cherry Circle Room in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Eater calls it a downtown darling, which is a bit of a tall claim for me, but here’s what I will say—it is, with Boka, one of the top choices open on Mondays.


Last week I just had a brief link to the latest episode of Amuzed. This week, I get a call from Michael Muser basically saying, “I talked for three hours with Brian Enyart from the depths of our souls, and all we get is ‘Check it out’?” Well, I hadn’t actually listened to it myself yet! I was busy listening to (Trotter somm) Larry Stone talking about fighting corruption in the wine trade in the 80s, for my book! So I started listening to it while walking my very old and slow dog, fittingly since a lot of it is about pets (Enyart, co-owner with his wife Jennifer of Dos Urban Cantina, wound up during COVID with five new cats), and I’m only about 40 minutes into it—but Muser is right, it deserves listening to as they both bare their souls about life as an owner in the atmosphere after COVID. Go here and listen when you have a long road trip or a lot of laundry to do. Or a dog to walk twice a day, forever.

In the meantime, the Joiners Podcast talks to Dan Raskin, the latest generation running Manny’s.


What’s a Yorkshire Pudding Wrap, also known as a British Burrito? As you might guess, it hasn’t got a lot to do with anything an American would call a burrito, but the picture at Sandwich Tribunal looks pretty tasty anyway:

British Burrito, though, seems to be something of a misnomer, and one that damns the dish with expectations inherited from its zestier Tex-Mex namesake. This is not a flatbread stuffed with spicy beans, meat, and cheese, with bright salsas, with crisp and pungent onions and cilantro, with rice and tomatoes and lettuce and all manner of items straight from the Chipotle steam tables. It is, in fact, very much one of those stodgy, Midwestern-friendly meat-and-potatoes affairs that should be right up my alley.

And somehow I had missed this piece at Sandwich Tribunal, ironically since I’m mentioned in it, on the Breaded Steak Sandwich:

A breaded steak sandwich has a lot in common with a veal parmesan sandwich, or a chicken parm, or eggplant parm–you might call it a Milanesa Parmesan in fact. It consists of thin slices of beef steak, usually cut like Milanesa from a leaner primal like a bottom round. The steak is coated in seasoned breadcrumbs and fried crisp, then served in a long roll with red sauce and, optionally, mozzarella cheese. As with many of Chicago’s sandwiches, additional condiment options include sweet peppers, which are roasted or sauteed bell peppers, or hot giardiniera, the salty, sour, spicy pickled vegetables packed in oil that feature also in the Italian Beef.


I hit El Habanero once in a while when I need a quick, cheap Mexican meal. I think I better go give them some business the Logan Square taqueria out now: they’ve been burglarized twice in recent weeks, and have a GoFundMe up to help with repairs. Block Club has details; the GoFundme is here.


Not that steak ever goes away in Chicago, but we’re having a definite steakhouse moment, with two bits of red meat news in the last week or so—Smoque Steak opening, and the announcement of the replacement for Greek restaurant Nisos, to open in July. (On the other hand, the Cooper’s Hawk Winery chain fell back to a defensive position in the burbs.) I’m mildly curious, but don’t really care that much about steak in restaurants—it all seems the same to me. I can get a baked potato and a tub of creamed spinach as a side? Be still my heart.

Once in a while there’s a place that breaks the mold enough to make me curious enough to spend real money and not just do skirt steak on the grill. Boeufhaus was one, so was El Che. And this year there’s Asador Bastian, from Doug Psaltis (RPM Steak), his wife Hsing Chen, and another Lettuce vet, Christian Eckmann, who spent time at Arzak in Spain. The concept is to do an American-accessible version of a San Sebastian-region asador, or… steakhouse.

No, really, it sounds interesting, because it’s not about just grilling a nice marbled ribeye—at present they offer three choices of steak, which you order by the pound (for at least two people). And that doesn’t mean you order, say, one pound—the waiter comes to your table with notes saying what sizes of which cut they have, and they try to get as close to your preferred volume of cow as they have (but in our case, we went up a little on everything we ordered that way—and note that part of the weight will be bone, which you can gnaw on unashamedly). The most conventional choice is a 20-day dry-aged Holstein from Flannery Beef in California, the most expensive is something called Tajima from Peacock Angus Ranch in Texas, but the interesting one for all of us at my table was the Galiciana, from an Australian supplier, Vintage Beef Co., doing Galician-style aged to at least 5 years before slaughter (more than twice the usual age, says their website).

So it’s nice, a robust flavor, well prepared, a little extra funk from the aging. You want a steak, it’s a heck of a nice steak. You want someone to wax poetic about red meat, I suggest you go read Nick Kindelsperger’s review from a few weeks ago, because I’m going to offer a contrarian opinion, but one sincerely held: if you go eat at Asador Bastian, don’t feel obligated to order steak.

In most steakhouses that would be nuts, or as pointlessly contrarian as the woman in a Slate letter this week who went to a snazzy cocktail bar and ordered a glass of milk. (“Milk was a bad choice,” in the words of Ron Burgundy.) But it’s neither nuts nor contrarian—Bastian is a Spanish restaurant, and a very good one. There’s a nice if not wildly varied selection of pintxos at the top of the menu, and some really nice fish (also sold by weight, and they’ll tell you what weights they have), and very likable desserts by Chen (who came from The French Laundry and Manresa). And all that would make a really nice Spanish meal, sin carne.

We started with a Spanish tortilla (egg and potato, not related to a Mexican tortilla of fried masa), which was surprisingly gooey inside (after I posted a picture of it, a couple of people said that’s how it’s supposed to be; maybe in Galicia but that wasn’t my experience in Madrid or Catalonia); the blandly-named “Melody of Vegetables,” which sounds like a side in a cafeteria but turned out to be a remarkably flavorful, buttery plate of things from asparagus to turnips, tossed in something like pesto; some nicely fried artichokes, a very good frisee salad with a lightly creamy dressing, and some pintxos of fresh anchovies on toast. Anchovies aside, that’s more vegetables than I saw in two weeks in Spain, so not precisely authentic—but damned good.

For an entree besides steak, we got a turbot filet, which arrived swimming in butter with charred bits from the grill—outstanding, and substantial enough for four to split on its own. There’s an actual sommelier on the floor, so we started with a recommended Albamar Capitan Xurelo, which was a bit fruity but generally fit my idea of a Spanish red, but along the way he brought us a taste of Guimaro Ribeira Sacra Mencia, which I thought was more complex and interesting and said so, so he left it for us, on the house (I didn’t mean it as a criticism of the first wine, I promise!) We finished with two of Chen’s desserts (one sent out), a Citrus Coupe (citrus-flavored ice atop Creme Catalan, or something like it) and a Basque cheesecake filling the traditional role of steakhouse cheesecake (but lighter and more appealing to me). You can see pics of most of these things on my Instagram feed here.

The restaurant is located in River North’s Flair House, an 1880s brownstone building named for the marketing agency that was resident there (and decorated it in very 60s baroque excess). I’m a little sorry that admittedly dated interior seems to have been gutted, but it begins with a comparably ornate, but darker and richer-looking entrance, stairway and bar; the dining rooms are handsome but rather plain by comparison. Still, it feels like money, and it goes onto my list of places to impress people, in a more interesting way on several levels than a barn of a steakhouse. Go for a good steak—or not.