So David Hammond asked me to write something for NewCity. I thought, man, I’m trying to get this book done, I don’t have time to do freelance for anybody… and then one morning I just started thinking about the long, mostly unknown history of chili in Chicago, which was once the main form of fast food for working men (what’s faster than dishing up a bowl of something already hot?) but which isn’t really that much of a restaurant food any more… though it seems to be on the verge of a comeback. I end with the key to how I make chili at home, by way of a famous chef (whom I had just interviewed on that topic, along with many other things). It took me all of about an hour to write it up—though you could also say it took the last 25 years to know Chicago food history enough to be able to knock it out like that. Anyway, read my piece on chili, one-armed joints (nothing to do with slot machines) and where you can still find chili from the early 20th century in the Chicago area. Plus a couple of pics I took at the old Ramova Grill c. 2010.


There was a time when there’d be a whole table’s worth of Chicago nominees at the James Beard media awards in New York. This year they’re being held in Chicago, at Columbia College, but no need to snag a table for the Chicagoans, because there’s precisely one Chicago nominee. It’s the Trib’s Louisa Chu, who is nominated for the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Criticism Award for pieces on Thattu, on the African-American pastry chef Maya-Camille Broussard, and the soul food restaurant Soulé. Which is exactly what you pick out of your own work to appeal to the Beards in 2024, though Helen Rosner may trump that with one of her three pieces having the up-to-the-minute name “A Jewel of New Jersey’s Palestinian Enclave.” Like Slate, which has a new piece on Taylor Swift every third day, the Beards know what they like—or what they want to be seen liking. In any case, congratulations to Louisa on her first nomination; the awards will be on June 8.


Friend of Fooditor Amber Gibson turns up in the Reader with a piece on someone I met for the first time at MondayBo Durham, executive pastry chef at Mindy Segal’s Mindy’s Bakery. It may bear her name, but she was eager to give most of the credit at Monday’s event announcing her new chocolate line, Lait Extraordinaire, to Durham and another employee:

“Isn’t Bo the best?” Segal says as she pops in with a buttermilk biscuit for me to try right on cue. “He runs the show and has been for a long time. He’s my wife.”

“We call each other our work wives,” Durham explains. “This is the longest relationship I’ve ever been in. This is a small family business, so we’re all family at this point. We have our disagreements like any family does, but for the most part, we are a solid team. I can pretty much anticipate what Mindy needs before she needs it. I can read her mind for the most part.”

Also in the Reader: Mike Sula has a new column devoted to standout dishes called Reader Bites. First up: duck salad at Nha Hang.


Michael Nagrant has issues with La Serre, the other one of our two new glitzy French restaurants. Beginning with the very un-French business of bringing out the food in the order they damn well feel like:

We were warned that dishes at La Serre were prepared “a la minute” and would come however they saw fit. In other words, our kitchen couldn’t be bothered with real pacing.  This is however the way of our new shared plates world and would not normally be an issue. But there are limits to this form, which is to say, no one, except maybe Garfield the cat wants pasta prior to dessert.

But this is where we were, no noodle, but rich with our mains including prime Linz black angus flat-iron beef ranging from grayish chewy well-done on one third to medium-rare on the other.

…Me: “We didn’t get our pasta? Is it coming?”

Our server leaned over the table like a pre-school teacher speaking to a tiny charge in a very diminutive chair and said, “Did you expect it before the mains?”

I thought, well, yes, pastry and pasta isn’t my jam usually, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt, and pleaded, “Not necessarily, but at least with the mains?”

Is pasta not a main? It is most places, I think.


I never knew what the HD in HD Cuisine, a Malaysian restaurant in Wheeling, stood for (some random use of “High Definition”?) Steve Dolinsky reveals that it’s Hawkers’ Delight, a reference to the food stalls in that country:

Hawker Stalls are everywhere in Singapore. We’d call them food courts in the U.S., but in Malaysia, they’re essentially street cart vendors moved indoors, and regulated by the government. Dumplings, curry laksa and Hainanese chicken rice are some of the more popular offerings.

In Wheeling, the hard-to-spot restaurant is more kitchen than dining room, but the family behind it is cooking with gusto, just like back home.

“It’s a mix of Chinese and Malay. Southern Indian and influenced a little bit of Thai, and a combination of the Chinese together,” said owner Lin Randazzo.


I just heard of this new coffee and bakery spot, from Sujan Sarkar (Indienne), the other night, and now every time I open my computer I run across it again. It’s called Swadesi Cafe, and Malavika Ramakrishnan has a piece on it at the Trib:

Swadesi Cafe in the West Loop opened on March 26 and offers customers the sense of sipping chai at home but with a modern menu that beautifully marries French and Indian culinary styles. Pastry chef and co-founder Yash Kishinchand has received training in the French style and his co-founder, chef Sujan Sarkar, looks to reinvent Indian dishes using French techniques. The results are customer favorites: the butter chicken and samosa chaat croissants that combine popular Indian and French delicacies.

Sarkar drew inspiration for Swadesi from the coffee shops in Kolkata, India, which he said really serve tea. “I wanted to create the same space of coming together and chatting but with a modern approach.”


A place in my neighborhood getting hot? Hasn’t happened since Hot Doug’s original location,  but here’s The Infatuation on Tepalcates—sounds like they had an experience like mine:

When you walk into this Mexican restaurant in Roscoe Village, the owner will inevitably pitch you on the restaurant’s food. And he’s got so much charisma (and phone photos and aguas frescas samples), he could convince someone to buy a decrepit used car with no wheels. Fortunately, the food lives up to the owner’s enthusiasm.

They also review Swadesi, and a doner place, Doner 97, in Lincoln Park:

The staff at this small Turkish street-food spot in Lincoln Park will probably greet you with giant knives in hand, slicing up vertical cones of juicy, roasted lamb, beef, and chicken like they’re grooming a juniper tree. Consider this ideal foreshadowing, since the slivers of peppery döner kebab are exactly what you want.


Titus Ruscitti went to Argentina (presumably report coming) but first he tells us about popping over to Chile’s main city:

With the seasons in South America being reversed it was the dead of summer in Santiago. In fact they were in the middle of a brutal heatwave that caused wildfires in nearby Valparaiso. The heat really did a number on me and because of it I didn’t get to explore the city the way I usually would. I had plans to take a daytrip to Valparaiso but the fires and the heat prevented that from happening. Four days was enough to get a feel for the city but it took a couple of days getting used to that heat. Santiago gets a bit of a bad rap as being boring but it’s a very modern city with lots of history and a beautiful backdrop surrounded by the mountains. It’s also the home to a rising food scene as documented by Nicholas Gill of the New Worlder Substack (highly recommend subscribing). As travel becomes more widespread, the world gets smaller so eventually Santiago will get it’s due but before we get to the food here’s my advice to you – I wouldn’t plan a trip solely to Santiago but it’s worth checking out paired with somewhere else in Chile or Peru or Argentina.


John  #1: Kessler, who despite what he told Buzz List two years ago (“I’m not a huge, huge consumer of American street food… But there are other food writers and everything, so it’s okay”) gives in to the siren call of the Vienna Beef hot dog, and provides Food & Wine with a short guide to Chicago dogs. Here he is on the primal appeal of the char dog at Fatso’s (good, though my favorite, which I will drive a half hour for on days I need to get out of the house, is Rand Red Hots in the burbs):

This is the best choice for char dogs — hot dogs cooked until they start to sweat and shrivel over a charcoal-fueled grill. Before going on the grill, the cooks notch the ends of the dogs with a crisscross, so the ends turn into crispy-crunchy nubbins. The first bite and the last bite are the best.

John #2: John’s Food and Wine, which unsurprisingly gets prominent play in a piece at Food & Wine on the new QR Code/order from the table way of doing things, by Maggie Hennessy:

“Every service model, every labor model, is going to have some areas that need improvement,” says Adam McFarland, chef and co-owner with chef Tom Rogers of John’s Food & Wine. “Whether at a traditional restaurant where you’re trying to flag down a server or in a place like ours where you haven’t seen our service style before and we have to gently guide you through it. We’re not trying to say no; we’re just trying to find different ways to say yes.”

10. HE’S BACK!

Michael Olszewski, the real estate developer/restaurant investor who had legal tangles with Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser over Grace (more here), also had tangles with Loyola University over his other restaurant, the short-lived Onward. Guess what? The litigious Mr. Olszewski is suing them, too:

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Loyola University of Chicago wrongfully evicted fine dining restaurant, Onward, on its Lake Shore Campus, according to the now-shuttered restaurant’s owner, Michael Olszewski. In addition to wrongful eviction, Mr. Olszewski is suing the university for breach of contract and violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud & Deceptive Business Practices Act, among other misdeeds laced with malicious intent.

That’s from Olszewski’s own PR announcing the suit. What prompted waking up this sleeping dog (Onward was closed by the pandemic in 2020, and Loyola moved to evict it for non-payment of rent in March 2021)? The fact that Loyola is finally moving a new tenant into the space—and Olszewski is claiming ownership of fixtures never removed from the space,”including a $10,000 fireplace, kitchen equipment, and decor items such as a chandelier valued at $16,000.”


I mentioned last week going to the media preview for Common Decency, the new bar in the Lost Lake space from Mark Steuer (Funkenhausen) and others; here’s Anthony Todd on it at Dish:

[Partner and Steuer’s fiancee Kelsy] Kasper is gluten-intolerant, and another partner in the venture is vegetarian, so the restaurant is very conscious of having options for every diner and is entirely gluten-free. In addition, Steuer is taking a hard line on food waste, with all the scraps being reused in interesting ways and often for the bar. He’s created an entire pantry of powders, vinegars, and syrups, which Kasper draws on for cocktails. For example, apple peels have turned into a green apple powder, and the whey from housemade ricotta ends up in dumplings. “Some of these are really delicious accidents that I never thought about before,” says Steuer.


Remember Between Bites, the occasional storytelling series involving food media folks? (Maybe this will refresh your memory.) It’s coming back Monday night at Daisies with chefs Jason Hammel and Erling Wu-Bower, plus media folks Ji Suk Yi, Justin Kaufmann and Maggie Hennessy—and it’s sold out. Well, at least you know it’s back, so you can watch for next time.


En Process talks to Lily Wang and Joe Briglio, the pair behind Chinatown’s first craft cocktail bar, Nine Bar.

Joiners talks to Christian Hunter of Atelier… and an upcoming chili place.

David Manilow talks about three “small places with big flavors that won’t break the bank”: Tuk Tuk Thai Street Food, Doma, a European-ish cafe in River North, and Fooditor fave MCCB in the Chinatown Square mall.


Joan Reardon was a writer, scholar and a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier in Chicago. Here’s the eulogy from the Dames about her accomplishments, by Barbara Glunz Donovan and Nancy Brussat Barocci:

Her journey to becoming an author began in the 1970s while she was professor and chair of the English department at what was then Barat College in Lake Forest, Illinois. Her immersion into the world of oysters began with summers and sabbatical at the charming home she shared with her husband John (a Loyola University History professor) in Cotuit, Massachusetts. on Cape Cod, known for its oyster beds. Her complete coverage resulted in Oysters: A Culinary Celebration. It was met with a rave review from Craig Claiborne in The New York Times. Her portrait at Shaw’s Crab House extols her position in their Hall of Fame!

…Soon, Joan got the opportunity to connect with other culinary idols such as MFK Fisher, who sent her a letter has championed local, organic and seasonal food since it opened in Berkeley in 1971. It was only natural, then, for Joan to celebrate these authors in what became the book M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table, published in 1994. “I chose to write about women because people write about men all the time. The time to celebrate the contributions of women to America’s culinary landscape was now.”

Read it all. (H/t Carol Mighton Haddix)


I ate a fantastic, like-nothing-else-in-Chicago meal last week—but I’m sworn to secrecy on it for a week or two, until the review by the critic who discovered it runs. So all I have to share is two depressing sandwiches:

I have a recurring doctors’ appointment every ten weeks or so, and I’m bored with the place I usually go after, so I spotted a cute new Cuban sandwich spot called Cubaneo. I had hopes, but it just was not a patch on, say, 90 Miles near my house, because inferior ingredients just did not come together. White bread that seemed like the French bread at Jewel, slightly soggy pulled lechon, ham like the ham at Jewel and cold to boot… there wasn’t much to make you excited here, and being in Lakeview, it put the pensive in expensive.

Chicago Pickle Eatery is on Milwaukee up where Avondale turns Polish (it’s slightly north of Staropolska), and has a long deli counter plus a fair amount of stuff to buy and cook at home (kind of like a certain upscale grocer that just closed). But I ordered their signature sandwich, basically a cold pastrami reuben, and when I say cold, I mean like slab at the morgue cold. If the corned beef and pastrami had more flavor than cold roast beef, you couldn’t detect it at 36 degrees or whatever it was. Plus side, it was huge, so I took home half; maybe I’ll griddle it at home and see if it improves. But I wanted to like this place, and I couldn’t when the sandwich bearing their name just doesn’t make you excited to see what else they have.

But let’s end on a happier note. I was busy on Saturday and suddenly it was 6:30 and we needed dinner. I opened up Yelp and started skimming the Mexican listings for a place I’d never heard of. A place in Ukrainian Village called Los 3 Compadres de Guerrero seemed appealing—a perfect 5-star rating (like half the restaurants on Yelp, admittedly). So we tried it, just before the skies opened up. The menu is pretty standard stuff, but it proved to be very well executed—we both ordered the Tampiqueno, so a slab of skirt steak and some enchiladas, topped with mole; friendly staff (looked more like husband and wife than three compadres), and empty except for us and another party who I suspect were family. Anyway, not anything highly unusual, but a very pleasant meal at a very reasonable price after some duds. So if you live in the area, check it out, it might become your neighborhood Mexican.