Buzz List for November 12, 2018

Vettel gets Funkenhausen, Banchet nominates doers and changers, Mr. Robata is back, and a real reviewer eats at Protein Bar

Funkenhausen/Facebook
Oysters Hockafeller at Funkenhausen

1. IT’S GETTING CLOSER

Heads up, no main Fooditor story this week—because I’m eyeballs deep in getting the next edition of The Fooditor 99 ready. My goal was to have it be about 1/3 new entries, but it’s looking like closer to half, so get ready for a really fresh look at the diversity of dining in this city. As other publications cut back on their restaurant coverage (and staffs), The Fooditor 99 is more and more the place to go to find out about restaurants beyond a few small stretches of PR-supported hipsterville.

The book should be available by Thanksgiving—imagine all the shopping you won’t have to do on Black Friday!—but you can make sure you get your own, autographed copy, plus a bonus #100 suggestion, by becoming a Patreon sponsor of Fooditor at the Foie Milkshake level or higher before December 1. Just go here and sign up to keep independent food media alive in Chicago.

2. BANCHET PICKS FRIED CHIX

The Jean Banchet Awards, Chicago’s local food awards, announced their nominees for next January’s award show, and there are a couple of interesting things to note.

First is that, in the past, Best Restaurant and Chef of the Year nominations went to roughly the same group of high end restaurants/chefs. But this year, Chef of the Year seems to be more about honoring chefs who look at food and the industry in a cultural or activist way—so there are nominations for the always thoughtful Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), Paul Fehribach (Big Jones), who is a student of southern food culture, and Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski (Honey Butter Fried Chicken), who have been activists for better conditions in the restaurant industry. (The fourth, not to look down on just running a fine restaurant or two, is John Shields of Smyth and The Loyalist.)

The Best Ethnic Restaurant award came in for a little social media grief every year, “ethnic” having been deemed insensitive, so it has been renamed the Best Heritage Restaurant award without, happily, losing the emphasis on immigrant cultures in Chicago. And a new award aimed at casual dining, Best Counter Service, also recognizes the creativity happening at the low-priced end of the spectrum (e.g., Pretty Cool Ice Cream, one of the nominees).

See the full list of nominees here. The awards show is January 13.

3. MR. ROBATA

You’ve probably heard the pretty good news already, but: Momotaro is replacing chef Mark Hellyar with former Sumi Robata Bar owner Gene Kato. It’s still sad that he couldn’t make beautifully crafted Japanese food work in a small, fun space, but glad to have him back in Chicago making Japanese work in a big, fun space (and the downstairs Izakaya at Momotaro at least has some of that intimacy and the dark look of Sumi’s Charcoal Bar, R.I.P.) (Tribune)

4. FUNKENVETTELN

“Funkenhausen’s must-have dish is the Piggy Plate, a charcuterie and pickled-vegetable assortment that arrives on a pig-shaped slate slab. The selection varies from week to week, but expect a German-Southern blend of pork tongue, bratwurst and sausages with pickled okra, bread-and-butter pickles and, perhaps, some rib tips,” says Phil Vettel in describing the gemutlichkeit and good times vibe of Funkenhausen. (Although I’d argue the point that we don’t have many southern restaurants—we have plenty, they’re called soul food restaurants.) Two stars.

5. PROTEIN VOGUE

Chicago Mag has a whole issue devoted to healthy eating in Chicago, which, you know, is fine for people into that sort of thing. The best piece in it from my point of view is when Jeff Ruby, their actual critic, tries everything at Protein Bar, the successful producer of healthy things that somewhat resemble lunch and evaluates them for actual flavor. Not surprisingly, some Asian things score pretty well—of a Korean bowl, he says “‘Spicy’ may be a stretch (get that kitchen some gochujang, stat!), but I liked the straightforward Korean flavors.” Others seem like meals in search of an airline: something named, in marketing word salad fashion, a “Steakhouse Ranch Bar-ito” is dubbed “an oppressive beast stuffed with chewy beef, black beans, blue cheese, and a gloppy Greek yogurt ranch dressing.”

6. STAY AWAY

The deer-in-headlights way Crain’s headlines their review—”We Review Staytion In the Renaissance Center”—all but begs the question, “Why?” You know what a hotel called Renaissance Center is going to be like—marble, atrium, $30 breakfast—and you know what a place with a name like Staytion Market and Bar is going to be like: “Some dishes passed muster, and the cocktails scored higher, but most dishes didn’t make the case to order them again, or really even to visit again.”

7. OPERATION MARKET GARDEN

David Hammond writes a paean to food markets he’s tried around the world, from Maxwell Street to ones in Bangkok and Rwanda: “There are hundreds of small businesspeople, selling fabrics, fish and fruit, shopping, haggling, testing the merchandise, feeling and smelling, sometimes buying, more often not. There’s lots of talking and hubbub. The market is wonderfully alive. What I don’t see are Mzungu, people of European descent, people like me. I didn’t come to Kimironko to go elbow-to-elbow with other foreigners vying for deals. Better, I think, to see what Rwandans shop for and how they shop for it.”

8. TACO SIDE OF TOWN

Titus Ruscitti does a taco tour of the south side, finding five newish spots to check out here.

9. BABA O’REILLY

If you’ve been around the south side you’ve probably seen steak sandwich and lemonade places, some of them named Baba’s. But no one knew where they came from, so Monica Eng investigated for WBEZ—and found the original Baba (the name in the title is kind of the equivalent of Pop’s Italian Beef, another south side chain) and why steak and lemonade took off as a Chicago thing.

10. FUSION CITY

Want to see how Chicago’s upscale Asian scene looks from the outside? I was recruited to show a journalist from D.C., Renee Sklarew, around a couple of our spots here, and here’s her story, with a quote or two from me.

Also, meant to link this last week, but I was recruited to update one of my most popular Thrillist lists from a couple of years ago, so here’s my take on the state of Chicago BBQ in 2018—including what I’m pretty sure is the first mention anywhere other than Yelp of a very creditable (if not, as they claim, World Famous) south side BBQ place, Rickette’s.

11. HONEYGONE

In more healthy eating news, not to mention an illustration of my point last week that the West Loop’s future is well-funded openings and fast closings, the Honeygrow chain is closing all of its salad, juice and stir-fry locations in the city.

12. A BLADE TO THE 21st CENTURY

Tribune Publishing may have a new owner soon—but the papers they buy will have been cut even further to the bone. You might think that the buyer would want the option of reshaping the staff themselves, but the current management has never met a workforce reduction that wouldn’t feather their own nests better, and so this week they’re offering a voluntary buyout plan in advance of further cuts.

As Robert Feder notes, “The Chicago Tribune’s last round of job cuts in March eliminated at least a dozen newsroom positions — just one day before the company disclosed raises and bonuses for chief executive officer Justin Dearborn and chief financial officer Terry Jimenez.”

And if you’d like to see where Michael Ferro’s eight-figure consulting fee, for the betterment of the paper’s mission and civic society as a whole, went, click here.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I’ve been on the hunt for new things no one’s heard of to include in The Fooditor 99—of course, that means most of the time, I try things that might be okay, or not, but in any case don’t quite rise to the level of Chicago’s 99 best places. However, once in a while… or even, very rarely, more than once in the same week, you find a contender:

Hong Ngu is a newish Vietnamese restaurant on Argyle that is decorated like a Vietnamese village. What you want is the first entree on the list, pho in a stone pot; a bowl of broth comes to you boiling furiously in a heated bowl, with a plate of stuff to add to it, hot pot style. It’s fun for a change—but the main thing is how good the broth is, the expertise of which outweighs the rather tentative service.

Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square is a nice enough place for brunch, but Luella’s Gospel Bird, which just opened in Bucktown, gets down and dirty in all the right ways with terrific fried chicken (served standard or “Gospel Bird,” coated in a vinegary Creole sauce), biscuits and soul food sides.

And I went to Bayan Ko, subject of this story, for a full meal. The little things at Bayan Ko are all deliciously scarfable—plenty to choose from, from the Coca-Cola pork skewers and glazed chicken wings to lumpia, shrimp in garlic sauce and more. This was my first taste of bigger Filipino plates, and Filipino remains often challenging to me—probably oxtail kare-kare is just something I’m never going to develop a peanut buttery taste for, though I liked the touch of giving you a little bowl of shrimp paste to mix in and give it some funk. I was happier with the upscale version of luglug noodles with scallops and uni—and honestly, there’s everything to love about seeing a little place like this packed on Friday night and still busting their humps to make sure everybody’s happy.

 

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