“While the First Partner and I followed the restaurant’s health protocols and took safety precautions, I should have modeled better behavior and not joined the dinner.” So said Gavin Newsom, governor of California, in the weird language of impersonal not-really-culpability politicians love, about… something he did when he was a kid? When he was in college? Nope, that was him on Friday about his behavior earlier in November, when he went to a 12-person dinner party at The French Laundry, just as new regulations aiming to stop the spread of Coronavirus were going into effect, prohibiting things like dinners between large groups from multiple households.

This seems to be where we are—fighting the spread of COVID except when there’s something really important, like a birthday dinner for a top! lobbyist!, to go to. Under such circumstances, it’s no surprise that restaurants are getting more and more antsy and paranoid about rules which seem to apply very firmly to them, but not to others. Under pressure from its membership, the Illinois Restaurant Association issued this call to action on social media:

Closing all indoor dining for restaurants, among the most highly regulated in terms of health and safety, will force people into less controlled, private gatherings with no safety precautions – resulting in the exact opposite of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Restaurants in Illinois are being unjustly singled out. We have done everything asked of us, and more. No one operates more safely. We must be allowed to serve indoors in some capacity. Otherwise, our state’s largest private sector employer will be pushed to the brink of permanent devastation. Gov. JB Pritzker, #fightforillinoisrestaurants and #saveourjobs.

Likewise, the Fulton Market Association calls for relief for restaurants, per the Tribune:

“We can’t put the blame on restaurants who really don’t deserve it, based on the data,” said Executive Director Roger Romanelli, referring to city figures the association received from a Freedom of Information Act request seeking statistics on restaurant-related COVID-19 infections.

And there are politicians who agree with them—that restaurants aren’t where people are getting COVID now. 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan O’Reilly told the Sun-Times:

“We are incentivizing the use of hotel rooms downtown for these big parties. Hotel rates are cheap. Lots of kids are coming down here and renting out these hotel rooms on the weekends. And these aren’t parties of five or six people. We’re talking 60, 70, 80 people”…

“Bars and restaurants are being penalized for all of that bad behavior. … And shutting down a regulated industry that does a really good job enforcing the city’s and the state’s rules only is gonna grow the opportunity for these super-spreader events in hotels, Airbnb and private residences.”

The question is not, is there a heightened level of risk involved with going to any restaurant? There is, obviously. The question is, are restaurants which have invested money in new air systems to reduce bacterial spread and are rigorous about maintaining social distancing, safer than what people will do anyway—party in backyards, AirBnBs, wherever they can? They almost certainly are—but they also remain easier to regulate in bulk, by shutting them down, than if government had to quickly devise a safety standard and determine if it’s being met in practice. What the result of that will be, months from now as restaurants starve to death, is another question.


Our largest restaurant groups are big enough that they are, like manufacturing facilities, required to give advance notice of imminent layoffs. And that’s what Lettuce Entertain You did this week: it informed the state of 1,045 potential layoffs, per Eater:

Lettuce, the city’s largest hospitality company, indicated potential layoffs at a variety of restaurants, like Petterino’s in the Loop and the RPM Seafood restaurants in River North off the Chicago River. Those two venues are the hardest hit as LEYE told the state that it could layoff 80 workers at each site. Venues from Bub City in suburban Rosemont, where 66 workers could suffer permanent layoffs, to Aba on Fulton Market, where 29 layoffs are listed on the state’s WARN report for the month of October, which was filed on Friday, November 6.

You know who’s not laying anybody off? City government.


Imperial Lamian, the downtown upscale Chinese restaurant, specializing in dumplings (Oh, how the Tribune loved to run pictures of the multicolored dumplings there). Fooditor wrote about hand-shaved noodles at Imperial Lamian here.

Funkenhausen is closing until early next year; so are Longman & Eagle and Scofflaw.


Smyth’s John Shields is launching barbecue takeout under the name “Johnny Good Times’ Smoked Meats,” offering smoked prime short ribs, Carolina style BBQ pork, smoked Slagel chicken and more. As it says on Tock, “Be among the few to enjoy 2 Michelin-starred BBQ.” Well, that’s Michelin’s failing, not his…

Mas was John Manion’s restaurant in the 90s, a much beloved pan-Latin spot, and next weekend he’ll be offering Mas favorites to go from El Che Bar. See the menu and order here.

Dominique Tougné, longtime Bistro 110 chef and in recent years owner of Chez Moi, has opened a new storefront a block from Chez Moi on Halsted—French Quiche, offering to-go French items like sandwiches, soups and salads, and four classic types of quiche. Here’s the menu on Toast.

I’m guessing you know about this already, but check out Stephanie Izard’s new Sugargoat, offering very appealing baked goods and sweets.

I have no sympathy for people looking for an alternative to traditional Thanksgiving dinner—it’s one of my favorite meals!—but I have to say that the offerings for Miki’s Park, a Korean food takeout joint in River North, are pretty appealing anyway: $95 gets you a Friendsgiving dinner package for 10 people with Korean beef sliders, popcorn chicken, dumplings and more. I can’t find it on Tock but assume it will be there shortly.

Also doing weird for Thanksgiving: Dimo’s Pizza, with pizzas topped with green bean casserole, venison sausage and more.

You could do traditional Thanksgiving Day with the meal kit from One Off… though since it’s called Everything But the Turkey, you could also go wild in that one area (Wildebeest! Coelacanth!)

Blue Blazer is a new bottled cocktail line offering cocktails from Chicago favorites like Billy Sunday, Queen Mary Tavern and Estereo. I’m told they’re available as of November 6… but not sure where, as their site isn’t live yet.

Cat-Su Sando has a new menu and… they got rid of all the sandos but one. It’s gyoza, skewers and broths now. I gotta say, this seems way less interesting to me. If you try it, convince me I’m wrong.

Buzz 2


“Another furloughed chef, another regional treasure,” says the subhead on Mike Sula’s latest piece, and that pretty much sums up the story of chef John Avila and the Indonesian food at @MinahasaChicago:

Up until last month he was a sous chef putting down some pretty plates at Gibsons Italia, when he left amid a downsizing that would have demoted him. Like so many chefs forced to pivot during the pandemic, he turned to his childhood…  Avila quietly launched @minahasachicago on Instagram in early September shortly before leaving Gibsons Italia, offering ayam tuturuga, a turmeric-tinged lemongrass chicken dish that Betty made nearly every day. “I’d feed it to my friends, and everybody was like, ‘Oh, this is great.’ So I was just like, ‘Why don’t I introduce this to everyone in Chicago?’”

Sula also visits Evette, the new restaurant from ex-Finom Coffee chef Rafael Esparza and Mitchell Aboujamra, doing takes on the intersection of Lebanese and Mexican food best known for producing tacos arabes:

It was discussions about this sort of undersung contribution to Mexican cuisine that inspired the partnership. AbouJamra, a former GM for the DMK Restaurants group (among many more varied hospitality gigs), used to deliver chai to Finom, where Esparza was making magical Hungarian dishes with little more than an induction burner. Deliveries led to discussions about the often overstated contributions of the Spanish to Mexican cuisine over that of the slaves they brought, or the Indigenous people they colonized.

“People seem to think nobody cooked food before the French, Italian, or Spanish,” says Esparza. “Like food didn’t exist before them.”


And if you’re sick of Indonesian, try Malaysian—Steve Dolinsky visits ghost kitchen-based Kedai Tapao:

By the time Mike Alesi got furloughed from his restaurant job, his new wife Jennifer had just moved to Chicago from Malaysia and she was homesick.

“I really miss Malaysian food, and Mike does a really good job. When he was in Malaysia my mom was teaching him all this stuff like, ‘this is how you do it,’ and then we brought him to all the places we locals would eat instead of the tourists,” said Jennifer Pou Alesi.

He also looks at a couple of new hot chicken sandwiches, from Cluck It and GG’s Chicken Shop, in this fried chicken sandwich year. And he talks to three restaurants about dining in a bubble—they (Fiya, Duck Inn, The Warbler) are all trying to make outdoor dining work as long as they can.


It’s a telling sign of the times that the Tribune’s ongoing piece on how restaurants are evolving their business models in response to COVID this weeks turns to chronicling the latest ghost kitchen concepts to turn up—like Burritos After Dark, a collaboration with Danny Espinoza, whose Italian beef tamale from Santa Masa Tamaleria inspired an Italian beef burrito.

Here’s a story at Crain’s (subscription required) about a south side BBQ spot, Krazy Hog, that closed up and has been reborn as a ghost kitchen operation on the north side, available through Caviar.


Chicago mag’s Gourmet to Go series hitches a ride with the new pizza and other stuff truck operating out of Logan Square’s Giant.


And it’s D-A-V-I-D! The fried bologna sandwich at Big Kids is one of this year’s hits, and David Hammond looks at the appeal of fried bologna (if you’ve seen the Sky Full of Bacon video with him at the Taste of Melrose Park, this will be familiar):

I have an inexplicable affection for the bologna sandwich, a simple, proletarian fistful that I brought for lunch almost every day when I did time in a Bensenville factory earning money to get through graduate school. Traditionally, the meat is cheap, but with mustard, not bad. I’ve also trained at the feet of the masters of the fried bologna sandwich at Siciliano’s stand at the annual Taste of Melrose Park (canceled this year), where I was tutored to put a small cut in the bologna slice to keep it from curling while it was griddled. There’s no chance of the slices curling on the sandwiches from Big Kids, because they’re so thick, almost like bologna steaks or maybe minute steaks.


Giuseppe Tentori, the GT in all those things named GT, is the guest on Michael Muser’s Amuzed podcast this week.


With Japanese sandos a hot thing (well, they were…), here’s Sandwich Tribunal making a Korokke Pan, a croquette sando, and along the way sharing some serious tips about the bakeries at Mitsuwa Market.


Wisconsin is rated too hot with COVID to travel there, but you can travel vicariously by reading this piece about the burger styles of Green Bay.


BBQ guy Robert Moss’s newsletter The Cue Sheet continues to do the best reporting on who’s really behind the explosion of ghost kitchens. The biggest venture, Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick’s CloudKitchens, which has $400 million in Saudi money behind it, looks more and more like a frightening effort to hijack the entire restaurant delivery business while selling generic food passed off as the food of local small businesses, under SEO-friendly names like OMG BBQ LOL. He expands on reporting done by Matt Newberg of the HNGRY newsletter:

In addition to signing up tenants for its ghost kitchen facilities, it is also enticing independent restaurateurs to use its software to act as “mini ghost kitchens” and sell CloudKitchens’ “delivery-optimized” brands out of their existing kitchens…

FutureFoods apparently sets owners up with templated permutations of dishes and provides the pictures that will appear online on the delivery apps. Newberg talked to some of the restauranteurs who signed up for the service, and he reports that “many seemed confused by what they actually signed up for and what the brands actually represented”…

One can see why a barbecue restaurateur might give such programs a shot, since these days takeout and delivery sales are essential for just keeping the lights on. But it does put them in the odd position of competing with themselves in the apps. As a test, I went to Seamless and set a street address within a few blocks of Memphis Minnie’s, then typed in “BBQ” in the search box. Memphis Minnie’s appeared 24th in the list, putting it on the second page, where it’s sure to get no clicks. OMG BBQ LOL appeared 5th.


Like everyone else, we watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. And I think we’ve found our Iliana Regan for the Annapurna series based on her book Burn The Place


You know the worst time to send me news about something happening this week? Monday morning. This newsletter comes out Sunday night to subscribers. (If you’re at a PR firm, you should know that because you already subscribe!) If you want to see it here—and I’m usually happy to oblige—send it to me in time for the regularly scheduled weekly appearance of this newsletter. Thanks.


There are weeks I’m excited to cook at home, and then there are weeks I’m like, “Oh my God restaurants, I’ve missed you so much, I’m sorry, I’ll never abandon you ever again!” This was one of those weeks, and I had a couple of glorious days of eating.

Wednesday: I haven’t been invited to anything in the way of a PR event for months, and suddenly I have a bunch of them over the next couple of weeks—though they’re to-go affairs now. Anyway, first was for a new Jewish deli in Chicago—not Jeff & Judes, but one called Rye Deli & Drink, opening in the currently-shuttered Crowne Plaza hotel near Greektown, but with an eye for now on delivery, obviously. Chef Billy Caruso explained that a lot of traditional dishes have been given new spins here—the pastrami is slow-smoked like Texas brisket, the bread and bagels (kind of Montreal-ish) are baked in house using midwestern grains with high protein levels, instead of standard cream cheese they serve bagels with labneh, a middle eastern cheese, seasoned. I tried a pastrami sandwich on housemade rye and an assortment of bagels—and I pretty much loved it all, especially the lemony-spiced labneh as a substitute for Philly. There’s more to come on the menu (Eater led with blue corn matzoh ball soup), but I was very excited by what I tried.

Then, that night, I noticed that Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream, which I had never gotten around to during their Detroit square pizza phase, was now doing a Chicago-style tavern cut thin pizza—cracker crust cooked to well done (brown as gingerbread around the edges), topped (if you order it) with fennel-y balls of sausage and spicy tomato sauce. Meanwhile, on the chicken side, they were doing Thai fried chicken with rice—and I also noticed they were now delivering within a 6 mile radius of Bridgeport, which somehow they manage to fit Roscoe Village into. Anyway, that’s what I got that night—and that pizza is fantastic, a chef’s idea of how to do tavern pizza with artisanal care (including the well done) that’s gotta be in the top five thin pizzas in town right now. The chicken was plenty good, too. Alas, what they can’t do is deliver ice cream (Pretty Cool pops) alongside hot pizza and fried chicken.

Friday, we planned to try a popular pop-up in Hyde Park. I had looked at the website and everything seemed fine, but we made the drive down Lake Shore Drive only to be greeted by signs on the door saying they were taking Friday night off. (I looked afterwards, the only place they told anybody about this was on Instagram.) Oh well, there we were on the restaurant strip of 53rd street, and it took very little persuading to settle on Virtue to save the day. Pork steak, shrimp and grits, and a fantastic kuri squash side dressed with an orange sauce and bits of coconut meat, followed by banana pudding (mandatory) and a chocolate cake—what a joy that place is. (We brought it home to eat lukewarm, but some were dining out front under heat lamps.)

Saturday, we picked up the first week of our four One Off dinners—Avec’s, featuring a lamb tagine and bacon-wrapped dates. You know, I wasn’t wild initially about the middle eastern turn Avec took under chef Perry Hendrix, but this is the second meal kit we’ve gotten from them, and I thought both were just stellar, deeply satisfying and very well made for not-One Off-level cooks like myself to finish up successfully. If they offer another four-week-run when this one ends in December, don’t hesitate.

What a pleasure dining in this city is. Don’t let it slip away in this time of trouble, support it.