I was on Michael Muser’s Amuzed podcast this week, talking about the outlook for the restaurant biz (just before the latest shutdown), along with such topics as the rise of food social media, the disappearance of restaurant reviews, my upcoming restaurant history book, the awards kerfuffles and more. It’s long but full of good stuff, listen to it in chunks if that works best for you.

And I decided my restaurant history book project needed more of a central home on social media than the occasional mention here, so feel free to go to the Chicago Restaurant Oral History Project page on Facebook, and follow/like it, for the occasional update on how it’s going.


Seven months and more into a lockdown, and now is when it gets serious. When it began in March, we had the hope of better times coming in May or June or July. Now we have months and months to get to March again. This is the grim season, and many will not survive—humans and restaurants. There is no way to sugarcoat that.

Governor J.B. Pritzker shut indoor dining down as of Friday. Last March, when that happened, we buckled down and mostly cooperated. Now there’s rebellion, and it’s not hard to see why—restaurants have spent money they didn’t have to make indoor dining safer, as the Trib reports:

“No way to lie about it; I’m scared,” said Michael Lachowicz, chef and owner of Aboyer, Silencieux and George Trois restaurants in Winnetka. “I was in the fetal position for six hours yesterday.”

Lachowicz said he has invested $7,200 in a hospital-grade air filtration system large enough for a space twice the size of his dining room.

And then they get shut down anyway, and after months and months of campaigning by the Illinois Restaurant Association, they won a grand total of zero in the form of emergency state aid for the employers and workers of an industry that drives tourism and epitomizes the region second, perhaps, only to 1990s basketball. Mayor Lightfoot seemed combative at first toward Pritzker’s unilateral move, but quickly caved (per the Sun-Times):

One day after voicing her concern about the devastating impact on Chicago restaurants, Lightfoot held an hour-long meeting with the governor and came away resigned to the rollback.

She reiterated that the biggest cause of Chicago’s second surge is the dinner parties, card games and other social gatherings that people are having in their own homes, where they’re more inclined to let their guards down.

But even though Chicago restaurants are not the primary cause, they will pay the price when the governor’s ban on indoor dining takes effect, as scheduled, on Friday.

Some restaurateurs are pretty mad that after giving so much (always the first to respond to someone else’s needs for a charitable event), they get the high hat. Some restaurateurs are announcing intentions to disobey the shutdown—which will not end well; this is a genuine you-can’t-fight-City-Hall kind of moment, bound to lose (not that losing publicly doesn’t have strategic value at times).

But others are looking to kick the fight up a notch in the courts and legislature. John Ross of The Bristol on Facebook:

I am exploring the process of starting the Chicago Restaurant Association. This is not something I want to do but we have to have leadership in our industry that will push back on overreaching politicians. Unfortunately, we do not have that…

We can not allow Pritzker to do this to our industry! Please spread the word. Let’s come together and sue to stay open!

For politicians, acting to shut down restaurants is something forceful they can actually do—as opposed to having the cops raid backyard parties in Wilmette. It looks like leadership; whether it has a meaningful effect on the spread of COVID-19 is another matter.

Here’s a good piece at Block Club on another venerable spot that put a lot of money into being able to operate indoors—Gale Street Inn. They got one week.


Chicago mag’s sandwich issue, which has been on newsstands for a few weeks, is now online as well, and on Instagram Amy Cavanaugh offered an explanation of why the humble sandwich was a natural for a theme in 2020:

Sandwiches are a beloved comfort food, which we all need right now, but they’re also relatively affordable, available across lots of cuisines, and travel well. They’re something that people love to eat and chefs love to make, and, even amidst all of the challenges of this year (which just keep multiplying), chefs and restaurants all over the city are still turning out pretty incredible sandwiches that you need to go eat.

The piece that’s drawn the most attention is Titus Ruscitti’s, which identifies 10 Chicago sandwiches, some well-known—Italian beef at Johnnie’s, a sub from J.P. Graziano’s—and some hole in the wall finds, like the Anda Masala at Egg-O-Holic (an Indian street food joint) or a Pambazo at El Habanero. It’s a great list, the kind you want to press in the hand of a kid going off to school in Chicago for the first time, and a sign of how food media in general has fully absorbed the lessons of LTHForum back in the early 2000s as to what the greatest food in this town really is, and that you need to know your whole city, not just its trendiest neighborhoods.

Others include John Kessler on those Japanese sandos that suddenly became the hot thing:

All this sando worship is hilarious to anyone who has found themselves drunk in Japan at midnight, the absolute ideal time to eat one. The konbini (convenience stores) there stock all kinds of sandos: tuna salad ones, strawberry and whipped cream ones, fried shrimp patty ones, potato croquette ones, and the king of them all, the katsu sando, a breaded pork cutlet topped with a thick Worcestershire sauce and perhaps a bit of shredded lettuce or cabbage. Like most sandos, it comes on shokupan — the puffy white bread that, when squished, springs back to its original form, like a Nerf football or a late-model Terminator.

Plus Carrie Schedler on the Chicago classics, Cavanaugh on where to get other cities’ favorite sammies in Chicago, Jeff Ruby on the humble perfection of a PB&J, and lots more. Grab a sub and dive in.


As noted, sandwiches are popping up everywhere, and Nick Kindelsperger has been out sampling them. The result is this list of 13 new stars, which run the gamut from the deliberately mittel-European-retro 1949 Sub at Paulina Meat Market to, of course, a quesabirria sandwich (not on shokupan, alas). The story of one—a halal chicken sandwich at a place called Chi Tea—explains why restaurateurs are finding refuge in this highly portable item:

“We were so happy about it,” [co-owner Zakriya] Ayyubi said. “And then everything started to shut down.”

While the pandemic has caused them several headaches, especially during the construction process, the reception from the community has been overwhelming.

“The first week, we sold out of food every day,” Ayyubi said. “We couldn’t handle the crowds that were coming. We didn’t think the fried chicken sandwich would blow up the way it did.”

Buzz 2


So in our podcast conversation, at one point Michael Muser and I talk about how quickly restaurants have been able to react, creatively, to the crummy situations they get placed in. As if to prove my point, by Friday restaurants like Ever were shut off from indoor seating—and by Friday Ever was announcing Ever To Go, available here via Tock.

Longman & Eagle has reopened its sausage stand. Block Club has more details.

Funkenhausen is offering a funky dinner kit for election week—go here to preorder a feast.

Lots of restaurants do email newsletters, but Superkhana International is doing them really well—they use it to highlight one new dish or offering each week, straight to the point, a nice big picture and no BS. The current one is a butternut squash salad that looks pretty great. Subscribe via the box at the bottom of this page.

The Dawson is launching a winter market—grab a hot winter beverage and explore things to buy and eat. It starts next Saturday and will run every Saturday and Sunday from 11-2 pm.

Pods aren’t just for upscale restaurants! Mark Bires of Fiya and Jerry’s sent out pics of their dining bubbles for people wanting a quick bite. You can even reserve them on Open Table.

Gaijin will mark its first anniversary with an anniversary dinner for two on its heated patio, or to go, including Alaskan crab leg okonomiyaki. It’s also launching bento boxes for weekday lunch.

It’d be a good week to support the legendary Big Chicks by ordering takeout—they were shut down for a week by a single customer who came in not feeling well, and later tested positive. Here’s the story.

Note to restaurant readers: if things change at your place, let me know about it and I will run the news here. Note to restaurant diners: it’s hard to know what your favorite places are doing as things change week to week. So check here, I’ll try to list as much interesting stuff as I can!


Lots of jerk chicken coverage this week—Mike Sula introduces us to Dinkey DaDiva, who claims to have been the inventor of the jerk chicken egg roll, now something of a south side favorite:

“I called them ‘soul rolls,’” says Dinkey, who, along with Pinkey, was given her nickname as a child, and whose real names are Ernesta and Lekia Berry. The soul rolls did OK, but it wasn’t until 2015 when she noticed the jerk taco trend sweeping the west side that the light bulb lit up the path to her destiny—as the probable originator of the current jerk egg roll wave and the creator of some 75 egg roll varieties.

Meanwhile, Steve Dolinsky tells us about St. Bess Jerk Restaurant in Burbank:

Jerk catfish and chicken are prepped and cooked throughout the day at the tiny St. Bess Jerk in a Burbank strip mall just off Cicero. Named for the town where chef Ricardo Blake is from, the veteran Jamaican cook knows his jerk.

“Hot, spicy…my mom owned restaurants in Jamaica so I grew up in the restaurant business,” said Blake.


Another thing that seems to be popping up in this plague year—empanadas, which maintain their own heat well as takeout. Titus Ruscitti likes a new place called Empanada Mama and the Pie Man—I saw them open for Seals & Croft in ’74—in Boystown:

I’ve mentioned recently how empanadas are a big go-to this year due to restrictions on dining in across the country. Both those and savory meat pies are the calling card here. They do desert pie too but I’m always interested in a spot making savory pies like those you’ll find in places like New Zealand, England, and South Africa which is where one of the owners hails from… We enjoyed a few meat pies during our time there and I also got to try bobotie which is one of the more commonly mentioned dishes when discussing South African cuisine. Some call it the country’s national dish.


Louisa Chu on a non-sandwich Chicago comfort classicOld Fashioned Donuts in Roseland, whose 82-year-old owner isn’t stopping any time soon. (She’s off about the apple fritters only dating back 10 or 12 years, though—here’s a 16-year-old thread with pictures at LTHForum, and there’s no reason to think they were brand new then.)


How safe are the pods or igloos popping up outside restaurants? Time Out talks to two infectious disease experts, who say: it depends!

Speaking of Time Out, Time Out Market, which reopened only a few weeks ago, has now closed until spring. I assume that also means the quick end of the exhibit of West Loop nightclub posters they just opened.


It’s trick or treat time as I write this, but November 1-2, Carlos Gaytan invites other Mexican chefs to join him to celebrate Day of the Dead at Tzuco, as David Hammond writes:

Gaytán tells us, “My family used to gather every November 2 with my grandmother to have a special dinner that included traditional Mexican dishes like tamales, mole and esquites. Also, we would drink Mexican hot chocolate or champurrado to accompany our delicious pan de muerto [bread shaped into bone-like forms]. Every year, my grandmother set up an altar in memory of my grandfather. I remember that the altar was decorated with a variety of photographs, flowers, candles, pan de muerto, sugar calaveritas [little skulls], and incense to help our loved ones’ spirits return home for one day every year.”


For all the mess the James Beard Awards made this year, the biggest auto-destruct scandal in the food and bev world remains the Court of Master Sommeliers, which disqualified a bunch of somms seeking certification a couple of years ago, because a couple of them had apparently been given answers by the Court’s own examiners—thus smearing all of them as possible cheaters. Now the New York Times has published claims of sexual harassment within this inner circle of the wine world. The Chicago area’s best known woman somm, Alpana Singh, posted an essay about her experiences at her site. It began when it came out in an article that she had started the process before she was of legal drinking age, embarrassing them and resulting in disciplinary action—of her:

That whole process had also planted the seeds of my silence. I internalized the message that the Board had the power to control my destiny and if I didn’t act according to their standards, I could lose this opportunity and my career in wine. In other words, be a good girl and do as we say. I eventually passed the Master Sommelier exam at the age 26 but my reputation had already been burnished, I was the troublemaker and was reminded of it constantly. When I was given my final results, I was told to watch my behavior and that all eyes would be on me. I was the youngest woman to ever pass the Master Sommelier Exam, the first Woman of Color and the only South Asian in the world, even to this day, ever to do so. Yet, I was shamed for it because I had embarrassed the Court by exposing them publicly for their mistake.

The food and drink world needs a lot of cleaning up, and a lot of new, better organizations to replace the clubby, insidery ones we have.


I’m always for checking out what Sandwich Tribunal is up to—like the paneer cheese sandwich, which he tracked down in Naperville at Mumbai Cafe:

Their “Paneer Toofani” sandwich, seen here in its “to go” state, is a double-decker toasted sandwich containing a thick slice of paneer, green pepper, red onion, tomato, spicy chutney, covered with wisps of shredded Amul cheese and a pungently aromatic shake of an asafoetida-heavy masala powder. It’s a very well-put-together sandwich, with the bite of the red onion and the spice of the chutney, the crunch of the green pepper, the umami of the tomato and Amul cheese.


Bayan Ko’s Lawrence Letrero, Rachel Quadreny and daughter. They’re creepy and they’re kooky!


I’d been holding off on Rob Shaner’s (who I wrote about here when he was at Royal Grocer & Co.) French restaurant in the Kitsune space, Robert et Fils, until they opened up fully. Well, the new lockdown put an end to that for now, so I went ahead and ordered the current takeout menu.

It’s a cozy space inside—someday it will be very romantic for two—with Shaner cooking there right in front of the future tables. The current takeout menu gets you a radicchio/goat cheese salad with housemade apple cider vinaigrette, a fresh loaf of bread and butter, a main course and side (Parisian gnocchi with wild mushrooms, braised kale with lardons), and dessert (an apple cake topped with rum raisins and goat cheese ice cream). Enough that we had leftovers for one of us the next day (well, not of dessert).

It was very pleasant—the dessert in particular was a delightful taste of the Old World—though when I chatted with Shaner as he was preparing it, he mentioned that he was staying away from anything too elaborate that would be hard for people to serve. Okay, I’m all for not having to place flowers over it with tweezers at home, but having survived the Anniversary Duck dinner, I’m not afraid of a more robustly French meal, both in technique and in the carnal savagery that underlies great French cuisine. This is make-no-little-plans Chicago, bring the Frenchiness on in full force—then this place will be a gem.

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Lots of attention for Big Kids, the sandwich restaurant (popping up in the Young Americans space) from Ryan Pfeiffer (ex-Blackbird) and Mason Hereford (ex of New Orleans’ Turkey and the Wolf). At least media attention—as I was picking my order up I ran into Nick Kindelsperger, making his second visit there. To be honest, I wanted to try it as soon as I heard about it, but I had some doubts about the sandwiches, which sounded a bit gloppy and overdressed. (There are only four sandwiches, and they come how they come.)

Well, they’re gloppy and overdressed—the theme here reflects the kind of food kids would make themselves. But I tried three, and two of them were pretty freakin’ fantastic. The favorite, perhaps surprisingly, was the vegetarian option, the Collard Melt—something like a collard greens reuben, full of flavor and lacking nothing. About as good is the Fried Bologna sandwich, bologna (the best, from Paulina Meat Market) with cheese, potato chips and honey mustard, also grilled. It does taste like a sandwich a kid would make, with everything he loves on it. (Kindelsperger put this one on his new sandwiches list above.)

The one that didn’t work as well for me—though it was fine, I finished it off on day 2—was the Amy ‘n’ Nettie 2.0, a revised version of a sandwich named for their moms, which has a fried chicken thigh and chicken salad on it; less would be more, I think. But I’m already thinking how long before I can order the Collard Melt and the Fried Bologna again.