With food media largely a thing of the past, many interesting things do not get covered. A good example of this is the Jean Banchet Awards, which if we take the Tribune and Eater to be our primary mainstream sources of information about such things, do not exist, as neither of those outlets bothered to make any note of the nominees announced on Monday. (That both institutions have their own Chicago food awards, given somewhat irregularly and certainly to far less public notice than the Banchets, is… an interesting point.) The flip side of this is that with food media largely extinct, save for those two outfits and very few others, people look to other sources for an idea of what’s new and worthy on our food scene—like the Jean Banchet Awards, which among other things have been obviously influential on the James Beard awards in recent years. So the media doesn’t cover the Banchets, but the Banchets, in a sense, cover restaurants and up-and-coming talents, in the absence of a more vigorous and authoritative media scene.

As it happens the best coverage of the Banchet announcement, by far, came from WTTW’s site. Writer Daniel Hautzinger not only listed the nominees in each category, but wrote a capsule summary of each nominee, 48 in all. An example, from the Restaurant of the Year listings:

Kyōten – This tiny omakase spot in Logan Square from Chef Otto Phan is recognized as one of Chicago’s standout sushi counters, and opened a less expensive counterpart next door this year.

Jeong – Chef Dave Park has been quietly serving a Korean tasting menu inflected with French technique at Jeong in West Town for several years. He appeared on the WTTW show Dishalicious and shared a recipe for japchae with bay scallops.

Galit – This Middle Eastern restaurant in Lincoln Park has a Michelin star, and its chef, Zachary Engel, has a James Beard Award from his time at the acclaimed New Orleans restaurant Shaya.

Daisies – Although this pasta- and vegetable-focused Logan Square restaurant opened several years ago, it moved into a larger space and now offers pastries from Leigh Omilinsky throughout the day before dinner service. It was named a best new restaurant of 2023 by the New York Times and received a Green star from the Michelin Guide for its environmentally friendly practices (Chef Joe Frillman sources much of his produce from his brother’s farm.)

Short but accurate and offering a fair overview of the competition. Well done; check it out to get a sense of what’s up this year in all the categories. As I have noted before, I am involved with the Banchet show, so I’m not going to try to analyze the picks too much, but I will use them to say one thing. A number of people I talk about food with have found our post-lockdown restaurant scene rather safe and dull, a lot of steakhouses attributed, loosely, to various foreign cuisines. But if you want to be encouraged about the future of our scene, in the form of independent restaurateurs following the beat of their own drums to give us their own very personal take on what they like to cook, then look at who got Banchet nominations—from Thattu with its Keralan inspired food or Boonie’s with its devotion to Filipino cuisine, to chef-driven spots like Valhalla and Warlord, to casual food made with care and precision, from Latin food at Omarcito’s (a cargo container turned food stand) to Schwa vet Wilson Bauer’s pasta spot Flour Power. It’s a good list; you should find ideas for somewhere to go next there.

Speaking of Bauer, in his Instagram post about getting nominated, he made a good comment about what the Banchets mean to the restaurant community:

We’ve been nominated by @jeanbanchetawards for Best Counter Service. It’s an honor and privilege to have our restaurant be recognized by the Banchet awards. Our industry was shaken up pretty rough, the fat of our industry was made lean. Like the best part of dairy the cream of our industry has risen to the top. Everyone nominated should be proud knowing they’re the heavy cream of the industry, the 40% too–none of that 30% light bullshit. I look forward to seeing everyone recognized by them in the future. #jeanbanchet #bestcounterservice #chicago #chicagofood #muckfichelin #realrecognizesreal

Because you know where else you read about things like the Banchets in our deracinated media age? Social media, sometimes straight from chefs and other restaurant people themselves. One more irony: you know who’s getting the life achievement award or whatever they call it? The Tribune’s own former critic, Phil Vettel. Wouldn’t want to cover that…


Surprising to hear it this week, if not surprising to hear given how fast the revolving door at Alden Capital has been spinning, but Chicago Tribune reviewer Nick Kindelsperger is departing for an unnamed new opportunity, apparently not as a food writer:

I believe in brevity, so let’s get to it. Today is my last day at the Chicago Tribune. The past seven and a half years were wild, thrilling, and constantly chaotic. Owners, editors, and buildings changed with regularity. I watched hundreds of co-workers leave.

But throughout my tenure, the newspaper supported whatever crazed idea came into my head. They said yes to a month of me eating nothing but tacos and paid for me to eat more burgers than most people do in a lifetime. I got to hang out in the swankiest hotel bars and eat pounds of barbecue in a company car. I reviewed $400 tasting menus and a hot dog stand in a Home Depot.

I remain in awe of Chicago and the talent of the chefs. I tried to never shy away from criticism, but I defiantly refused to indulge in cynicism. To dismiss the abundance of restaurant riches around Chicago seems akin to turning your back on a daily miracle.

I’m staying in the city I love and moving to a job I’m thrilled about. Though I plan to take a break from food writing, it’s doubtful it will be for long.

I’ve known Nick for more than a decade, succeeding him as the editor of Grub Street Chicago and writing for him at Serious Eats. He’s always been a serious student of food as a cultural indicator (which is why, he admits, he wasn’t a good fit for Grub Street—he was more interested in obscure foods than the doings of celebrity chefs.) It’s a damned shame that our media scene is such that even the one-time top of the pyramid for jobs in food writing, the Trib, was unsustainable for a married man with a kid who will, one assumes, want to go to college eventually. A number of people have mentioned to me what will presumably stand as his final Trib piece—his spreadsheet and analysis of lettuce in burritos—saying it was a silly subject to devote so much newsprint to. I disagree; compared to reviewing some passable upscale restaurant that will be gone in a couple of years, I find this kind of deep, statistic-driven look at regional everyday food habits fascinating and revealing and I thought it spoke well of the Alden-era Trib that they would indulge such obsessiveness. Which apparently they did, but something about the gig didn’t last. In any case I wish him well in whatever the new gig is, and hope we’ll hear such things from him again.


Chef Sangtae Park has Omakase Yume and TenGoku Aburiya, making him one of the more innovative presenters of Japanese and Korean dining styles in Chicago. And Mike Sula says he’ll continue that with Bonyeon, a 12-seat all-beef tasting menu:

Serving a 12-course, all-beef omakase that combines a particularly Korean snout-to-tail aesthetic with Japanese technique, it’s the first of its kind in the U.S.

“‘Bonyeon’ means original, or root, or natural state,” says Kate Park, the chef’s wife and partner. “Maybe more close to ‘aboriginal.’”


The more casual side of Zubair Mohajir’s Wazwan is now Lilac Tiger, and Maggie Hennessy reviews it for Time Out:

Lilac Tiger’s (formerly Wazwan) trendiness owes in part to its indie roots, beginning as an underground tasting-menu supper club in Lakeview, then a quick-service stall in the hastily shuttered Politan Row food hall and a ghost kitchen in River West. Wazwan found a physical home in 2021, in a narrow storefront on Division Street where it slung Nihari beef momos and smash burgers. Meanwhile, Mohajir scratched his creative itch for finer dining by debuting The Coach House in the courtyard behind the restaurant, which serves an eight-course tasting menu Tuesdays through Saturdays (with optional wine and cocktail pairings).

Lilac Tiger creates a more solid anatomy for Wazwan’s shifting identity, with assists from partner Ty Fujimura (Small Bar, Entente) and collaborating culinary partner Won Kim (Kimski), plus vibrant and interesting cocktails from beverage director David Mor (Cindy’s, Robert et Fils).


The Infatuation is very hot on Atelier and its globetrotting influences:

One moment you’re snacking on a very American Lunchable-reuben crossover: crackers topped with buttery beef cheek pastrami, thousand island dressing, and sauerkraut. Then you might be enthusiastically slurping Japanese yuba noodles in nutty sweet potato dashi, or ruminating over a Wonka-esque bite of pheasant and apple crisp that tastes like a Thanksgiving meal. The food is complex and technical, but not overly serious—especially when dishes like a cute mini cider donut and a tiny mug of coffee milk land on your table for dessert.


Last week Titus Ruscitti talked about where to eat in Milan, this week in Parma:

Parma is a big time food town as it’s known for producing two of Italy’s most prized possessions – Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto de Parma. Both of which have been given Protected Designation of Origin status or PDO which are products that owe their quality and or characteristics to the geographical environment, including the natural and human factors. All parts of the production, processing and preparation process take place in the specific region. There’s plenty of hands on tours you can take to see how both of these high quality ingredients are made. We visited a cheese factory on the outskirts of town and learned how the “King of Cheeses” is made (Hint: the same way it’s always been made). We got to watch as employees did their job making Parmigiano Reggiano cheese entirely from scratch with nothing but human hands and strength. It’s a very traditional process consisting of raw milk and huge copper vats. As we learned, it takes 550 litres of milk to produce each wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano at Caseificio Uggalatte (Dal 1930). Of course the best part of the tour was getting to try all of the cheeses at the end of the showing.


Deep in a long and emotionally varied account of the Proustian rush Michael Nagrant got from a shrimp empanada at 5 Rabanitos, he admits that he had never been to the eight-year-old Pilsen spot from Alfonso Sotelo, who worked at Rick Bayless’ Xoco. Well, I am surprised by that, because there was a time when it was a standard stop for me and my kids in that part of town– I couldn’t have been sure how they’d feel about a plate of Carnitas Uruapan, but the comfy tamales at 5 Rabanitos were a guaranteed winner. Anyway, Nagrant:

The barbacoa was silky like pot roast bathed in pasilla chili, crowned with a spiky grilled cheese tostada, and flanked by a mound of creamy poblano garlic mashed potatoes. The accompanying tortillas had a hybrid flour like suppleness and a rich corn perfume.

If there’s a better value in fresh squeezed lime juice or pineapple and Mezcal-splashed $11 margaritas in Chicago, I don’t know where that is.

Me either, though I’ve been to a few places of late where it definitely isn’t.


Dennis Lee doesn’t write about brunch, he says:

We’re allergic to the idea of leaving the house prior to noon on Saturday and Sunday (it’s a serious condition), which is why you’ll rarely see brunch on the newsletter. Bottomless mimosas might be the way to get some of you out of the house, but I’d rather stay in bed, also bottomless.

I long had similar, if less smutty-minded, views: with kids, you need to have fed them hours before brunch gets around to being served, so my day was well under way before brunch was. Anyway, all this leads to having brunch at Honey Butter Fried Chicken, the star of which is not exactly chicken:

You’re not ready for this: It’s a chicken-fried pork breakfast sausage sandwich with candied jalapeño pimento cheese, a fried egg, and arugula ($12.95). This sandwich is the only entrée that’s not chicken (or tofu) based, and it swings for the goddamn parking lot.

A chicken-fried sausage patty? That’s an incredible concept. It’s enormous (think pub burger big), satisfyingly crunchy and juicy, and with the egg yolk and pimento cheese, magnificently indulgent. I am going to say that it’s definitely a once-in-awhile experience considering how dense and heavy it is, but I think you probably inferred that based off its description.


It’s like living in the early 2010s—I keep finding myself getting interested in what Next’s menus are. A couple of weeks ago there was the guy who did a course-by-course recap and now here’s the announcement of the 2024 season of Next: they’re saluting three influential food figures next year with menus inspired by Julia Child (beginning January 14), Bobby Flay (beginning May 1), and lastly and most expensively, Charlie Trotter (beginning September 8). Check it out and see the video they did featuring these three TV star chefs (though to me, one of these things is not like the others).

By the way, speaking of Child, there’s a new season of the Max series about her, starring Sarah Lancashire, Julia. I liked the first season, which could be kind of comfy-cozy (I preferred Stanley Tucci’s tougher version of her husband in Julie and Julia to David Hyde-Pierce’s) but was savvy about the inventively cheap world of local TV back in that era and how long it took her public TV station, WGBH, to realize what a star she was (and how many women were in their audience). You can watch the trailer here.


Metropolitan Brewing, a hot label a few years ago, is in a dispute with its landlord and will go out of business by year’s end. Goose Island, which has been hanging on by its fingers to its storied Clybourn location, will close by year’s end. (The latter was news from a year ago, but it’s close to happening now.) So what’s happening in the world of beer—a shakeout? Everyone’s drinking hard seltzer? In a Twitter exchange, @ChicagoBars mentioned an article in Paste Magazine I had not seen before with the cheery title “For Many Craft Breweries, the Apocalypse is Now”:

Why is this happening? Well, how much time do you have to delve into the dozen or so distinct and major reasons so many breweries are facing existential crises? First and foremost might well be the skyrocketing cost of doing business and making beer in the first place, as brewers face crippling pricing on practically every aspect of ingredients and packaging. These prices must then be passed on to a consumer base that largely already feels that beer pricing has gotten out of control, which results in a desire to keep prices as low as possible–making for nonexistent profit margins. Couple that with the industry’s creative malaise and lack of evolution over the last decade, and the fact that younger drinkers are increasingly exploring any other form of alcohol–or no alcohol–rather than beer, and all too many craft brewers are left scrabbling and fighting over a shrinking piece of the pie, completely unsure of how the situation can be addressed, much less reversed.

Pour yourself a cold one, and enjoy.


At NewCity, John Lenart talks about what to drink with Thanksgiving dinner—and it’s not all red Zinfandel, or even red.


I keep looking for the breakfast place to replace Arbor as my morning hangout. Here are a few I’ve been to lately:

Allez Cafe, on Western in Bucktown, is attached to a caterer called Ambrosia Foods, both operated by an ex-Alinea and Blackbird cook named Jason Melamed and a coffeehouse operator named Andrew Silaghi. It’s gotten a lot of attention for its breakfast sandwich, which puts egg and sausage on a Martin’s potato bun with some jalapeño jam and aioli. I liked the sandwich, which is kind of gooey in a good way, but even though I’m a fan of Martin’s potato buns (I have some in my house right now, to go with sloppy joes I made the other night) I wished for something sturdier with the ingredients on the sandwich, not that I minded it all sliding around but I just felt like something better built—like an English muffin, would have suited these fillings better. Anyway, I liked the cafe fine, though it is small and it can be hard to sit there and not feel like you’re going to be part of any conversation that happens there.

Botanical Cafe. I tried to go to Loba Pastry last Wednesday, only to find they aren’t open on Wednesday. So I kept walking north on Lincoln and after passing another place that was closed on Wednesday, I found a place I’d never been inside  called Botanical Cafe. The name comes, I guess, from the plants the space is filled with, which I found very pleasant. I had a cranberry scone which was fine, but mainly I just liked the friendly atmosphere and the way it feels like a college town hangout from the 70s. A destination, probably not, but a nice getaway in my own hood—yes. Now I know where to go on a day that Loba is closed.

Tilly Bagel is a hot new bagel place in the South Loop, or at least in the south end of the Loop. I’ve heard good things from a couple of people, but when I got in line, I was nearly chased away by the people in line in front of me, talking about how good the cranberry bagels with honey vanilla cream cheese (!) are. What, did someone find a third Einstein brother or something? I’m not deeply committed to bagel traditionalism, but the flavors listed seemed like they belonged in an ice cream shop, not a deli. I managed to order the most classical things I could find on the menu—plain bagels with “caramelized onion” (think mostly chive) cream cheese, along with a couple of outliers (pretzel bagel, cacio e pepe bagel); and they were okay. The bagels were still kind of soft and fluffy in an Einsteinian way (I like my bagels Newtonian, dense and chewy enough to prove the law of gravity), the plain ones and the pretzel one were decent, the cacio e pepe was kind of gross with cold hunks of melted cheese adhering to it. Oh well, to judge by the crowd Tilly clearly has its audience, and just as clearly I am not it.

Buzz List will be off next week, and return on December 4.