33 1/3

Heads up, no newsletter next weekend, but right after that, on December 1 to be precise, will be the most important event of the year—The Fooditor 33! Wait, you say, why is 2/3 less Fooditor 99 a good thing? Well, it’s not a paperback edition this year, but I didn’t want to let the hard work of so many restaurateurs in this cruel year go unrecognized. So it’s a streamlined edition focusing on things that were new in the past year. And it will be a free download, printable to a single sheet of paper (front and back), making it easier for you to discover the best of what came along in the past year. Watch for it December 1st.


How’s it looking? Friend of Fooditor Heather Lalley has our winter forecast at Restaurant Business Online:

Three-quarters of independent operators said they’d taken on new debt of at least $50,000 and more than 12% of those polled in a fall survey by the James Beard Foundation and the Independent Restaurant Coalition said they were buried under new debt of a half-million dollars or more.

Iconic independents that have weathered decades in business continue to close around the country, unable to continue amid a pandemic with no end in sight.

And, yet, independent restaurants are incalculably valuable to communities, propping up local economies with jobs, tourism dollars and their support of related industries like farmers, winemakers and more.


There won’t be many restaurant awards given this year, even fewer of the kind that require extensive travel and eating for someone from a national publication, but Esquire food critic Jeff Gordinier put out his 2020 list of 23 top new restaurants around the country. And Chicago has two on the list, neither quite the ones you might have guessed. One is Porto, which Fooditor wrote about here, an unconventional seafood-oriented restaurant; the other is Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream, which is admired both for the food and having the feel of “a real neighborhood hang.”


This is kind of a big one, even if it’s not a restaurant that people who were under drinking age in the 70s and 80s tend to know personally: the original Morton’s The Steakhouse on State Street (up in the Rush Street/Viagra Triangle). It was a big deal, as I say, back in those days, but more important is what it spawned—not just the whole Morton’s chain, which was particularly successful in Hollywood (remember “Celia Brady” in Spy ending every gossip column with “See you Monday night at Morton’s”), but all the things created by Arnie Morton’s kids—Hard Rock Cafe, all the DMK restaurants, Amy’s restaurants from Mirador then to Found now, and so on. For a steakhouse, that’s a long shadow it cast.

Fooditor was an early and often supporter of Cafe Marie-Jeanne, on the corner opposite Rootstock, giving money to its Kickstarter or whatever when it was going to be called Calaugusta Cafe and Grocer (oof), and doing this early piece (and reusing a photo in print in another piece for CS). I note that someone at LTHForum congratulated owner Michael Simmons for his “willingness to support social justice”; what that meant was that Simmons tended to get in the middle of things in an aggressive way on social media, and I wound up blocking him during l’affair Goss (I’m fine with hearing I’m wrong, I don’t care for someone oozing concern for me to my face while badmouthing me elsewhere on Facebook). Anyway, I hadn’t been in forever for that reason, but I still thought it was a valuable place on our scene that punched above its corner joint-weight, and I’m sorry that they announced that they would close for good on November 23; we are poorer for the loss. Eater has a roundup of Instagram reactions from other cooks in town.

One thing I said on Michael Muser’s podcast is that we won’t know everyone who closed during the lockdown until things reopen… and some don’t. An example of that at Block Club—no one has said Fulton Market Kitchen (which Fooditor wrote about here) has closed, but here’s somebody ready to knock its building down and build a hotel there.

And a Friend of Fooditor who lives nearby says that all the signage is off the building (which has been so many things, Scylla, Takashi, Glory, Dixie…) that most recently was Jacob Bickelhaupt’s Stone Flower.

Buzz 2


It seems less and less likely that Acadia will ever reopen, but in the meantime, chef-owner Ryan McCaskey continues to go to war with a former server, Cody Nason, now filing a suit against Nason for harassment after Nason successfully took out a restraining order against his employer of six months. Josh Noel’s piece at the Tribune is a nice example of how you can meet standards of objectivity in reporting while your entire piece basically screams “Dude, WTF?”


No, not kumbaya, Kumbala—a taco delivery popup operating out of Spilt Milk Bar. John Kessler reports on it:

[Co-owner Wilfredo] Bravo knows where to bring his cheffy moves. His vegan posole verde ($7.50) is fresh and bright, with appropriately chewy hominy and crisp-tender chunks of zucchini and chayote in a serrano broth enriched with pipián. And his chilled shrimp tacos ($8.50 for three) unite oil-poached shrimp with salsa macha for a luxurious texture and thrumming, subtly spicy flavor. (I wish we had gotten a double order of these.)


I don’t need to lay out a full Thanksgiving dinner guide—every publication in town has already done it, if there are people left who haven’t already ordered their stuff (I booked dinner from Big Jones two months ago). But here are some offerings that made their way into my mailbox, along with some feelgood stories for the holiday week:

El Che Provisions has your big red meat for an alternative T-day feast; go here by Tuesday to get yours.

Galit has wine six-packs, curated by their somm Kristen. The regular six-pack is sold out, the $300 for reserve is available, or you could just get a four-pack for $100 and I’m sure it’ll drink just fine. Go here.

Sumac Road is a new Mediterranean restaurant concept (Spain to Lebanon) operating virtually out of Greenwood in Highwood—co-owned by Josh Kaplan, of this Fooditor piece. If you’re in that area, check it out.

Here’s a stocking stuffer for a comfort food year—Jilly’s Jerky is a line of beef jerky flavors made from Slagel Family Farms Beef. Buy it or find store locations here.

The Sun-Times tells us about Vanille Patisserie making pies for Englewood families in need.

Gin and Juice is a new takeout cocktail line from Banchet award-winner Kevin Beary (Three Dots and a Dash). Go here, or order at Tock.

In case you procrastinated, Heritage Restaurant and Caviar Bar has turkey and sides for two… including caviar. Order by Monday here. And hey, if you need more pie—and why wouldn’t you?—Maison Parisienne has them here.

Also still taking orders for Thanksgiving: Jerry’s Sandwiches/Geraldine’s. See the menu here, order here.

Food2You is a company making daycare center meals, founded by former restaurant chef Greg Ingles. They just organized a Food Drive for Common Pantry through their daycare clients, and wound up delivering four catering vans’ worth of goods for the holiday season.

Found promises that chef Debbie Gold will answer your questions about preparing your curbside pickup meals—with your order, you get her direct number.


Vicarious travel department at Titus Ruscitti’s site, as he drops a host of suggestions from a recent trip to Denver, with lots of emphasis on crispy tacos:

Readers know I love a good crispy taco and I know damn well some people are offended by them. They shouldn’t be. Crispy tacos are a part of Mexican-American style of food which is of itself regional Mexican food. It just so happens to be served in a region north of a stupid border that separates countries but not peoples love of tacos including the Mexican’s who first brought them across the border. As the aforementioned Gustavo Arellano mentions in the crispy taco episode of ‘Taco Chronicles’ on Netflix – “it was either these tacos or no tacos”


Steve Dolinsky visits chef Dominique Tougne’s new cafe French Quiche, and talks quiche with the veteran chef. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Also, a couple of bakeries doing playful things, Sugargoat and Brite Donuts and Baked Goods.


Eater’s Ashok Selvam looks at the effects of COVID-19 on a specific slice of Chicago’s food scene—the South Asian restaurants on Devon:

Normally, Devon Avenue — Chicago’s main cluster of South Asian restaurants and shops — would be bustling this time of year thanks to Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated in India and in many parts of South Asia…

As the community observed Diwali on Saturday, November 14, few families gathered at Devon’s restaurants to feast on thalis, pakoras, or pooris. Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered a coronavirus advisory a few days before the holiday, urging residents to stay at home. So there was little to celebrate down the two-mile stretch of Devon in the city’s West Ridge neighborhood.

Devon, famously crowded on weekends with suburban Indian-Americans coming into the city to shop and eat, saw a decline as crowds became something to avoid. But there’s also a longer-term evolution at play:

Devon can’t sustain itself on the demand for lentils alone. Population shifts toward the suburbs have taken the spotlight away from the strip. In Naperville, the owner of the Mall of India, the complex of Indian stores and restaurants that opened its first phase over the summer, described the project as putting all of Devon indoors and near the suburbs where the Indian population continues to increase.

In that, the Indian-American community is little different than the Jewish community that was prominent on Devon until well into the 2000s, but just hangs on by a couple of storefronts now. If you want great Indian food, you may want to look in Schaumburg and Naperville instead. Selvam sees prejudice in non-South Asian reluctance to venture on the street, but as he quotes (Indian-American) Alpana Singh, she gets at maybe a bigger issue:

Even as an Indian American, she says Devon can be intimidating to outsiders; she wishes there was a definitive and accessible guide to the area.

“It’s a form of xenophobia, is what it is,” Singh says of people’s reluctance to visit Devon, both pre- and post-pandemic. “It’s crazy.”

What she describes strikes me as a somewhat understandable reluctance. Devon has always been a graduate level ethnic cuisine neighborhood for non-South Asians to explore, harder for outsiders to crack than, say, Chinatown or Argyle Street—unless you simply go to one of the many buffets and pile your plate high (not the worst way to learn).

Selvam mentions the boogeyman—food writer John Kessler’s 2019 piece which condemned certain neighborhoods of traditional cuisines as being a bit tired, foodwise (and Devon was clearly one he had in mind). But like it or not, there’s truth to it—there’s really no place in the city where there are so many 20+-year-old restaurants of the same type, lading up barely distinguishable chicken tikka masala and sag paneer in steam trays. The innovation in South Asian cuisine is mostly in the suburbs, where the Indian-American professional class now lives—and via pop-ups (I am writing this, no joke, as I am heating up food from a pop-up called Tasting India).

Anyway, that’s my take on his piece as a devoted Devon eater, whose comprehension of what I was looking for vastly improved with the communal help fostered at Chowhound and LTHForum beginning in the early 2000s. Devon is still fascinating and rewarding, but like so many Chicago enclaves, it is in the process of being outshone, and maybe supplanted, by new enclaves in the suburbs. In any case, you will be rewarded by reading Selvam’s dive into the state of the neighborhood in 2020—one thing it made me realize is how rarely I read the names of Indian owners and chefs in food media and Chicago (at least ones not named Rohini Dey). Meeting them in this piece is a good start at correcting that.


Meanwhile, on the other sides of town, Latino and African-American businesses go through the same things, and a fine piece at the Reader by Maura Turcotte looks at a few (like Park View Diner and the shuttered Step Down Cafe in Pilsen) to show how such businesses are feeling the squeeze as opportunities in such communities vanish:

With utilities and other bills still needing to be paid, [Park View Diner co-owner Nelson] Perez applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, one of the federal pandemic relief programs intended to cover payroll, rent, and more for small businesses. Like many other business owners of color though, he never received any money.

The Center for Responsible Lending, a policy and research nonprofit, upon examining the loan and its requirements, started issuing warnings in April that the program’s setup would prevent most business owners of color from accessing the funds. The nonprofit found, for instance, that minority-owned businesses often have fewer employees and bring in less revenue. Those loans, as a result, would be smaller and would generate smaller fees for lending institutions. White-owned businesses, requiring larger loans that would yield larger fees for lenders, would be prioritized then.


I’m holding some things back for The Fooditor 33 next week, but let’s start with, as mentioned, Tasting India, a popup which does different regions of India. This week’s was Sikkim Thali—unfortunately the page that explains what that is in more detail is already removed from the site—and it included chayote with pea pods (and Indian spices), a hearty vegetarian dish, radishes and perilla leaves (not a fan), Tibetan dal (excellent), Gurkha rice and Gurkha chicken (braised chicken). It tasted home-cooked, not cheffy, but gave me a different picture of a cuisine—well worth giving a try, or tries, since she does a new region’s specialties every week. Contact chef-owner Jasmine Sheth via her site here.

I mentioned last week that after PR previews seemed to have gone away with so much else on the restaurant scene, I suddenly had a bunch on my schedule. And so I got to try Cluck It, a Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich startup operating out of a South Loop ghost kitchen. It’s good! A huge piece of well-fried chicken, with pickles and slaw on it, a side of mac and cheese, some waffle fries—it scratches the fried chicken sandwich itch (which to judge by the explosion in such this year, a lot of people are having) just fine. Go here to order.

Roots Handmade Pizza punnily launched a short-term deep dish pizza offering called Ruth’s Pan-Made Pizza, with a piece of the action going to the ACLU’s Women and Reproductive Rights fund, in honor of that Ruth. I like Roots’ own pizza a lot but I have to admit I thought this butter-crust deep dish didn’t quite nail the style—or maybe it was that they gave me an Italian beef pizza (which I always thinks sounds better than it is, but that beef just lays there in the pizza; giardinera on a sausage pizza is a better combo). Anyway, what I really liked was a torta-style sandwich with gyros meat on it; the gyros and the combination of fresh ingredients (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) was the winner for me. Available from the Roots location at 1610 N. Wells.

Finally, as a big fan of the late Finom Coffee, as well as of fusion foods that don’t have American anywhere in their titles, I’ve been eager to get to Evette, and finally did. Finom chef Rafa Esparza is one of the partners behind this little place’s Mexican-Lebanese food, starting with the original such thing, tacos al pastor. But mainly it’s invented variations on that theme, whether that’s chicken shawarma on a velvety-soft flour taco, or halloumi (a feta-like cheese from the middle-east) on a… velvety soft flour taco. Anyway, that’s what I had, plus their version of a quesabirria… and every one was just fantastic, meat crisped just right, tortillas warmed just right, toppings bright and zingy. Finom was a great example of how refined inexpensive food could be in this city, and so is Evette. Don’t hesitate, check it out (down the block from Park West).