1. THE POST-MEDIA WORLD

Tronc, 2,000 videos a day, Randy Michaels, shoving content into the funnel, cutting staff to pay out dividends to himself most of all… Michael Ferro did many ludicrous and terrible things during his tenure as largest stockholder and driving (into a ditch) force behind the Tribune company. But his last act is a shocking one that truly shows the contempt with which he held his employees, his customers, the idea of running a newspaper as a public service. He sold his shares, the largest block if not a majority, to Alden Global Capital. To quote the Sun-Times if not the Tribune: “New York-based Alden is known for slashing jobs as its first order of business. It’s been called a serial destroyer of newspapers. ‘Their actions say that they don’t see a growth story in media,’ said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. ‘They are intent on cutting costs to the bone and beyond and pulling cash out along the way.’”

Which is to say, a continuation of Ferro’s strategy of bleeding a cow he figures is too strong to actually die from the cuts, now even more bloodsuckerish. And Bloomberg notes that it’s not because they’re geniuses anywhere else: “Although those running his papers claim the cuts are driven by necessity, the layoffs seem far in excess of what’s happening elsewhere in the industry. Instead, it appears that [president Heath] Freeman is cutting costs so he can pull out cash, and then, as the business dwindles because the product is damaged, he cuts some more, pulling out yet more cash while further damaging the product… And what is Freeman doing with the cash? According to a recent lawsuit, he is siphoning it into some of his hedge fund’s poorly performing investments.”

For the first time, then, we have to consider a city without the Tribune, in not too many years—Alden aims for pale shadows, like the Denver Post became under them, but at some point you no longer can produce the airspeed to keep  something this big flying at all. There’s an opportunity here for somebody with big bucks to create a new news vehicle, free of so many Tribune middlebrow/hidebound legacies, targeting an upscale audience with incisive reporting that could draw national attention, and the cultural coverage that appeals to upscale readers—including restaurant and food coverage. Ironically, it’s even the one thing that might keep the Tribune going—if Alden had real competition of that sort, aimed right at the people who they have as their advertising base, they might realize that they need to feed their cash cow, not just suck it dry.

Or so we can dream.

2. THE POST-MEDIA WORLD, PART 2

I hesitated for a moment to even mention Time Out Market under a similar headline, because in so many ways Time Out has the vision that the Tribune’s owners have so signally lacked. But I think they are both reactions to  changes in the media world—one running into the ground, the other leapfrogging to a new business model.

I went to a Time Out Market preview lunch on Tuesday—along with 40 or so media people and influencers, the latter outnumbering the former considerably, but there were several media events that week. The space is vast and cavernous, like a stock exchange, or the dining hall where you find out which house the Sorting Hat is sending you to. The chef choices are pretty much the cream of our local crop, a trick that has eluded airports and other ventures trying to trade on Chicago’s culinary reputation. And the food and drink, at this preview anyway, seemed to be on a comparable level of quality to that of the same kitchens in their original locations. In short, they’ve done everything they promised, on the scale they promised. Bravo.

They’re making bets on a lot of not quite proven ideas—that you can lure tourists to the West Loop and then largely keep them within your four walls/city block. And that those tourists will want, not Giordano’s and Shake Shack, but surprisingly grownup fare, by and large, bowls of clams from Abe Conlon of Fat Rice and beef ribs from John Manion and fish tacos from Dos Urban Cantina. I heard a couple of people rebel a little at the giant food hall—that we food media types, at least, are not the types who want all of our choices in one easy place. But they do it in other cities and they’re expanding, almost weekly, around the globe; how can you not admire this ambition and willingness to invest and grow, in the Alden Group Era?

To elaborate on what I wrote some months back, they’ve found value in media’s perceived in-the-know-ness as a way to give cachet to a real estate venture. Well, at least somebody found some value in media somewhere. Will it permanently compromise the media end, that it is now doing the heavy sell for the food hall and there seems no clear dividing line between the two? Did I actually use the word “permanently” in regards to media? The media helps launch the real estate end, the real estate gives the media end an adrenaline shot of swagger. Media relevance lives another day. You can’t eat the Chinese wall between editorial and marketing, even with hoisin sauce.

Now, we see how it does day in and day out. But it is impossible not to be impressed. Now that Time Out and Starbucks have favored our city with big plans, maybe we can start having no little ones again.

3. THE MADDONING CROWD

One part of the city that has developed in a big way is the area around Wrigley Field, though it’s gotten little respect (Orlando on Clark or something like it is the usual slam). At Crain’s, Joanne Trestrail says you have to respect what’s being served at Maddon’s Post: “The menus, developed by Mantuano and executive chef Aaron Thebault (Girl & the Goat, Boka), have more cabbage on them than you see in most Italian restaurants and more pizza than you see in most Polish ones, but the cross-culinary mashup makes a strong case for itself. Everything we sampled was imaginative, tasty and highly appealing. Business lunchers up for something delicious and—dare we say—fun, should take note.”

4. SAY YEMEN SOMEBODY

Mike Sula has a piece on the new restaurant, Sheeba Mandi House, from Abu Hani whose Yemen Restaurant was the first from that culture to open here. He explains that while much of the menu is the usual kebabs and so on, there are dishes distinctive to Yemen: “Among more common pan-Arabic mezes such as hummus and baba ghanoush, there’s the snacktastic finger food mutapq (sometimes spelled murtabak), griddled pouches of thin flatbread enveloping tomato-sauced meat or eggs dosed with a blend of mayo and melted cheese. At Sheeba the beef version conjures up a kind of proto cheesesteak. If you ask me, Hani could sell nothing but mutapq and the restaurant would still be a destination.”

5. TONIGHT ON DYNASTY

I’m waiting for the full report on Titus Ruscitti’s dining in Japan, but first we get a report on Cartagena. While in Chicago, he visits Xi’an Dynasty, a Chinese restaurant from a hot region in Lincoln Park: “My most recent visit came just the other day. All signs pointed to the Paomo soup being the stand out. Paomo is a specialty soup native to Shaanxi cuisine. It’s eaten all over Xi’an where each spot has it’s own little take. The basis of this dish is lamb bone broth with chopped up meat and diced leavened bread (known regionally as mo). Xi’an Dynasty doesn’t have lamb on the menu so their Paomo is made from beef bone broth and comes with sliced brisket and the bread already served in the soup along with cellophane noodles. Even though this was my first go with Paomo I found the flavor profile very comforting. I think most Midwestern raised people would.”

6. I PUT A HEXE ON YOU

Living up the street, I watched the redevelopment of the Lathrop Homes on Diversey with a Chicagoan’s cynical eye, and you couldn’t get more symbolic of what was happening there than by renting the leasing office at the corner of Diversey and Damen to a coffee shop. Ji Suk Yi talks to Hexe Coffee owner Parker Slade about how he wound up there: “The seeds — or rather beans — for Hexe Coffee Co. were planted because owner Parker Slade was tired of spending more money than he wanted to on hot beverages. ‘I promised my wife it wouldn’t be a thing, that I was just messing around, that I’m not going to start a business,’ said Slade, who ordered raw coffee beans online four years ago along with a Whirley popcorn popper to roast the beans by hand on the couple’s kitchen stove… Then, roughly two months ago, Slade opened the doors to the edgy Hexe Coffee Co. on Diversey Parkway.”

7. SCHEHERWITHALL

We’re already in year-end, best-of territory—remember when they didn’t start playing it till after Thanksgiving?—and Thrillist’s list is out and full of 2019 woke credentials: “We’re Black, Asian, Latinx, everything mixed together. We live in Charleston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles. We’re willing to lavish unwise sums of money on a dining experience that takes us out of ourselves and lingers in our memory long afterward…” yeah, yeah, get on with it! Anyway, Kevin Alexander reviews the Chicago entry—yes, that Kevin Alexander, and that Kevin Alexander—and it’s Wherewithall: “Night after night, the kitchen tells an ever-changing, but consistently cohesive story within these parameters, like a kind of culinary Scheherazade. Thus they seduce neighborhood eaters into giving prix fixe a go in this more casual setting.

Meanwhile, the Chicago branch puts out its list (but Ina Mae Tavern opened in 2018, not 2019).

8. VIRTUE REWARDED

That is, Erick Williams’ Virtue in Hyde Park was rewarded with spot #13 on Esquire’s best new restaurants list: “The entire menu at Virtue is like a spread at a family reunion piled high with dishes that inspire such love. Moist cornbread cradling a pat of butter the size of a bar of soap. Shrimp blanketed in rémoulade on a crunchy bed of fried green tomatoes. Velvety mac and cheese.”

9. CUATRO

Inside Hook has a piece on what it ranks the four Mexican restaurants that changed Chicago dining. Whether or not you buy the breathless premise (or the not-exactly-Mexican pedigrees of a couple of them), it offers you some places you may not have checked out yet, so give it a look.

10. URBAN RAMOVAL

Okay, this counts as a pretty big plan—the Ramova Theater, long abandoned in Bridgeport (and a kind of sister theater to the Music Box up north), home to one of the city’s last old school chili parlors till it closed several years ago, will be redeveloped as a performance venue, food by Kevin Hickey and more. Ariel Cheung, who apparently raced straight from the Time Out Market media preview to the community meeting on this, has the full story at Block Club Chicago.

11. DEPARTING NORTH POND

Some things seem permanent on the food scene, and one of them without a doubt was Bruce Sherman as chef of the very romantic (in Arts & Crafts architecture and location) North Pond, in Lincoln Park. And by Lincoln Park, I mean not just the neighborhood—it’s actually in the park, at one end while the Green City Market, which Sherman has been involved with from its start, is at the other. But after 20 years, he’s leaving the restaurant in the hands of his chef de cuisine, Tim Vidrio, and he says he doesn’t know what he’s doing next.

Sherman has long been one of the city’s most thoughtful chefs, which suited him well as a simultaneous board member and customer of Green City, helping guide the market in directions that would be mutually beneficial for farmers and chefs. I haven’t written about North Pond at Fooditor, but here’s a Reader piece from 2015 in which we talked about the coming spring at the market, and how he approaches it as a chef:

It used to be that the mindset of the fine dining chef was, the value of the exclusivity of the product. It’s the classic mindset of the French chef who takes secrets to the grave. Who wants to offer something else no one else can offer, because it makes him or her more powerful—he thinks. And that defeats, or goes contrary to, the purpose of sustainability. If I’ve got a farmer who’s growing a specific product for me and nobody else can get it, I suppose it’s great for me that people have to come to my restaurant to get it, but it does nothing for the farmer or for the economy to not broaden the base and ensure that that’s going to be available in years to come.

Jeff Ruby writes a love note to the restaurant here.

THE FOODITOR 99 FOR SALE ON BLACK FRIDAY! MIKE GEBERT IN PERSON!

Actually, it’s for sale every day; go here. But the important thing is, there’s no better way to tell someone “I love you and can’t bear to see you eat anything less than the best Chicago has to offer,” than by giving them the best guide to where to eat right now this holiday season.

Hey, people in the suburbs! I will be talking about, and selling copies of, The Fooditor 99 at the LaGrange Park Public Library on Monday, December 2, at 7:00 pm. Go here for more details (actually, it’ll just tell you what I just told you, but I guess you can find out the address that way…)

Hey, people in the far southwest suburbs! Shortly copies will be for sale at Sparrow Coffee’s shop in Naperville, too.

And finally, Buzz List will be off next week, for Thanksgiving. See you in two weeks, and don’t forget about buying The Fooditor 99 as a stocking stuffer!

Fooditor 99 monolith