My family adapted very quickly to lockdown, now seven months ago. We gathered the family (bringing one back from overseas) and laid in provisions. A friend made masks and gave them to us while I was still trying to figure out how to shop for such things. We ordered a lot of pizza.

Early on we figured out what seemed an equilibrium of caution vs. activity for us. I went to grocery stores a couple of times a week, because I felt cooking good, interesting food was essential to staying sane. Everyone walked the dog (we practically competed for the chance). Otherwise, we stayed in—with one exception every other week: we all cleared out and let our maid clean the house while we tromped around forest preserves in the burbs. Well, and we did let our younger son hang out with his one close friend, because we figured they were as self-contained a unit as our family is. Again, trade-offs between exposure and long term happiness at home, that with teens risked exploding in greater risk-taking if we were too strict. At the same time, we refused to go overboard with paranoia—no walking around with a pool noodle to make sure people passed on the sidewalk stayed six feet away, no wiping down Amazon packages and leaving them in the garage for two days. COVID was a risk; so is crossing the street.

We did this for five months, and it worked and we mostly got along. No one got infected, as verified by tests we all took in August. But then came the next step. Both kids were itching to go on to college. The older one’s college, in a small town in Minneapolis—they seemed to have distancing under control. We were more worried about the younger one’s school, in Wisconsin. He complained to us almost immediately that his roommates were going to parties and bringing people into their common area. He took precautions as best he could—avoiding the crowds, wiping things down, wearing his mask (the only one who did).

As for ourselves—my wife and I even started going to restaurants again, a little. Mostly outside, but sometimes socially distanced inside, at places like Ever and Topolobampo. Nothing like how much I used to go, but calculating the risk here and there.

On September 21st I had lunch (outside) at Mortar & Pestle with Ina Pinkney, to interview her for my book. We chatted and gossiped and never got around to the actual interview, so we talked about doing that later in the week, again in person. That night, younger son called: he felt sick and had gotten tested over the weekend. The results had just come back, and he had COVID.

I canceled Ina and everything else. He drove back that night and we prepared for him staying in for a couple of weeks, at least. Only my wife had direct contact with him; I was his short order cook and the one who ventured into the outside world. That week, we sent the maid away, and cleaned up after ourselves.

Fortunately, he never felt that sick—in fact, it made it hard that his case was so minor, since you time things based on when the fever stops, and he never had a fever, just sniffles. By the first weekend he basically was done with that, but he still had to count off at least ten days at home before he could go back. (At least he didn’t miss any classes, since he was the reason they canceled them.) He finally went back a few days ago. Maybe he’s the lucky one: immune now, at least for a while.

Anyway, I tell this story here because, although I recognize that one family’s experience hardly qualifies as scientific proof, it’s encouraging to know that the things we did mostly seemed to work like we were told they would. None of us caught it going grocery shopping, or walking the dog, or hiking through a park. None of us caught it off a pizza box or an Amazon package. None of us got it dining at Ever, or any other restaurant.

COVID got into our house the way they said it would—exposure to other people foolishly not wearing masks, who foolishly gathered in groups. We responded by being careful and quarantining seriously, and some days later, it left our house again (my wife and I both just tested negative again). In the end, I don’t fear any restaurant that is taking it seriously, wearing masks and maintaining distancing. I only fear people who don’t do those things.


In part because of the story above, I’m especially bummed about the fire Thursday night that will likely prove the end to Belmont Snack Shop, my favorite (ahead of Diner Grill, Jeri’s, etc.) among what had been the few surviving working class greasy spoon diners on the north side. My favorite, but even moreso younger son’s favorite—he shares my love for old school regular guy food—and before he could drive, he and I often went together for breakfast on a Saturday morning, enough that if I went by myself, the counter lady would ask me where he was. After he could drive, he and his best friend would go there without me (don’t know if she asked where I was).

Anyway, a classic diner spot, where it was a pleasure watching one of the skilled grill cooks work in his tiny space with maximum efficiency, flipping flapjacks with one hand and sticking the other out for a salt shaker and finding it without even looking. I know that some of the staff who we chatted with there a few years ago have already passed, and now the restaurant itself is gone too, taking with it a little more of the old Chicago I first knew, and my son did too. I posted a few pics (from 2014) here; the Sun-Times has a moving piece about the fire and the family who owns it (and lived above it), and there’s a fundraiser for the family here.


You probably can’t name many famous restaurants’ sous chefs, but if you know the history of Charlie Trotter’s, you know who Reggie Watkins was—the first employee, longtime prep chef and the heart of so much kitchen culture there. Adam Lukach in the Trib:

Everyone who stuck around the kitchen would get a nickname from Watkins. [Giuseppe] Tentori was “Papa Joe”; [David] LeFevre was “Baby D”; [Sari] Zernich-Worsham was dubbed “Mama.” From his standards to his smile, Watkins became a defining influence for the chefs who came through Trotter’s kitchen.

“He was someone that you would look to for guidance,” said Zernich-Worsham, co-owner of mfk and the now-closed Bar Biscay. “He would usher you along. He saved all of our butts many a time and many a service.”

Watkins died September 28 in Louisiana, where he had been working the past few years.


There seemed hope that we were going to get restaurant aid—and then the whole idea of preelection aid fell apart. But it’s still needed; Rick Bayless explained why on WBEZ’s Reset last week.


Plate’s September/October issue focuses on people who responded to the lockdown by finding ways to serve others, from Edward Lee with the Lee Initiative to, locally, the Fifty/50 Group. Read it on a down day—there’s hope.


It can’t have been that long since the last time the Tribune did a pizza listicle, but they’re back at it, and I guess the reason is that there have been all these new pizzas since lockdown. And indeed, the surest way onto this list is to be one of the new square Detroit-style pizzas; nearly every one of them seems to outrank the actual pizzas of this town that have existed and enjoyed great popularity for three-quarters of a century. (I lean to the opinion that John Kessler just tentatively shared on social media… all this square pizza is mostly comfy and good, not great, or they’re a receptacle for great toppings. Crispy tavern crust, that’s great.) Well, it’s a chance to find out more about the new Detroit-style places, anyway.


I take a week off for COVID-related reasons, Steve Dolinsky keeps finding new places:

Emeche Cakery and Cafe: “The menu at Emeche Cakery and Cafe in Bronzeville leans toward coffee drinks, sandwiches and pastries. But Janell Richmond’s creations are rooted in the boozy sweets she made while living in New York City. ‘So when I started out, I was doing alcohol-infused cupcakes, so I wanted a name that said it. ‘Emeche’ means ‘tipsy’ in French,’ she said.” It’s also vegan-friendly.

More new pizzas! Including Pizza Friendly Pizza, Pizza Lobo, Milly’s Pizza in the Pan and more.

• Jeff & Jude’s: “‘It’s a two-week brine that we do, and then after that two-week brine, for the pastrami, we’ll de-salinate it in water overnight, and then we’re gonna put it in our smoker with a rub on it; then for the corned beef we’re gonna just let that broil overnight in the water in the oven for about 15 hours,’ said [owner Ursula] Siker.”


Also unstoppable: Titus Ruscitti, who is instagramming up a storm from Colorado right now. In the meantime, he offers a dining guide to the west side… the mostly African-American west side, one of the most overlooked parts of the city for food media. He starts with a Fooditor favorite—Uncle Remus—and continues into places no one’s talked about before, but will now:

You can find soul food with roots in the Delta tucked under the California green line. Creed on Lake opened almost a year ago. The partners who own the place wanted to bring a taste of the deep south to Garfield Park. An area where many locals have roots going back to states like Mississippi. No hot tamales unfortunately but the food is really well made. Both the catfish and the fried chicken are hits as is the Friday special seafood gumbo. Of course when it comes to a great soul food spot they have to have good sides and I thought the mac and cheese was the best of a strong bunch.


There were protesters… well, a few… in front of The Purple Pig last week, led by employee Ryan Love, reports Grace Wong in the Tribune:

The protest, which ended up being four people greeting passersby with signs saying, “211K Americans dead. Tapas anyone?” and “No transparency, no accountability,” was inspired by frustration over the perceived actions of restaurant chef and owner Jimmy Bannos Jr. and other members of management. Love contends they did not take appropriate steps to keep employees and guests safe after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 24…

Love said he thought company responses were insufficient, if not insulting. He believes guests and staff should have been notified the same day management found out about the positive case, and the restaurant should have immediately closed for cleaning… Love also said that management should have paid for all of the staff to be tested and paid during their time off, should someone need to be quarantined.

Wong describes how the restaurant responded:

According to a statement from Bannos at The Purple Pig, the employee who tested positive last worked Sept. 20 and he had a normal temperature, was asymptomatic and masked at all times. No one else at Purple Pig was exposed or tested positive since they were alerted Sept. 24, he said in the statement. The staff member was required by the company to quarantine.

Fooditor has no pig in this fight, but I think this dispute, which is reported in a way that is plainly protester-sympathetic, falls under the heading of “reasonable dispute between parties” more than injustice. As Wong notes, “A business is only required to report to [the Chicago Department of Public Health] if two or more cases are found within 14 days,” and The Purple Pig had one. They also say they have regularly scheduled deep cleans, and that one took place Oct. 1-3. Where protester Love’s contention is that the restaurant should both shut down after one case—and pay him and all the other employees while closed… a position that ought to seem, to anyone, obviously unrealistic and unsustainable for restaurants in this time in particular.


Mike Sula has an interesting piece on a farmer growing Asian crops on an urban plot, Rachel Kimura:

Apart from Green Acres Farm in North Judson, Indiana, the Pear Angel Oriana Kruszewski, and the Global Garden Refugee Farm, growing commercial Asian crops isn’t common locally, she says. “I think a lot of immigrant families don’t want their kids to be farmers.” Though her family had a small garden in the West Rogers Park backyard where she grew up, her parents didn’t expect she’d become one either.


I thought all pizza places were doing great in the lockdown, but evidently not—Crain’s has an item on Dimo’s Pizza, which pivoted to making face shields for a time: “In short order, Dimo’s repurposed the ovens for molding acrylic and started producing 1,000 face shields per week. The company charged just $5, which returned enough profit to help [owner Dimitrio] Syrkin-Nikolau retain his entire staff.”


David Hammond offers a paean to jello, because we’re all eating comfort food anyway and why not:

For the past few weeks, I’ve been eating four cups of the stuff every day. Whenever I mention this food fetish to family and friends, I get an eyeroll and a look that says, “You’re kidding, right?” No, I’m not. I like jello, it’s super low cal, and a cool thing to eat on a hot night.


The owners of a Mexican ice cream shop on the northwest side, El Sabor la Michoacanita, were assaulted in a robbery last Monday. Here’s the GoFundMe.


Remember how the Trib used to review every Next menu? Now I guess they’ve pivoted to reviewing every McDonald’s special. But Next is doing a tribute menu to The Fat Duck, and if you want to know what it’s about, here’s a review at LTHForum.


A couple of weeks back I talked about my experience with the ghost kitchen used by Catsu Sando. BBQ newsletter The Cue Sheet has a much more elaborate tale of mystery BBQ, which involves an Uber billionaire and the Saudi royal family, among other things. It’s poised to take over the food business if big money has anything to say about it, and it kinda sucks, if you ask me.

Hey, speaking of newsletters, friend of Fooditor Meathead has one devoted to the food industry that is well worth knowing about if knowing what’s going on it is part of your job, or your obsession. It’s called DigestThis.news; check it out here.


Another one that hurt this week—Mundano. Not because I went and loved it, but because I never got to. Located in the former Blanchard space, it was launched by suburban restaurateurs Baligh and Moe Abu-Taleb (Mesa Urbana) with chef Ross Henke, who had done such good work at Quiote. He brought in Trista Baker, also from Quiote as well as a co-founder of a group called the Restaurant Culture Association aimed at improving kitchen culture, to help guide Mundano’s own culture, as Eater described in February: “They’re working on vocabulary to help set boundaries, using phrases to help facilitate better communication between management and staff. Words have power in showing workers they won’t be ignored.”

In retrospect, it seems a miss that the publicity was led to focus more on the intended internal culture than on the food that was supposed to attract diners—which had touches of the Mexican food Henke created at Quiote, while expanding into cultures all over the globe. Time might have allowed that story to come out, but time is not what Mundano had: they were open for just three weeks in their original form before lockdown came. They quickly pivoted to a fried chicken delivery popup (called Wingin’ It)—and then shut that down just as quickly (after one weekend, I think). To judge by Instagram posts, they started up again two months later with meal kits, then added a patio a month after that, with brunch following soon after.

Yet, did you hear about any of those later incarnations? I have no idea what PR they ever had, since I apparently never received any of it, but after a decent pre-opening run-up (Anthony Todd had this), they were basically never heard of again in food media. And in any case, the offerings seem to have shifted to somewhat basic comfort food (like everyone else trying to survive COVID), not likely to draw diners in search of the new (if such diners still exist). I don’t mean to blame them for any of this as a survival strategy—but in any case, it didn’t work, and to me it’s an instructive tale of how establishing an identity for restaurant diners requires a lot of things to go right… and this year, all of them could go wrong.


Needless to say, a lot of home cooking given my last couple of weeks, but I did try two of the new pop-up/aspiring businesses places, which I liked… with certain reservations. We certainly could get pizza delivered and so I ordered from Milly’s Pizza in the Pan, which aims for a fresh take on the Burt Katz-style pizza (pan pizza with a frico of caramelized cheese around the edge). I thought theirs was pretty good, much like LaBriola’s, where I must admit that Pequod’s has felt tired at times. But one thing about a lot of these new pizzas—they all stress composed pizzas with half a dozen ingredients on them. And you know, I order pizza for a family. And the more things you put on it, the more you’re likely to get something someone objects to.

Happily, and somewhat rarely among this new crop of pizzas, Milly’s lets you make your own. So I got a pepperoni pizza, and then took one of their composed pizzas—the Updog—and took off the peppers (wife doesn’t like heat), the olives (younger son doesn’t like olives) and the sausage and pepperoni, leaving a veggie pizza of spinach, red onions and tomatoes. Two out of three liked it fine, and one stuck to the pepperoni.

Jeff & Jude’s is the deli pop-up soon to be permanent in the former space of heavy metal burger bar The Lockdown. Well, this is heavy metal deli, everything cranked up to 11, and when it’s good it’s great, artisan deli on a level that, well, people like me have made at home for ourselves, you couldn’t really buy it. Great: the marble rye, swirled black as midnight, a burnt-ashy taste playing bass while the rye and caraway notes rise from the graveyard like Jethro Tull’s flute. (Okay, I’ll stop now.) Also great: the two-week-brined (see above) corned beef, and the black and white cookies.

Not as great: the pastrami is off to a good start basically being the corned beef, smoked. But the other thing that makes it pastrami is that it has a cracked black pepper rub… and hoo boy, does this have a black pepper rub, to the point where you can’t taste the pastrami—all you’ve got is a mouthful of Tellicherry carpet tacks. I had to trim the bark off mine to make it palatable. I think maybe I got the thin end of a brisket, increasing the pepper to meat ratio, but still, a lot of people are going to get that last 1/6th or so of a brisket, it’s got to be likable. (One other note: the 1/2 lb. of corned beef I got was all from the fattier point, which is too much of a good thing; they should mix up slices from the leaner flat and the point, even in an order as small as that.)

So I join in the general praise for Jeff & Jude’s, which closed down after this weekend to get ready to reopen permanently on November 6. But please, a little easier on the pastrami rub, which hides the quality of the meat in those enticingly thick, jagged slices.