What do we lose if we lose a bunch of old school Chicago taverns? Eater is doing a national thing on the state of bars and drinking in the COVID-19 era, and two pieces ask that question. First, Maggie Hennessy has a deeply flavorful piece at Eater on “slashies,” combination bars/package good stores, an increasingly frequent, if historically quite recent (as she gets into), term for a Chicago fixture:

Literally a bar on one side and a liquor store on the other, they’re the no-frills kinds of joints close to transit where you pop in for a pint then buy a case of beer to take home. Set beneath Old Style signs and wide awnings bearing descriptors like “cut rate prices!” with windows covered in Miller Lite and Bud Light neons, they’re easy to walk right by.

Inside, the retail portion often dominates square footage; shelves full of bottles spill into the narrow bar, which sports a few worn stools, a TV, and maybe an arcade game or two. The crowd reflects the neighborhood: Salty oldtimers lord over their regular stools next to dive-loving hipsters draining whiskey shots. Meanwhile, a revolving cast of every drinking sort passes through to pick up six-packs and bottles of Tito’s.

While Ashok Selvam has a piece on neighborhood bars and how they define neighborhood character:

Louie’s is a typical Chicago tavern: a narrow bar with a few TVs and a back room for group gatherings. Karaoke in Chicago isn’t like karaoke in LA, where wannabe actors sing and hope that a talent agent is in the audience. It’s not New York, where every song needs to have a personal meaning. Chicago has a sense of humor. The audience is encouraging. The only one angst is to make sure the DJ picks your song. Some will bribe the DJ. This is the Chicago way.

Another piece looks at the challenges African-American bar owners and promoters face when moving into white nightlife neighborhoods like River North.

While one of the good pieces of news was that when the veteran Brauhaus closed in Lincoln Square, its bar was repurposed at the DANKHaus cultural center; Naomi Waxman tells that story.


Ethan Eang Lim of Hermosa, the sandwich shop which is now doing seated dinners of traditional Cambodian dishes, is one of the younger Cambodian-American cooks talked about in this piece at Fine Dining Lovers:

Last year, he added a sandwich featuring spicy fried chicken rubbed with kroeung, an aromatic herb and spice paste used widely in Cambodian cuisine, and pickles evoking Khmer-style papaya salad. Lim’s audience proved far more enthusiastic than expected, and faced with the challenges of the pandemic, he seized the opportunity to expand his offerings with a ‘Cambodian to-go’ menu launched in May and a more recent multi-course tasting menu, joining a growing group of his peers in returning to their roots.

Buzz 2


Last week we had the Trib’s main listicle on pizzas in the area, this week we get the more interesting part to me—the runners-up list (in a slideshow, a new one each weekday). More interesting because it’s more likely to contain places I don’t already know about, anyway. Check it out here.


No, that’s not one of the new virtual restaurants that Anthony Todd (apparently back at Chicago mag) writes about, but Cat-Su Sando, Bokuchan’s Japanese Curry Spot and more are.


And speaking of Bokuchan, Mike Sula talks to Furious Spoon’s Shin Thompson about Japanese curry:

As a kid, Thompson spent lots of time in Japan visiting family—he spent his first two years there. He grew up on the country’s unique form of curry and rice, or kare raisu, thick and enveloping, mild, sweet, and warmly spiced, with fat chunks of meat, carrot, and potatoes, often topped with a thick, crispy, panko-breaded, deep-fried pork or chicken cutlet. It’s among the first examples of yoshoku, or “Western food,” adapted to Japanese tastes after Portuguese traders and English merchants were first allowed into the country in the late 1800s.

He also writes about the pizzas that friend of Fooditor/ManBQue co-founder John Carruthers is doing to raise money for various causes:

Back in May, he launched a monthly pop-up in which he auctions off tavern-style pizzas to his Instagram followers, whose money goes directly to a charity of Carruthers’s choice… “Through the first two months of Crust Fund Pizza, the average Pizza Pal (Not calling them customers. I don’t sell anything!) paid $68.47 for each 14-inch pie,” Carruthers reports. “And that is a true testament to how much Chicago gives a fuck about social issues. I make a decent pie, but I could practice every day for the rest of my life and never make a $68.47 pie.”


Erick Williams (Virtue) did a pop-up at Al’s Beef this weekend, which prompts David Hammond to talk with him and Chris Pacelli of Al’s about what makes Italian beef such a Chicago thing:

Pacelli had filled me in on the origin of Al’s : “You got to remember Italians, in the Thirties, late Twenties, there were all kinds of gamblers, half-assed Mafia guys and stuff. My uncle Al was involved in all that, a gambler, dis dat. Well, he gets in trouble, has to go to jail, comes out of jail and starts driving a truck. A friend says, ‘let’s open up a bookie place.’ So, my uncle says, ‘Why don’t I do beef sandwiches, and I’ll sell them as a front.’ There was like five guys. They didn’t have gas or nothing in those days, so everything was charcoal. First name for this idea was ‘Al’s Barbecue.’ All these beef stands started because of my uncle. They were gamblers, and they saw him making money, cash money, and they figured that’s an easy way to make money and still gamble. They needed a source of money; instead of stealing, they sold beef.”


Steve Dolinsky tells us about the Indian snack chaat, subject of a new cookbook by Maneet Chauhan and offered at Chicago Indian restaurants, as well as something you can make yourself from the items available at Indian grocery chain Patel Bros.

He also visits Orkenoy, a microbrewery in Humboldt Park which hearkens back to the neighborhood’s long-gone Norwegian heritage on its menu.


Bonjwing Lee, known back in blogging days as Ulterior Epicure, has a piece at Eater National picking apart what we know about how the James Beard Awards came apart and crashed and burned this year. Most of it’s based on the reporting Pete Wells has done in the New York Times, but Lee, who has been a judge for a decade, adds a new element—a personal sense of betrayal over how the Beard administrators monkeyed with the results and tried to hide it:

The foundation is using the issues of equity and representation to distract from what it has done: It wants the hospitality community to believe that it is suddenly and deeply troubled by the award process and its outcomes. In a scramble to respond to Wells’s reporting, the foundation issued a statement saying, in part, that it has “begun a comprehensive audit of every aspect of the Awards process.” But how meaningful can it possibly be if the foundation won’t be transparent about its shambolic mishandling of its awards this year?

The foundation’s repeated refusals to explain what actually happened that led to its decision to cancel the awards for two years continue to exacerbate the problem. While the awards committee has demanded answers and accountability, committee members are bound by nondisclosure agreements, the scope of which may need to be reconsidered. I fear that any answers the foundation provides them will likely disappear into a gagged group in a locked room.

Here’s what I see. The restaurant industry itself has a history of wild behavior, which can be part of its colorful charm but has also contained large portions of sexual harassment and poor treatment of employees. It, and food media (and awards), also have issues of favoring white dudes over non-whites and non-dudes in terms of who gets to be famous and rich. So these big awards shows and their corporate sponsors have romanticized and traded on the “pirate ship” aspect of the restaurant industry for years, but now with the sexual harassment and lack of access to capital/fame etc. issues taking center stage, the award shows and corporate sponsors are looking for cover, terrified of giving an award to someone who turns out to be next week’s scandal.

They can cancel for 2020 and 2021, but some day they either have to give awards to chefs, or get out of the business of tying themselves to the restaurant industry. Right now, it looks pretty craven to me that in the industry’s moment of trouble, the awards and sponsors who have had such a good time trading off the back of restaurants and chefs have mostly abandoned them.


We know about Alinea finding open spaces in which to serve socially distanced dinner, but they’re not the only ones doing it—Bistronomic in the Gold Coast is taking over Loyola’s Baumhart Hall, an event space, for the winter months, and turning it into an indoor winter garden. Since Bistronomic’s building is connected to the Loyola space, you’ll still enter by their usual entrance, and then be led into the winter garden space.


The big news, if not the biggest surprise in the world, is that Alsatian-French fine dining spot Everest is hanging it up after 34 years at the top of the Chicago Stock Exchange, on New Year’s Eve. Chef Jean Joho tells Phil Vettel that it wasn’t that business at the Loop restaurant with a million dollar view was down—bookings were up for the private dining rooms—but the lease was up, and they can’t have been that excited about renewing it in an uncertain future for downtown dining (and downtown, period).

Not a place I ate a lot—Brasserie Jo was much more of my fave among Joho’s restaurants—but I best remember going to a lunch there for cookbook author Joan Nathan, and finding the perfect summation of Joho’s blend of high-end skill and humble peasant food roots: Jewish chicken soup, except Grandma never brunoised her vegetables with such Robuchon-level precision. I just interviewed Joho for my book a couple of weeks ago, and he talked about new concepts he was consulting on for Lettuce far afield from France, so I think he can say goodbye with satisfaction to a third of a century serving some of Chicago’s best-ever French food—and as Vettel notes (and he stressed to me as well), farm to table before the word was invented.

The Ace Hotel’s City Mouse seemed like the kind of place that would close (because who’s staying at hotels now?), and it has, but its space has already been claimed by Alinea Group for a three-month pop-up, details to be announced soon.

The Huettenbar, one of the last German bars in Lincoln Square, will close.

Hibernation is the new word (replacing pivot), as Politan Row, the best and most creative of the second wave of food halls, bows to the reality of the McDonald’s HQ being closed through spring, and announces that it will hibernate till spring as well. That’s bad news in particular for Gold Goose Tartine, the upscale flatbread place from former mfk. chef Jeremy Leven, which just opened there a few weeks ago; hopefully Leven will find a new location for his concept.

Also hibernating: Masa Azul, tequila bar and restaurant in Logan Square; they hope to reopen in the spring as well, per Block Club. And Ballast Point, the fancy West Loop outpost of a national brewery (sold in a still somewhat mysterious deal).


Nick Kokonas and industry consultant David Henkes join the Wall Street Journal’s Heather Haddon for a Zoom chat about what’s next.


Remember when Honey Butter Fried Chicken had a Tribecca sandwich pop-up in Revival Hall? The Becca behind Tribecca will have different sandwiches available on Mondays at Honey Butter; go here to check the menu, starting this week with the Swisstrami Sandwich and the Spicy Tina Sandwich.


Geo Salas is an employee of Jeff & Jude’s who was hit by a car biking home from it on October 9. There’s a fundraiser for her dental surgery here, or you can also support her on Tuesday as Pizza Friendly Pizza holds a benefit night with all proceeds going to her, as well as a silent auction for goodies from various local spots (check out Anna Posey’s cake). Go to Tock to order for Tuesday night.


Still cooking more than eating out—I’d been to Paulina Meat Market several times without trying their new sandwich lineup, but the idea of the 1949 Sub, which has old school German meats like pork sulze (head cheese) on it, called to me, a little old Chicago food anthropology made real and edible. I was a bit surprised when I asked them what to put on it and the guy suggested sauerkraut and thousand island dressing; it sounded like a gloppy mess at that point. Well, it was, and it was also glorious, though I must admit I got about 3/4 of the way through it and had to stop. It’s a sandwich for working in a machine shop, like in 1949. But for me it’s maybe the most interesting thing I’ve eaten all year, a picture into a time and place—the old white ethnic Chicago—that still hangs on, a little, but really has to be hunted for in a city so full (and rich and blessed, don’t get me wrong) with Latino and Asian flavors.

I saw mfk. was offering takeout—not that much like the Spanish seafood focused menu they used to offer, it probably doesn’t travel well, but some Italian-ish dishes, a couple of simple meat dishes, and the basque cake for dessert all suited me fine—and it was nice to be able to support a favorite place, and hope it gets to the other side and returns in its full glory.