I watched Aaron Sorkin’s film The Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix this weekend—it’s highly entertaining (they had me at “Frank Langella as a cranky old judge”). It sitcom-izes the 60s a bit, snappy zingers and in the end everyone is pals, but it’s a lively, and mostly true-feeling, picture of what happened when the immovable object of the Daley police force met the Silly String of the counterculture. (It gets the hair and clothes very well, and doesn’t make everyone look like high school kids in a production of Hair.)

One of the key bits in it is that most of the defendants spent time trying to get a permit from the City for the protests—their argument was that protests, and all the other things that went with them, were going to happen anyway, and the city would be better off providing services and security, managing them safely, rather than trying to prevent them entirely. (Smarter as a practical approach, quite apart from the whole being a democracy thing.) Of course, they didn’t listen to that, and the result was the famous police riot at the Democratic Convention of 1968.

We are fifty years and more from those events now, but you know, nobody ever said Chicago government was a fast learner. With Covid-19 cases spiking again in the cold weather, the City moved to shut down restaurants and bars that serve food at 10 pm, while for bars without food, serving alcohol indoors is shut down entirely, for the period through at least November 6. This despite the fact that Mayor Lightfoot acknowledged earlier in the week that bars really weren’t the cause of the spike, which is widely attributed to private gatherings. Anecdotally, as I walked my dog after watching the Sorkin movie, I went past two closed bars—and at least two good-sized parties.

Nick Kokonas, like Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden, made the point that the City should use restaurant and bar capacity to help manage crowds: “It is actually better to allow restaurants (non bars) to serve from 4 [pm] to 12 [am], spacing out a greater number of patrons over a greater time frame. Safer and better economically.” Shortening the restaurant day actually makes the crowds denser during the time that they are open. But the City isn’t here to manage disorder; it’s here to preserve disorder.

The Sun-Times talks to restaurant owners who ask, where’s the proof?

Scott Weiner, who runs 20 restaurants in Chicago, feels like a scapegoat in a pandemic.

Like other operators, he sees a real possibility that the city’s bars and restaurants may be forced to completely shut down because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases. He’d also like to see proof that his businesses, which include Roots Handmade Pizza and West Town Bakery, are contributing to the problem.

“On top of poor data, you get the feeling people are making decisions without really knowing,” said Weiner, co-owner of the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group…

When asked for numbers showing risk, Lightfoot’s Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said that the city doesn’t have them but provided anecdotal evidence of a couple of gatherings of people at bars that are being investigated as outbreaks.

Eater also has a good piece on bar and restaurant reaction here.


Band of Bohemia, the first Michelin-starred brewpub ever, announced the not terribly surprising news via Josh Noel in the Tribune that they were closing for good this week:

According to court records, Band of Bohemia is more than $1 million in debt. But in a statement Wednesday, Band of Bohemia founders Michael Carroll and Craig Sindelar blamed the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic for the closure.

“Due to COVID-19, we have filed for bankruptcy and closed our doors,” Carroll said by email.

Band of Bohemia had a fascinating concept, which didn’t work at first as well it should, but came into its own as Carroll’s brewing improved and under chef Ian Davis—I interviewed Carroll, Davis and Sindelar a couple of years into the restaurant’s run. To me it had finally hit its stride—interesting as hell beers, expertly crafted food, a unique space that offered four or five different experiences within its walls (I usually wound up at the chef’s counter). It was one of the city’s gems, unlike anywhere else I could think of.

But Band of Bohemia soon became better known for #MeToo type controversies involving the bad breakup of Davis and an employee he was dating—even though she stated that she didn’t consider herself the victim of sexual harassment. There were reports of others with complaints, but they never came forward.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere there seemed poisoned after that, at least to judge by the posts made anonymously on The 86’d List—the Instagram site which played such a role in the reign of terror over our food scene early this summer, but has been conspicuously silent since July. Reading it, you find relatively little in the way of quantifiable accusations but a great deal of bad blood over management’s support for Davis, followed by their (not very credible) denial that they had any idea what was going on.

Well, when your defense is cluelessness, you’ve kind of lost control of the situation. And indeed, in a brief conversation I had with Carroll some weeks back, he sounded defeated—whatever joy and aspirations were present in the opening and development of Band of Bohemia had been extinguished by the combination of COVID-era financial troubles and staff rancor and resentment.

On the other hand, one long post there—which seems to be the one that final BoB chef Soo Ahn admitted to posting—reflects the idealism of the 86’d List moment, when workers were rising up to topple their bosses: “We’ve never had a chance like we do now to rebuild our spaces into welcoming, positive, safe, and diverse environments.”

The thing is, Coronavirus doesn’t have ideals. And you don’t have a chance to rebuild “your” spaces if they’re all out of business. It seemed like a good thing that social media gave employees a way to redress the power imbalance with management in restaurants—but it turned out to be a nuclear option, that killed nearly every restaurant targeted by it, encouraging employees (even head chefs!) to go public with every complaint, and convicting restaurants based solely on one side’s testimony.

Where we stand now, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to put money and their blood, sweat and tears into opening a restaurant, especially in this time of COVID-19, when it can be brought down so easily, smearing you personally forever. And you’re not building restaurants into welcoming etc. spaces, if the excitement of going into the business, against all the odds, has been replaced by mistrust and dread of what one unhappy employee can do. Some would argue that that is still justice for the sins of restaurant owners—perhaps so, but it’s the kind of justice that leaves everybody dead.

Buzz 2


I was going to note for the record where the Band of Bohemia news puts us in terms of Michelin stars in Chicago at this point, but I think we really can’t know—besides the closings, like Blackbird, there are several places like Band of Bohemia that haven’t been in operation since some point during the lockdown, and it’s anybody’s guess whether they will reopen. (The biggest one being a certain two-star that has also had #MeToo type accusations—I’ve heard from two different people in the industry that they’re selling off their kitchen equipment, though there has been no official word.)

I’ve been highly critical of the Beards not giving awards this year, it really seems like abandoning restaurants when they’re down, but I actually think Michelin is doing the only logical thing they can—they can’t judge hoity-toity restaurants by uber-gastronomic standards while those restaurants are doing takeout beef Wellington and fried chicken to survive, and no one wants to hear Michelin’s hyperelitist 1920s-France Hercule Poirot act right now anyway.

That said, my old Grub Street boss Alan Sytsma has a good piece on whether the Covid moment marks the end of the road for the tire company in America, rendering them more irrelevant than ever:

What’s become increasingly clear is that, pandemic or no, the attributes traditionally favored by Michelin raters — super-high-end tasting menus rooted almost exclusively in European or Japanese cooking — are not necessarily the attributes favored by diners. Watching the industry collapse around us over the past eight months has only emphasized this reality: Most diners don’t yearn for flights of old-world wines or laborious tableside deconstructions of artfully cooked produce — or even delicate little swooshes of sauce and puree.

It is the simpler, unrankable pleasures that are missing from so many of our lives.

Scott Worsham, from whom I first heard about this piece, said on Facebook what I suspect many restaurateurs are feeling: “Fellow food world peeps: can someone convince me that Michelin, the JBF, & the World’s 50 Best are anything more than self-serving marketing operations? I’ve been feeling this way for a while now. I’m open to arguments.”


Ari Bendersky thinks so in this piece for American Express’s Departures: “Luckily for Chicago, a number of high profile (and brave) chefs and restaurateurs are thinking beyond the COVID era and opening new establishments to give the city’s culinary scene fresh hope just when it needs it most.”


One of the most exciting temporary openings right now is Jonathan Zaragoza’s El Oso Cafe, in The Promontory space in Hyde Park, and Steve Dolinsky reports on it for ABC 7:

His tamal is anchored by a brick of ground corn from downstate.

“We’re cooking it down with some butter, some milk, kind of like grits style. Then we cook it, finish it with hot sauce and then cotija cheese. Mushrooms and squash are roasted first in some herbs and chiles. Then they’re dressed in a cotija mayo, kind of all the flavorings of a Mexican street corn, so it’s like creamy and cheesy in the middle; so it’s like everything you want in a tamal,” Zaragoza said.


Time Out on how six local restaurants are planning for making it through cold weather.


Titus Ruscitti does another installment of his “Especialidad de la Casa,” including carnitas from the L’Patron folks, Hidalgo-style pastes, and more. Who knew that Mexico got pastes the same way the U.P. got pasties?

Hidalgo Style Pastes are now available along North avenue in Humboldt Park here at Cafe Pachuca. It’s named after Hidalgo’s capitol city of Pachuca where there’s a long and rich history of mining which means the Cornish were once there. During their time in Mexico they introduced locals to Cornish style Pasties which was their fuel for mining. They made great lunches as they were super portable seeing as how they worked underground. Well as time went by locals became miners too and the paste (pasty) is now one of the states signature snacks. These are the owners dads family recipe from Pachuca and I’m an instant fan. Love the golden crust which is without a doubt a recipe that’s been refined over time.


David Hammond on why a particular suburb has a locally famous pepper all its own.

Speaking of NewCity, they’re having a hard time (like everybody!), not least because they depended on being picked up at dropoff locations where nobody’s going these days. Consider subscribing here.


Calumet Fisheries had to change its mild sauce due to COVID, as reported from the scene by Robert Loerzel.


Looking for a way to celebrate Halloween? Table Donkey & Stick is offering their annual (8th annual!) Halloween Offal Dinner as takeout next weekend—go here to look at the menu and order.


I got a note about a fundraiser for a Rogers Park coffeehouse called Emerald City Sheridan—but by newsletter time they had closed down and were instead raising money for staffers there. Or you could go support their other location on Wilson by buying a cup of coffee.

12. HOT DOG!

Way back when (2004), Dennis Foley wrote a beloved guide to regular guy food in Chicago, The Streets & San Man’s Guide to Chicago Eats. His new book is No Ketchup: Chicago’s Top 50 Hot Dogs and the Stories Behind Them. He talked about it for Culinary Historians of Chicago, and you can listen here.


Thursday was the last, blessed gasp of summer (it usually happens sometime in late October) and I seized it to eat outside with my wife, one final time. I knew where I wanted to go: the patio on Mis Moles, the new restaurant from Geno Bahena, which has taken over the space of Cafe Continental/Little Bucharest on Elston north of Addison. One throwback housing another—Branko Podrumedic, longtime owner of Little Bucharest, is still on the premises as the manager, while Bahena is cranking out the moles that were so beloved 20 years ago at restaurants like Ixcapuzalco and Chilpancingo.

Sadly, few others seemed to be taking advantage of this time machine—we had the patio to ourselves from about 6 to 7, though some started to show up as we were finishing up. In any case, it’s not just nostalgia that won me over to these beautifully crafted moles—red poblano, chocolatey black, earthy verde—which you can order on your choice of protein (chicken, duck, pork chop or lamb). Also winners—the uchepos, a kind of tamale with corn and beans in it, and a quince cake for dessert. This dinner outside was sheer pleasure in a dark year.

Han Burger is a Chinese “burger” (the resemblance to an American burger is pretty theoretical) concept that started in Humboldt Park, but before I could get there had moved downtown. Specifically they moved to a ghost kitchen (West Line) just off Halsted on Superior, a no-man’s land of new condos near the expressway; unlike my last experience, at least the kitchen made it easy to know you were in the right place, even if most of what was going out the door seemed to be Wendy’s. Anyway, a less post-apocalyptic experience than the last one.

As for Han Burger… I’ve liked the Xi’an sandwiches at restaurants near Chinatown, lamb with cumin stuffed into pitas, that sort of thing. But I was initially turned off by the bread here, which had a slick outside and a starchy lack of flavor that made it feel very “product”-y, not like something a human baked. The pork with spices inside, on the other hand, I liked pretty well, it tasted like good Chinese food. If I lived near it, I might order it occasionally, and I don’t mean to say anything against the guys behind it, they’re working with the options they have in a hard time. Good for them.

But I gotta be honest about the non-delivery ghost kitchen experience, circa 2020—it adds up to a lot of money (you could not tip, you’re not really getting any service, but I don’t want to be that guy), I had to find street parking two blocks away and then dodge a possible ticket because the LAZ machine refused to accept one of the digits in my license plate, I had to wait 20 minutes for a guy to hand it to me behind the glass—next time I want Chinese food, I’m getting it from a restaurant, not a bus depot.