The problem, of course, with chefs becoming modern celebrities (instead of blue collar workers hidden away in a kitchen) is that they will turn out like celebrities—which is to say, some of them become civic leaders, most are just craftspeople, but a certain number of them will be ongoing public trainwrecks. We got that when chef-turned-reality-TV-star Rocco DiSpirito’s first actual cooking gig in years abruptly ended this week (this profile, perhaps too optimistic in light of this week’s events, tells his story).

And in Chicago we got it with the news that former 42 Grams chef Jacob Bickelhaupt, now chef-owner of Stone Flower, is suing his ex-wife Alexa Welsh for violating the terms of a non-disparagement agreement—the latest chapter in an ugly breakup and assault case that has been played out very publicly in food media, because chefs are celebrities now.

Ashok Selvam at Eater Chicago has the facts of the matter; here’s what they come down to for me. After Bickelhaupt went through the justice system for his assault of Welsh (which resulted in 42 Grams immediately closing), Welsh moved to California and opened a taco restaurant there. Meanwhile Bickelhaupt ran a pop-up under the name Konro, then planned a new restaurant called Stone Flower, with the same format as 42 Grams—the chef front and center on stage, making food, interacting with the customers, basking in their adulation. A comeback for a star with two Michelin stars.

This being the post-Oprah world, where celebrities who have had issues make the rounds of talk shows to broadcast their new changed selves to the world and receive benediction, Bickelhaupt made public noises of having gone through rehab, of having apologized for his transgressions, of becoming a better person. But some who have been through recovery programs were dubious about the speedy nature of Bickelhaupt’s turnaround and arguably less than fully honest acceptance of his behavior. He tended to portray himself as the victim of an unhealthy kitchen culture, which made him drink—his Instagram posts often used the hashtag #savethechefs.

For me, the most obvious sign that Bickelhaupt’s penitence was not fully sincere came when he announced a benefit at Stone Flower—for the very organization, Between Friends, that had helped Welsh after her assault. (They didn’t know anything about it until after it was announced, and tried to back away from it.) This seemed manipulative behavior, crowding his ex-wife by trying to win over to his side the organization that had helped her. The fact is, they both found ways to needle each other in public over the months since the non-disparagement agreement, before this week’s announcement that Bickelhaupt was suing Welsh for $250,000 in lost business (which, as Eater calculated, would be about 500 covers, or about 42 fully sold-out nights for the twelve-seat restaurant—which is only open three nights a week and has operated, in total, for about 70 serving nights).

Besides being an obviously poor face to present to the public—the Chef Sues Ex-Wife He Assaulted headlines wrote themselves—to me, it’s the latest sign of a once-celebrated chef deluded about his status in Chicago dining. I suspect from his pronouncements before the Michelin announcements a few weeks ago that he expected to attain his two star status (at least!) again, and then that would complete the process of putting the past behind him and launching him to a glorious future surrounded by adoring fans at his sold-out 12-seat counter. When that didn’t happen, he lashed out at Welsh via lawsuit for blocking his return to glory—as if that were the only reason Stone Flower wasn’t full every night.

Bickelhaupt can cook, no question. And he should be able to work, somewhere, in a kitchen—but that doesn’t mean that the world was waiting to sell out a 12-seat stage where all our eyes were on him. There is too much baggage to make many of us want to go offer him adulation for two hours—no Chicago reviewer has gone to Stone Flower and written about it, and there were rumors that other chefs with Michelin recognition planned to protest if Michelin honored him this year. This ill-advised lawsuit, a PR disaster, may be the last nail in Stone Flower’s coffin.

This would be a good time to read Peggy Noonan’s column on the British politician John Profumo, who went down in a tawdry scandal in the early 60s and spent 40 years laboring in a charitable institution for the poor—never going near the flame of politics again. She imagines a politician asking how he can get past a scandal and pick up where he left off: “You are asking the wrong question. The right questions would go something like, ‘What can I do to stop being greedy for power, attention and adulation?’… You can do what John Profumo did. You can go away. You can do something good. You can help women instead of degrading them, help your culture and your city instead of degrading them. You can become a man.”


When I tagged along with Steve Dolinsky as he was tasting for his book Pizza City USA, we talked about pizza listicles, and one of the things that motivated him was just getting some of those tired names that had been on everybody’s best Chicago pizza list since the 70s off—so at least the listicle-makers would have new names to copy!

That’s sort of the spirit behind Chicago mag’s pizza cover story, which offers a best pizzas in town list full of new places—and new styles, with an emphasis on things like hand-tossed artisan pies and Neapolitan pizza. You see this starting with number one, the very farm to table Middle Brow Bungalow, and on through Pizzeria Bebu, Sapori Napoletani in Old Norwood Park, Bob’s Pizza and more. Then there’s a side piece (pun intended) on why some of those on-the-list-forever places are off the list. (Best comment, after Carrie Schedler slagged on Pequod’s: “You have made a powerful enemy today, Carrie. Or after I eat a slice of Pequod’s: a sluggish enemy.”)

If anything I think the list underrates classic Chicago pizza a little—to me it’s one of the few categories of old blue collar Chicago dining that still seems to be hanging in there, and Pat’s and Marie’s are on the wrong side of Roosevelt for me for finding the best—but it’s nice to see a survey of pizza that doesn’t just assume we only eat deep dish Giordano’s all day long. Have at it, listicle-copiers!


Phil Vettel returns to two high end spots he’s reviewed before to make note of changes. At George Trois in Winnetka, the changes have really been around it, as Restaurant Michael split into the lower-priced Aboyer and Silencieux: “You’ll spend the most money at George Trois, where the 12-course menu checks in at $215. But every one of those courses will be delivered by [chef Michael] Lachowicz personally, offering a level of chef-guest contact that no other area restaurant provides. And Lachowicz’s gentle, self-effacing manner takes intimidation out of the experience.”

Temporis lost chef Don Young (who Vettel incorrectly cites as opening the restaurant with owner Sam Plotnick; in fact he was preceded by its first chef, Evan Fullerton) and then hired Troy Jorge, ex of Grace and Acadia: “The most noticeable difference I found is that Jorge is not the fermentation devotee that Young was; Jorge’s dishes have more restraint in their use of sour and acidic flavors. For instance, Jorge’s tomato course, essentially a three-dimensional gazpacho, highlighted by orbs of encapsulated tomato soup; and his crab dish, presenting king crab nuggets with three expressions of grapefruit (puree, segments, granita) are two compositions that easily could have resulted in reflux. Instead, both displayed extraordinary balance.” Four stars for George Trois, three for Temporis.


Joanne Trestrail looks at a restaurant that has lasted since Bill Clinton was elected, in a neighborhood where things turn over all the time: “When Coco Pazzo opened in 1992, River North’s airy, loft-like spaces with high ceilings, visible ductwork, exposed brick walls and bare plank floors were the latest thing. The 150-seat restaurant rocked the aesthetic then and rocks it now; more importantly, it’s as solid in the kitchen as ever, with a sure hand on the classics but also an openness to trying new things. To wit: Milan-born executive chef Matteo Lo Bianco (Volare, Rosebud) has been tweaking the menus with new dishes since coming aboard in August.”


Claudia is a restaurant opening soon, that already has a Jean Banchet nomination and a Phil Vettel review under its belt—because, as Anthony Todd explains, it was an admired pop-up series for years before getting this permanent space: “Some menu items are holdovers from Claudia’s pop-up days, though they’ve been refined. Teich specializes in a sort of culinary tableau — plated art pieces that are entirely edible and tell a story. One of them, Snails in the Woods, carries over from the previous menu, and features snails (obviously), along with truffle, pine, and many other ingredients. Like many menu items, Snails in the Woods is inspired by a childhood story. ‘It’s a memory of me going out into the woods in my backyard with my brother, and my brother terrorizing my mom with the snails he’d find,’ Teich says.”

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Grace Wong offers an in-depth preview of Porto, from the group that has Beatnik, Black Bull, etc.: “Porto, slated to open at the end of October, focuses on fresh seafood imported from Spain as well as conservas — tinned seafood — a staple of Galician, Portuguese and French cuisines for more than a century. Alonso described conservas as “exquisite” and compared the product to caviar, explaining that the seafood is harvested at the optimal time of year before it’s laboriously prepared and tinned. He’s working with La Brújula, a women-owned company that has been producing conservas for 50 years. Chef Marcos Campos is using both the seafood meat and the liquid its preserved in to create dishes that highlight this unique food product.”


You’ve had 45 day aged steak, but how about seven year old beef? Mind you, it’s aged to that while still alive, unlike steak aged in days, but older dairy cow beef has a certain cachet that you’ll get to try next Wednesday at Publican Quality Meats, as Mike Sula explains:Vaca vieja, or ‘old cow,’ isn’t a weird thing at all in Spain or other parts of the world, where its yellow, grass-fed fat, dark red flesh, and deeply beefy flavor is prized. But when old dairy cows in the U.S stop producing milk, they’re fed into the same ground-beef supply chain as their sorry feedlot cousins.” Rob Levitt at PQM will butcher old cow from Michigan for four One Off chefs (including Ryan Pfeiffer, of Fooditor’s current cover story) plus Joe Flamm, lately of Spiaggia to cook up that evening.


Ji Suk Yi is the latest to profile Rooh chef Sujan Sarkar, trying to bring Indian food to a level with other cuisines in Chicago: “‘It’s modern, it’s new India,’ said Sarkar. ‘There’s no pictures of elephants or the Taj Mahal or anything. We are now talking about India-ness, I want to part of that moment, I don’t want to be left out!’”


Steve Dolinsky finds a new soul food restaurant working off family recipes from the South, in Auburn-Gresham’s Jamison’s Soul Food: “‘Everything comes from the farm to the table. Nothing frozen. We get a shipment twice a week,’ [owner Jamie Blunt] said. ‘We got greens, we got green beans, we got yams, we got mashed potatoes, cabbage.'”


Popeye’s fried chicken, Schmopeye’s, says Peter Frost—Chicagoans have a better $3.99 sandwich to get excited about: “The Mr. Piggy is a pork tenderloin sandwich. But it’s so much more than that — it’s a brined, lightly breaded, and crisp-fried quarter-pound pork tenderloin cutlet that’s topped with iceberg lettuce, tomato, and pickles, and tucked into a toasted brioche bun from 3D Baking in Chicago. A trio of condiments includes mayo for creaminess, a squirt of yellow mustard for a little tang, and the kicker: an acidic-sweet-spicy relish made from roasted jalapenos and sweet cherry peppers that ties everything together.” It’s at Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken.


Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski of Honey Butter Fried Chicken have an editorial in Eater Chicago arguing for the elimination of the “sub-minimum” wage by which restaurant servers make part of their income in tips:

As an industry, we have for too long undervalued the food that we serve by allowing for a two-tier wage system. Restaurants are not required to directly pay certain workers a full wage. We play a game where we expect customers to make up the discrepancy through tipping. For a lucky few, mostly those who work in high end restaurants, being a front of the house worker has led to even further exacerbation of wage discrepancies within restaurants and continues to perpetuate divides.

The truth is that most tipped restaurant workers are not working in restaurants where check averages top off in the hundreds of dollars. They are working in diners, low-cost chain restaurants, and are behind the counters at many quick service restaurants. Nearly 70 percent of tipped workers are women, and according to the Economic Policy Institute, tipped workers have twice the likelihood of living in poverty when compared to non-tipped workers, according to a report by the Economic Report Institute.

Cikowski talked about the thinking behind these issues in the Fooditor roundtable last February.


Let Sandwich Tribunal set the scene: “Sandwich, Illinois is a town of 7500 about 60 miles west and a little south of Chicago. Plano, with a population of 11,000 or so, is its neighbor to the east. Between the two towns is a wooded area that residents have jokingly called Bologna, IL for years. For the past 3 years, on National Bologna Day, Sandwich and Plano have come together to make Bologna, IL a “real” town, just for a few hours.”


Monica Eng checks out the newly refurbished Mitsuwa Market for WBEZ and tells you how to shop there for the best stuff.


Joe “Joe Pies” Fasano had the southwest side bakery Fasano Pie Company on 65th street (“As Good As Mother’s and Better Than Others”) from the 1940s to the 1990s; word from the family is that he passed away this weekend at 95. Pies by Fasano was recently revived by his son Peter and you can preorder right now for Thanksgiving. Here’s an ad for it from 1967 (h/t Peter Kastanes).


Check, Please! returned on Friday for its 19th season, with host Alpana Singh and visits to Finom Coffee, Pacific Standard Time and Peppercorns in Evanston. Watch it here.

I never expected BoJack Horseman to get a link here—and honestly I don’t know how to link to a Netflix show anyway—but check out Season 6, Episode 3, “Feel-Good Episode,” in which Diane (a neurotic human video content creator) and her cameraman Guy (a bison) come to Chicago, for lots of throwaway Chicago gags and background details, particularly as much of the episode is set at a local hot dog restaurant called Parmadillo’s. (H/t Ana Espinoza)


L.A. Taco corrects a New York Times travel article on the L.A. barrio. Never gets old.

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