I was talking with a friend about the state of our food scene, and one thing I said was, I’m waiting for someone to really rip into a place again.

Why would I want that? Am I a mean one? Do I have garlic in my soul? During COVID, it was generally agreed that critics shouldn’t be harshly negative on places that were just experimenting to find a way to survive the lockdown. Maybe their short ribs in deli cups weren’t that special, but it would be unfair to treat them as you might have treated a $30 entree on Randolph Street before COVID. Just look for nice things to say, draw a discreet curtain over the duds, and hope to see everybody on the other side of what would ultimately be a two-year disaster for the restaurant industry.

I certainly agreed with that philosophy. But like I said, two years. Which ended in early 2022. New restaurants are opening, some of them quite wonderful—and some not. Either way, the if-you-can’t-say-anything-nice rule should be over by now.

Why do I want to hurt restaurants? Isn’t the industry better off if critics are generous to everybody?

My all-time favorite slam of a review, as longtime readers will know, is Jeff Ruby’s 2015 Chicago magazine review of soon-closed C Chicago. Here’s the link so you can read it all, but here’s how it begins:

If I were to send a single new restaurant out to pasture, or maybe throw it back in the ocean, it would be C Chicago. The 8,000-square-foot River North seafood lair from the folks behind Chicago Cut Steakhouse gets so much wrong that a traditional review of it would only sound horribly bitchy. So let’s try something different. Here’s why C Chicago, after five months in business, exemplifies everything that is wrong with restaurants, and humanity, as seen through the seven deadly sins.

Slamming the hell out of a place is relatively easy, but Ruby demonstrated how it do it judiciously, keeping his cool as he enumerates the sins of a cynical place that botched expensive fish, was dumb enough to mistreat a genuine print reviewer (giving his table away to a bigshot felon), and really had no redeeming features at a very high price. Ruby would later express regret over reviews that got too mean, but this was the kind of place that truly deserved a taking down—overpriced, incompetent, yet full of unearned attitude.

So, a fun read, but in the years to come we would learn, as Paul Harvey would put it, the rest of the story. The main chefs at C Chicago were Bill Montagne and Jennifer Kim—one of them told me, in fact, that they were pretty much the only people in the kitchen after a certain point. Eventually they were out of there, and so they took one of the things they’d been playing with at C Chicago—curing fish in-house—and used it to launch an entire (much smaller) restaurant, Snaggletooth, in 2016. It only lasted a couple of years, because it was way too much work for what they could charge, but for that brief time it was a bright and delightful spot on our scene, winning them Rising Chefs of the Year at the Jean Banchet Awards. Montagne went on to Nico Osteria (he’s now in the Bay Area, so far as I can tell), while Kim launched another business in 2018 which only lasted so long, but was again quite a bright star while it lasted—the Italian-meets-Korean Andersonville restaurant Passerotto. (Which nabbed her another Banchet award, for Best Neighborhood Restaurant.)

So one vicious (I say that like it’s a bad thing) review led directly to two of the most impressive personal restaurants of the last half decade or so. And that’s why I believe in the occasional slam, when it’s genuinely deserved—when it’s correcting, most severely, a cynical ripoff of a place. One reason is because it’s obviously better for the regular diners, spending their own money, if reviewers tell the truth not only about where to spend their money, but just as crucially, where not to spend their money. But it’s also good for restaurants as a whole if someone is saying, not only what’s outstanding, but what doesn’t measure up. If our scene is good, really good, it’s in part because reviewers set standards, and don’t let places get away with cutting corners, half-assing it cynically.

I feel like food writing is still a little soft here, a little generous in that lockdown-era way. Harumphh! Are there no workhouses, Gebert—is that what you’re asking? No, not at all. But we will be a little closer to a shared sense of what excellence is, and who is achieving it, when our reviewers are unafraid to rip into a place that’s doing it all wrong—by way of showing what to aspire to.


My favorite dish at Monteverde is either whey cacio a pepe or the ham sandwich (seriously, that’s one of the stars). The latter, at least, will presumably not be found in chef/co-owner Sarah Grueneberg’s cookbook Listen to Your Vegetables, yet despite that oversight, I am super-excited to pick up several signed copies and hand them out at Christmas to the more veggie-focused people on my list (the rest will get Rodney Scott’s BBQ book, which I banked a couple of copies of when he was at Big Star a few months back). Seriously, if there’s any cuisine that I feel can go vegetable-forward without missing anything—well, it’s Indian food, but Italian comes up right behind it. So I’m excited to get this, and spread it widely.

Lisa Futterman talks to Grueneberg about it:

Naturally, many of the recipes in “Listen to Your Vegetables” skew Italian, as Grueneberg shares the innate love and respect for vegetables that characterize Italian cooking. While vegetable focused, it’s not a vegetarian cookbook, and she and co-author Kate Heddings made sure to include a chapter on the fresh handmade pasta Grueneberg made her name on. The book is packed with lush and instructive photos by Stephen Hamilton and engaging drawings of anthropomorphized vegetables by Chicago illustrator Andrew Jesernig like the eggplant Queen Aubergine, and a “groovy” group of mushrooms that really do look like “fun-guys.”


I was just saying how much Publican Quality Bread’s sandwich by the pound resembled things I just had in Italy; here’s more on it at Chicago mag by Amy Cavanaugh:

…the Big Sandwich, a behemoth you order by weight. The sandwich was inspired by Wade’s friend Gabriele Bonci, of the West Loop pizzeria Bonci, where pizza is sold by weight. The fillings change regularly; you might find mortadella with Burrata and cherry-rhubarb spread; turkey with chipotle, pickled green tomatoes, and kumquat slaw; or turkey in romesco sauce with roasted squash and eggplant and pickled red onion (pictured). Or you might not. At Publican Quality Bread, you never quite know what you’ll find.


Ørkenoy, a brewery with snacks just off the 606, opened at the worst possible time but survived—though I disagree with Mike Sula’s assertion that “The bar is now fully open”—well, once it opens at 3:00 pm it is. I’d expect the sunny space to at least be open for lunch in a city where all-day cafes are the hot new thing. That carping aside, it’s an interesting concept and space worth checking out:

Right now [chef-owner Ryan Sanders is] braising pork ribs for 36 hours with Mick Klug plums, and shellacking them on the pickup with mezcal barbecue sauce. There’s a dino-sized lamb shank, barely clinging to the bone, drenched in an orange wine-spiked reduction of its braising liquid, its richness offset by a crunchy herb salad.


Speaking of Indian food, Ghareeb Nawaz has never been one of my top favorite Indian restaurants on Devon but I’ll give it credit for a higher class of cuisine than you normally get at such low prices—I’d definitely take their homey Indian food over the pizza puffs or whatever that that price would normally buy you. But one reason it’s getting attention now is the Twitter account started by a fan, and reminiscent of the fake Arby’s account with the Nietzschean bent:

Tapping into Ghareeb Nawaz’s cultish following and writing with a specific brand of millennial and Gen Z online humor, [Khalil] Suliman said he’s influenced by Islamic existentialist philosophy in his approach to the account’s messages and memes, as well as pure love for the paratha, curries and chili chicken biryani Ghareeb Nawaz doles out daily.


Alabama is one of the last contiguous states I’ve never been to, but I’m instantly curious when Titus Ruscitti does a guide to things he’s eaten in the state, even though he just hit it because it was between Florida and here:

Since we were driving from South Florida our first stop was Mobile. I switched our itinerary around last minute with plans to stay here for two nights instead of Montgomery and we were happy with the decision. It was cool getting to do the Gulf Coast experience. I’m a fan of both the culture and the food. I didn’t know that Mobile is where Mardi Gras style parades were first practiced circa the mid 1800’s. They have a big city park with a bunch of statues celebrating the city’s history with a celebration typically associated with New Orleans. We stopped in Montgomery for about half of a day and hit up some very historic spots including the site where Rosa Parks was arrested. It’s also the state capital so we saw that and visited a couple of the city’s historic restaurants too. Cute town. Birmingham was my favorite of the three places we visited. It reminded me of other Southern cities like Nashville and Asheville and even a little bit of Atlanta.

I’d actually noticed the Cameroonian restaurant on Clark street, Boukarou Lounge, because it’s on my old route to my kids’ then-school; Titus checked it out:

According to the owner of Boukarou Lounge there’s a nice sized Cameroonian population in the Chicagoland area. I’ve never had Cameroonian food prior to this but I’m a big fan after having their soya. In fact you’ll find it on all of my ‘Best of 2022’ lists. Soya is what Cameroonians call skewered meat (it’s called Suya in Nigeria). Boukaroo Lounge makes theirs with some aggressively seasoned chunks of beef charred up and served alongside fried plantains and raw onions with mayo and a mix of spices from Cameroon that are used for dipping with the two skewers that come with it. A side of fluffy jollof rice and some bobolo (fermented cassava) made it a complete meal for two and an excellent one it was.

Go sooner than later, because he warns it may not be long for this world.


Steve Dolinsky on Demera owner Tigist Reda, who besides making delicious Ethiopian food is fundraising for her wartorn home territory, Tigray:

Reda’s other passion has been fundraising.

“I come from Tigray; that’s where the war is,” she said.

Last month, as part of a “Chicago Chefs Cook for Tigray” event, they raised over a hundred thousand dollars.

“The money goes to the refugee camps in Sudan as well as food and medicine inside Tigray with our partners working there.”

Incidentally, eagle-eyed Instagram followers of Fooditor will recognize a few snaps I gave him from the fundraiser at the Puerto Rican museum in August.


“The very best food I have ever had delivered to my home.” That’s the subject of Michael Nagrant’s review of pasta from Tortello, though he starts with Totino’s products, so… well, hey, we all mix it up like that. But Tortello wins in the end:

Delivery should kill fresh pasta, and yet, somehow the very best pasta I have ever eaten in Chicago, it turns out arrived at my door via an Uber driver who may or may not have sampled the Puglian tortelli glazed with butter and balsamic, riddled with hazelnuts and sage bursting with creamy burrata before dropping it off. I can not blame them, because that shit gave off pheromonic vapors like a lovely lady skunk often did for Pepe Le Pew.


Chopped salad—I’m a fan, because what green vegetables aren’t improved by bacon and bleu cheese? But Dennis Lee says chopped salad, not chocolate cake, is the secret killer app at Portillo’s:

This salad is an absolute delight. The lettuce and cabbage is chopped into small manageable bits that you can shovel on top of a fork, and obviously chicken, bacon, and tomatoes are good together. The blue cheese brings a sharp contrast to each bite, and the green onion is surprisingly key, adding a sharp finishing flavor that’ll haunt your breath for the rest of the day.


A million years ago I knew a guy in advertising who reportedly had lived above a Dunkin’ Donuts (though I can’t now think where there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts in a building with residential above it—probably there’s some downtown but this was long enough ago that nobody lived downtown yet).  In his story, vermin figured prominently. Anyway, here’s a great idea for a story I have not seen before: Maggie Hennessy on living above a restaurant.

…Fondness was a common theme among the more than half-dozen Chicagoans interviewed who’ve lived above restaurants. It was a landmark, as in, “Look for the brown-and-white awning!” It was the downstairs neighbor whose lights reassuringly always stayed on. For some, it was “our place” or “the basement.”

“It became sort of a ‘Cheers’-like situation,” said Bill Kenealy, who lived above O’Shaughnessy’s Public House in Ravenswood for almost two years — part of that with now-wife Erica Olson.


Never been a huge fan of the iconic (but mediocre) Billy Goat, but maybe that’s about to change, as Axios reports that the burgers have a new bun (replacing the sawdusty kaiser roll that always overwhelmed the amount of beef on it).


Want to see what an Italian beef joint is really like? WTTW does a piece on a day in the life of Johnnie’s Beef, in Elmwood Park.


Sandwich Tribunal sees black Hallo-Wieners from Oscar Mayer for Halloween, and decides to make his own. Includes a step-by-step video.


Culinary Care is a non-profit that provides free meals for cancer patients. Thursday, November 10, there will be a benefit event for them at the Chicago Cultural Center, with food provided by lots of restaurants including Kasama, Esmé, Galit, Obélix, avec, S.K.Y., The Bristol, Bambola, the Coach House at Wazwan, cocktail stations by Charles Joly of Crafthouse Cocktails and Tim Williams of Pour Souls and (everybody waits to hear this part at the end)… Pretty Cool Ice Cream. There will also be casino-style games; to find out more or to buy tickets, go here.


You probably don’t know the name John Trilik; if you were at LTHForum at the right time, you might know the screen name Panther in the Den. Around the time that I left LTHForum,  there were a lot of new members with, let’s say, a different approach to using the site. Trilik/Panther was one of the rare newbies who took the oldbie approach—an Oak Park resident, he obsessively surveyed his immediate area, Oak Park to Berwyn, checking out any new spot he saw and posting about it. Anyway, he passed away recently; here’s a few mentions of him at LTH and here’s Brendan O’Connor (Big Guys) saying nice things about him.


You might think that the opening screed was just to set up my ripping into somebody in this part of the newsletter. But no! No restaurant ticked me off this week, but that’s only because the restaurant involved in my worst restaurant moment this week did not actually send any food to me, and wound up helping me extract my money back from DoorDash. See, I didn’t know I was ordering from DoorDash—I went to the restaurant’s site and ordered from them directly, only to find out DoorDash was a third party to our business when I got the receipt and saw them on it. The problem is, the restaurant didn’t know we had business either, because DoorDash apparently (per the restaurant) had changed their system around and the net result was that they took (dozens? thousands? who knows) orders all over the place that night and didn’t pass (a few? most? who knows) along to the restaurants. Eventually the restaurant was able to push a refund through from their end for the food order they never saw; DoorDash refused to agree that I had ever placed an order through them, even though I had a receipt, and they seemed to think I had done it all wrong by 1) ordering from the restaurant directly and 2) the restaurant using them as a delivery service, and this exempted them from any responsibility for my order existing, or not existing, simultaneously, Schrödinger’s Cat-like. I know this is becoming uninteresting quickly so I’ll jump to the important conclusion: F you all to H, DD. Now on to restaurants, for whom I have only warm feelings this week:

After Nick Kindelsperger wrote about Dorothy’s Bistro (formerly Flat & Point) last week, I decided to check it out—I had not been since way back in deli cup takeout days. Once they were built around a giant smoker on the premises; they seem to have moved away from smoking meat, and there was only one item reflecting the smoker, an entree of housemade sausages. Which would have been a perfect choice… except that literally the night before, seeking something reliable after my DoorDash debacle the previous night, I had gone to Laschet’s Inn and ordered a plate of… German sausages. So we had chicken liver pate on toast, a salad of ricotta and delicata squash, and what was reputed to be a long-running favorite, “offal bolognese lasagna.” Well, the pate was good, the cotta-cata salad was very pleasing, but I was expecting more offal-y funk from the lasagna (I use chicken liver in mine), which was mild and not that interesting to me. We ended, hoping for a higher note, with a pair of housemade caneles—during lockdown they kind of evolved from a meat-focused place to doing a lot of baking and selling stuff at farmers markets. So not an unabashed hit, and yet I admire how they’ve evolved their business, and what they’re interested in making, and with the word being that the menu will change frequently (which doesn’t surprise me at all), I look forward to going back in the near future and trying a whole bunch of new things. Hopefully, some will make more use of that big smoker—and I will not have had big meats the night before.