Jean Banchet, that is, not literally (he died in 2013), but the Jean Banchet Awards (with which I have a certain involvement—here’s the In Memoriam from the last awards) will return on January 28. The Banchet Awards are easily the most highly-regarded food and beverage awards in Chicago and an important identifier of up and coming local talent, which often leads to them getting notice in national media and at the James Beard awards. They were founded in 2002 by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation as part of their Grand Chefs Gala, an important fundraiser for the foundation as it fights a serious disease often affecting young people, and was spun off as its own, industry-focused event in 2016; the first post-pandemic awards were held in May of 2022. Now they’re being put on (by longtime producer/host Michael Muser) in partnership with Chicago Chefs Cook, the organization that has put on benefits supporting relief efforts in Ukraine, Ethiopia and most recently, Maui, and whose events have included the recent 80th birthday party for Ina Pinkney. Nominees will be announced in November.

Some good followup coverage at Bob Benenson’s Local Food Forum.

Here’s what I wrote following a 2022 piece on them at Eater.


If you feel like post-pandemic dining seems to be a lot of steak, pizza and other safe things, there are certain restaurants that feel like a bold, innovative future rooted in underappreciated cuisines. Thattu is one, so is Boonie’s, and now here comes another—Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark’s Ukrainian popup, Anelya, which I went to last winter (read here), will become the permanent replacement in the former Wherewithall space. Anthony Todd in Dish:

Clark was familiar with many Ukrainian dishes through his grandmother, who left the country after the Second World War, but when he recently visited Ukraine, he was surprised to see the depth and variety of the cuisine, as well as the focus on local ingredients. “Unless you’ve been to Kyiv in the past five years, you wouldn’t know that it has a really amazing food scene, even in the midst of a war,” explains Clark. “It’s comparable to Italian food — produce is really important, freshness is important.”


Louisa Chu goes for an eating tour of the Austin neighborhood with the manager of the Austin Town Hall Market, Veah Larde:

To get a sense of what Austin is really like, where does Varde [sic] suggest we go?

“Community gardens,” she said without hesitation. “I love what BUILD has done.” Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development is a West Side-based organization focused on gang intervention, violence prevention and youth development. It was founded in 1969, and its new home opened in February. The expansive block-size campus includes an acre of gardens with fruit trees, a three-season outdoor education center and free-range chickens.


Steve Dolinsky talks sushi in Chinatown (or “East Pilsen”) at 312 Fish Market:

312 Fish Market is a cozy sushi counter tucked away on the second floor of the sprawling 88 Marketplace, which houses a number of restaurants and food shops, just west of Chinatown. Walk past the groceries and just to the right of the no frills dining court to see the chefs unpack enormous hamachi and kanpachi. There’s bright orange kinmedai nestled next to horse mackerel and smaller flying fish.

“We get them from Toyosu Market in Japan twice a week. We also get some fish from Hawaii, also get it from the Atlantic,” said Joe Fung, the Sushi Chef at 312 Fish Market.


David Hammond talks to the newest artist to be featured at Esme, Emmy Star Brown:

How do you feel your art works with the environment and food at Esmé?

It’s a perfect fit. When I first met with Jenner and Katrina, we were talking about ideas for the space. We found that we all had this common connection with Alexander Calder. I had dreamed of working in three-dimensions for years and years, but I had never pushed myself into that direction. And Jenner had said, “What if we fill the space with mobiles,” and having that kind of support pushed me from 2D to 3D. I’d never worked in three dimensions before, so creating art for Esmé was certainly very special to me.

I absolutely loved that we pulled this off. You know, the first course of the dinner is served on mobiles floating above the dining tables. There’s a pulley system, so the mobiles can be pulled down to the table level and then pulled back up. But then it stays within the space, and that’s really important for me. I want people to see how the art works functionally with the food.


Best Intentions in Logan Square has reopened after three years, and Titus Ruscitti checked it out:

More than three years after the pandemic shut down one of my favorite neighborhood bars it’s back and better than ever. Best Intentions quietly reopened at the end of April and had a line of people outside when they made their triumphant return along Armitage Avenue in Logan Square. Best Intentions is what many would describe as a hipster bar and they would not be wrong but it’s still an awesome spot. I don’t think being hipster makes a bar bad but lots of places definitely overdo it. What I like about Best Intentions is how they managed to keep most of the dive bar feel from the tavern it replaced. It doesn’t feel new and it isn’t some over-exaggerated replica of a bar from a bygone era. It’s got the feel of a slightly updated dive bar and most of the updates come in the form of the food and drink menus.

By the way, last week I quoted Titus saying that the management of Webster’s Wine Bar also runs Rootstock. Friend of Fooditor Scott Worsham wrote to point out that they have not been connected for a couple of years.


Michael Nagrant ate white boy tacos (but no poké; that’s just a headline joke) at Tacombi, a chain now in the West Loop. Here’s what he thought:

There is authenticity at Tacombi. The birria is shredded velvet and the accompanying consommé works as a killer chili-spiked chaser once the taco has disappeared.

…The tortillas at Tacombi are pliant and full of corn perfume, not as good as say the fresh comal-griddled beauties from Rubi’s on 18th or the ones from Taqueria Chingon, but better than a lot of the ubiquitous dry ones often slung by local tortillerias.

He also made a recording of this one, so you can listen to it while making tacos.


Maggie Hennessy gets results—she writes about a runny-yolk breakfast sandwich at Loaf Lounge and guess who went out and had the very one a day or two later?

It’s a decadent little thing, set on a checkerboard-print paper in a plastic basket. I like cradling it with both hands even though it only requires one; the first bite releases a golden river of yolk, through which I drag every subsequent bite. The muffin’s irregular structure stretches like a mini trampoline to keep the fillings intact. Its griddled edges lend just enough crunch.


Mike Sula looks at seven Chicago food books coming this fall season, one of them talked more about below in this newsletter, and three of them from the publisher of my eventually-upcoming book, Evanston-based Agate. This one sounds interesting (not that the rest don’t) and fitting for the times (again, not that others aren’t):

The Sacred Life of Bread: Uncovering the Mystery of an Ordinary Loaf, Meghan Murphy-Gill (Broadleaf Books)

Small enough to fit in an apron pocket, this collection of essays and  meditations—sermons, even—from a former journalist and practicing Episcopal priest is a map toward developing a “spirituality of bread.” Released in early June, each chapter examines some aspect of bread or baking as a metaphor for inner truth, and ends with an appropriate recipe. “If you have no spiritual practices in your life or are looking for a new spiritually edifying habit to maintain,” one chapter begins, “may I suggest a sourdough starter?”


The Bagel owner Danny Wolf, a Holocaust survivor, died at 77 last year. Now a 78-year-old has taken it over: entrepreneur Marvin Barsky:

In 2021, Barsky bought Stella’s Diner, The Bagel’s cross-street Greek rival. It was a means to curb the then-retiree’s restlessness — and he was certain this venture was his last. Then Barsky befriended Wolf, the man behind his perennial cravings: Reubens and bagels.

The two rubbed shoulders instantly. With over 150 years of lived experience between them, it was hard not to, Barsky said. Competition softened into friendship, and the septuagenarians evolved into North Broadway allies and occasional lunch buddies.


One thing I’m always eager to check out at Eater is a roundup of opening-soon restaurants—hopefully it includes some interesting places, and this one certainly does; I can’t wait for a new John Manion restaurant, Ramenlord Mike Satinover’s permanent restaurant, and the Ramova Theater complex.


Sorry to hear that one of the traditions at LTHForum, the annual picnic where members brought whatever oddball thing they cooked up to share with friends from the almost 20-year-old culinary chat site, was canceled this year. Apparently the powers that be decided that not enough people had signed up to make it worth it, which seems odd to me as there were about 30 people signed up—down considerably from high points in the late 2000s/early 2010s, I suppose, but to me the old LTH spirit was that if two people showed up, that was two old or new friends to have a fun time and eat good things with. Perhaps the powers that be did not see that the people they wanted to see had signed up—that would not surprise me, as the event (like most of LTH) had taken a distinct “in-crowd/out-crowd” tone the last time I went, in the early 2010s, and many of the in-crowd fled at the site of me approaching, food in hand and apparently, trailing brimstone smoke.

The site will enjoy its 20th anniversary next May—assuming it exists by then—but the dispirited nature of this announcement suggests that there’s little hope for a revitalization; the site has been somewhat unwelcoming to both new posters, and a lot of the more notable older ones, for quite some time, as people moved on to other, less restrictive forms of social media. If you ask me, the interest and creativity that originally founded LTHForum is still alive, at NewCity where David Hammond writes, at Titus Ruscitti’s blog, at Greater Midwest Foodways presentations arranged by Cathy Lambrecht, on social media when Kenny Zuckerberg comes to town and finds Italian food no one else has paid attention to—much more than at LTHForum in recent years. And it just kind of floors me that a site which still has some activity, and could probably have a lot more with very modest efforts at outreach, sees no way forward—compared to 20 years ago when it was created from nothing and nobody, and changed food culture in Chicago.