Before we get into it, I want to point out that I’ll be on Chicago’s Best (later Sunday night for newsletter subscribers; all week for online readers) as the talking head via Zoom for a segment on Chicago BBQ. Watch it on WGN-TV, Channel 9, or catch it here online.


Fall fell on us like a stage curtain ending a scene, and now we enter the grim season when we will see how many restaurants decide they cannot make it through winter to the other side.

Boka Group began it by announcing that it had issued notices of a mass layoff (a legal term requiring specific ways of notifying employees) to over 500 employees, though only about 275 were laid off in August. Louisa Chu spoke to co-owner Kevin Boehm, who explained the company’s situation frankly:

“When we shut down the restaurants in March, then calculated how much paid time off was going to be, extended a week for everybody to close down properly, paid that next payroll and accounts payable, plus extended everyone’s insurance for the next six months, that put us in a hole that was $4 million deep,” Boehm said. “Even with patios right now, we are 65% down.”

The company took on Paycheck Protection Program loans for some restaurants, and it was helpful, but not for others, he said.

“PPP only works when there are sales generated,” Boehm said. “You have to get up to a certain amount of full-time equivalency to turn it from a loan to a grant, so you just end up being saddled with more debt. That’s why PPP is not perfect and why we’d like to change it into the RESTAURANTS Act, which is an actual grant.”

Boehm looks optimistically to a world where he can rehire everyone next summer. Not so the case for one of the brightest openings of the last few years, Andersonville’s Passerotto, which announced its closing as of this past weekend. Owner Jennifer Kim wrote about her journey:

These last three years have been full of warm memories, life-altering connections and so much good food + wine.

When we first took over the space in 2017, it was nothing more than four walls that would house a dream. Not just *my* dream to tell my own story through food, but the dream to have a place that tried to operate as a community-and-worker-focused establishment. I failed more than I succeeded on most days, but as we continued to grow together, something really started to take shape. We—as a collective—started to re-write the way we wanted a workplace to look and feel for each other. I grew immensely alongside other compassionate and passionate folx; I learned about the power of collective care. I became someone I could love because of the people here.

It’s interesting that she mentions the space specifically, because it is one that has been a bunch of pretty good places over the last decade—The Brixton under Kevin McMullen, In Fine Spirits, Brasserie 54 from LM Restaurants (also an investor in Passerotto), Premise (which prompted food media contentions that Andersonville just couldn’t support good food), and at least one more. Despite that track record of change, Passerotto could well have lasted if not for COVID, though I got the sense, particularly when I interviewed her for my What Chefs Know piece at Chicago mag, that Kim was a bit ground down after a few years—hence the effort to find a better way to live and work as restaurant people. I wish her the best in what comes next, and will miss that lamb ragu ddukbokki, the most inspired and delicious example of her idea of a Korean-Italian fusion cuisine.

Ronny’s Steak House, one of the last examples of the Blues Brothers-era Loop, joins the list of Loop restaurants that have closed. The $9.99 steak was nobody’s idea of a culinary loss to the city, but there’s no question that the Loop is less colorful (as Ashok Selvam mordantly observed at Eater, that the original location is now a chain Argo Tea store tells you all you need to know about how the Loop has changed).

Finally—this is a real bummer—Brian Mita has shut down Izakaya Mita, at least for now, due to the fact that his stage 3 cancer has metastisized to stage 4. He is continuing chemo and can really use our support; here’s his GoFundMe. And he can use our supoort to make the Restaurants Act to help keep independently owned restaurants like his going. As he says:

There is no restaurants act. There is no stimulus for my ex-employees. There is no solution for two catastrophic recessions in ten years.

Except your voice.
Please, this week, contact your Senators and put them on blast. Do your best Gordon Ramsey impression. Tell them to get back to work, so I can.


I noticed when I was putting together the previous issue of Buzz List two weeks ago, that where restaurant reviews had once been the main focus of this media roundup, that week only one person had actually reviewed any restaurants—blogger Titus Ruscitti. I began to wonder if this is the end of reviewing as a service to/draw for readers, though I figured Phil Vettel would have to review Ever, the highest-profile opening of the year.

And so he does this week—though he begins by asking, “Is it insensitive to write about a top-dollar dinner in the midst of such tough economic times? I suspect some people will think so.” The old confidence of the reviewer telling movers and shakers where to have that expensive business dinner is gone for good, I suspect. But he manages in time to focus on Curtis Duffy’s food:

The first course is an absolute show-stopper: A shallow bowl of vivid-green cucumber gelee, in which the name “ever” is stenciled in thickened coconut milk. About the plate are vertical spirals of pickled-cucumber strips, osetra caviar atop a medallion of crab leg, herbs and cashew powder and a “rock” of compressed coconut milk.

In the end he concludes the only thing he can—it’s an impressive place from another world:

So, yes, Ever is ever-ything I expected, and I expected a lot. In another time, under other circumstances, Ever would be the restaurant Chicago’s dining world would be talking about.


I had never heard the phrase “quesabirria” before Titus Ruscitti did a roundup of local examples of the purportedly Tijuana-invented mix of birria and cheese, back at the very end of July.

Since then examples have exploded, especially all over Instagram, and Nick Kindelsperger takes a look at the phenomenon and how it spread:

When Tacotlán first opened, its menu didn’t differ too much from other taquerias around town, but it was supplemented with daily specials. Inspired by one of the chefs who had spent time in California, the restaurant tried serving quesabirria last year as a Father’s Day special, but it passed without attracting much attention.

But once the pandemic hit, [co-owner Jessica] Perjes started asking customers which daily specials they’d like to see again, and birria was the top suggestion. From the moment it hit the menu, her customers couldn’t get enough.

It’s a good portrait of a food trend—though I have to say I started following one of the city’s oldest birrierias, Birrieria Ocotlan, on Instagram, around the time IG went quesabananas, and it’s been equally enjoyable to watch them cast shade at the idea of birria needing cheese.


Steve Dolinsky has been on a Latin American tear lately—first, two Colombian spots, El Asadero Colombiano (their charcoal rotisserie chickens are a pickup item for me every couple of months) and a new restaurant on Lawrence near Kedzie, El Fogon de Elena. Then he checks out pastes, which are like empanadas, in Humboldt Park at Cafe Pachuca, and follows that with a Salavadoran spot near Midway called Pupuseria. And finally, he did a piece on Santa Masa Tamaleria, the tamale pop-up from chef Daniel Espinoza that made a lockdown-era replacement for the seafood restaurant he planned to open in Avondale.


Titus Ruscitti visits Wilson Bauer’s pasta shop Flour Power:

If you’ve ever been to the legendary but no longer open Il Corvo in Seattle than you will most likely be reminded of it on your first trip to Flour Power. I had asked the chef if he’d ever been to Il Corvo which I was wondering bc Flour Power had reminded me so much of it. He was happy I asked bc this is indeed an homage to what many considered the best pasta restaurant in the country. Bauer is from Seattle (or maybe it was spent time there I forget) but either way he’s going for what Il Corvo was in a casual spot to grab a really good pasta dish that you likely wont find anywhere else. From the menu which offers three choices a day to the long and narrow inside it has all the feels of Il Corvo. Except the crazy line. You order online through Tock for now. Meals kits are also available.

Buzz 2


Chicago’s lack of Malaysian food is one of its mysteries—it’s one thing I could get more of in my hometown of Wichita than here, a side effect of the local university’s engineering school’s heavy Asian population. Anyway, Mike Sula tells about an underground Malaysian popup, Kedai Tapao.


When the world gets locked down, the locked down get together in new ways to make cool things happen—that pretty much sums up Meat Project, which teams chef John Manion and friend of Fooditor/writer Maggie Hennessy to create a zine detailing ingenious ways of cooking over a fire pit in your backyard, complete with lots of recipes and full color photography. Or as Hennessy describes it at Kickstarter: “Building a fire pit is easy! Cooking over it is fun! We’ll show you how to fire-roast a big-ass steak and what to serve with it.” Go here to pledge $20 for the book/zine/thing, which is already done and at the printers.

And the Reader is collecting several longtime staffers’ work into book form; Mike Sula’s is called An Invasion of Gastronomic Proportions, and here he is selling it in his inimitable fashion: “The appropriate response to anyone who ever said Reader stories were too long has always been: ‘Don’t you like to read?’”


Early on as the lockdown began, there were GoFundMes for many restaurants. How much did they raise? On average about 40% of what they hoped to raise, says John Kessler, in an examination at Plate of how restaurant GoFundMes worked, or not, and the pitfalls—legal, financial, employee reactions—that restaurants using them faced.


David Hammond talks to Illinois Restaurant Association Big Enchilada Sam Toia about All This Stuff:

Contactless delivery and carry-out options will be relevant for a long time to come. It has also been interesting seeing restaurants convert all or a portion of their unused indoor spaces to retail areas… Even when indoor dining is at full capacity in the future, elements of retail and grocery will continue to generate revenue, even if they shift to online only.


Friend of Fooditor Cathy Lambrecht, head of the Greater Midwest Foodways Association, is featured in this Atlas Obscura piece on state fair recipes, as the creator of contests at state fairs designed to preserve both recipes and the family traditions behind them:

Lambrecht started the project to encourage people to preserve their family recipes before it was too late. For her, this is personal: When her grandmother died, she took her famous spaetzle-and-sauerkraut recipe to the grave. It took years of experimenting for Lambrecht to finally recapture the dish.

“I hear it all the time,” she says. “There was something their mother made or their grandmother made and they really enjoyed it. Then when that person disappears, they have no clue how it was made. It’s like this itch that can’t be satisfied.”


Midwesterner has the story—not the street festival, but the locally cultivated peppers of Melrose Park.


More on the James Beard Awards fiasco I talked about last time:

• Gee, you go around announcing that a bunch of writers held a vote that seemed kinda racist… you’re gonna get writers talking back! Pete Wells again, talking to people kicking back at things said in his previous article:

The statement, obtained by The New York Times, added that the foundation’s “subsequent lack of transparency undermines our confidence” in a coming review of systemic bias in the awards process.

The committee, which is made up of journalists, editors and other prominent figures in the food media, also accused the foundation of acting in ways that “negatively reflect on the professional reputations” of the committee members.

• John Birdsall, author of a biography of James Beard coming out in October, calls out the elite crowd running the Beards as not being very James Beard-like.

• Turns out the midwest isn’t the only region that feels invisible to the Beards—so does Florida.


The Goddess and Grocer executive chef Jill Dedinsky died suddenly in late August of a brain aneurysm at 49. The Trib has an obituary here, and Eater has one (including a link to the GoFundMe for her son, who just started college) here.


The closing of Passerotto got me thinking about the early summer frenzy that closed down Fat Rice, and sought to gather information on chefs behaving badly at an Instagram account called The 86’d List. That’s because one of the people who led it, known to me only by their Instagram handle Zed.Aer, was employed at Passerotto.

What a difference a couple of months makes in the life of a moral crusade. From burning with such fury—and literally burning uniforms—back in June, and getting national publicity for it, there’s scarcely a trace of it now. The last 86’d List post at Instagram was in late July; a few weeks back I heard that several outlets were working on a story about one of the places called out there, but the stories have never materialized. And now Passerotto is closed, like Fat Rice (for now), like Band of Bohemia (for now), like Nini’s Deli (for good).

I theorized some weeks back that a lot of that moment came out of anger that acclaimed chefs did not save us from this crisis:

…what it also feels like is everybody getting mad at Dad—you promised us you’d take care of us and we’d all have a future in a restaurant world of boundless creativity, and you failed us! So tear chefs down.

Now the anger has subsided, and all that is left is fear, and the recognition that you can tear down a chef or two, but a pandemic can tear down an entire industry. In the end, COVID-19 doesn’t care how woke you are; it does not spare the righteous. Like Poe’s Red Death, it holds illimitable dominion over all.


Brrr! That was chilly! Let’s talk about some restaurants that are still open.

I went to Kasama, the restaurant from couple Genie Kwon and Tim Flores, which combines Filipino classics, meticulously made as you might expect from a pair who met at Oriole, with equally well-crafted pastries. They’re still in gear up mode—kare-kare was just being added to the menu when I went—but I liked the high quality Filipino dishes like adobo chicken and tocino ribs. The best thing, though, was a side dish they seem to have just invented: charred corn enhanced with scallion mayo, wasabi tobiko roe and nori powder. Don’t miss it, and I hope they keep mixing traditional dishes with ones of their own invention. As for the pastries, all were solidly made but the kouign-amann with hints of cardamom was outstanding. The week I went, you could still dine on the patio, so no distancing concerns.

I was eager to try Norman Fenton’s menu with influences from his time in Tulum at Brass Heart, because when do you get those flavors in a tasting menu? (Answer: at Topolobampo, but that’s it.) I really liked the way dishes would just hint at some jalapeño here, some mole flavor there, without ever doing so strongly enough that it overshadowed the next course; it really brought some fresh air to the genre. A couple pushed it too far—passionfruit is too strong a flavor for oysters, and I don’t know that I need Thai banana with A5 steak more than once—but no matter; this menu is a delight, and service (just a few parties separated in the small room) was excellent.

Speaking of Schwa ex-chefs, I’ve had pasta from Wilson Bauer’s Flour Power twice now—bought a kit (malfade with bolognese) at Local Foods and a pound of some tube-shaped pasta, name already escaped, from the shop, which went very well with the primavera in a tomato cream sauce that was more or less Bauer’s recommendation for what to do with it. They serve finished dishes, too, so I’ll have to try that someday, but mainly I just like the really nice pasta as something to play with at home. (One note: the bolognese was very low salt, a necessity, he says, because you don’t know how much people will salt their pasta water. Easily adjusted, certainly.)

Another meal I kind of put together myself—Three Little Pigs is a Chinese guy delivering homemade char siu and such things. You contact him via Instagram, pay via Venmo, and meet him in front of Fresh Mart, which is an Asian grocer in a hidden corner of Chinatown. In my case, because I thought I should have some rice and vegetables, I also ordered all that from Lao Sze Chuan and picked it up before getting the meat. Anyway, kind of a ridiculous amount of effort to put into a takeout meal, which is exactly why it appealed to me, but I really liked the char siu-style baby back ribs in particular. Proprietor Henry Cai apparently comes from a family that supplies potstickers to restaurants; no idea if this may be a sitdown restaurant some day, or if it’s just a Covid-era popup for the fun of it, but it sure was an adventure.

And I went to El Fogon de Elena, simply because I saw it out of the corner of my eye after watching Dolinsky’s piece on it. Just tried one thing, what the menu calls Calentao (but Dolinsky calls Calentado). It’s basically a Colombian garbage plate—steak, chorizo, beans and rice, plantains and avocado—and it’s totally scarfable. I’ll be back to try more.