Josh Noel has an odd story at the Tribune this week—a former employee at Acadia got a court order against chef-owner Ryan McCaskey for stalking him:

Cody Nason, who worked at the renowned fine dining restaurant for six months in 2019, alleged in a Cook County Circuit Court filing that Acadia owner Ryan McCaskey launched the website codynason.com on Aug. 13, posting Nason’s photo, phone number and home address, along with claims that Nason is “a pedophile.”

For the record, McCaskey denies it all. Nason, who most recently worked at Yugen, admits that he contributed to the 86’d List Instagram page about Acadia (which as noted last week, is the last thing anyone posted there, back in July). So we don’t know who’s harassing Nason, but we do know that he complained about a former employer in public, which also may not turn out to have been a good career move in the end, and not just for this reason.

Now, you want to know something really interesting?

Last week, as mentioned, I posted about the 86’d List, a terror on the restaurant scene just weeks ago, which now seems to be moribund. And I got a note in return from a reader, thanking me for exposing the people posting at the site.

But it read kind of fishy. Didn’t pass the smell test. I looked at the address it came from: [email protected], and from there went to that site. The site, now gone, was full of homophobic jokes, and I very much doubted it was from the actual Cody Nason, who I soon learned had worked at a manager at several restaurants here, in D.C. and elsewhere. But it mentioned a Jaccob Nason, so I looked him up. And it was unlikely it was actually him writing to me, either, since here’s his obituary from 2013.

My first thought was that it was from someone involved with the 86’d List who was using a fake name while trying to get me to say something embarrassing (hey, I have a whole newsletter for that!) Now I don’t actually know who it was from… but after reading this story, it’s clearly the same person who harassed Cody Nason. And I wonder if that story I heard a couple of outlets were working on about a celebrated restaurant will come out now?


Other restaurateurs have PR firms, but Nick Kokonas has long had the city’s still-largest newspaper flacking for him, from four-star reviews for Next every four months, to intense discussions of innovations like $29 chicken sandwiches. Okay, I agree that Kokonas is whip-smart and more innovative than a box of Space Food Sticks in 1968; maybe he could just put a group together to buy the Tribune and deliver news through Tock, it’d sure beat Alden Capital as owners and shake the old girl up.

But even as this interview with him has some sharp observations from him, it goes too easy on the real questions about Alinea’s enormous pivot to banquet-style comfort food, and Kokonas’ plans to move Alinea into a big open space with socially distanced seating. Like—which Alinea is that going to be, the one that became world-famous for tricksy art food, or the one serving beef Wellington and mashed potatoes? (The bad reception that Coronapé got—unmentioned in the piece—is probably one clue.) What does the Alinea brand mean now? When you look at places designed within an inch of their lives like Ever or Smyth or Oriole, how do you compete with that (and surpass it; you are Alinea, after all) in a rented hall? What do you expect to happen with Alinea in the next Michelin awards, and would you give beef Wellington three stars if you were them? I’m not saying these are questions Kokonas can’t answer—I think the only question Kokonas can’t answer is “Can God make a year-old calf?,” and he’s probably got a team working on that—but I’d like to have seen him asked more like that, for sure.

Buzz 2


Chicago Mag talks to Carrie Nahabedian (Brindille) about why she still works the line, among other things: “My father used to tell me, ‘The higher up you go in your career, the farther you get from what made you great in the first place.’ That’s part of why I still cook.”


Mike Sula has two pieces about chefs and what they do, evolving. In the first, Jennifer Kim says goodbye to Passerotto by canning and bottling:

The anxieties of running a business only became more aggravated with the pandemic, but at least there was more time. “I thought, why don’t I spend that digging deeper into Korean history?” she says.

“I was really focusing on, ‘what is fermentation to Korean culture?’ A lot of that was done in large family gatherings or even a couple people that lived around each other who were like, ‘We’re going to come together and make big batches and split it between everyone in the neighborhood.’

The second is 2020 media darling Ethan Eang Lim, talking about the Cambodian dinners he’s serving now, which (grumble, grumble) make it hard to get the Cambodian fried chicken sandwiches that were one of 2020’s happiest dishes for me. (I speak from experience on Saturday.) Anyway, can’t argue with someone growing into his ambition:

The menu is a combination of family style and coursed-out dishes: tek kroeung (a whitefish and smoked oyster dip), prawn and pomelo salad, coconut creamed corn, grilled kroeung (a play on a vegetable stir-fry with the foundational Khmer herbal spice paste), steak frites, the rice noodle dish mee kula, and fried bananas for dessert.

That describes the food, but you’ll want to read all the way to the end for the real kicker. Okay, I forgive it being hard to get my beloved sandwich. It’s been good for them getting my business at Rica Arepa a block away.


Also with two well-paired stories this week: Phil Vettel. First up, how chef-owner Tony Priolo worked with Friedman Properties (landlords of most of River North) to save Nonnina through a partnership that seems to reflect Friedman kind of taking it over and sharing operation with other places (that they are presumably the landlords of):

Gone are Nonnina’s white tablecloths, and the bar area has been given more prominence. New is Casa Nonnina, a tented outdoor space with tivoli lights and a small bites-and-cocktails menu created in collaboration with The Kitchen, the restaurant next door. Also new is Nonnina to Go, operating in a separate room adjacent to the restaurant entrance, offering Priolo’s pizzas and Italian sandwiches, among other items.

Whatever the precise financial details, I think it’s smart of a landlord for a district known for restaurants to act pre-emptively to keep it from being a district known for shuttered restaurants.

Next up, Phil’s favorite Chinese restaurant, Jade Court, closed in the South Loop when veteran owner Eddy Cheung died in 2019, but now his daughter Carol is opening a revived Jade Court—in Hyde Park this time.


How’s that for not speaking Spanish? I got the first two words from one of the restaurants in this Sun-Times piece, which talks to some stalwart local Mexican restaurants about how they’ve handled the lockdown:

Alejandro Reyes, manager of La Costa Restaurant in Belmont-Cragin on the Northwest Side, said he didn’t understand the gravity of COVID-19 until his Chicago seafood providers halted operations.

“I was in awe because here we were, the crowds packing the place, with people lined up on the sidewalk to wait for a table, while the mariachi played,” Reyes said.


More down to earth than Nick Kokonas—David Hammond talks to Amy Morton about pivoting and surviving and all that stuff at her restaurants, including Found and The Barn.


Bummer: Southport Lanes is closing after 98 years, and more notably, after being renovated in the 90s from an aging old guy place with human pinsetters into a yuppie party spot with human pinsetters. In an interview at Eater, owner Steve Soble suggests that it was a square peg that couldn’t fit into the city rules profitably: “Soble — who also owns District Brew Yards — reopened the bar in July but couldn’t allow customers to play and eat at the same time. He ultimately found himself running a sidewalk cafe with a limited bar food menu. The numbers just didn’t add up. ‘Southport Lanes is really about the community getting together, and when you take away these communal spaces and you’re not able to do that safely, it’s really hard to make it work,’ he says.”

Fat Willy’s, which served actual smoked barbecue on the north side before Smoque or much of anyone else, is closing. Sitting opposite a closed movie theater on Western probably didn’t help, and chef-owner Bo Fowler, who also has Owen and Engine and BiXi Beer, seems to have decided to focus on keeping those two going—she had a heart attack earlier this summer, and she told Eater they were thinking of calling it a day at Fat Willy’s even before the pandemic.

Break the news to Grandpa Joe—Lawry’s Prime Rib is closing at year’s end, like the Kungsholm Puppet Theater before it. While Monti’s Cafe (Philly cheese steak specialist) burned, but says it will come back.


Not the most enticing phrase, but Titus Ruscitti shows off the fun Americana to be sampled in Peoria, Illinois’ 8th largest city. Take an autumn road trip, you can practically taste this one: “The ‘Original’ Wonderdog is the premiere spot for chili dogs and tamales in East Peoria. The latter of which have a rich history in the area. There was a time when downtown Peoria would be flooded with Tamale Men. Not the Mexican kind but the Mississippi Delta variety that kind of morphed into a Chicago style hot dog stand tamale.”

There’s also a popup seeking to revive one of Chicago’s reliable dives—Dash Diner is a spinoff of the old Salt & Pepper Diner in Lincoln Park.


More road trip content. Sandwich Tribunal was up northwest and took advantage of local Russian/Ukrainian shops to make caviar sandwiches: “Eastern Washington doesn’t show up on the list of the largest Ukrainian population centers in the US, but there was a time in the 1990s when it was the third most common destination for Ukrainian immigrants to arrive in America. By 2002, 2.5% of Spokane’s population were people of Russian or Ukrainian heritage. When I visited, there were in fact at least 3 Ukrainian delis operating in Spokane and Spokane Valley.”


First, if you missed me on Chicago’s Best last weekend imparting BBQ wisdom, go to their page now. You can’t just watch the whole episode, but watch in this order: Where to Find the Best… [Intro], then Alice’s, Slab, Lexington Betty and Coleman’s (basically go bottom-to-top on the right hand column).

Chicago mag’s Gourmet To Go goes behind the scenes at Pizza Friendly Pizza.


Big congrats to Iliana Regan and Evanston-based Agate Publishing, with the news that her memoir Burn the Place has been optioned for development by indie producer Annapurna (Zero Dark Thirty, ). Start imagining casting for Regan now!


Last week I wrote about Norman Fenton’s menu at Brass Heart, influenced by his time in Tulum. I was invited as a guest this week to Topolo 2.0, as they’re calling the tasting menu served in Frontera’s library and test kitchen (seen in the photos in this Fooditor piece), and I thought, cool, I’ll have the only two Mexican tasting menus in town, back to back! Then someone pointed out that Next’s current menu is Mexico City. Oh well…

Anyway, Brass Heart’s was in the vein of what you’d expect in a tasting menu—where it’s important not to blow out people’s palates on one course. So the Mexican flavors were artful, subtle hints. Topolo 2.0, by comparison, is a full-on Mexican menu—which is not only different from Brass Heart but honestly, from most of the tasting menus I’ve had in Mexico, at Quintonil in Mexico City and places like Pitiona in Oaxaca. They’re looking to an international audience (Quintonil reminded me of Smyth as much as anything); it’s Topolobampo that has its eye square on Mexico.

So two dishes featured rich and spice-complex moles, Mexico’s argument for rivaling French cooking—rare duck breast in a mole Poblano and a dessert of apricot sorbet and meringue in a chocolatey Oaxacan mole negro. Salmon was done as a Yucatan poc chuc, marinated and grilled. The menu started with an aguachile, kampachi with melon, and king crab was served with a sweet corn tamal. From the sushi-like purity of the aguachile to the Thanksgiving-dinner richness of a mole makes a powerful argument for the complexity and versatility of Mexican cuisine across many regions.

All of it was prepared in front of us, by a crew of three in the test kitchen—if they were constrained in any way by having what’s only slightly more than a home kitchen setup, it didn’t show. (I posted a few more photos at Instagram here.) Social distancing was handled well within the space, which was near capacity when we went.

*  *  *

I had a vision of the future last week.

Some PR folks sent me info about a couple of chefs doing Japanese-style sandwiches (“sandos”)—the second ones to do that as a kind of pop-up, after Nine Bar Market.

This one is called Cat-Su Sando, by two chefs who worked at Saison in San Francisco and seem to have both been laid off from Blackbird, Will Schlaeger and Shawn Clendenning. Japanese sandwiches in some ways resemble old school tea sandwiches, white milk bread and delicate fillings, but with Asian flavors thrown in that make them a fun field for chefs to play in. They plan to offer them at pop-up locations while working toward a permanent spot, but also offer them for delivery within a certain distance of Humboldt Park from their ghost kitchen space.

Which I’m probably out of, and I didn’t feel like trying to chase them down at whatever the next pop-up was, so I asked their PR if I could pick some up. I was also curious to see what a ghost kitchen operation looks like from the outside. So the time comes and I find my way to a nondescript brick building on Grand. I try the door at the precise address—locked, no buzzer, a sign pointing further west. I try another door. Then I see a sign—Humboldt Park Kitchen, in cute type, like there’s a food court inside. Which seems improbable—if there were factories around, maybe, but there’s no way this stretch could support something like that.

I go inside—and the cute food court image is instantly dispelled by the atmosphere inside, which is in no way aimed at a consumer audience. There’s a window like in a bus depot, or maybe the one where you hand over your possessions while being processed for lockup. A screen announces which orders are ready. A couple of people who look like cab drivers wait with insulated bags for orders. The main thing I see going out are Chick-Fil-A bags.

So this is a ghost kitchen—an industrial food depot, with an entire Chick-Fil-A hidden inside, passing takeout orders from DoorDash or GrubHub off to immigrants hustling for a few dollars an hour. (I should point out that my son, off at his school, does a little peak-hour DoorDash delivery, and thinks the money is amazingly good compared to his alternatives.) I ask a guy at the window if Cat-Su Sandos is here.

He never heard of Cat-Su Sandos.

I wait outside for a few minutes, emailing the PR person for clues as to where my food might be hiding. I’m just about to leave when I see someone come out who, even masked, looks like a chef more than a guy cranking out Chick Fil-A. He has a bag.

So 15 minutes later, I’m home with two sandos—a pork cutlet with sweet-brown Cat-Su sauce, and their take on a club sandwich with some Asian hints thrown in. I like them! They’re well-balanced and flavorful, just different enough to be something new and not the same old. They threw in a rice ball stuffed with pulled pork (onigiri), and they also do okonomiyaki and a few other things. Here’s the menu. I might see if I can get it delivered next time.