So I went to the benefit for Tigray at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture—about 30 chefs dishing up cool stuff to benefit residents of that wartorn region in Ethiopia. Nobody from Eater, which had slammed the Chicago food community for its response to Ukraine versus its response to Tigray, was there, so I asked a few chefs about Eater’s argument. Eyes were rolled, let’s just say. (It would be easy to point at the big fat systemic elephant in the Eater room: bias.) Anyway, it was a soldout crowd of 200, with some unusual things on offer versus what you customarily see at such events—like the Ethiopian dish from event leader Tigist Reda’s Demera; you don’t see a lot of injera (the spongy, sour breadstuff used as a base for many Ethiopian dishes) at benefits like this. There were a couple of items auctioned (like dinner in Rick Bayless’ garden) that raised over $15,000 that might as well. (You can see more pics here.)

I was chatting with Sarah Stegner there—Stegner was one of the ones who saw Reda struggling to get attention for her fundraising efforts, and helped bring in a host of heavy hitter chefs—and she said much of the same group of chefs was working on a benefit for Puerto Rico following the hurricane damage there. That event will be this Wednesday, 6 to 9 pm, again at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture in Humboldt Park; go here for tickets and more details.

Anyway it was, as so often, a pleasure to see the commitment of the Chicago chef community to coming out, feeding people and supporting a good cause. Local food media should check it out!


Iliana Regan’s second book—Fieldwork: A Forager’s Memoir—has been announced and will come out in January from Agate Midway. (Why yes, that is the same publisher as my upcoming—someday!—oral history of Chicago restaurants.) Anyway, for a preview check out an excerpt from the book at Esquire:

Our yeasty farmhouse was carbonated like a jar of sauerkraut that needed to be burped, always on the brink of explosion. That old place had its own central nervous system. It flushed out its systems below the ground with things we did that didn’t serve it, and pushed up the things that did. The xylem in the mulberry tree pulled up the rainwater from near the top of the slope where its roots went down under the ditch out front, where the hazelnuts were, and the water coursed through all the limbs, exiting through the millions of mouths on the undersides of its leaves, because the roots were capillaries and the garden pulsed like kidneys and the trees breathed like lungs and the gland-like fruits on the cherry tree shone like ornaments under lights, heavy and low, and when they pulled the branches down I could pick most of them. The peaches were fuzzy like arm hair and the raspberries were tiny beating hearts because the farmhouse was alive.


The New York Times published a list of 50 new places they like around the country. It’s not a list of fancy schmancy places, as you can tell from the name of one they mention, in Phoenix, Kebab Grill N Go. Anyway, two places in Chicago get a mention: Dear Margaret is not so surprising:

Ryan Brosseau and Lacey Irby know that French-Canadian cuisine is misunderstood. That’s why a message at the top of their restaurant’s web page warns, “No, we don’t serve poutine!” What they do serve is smooth duck liver pâté crowned by pink lemon marmalade and buckwheat granola; split pea panisse riding stewed mustard greens with housemade paneer; and beef-tallow-fried smelts from Mr. Brosseau’s native Ontario. Mr. Brosseau, the chef, and Ms. Irby are first-time restaurateurs. Thanks to the grace of its cooking and service, Dear Margaret feels like an old soul.

A bit of a surprise is finding a modest taco spot, albeit one with an interesting cross-cultural concept, Evette’s:

Mitchell Abou Jamra struck upon novel ways to make a splash with tacos in a city already rich with taquerias. The most ingenious may be the tortillas he fills with jalapeño tabouli, whipped feta and bacon-y crisp halloumi in a gloss of Aleppo pepper oil. If you choose to order the three tacos for $14 (as you should), you’re going to want to try the gyro and chicken shawarma versions as well. Take them to a windowside stool in the sunny little cafe Mr. Abou Jamra named after his Lebanese grandmother, and daydream of what could happen if the chef ever turned his talents to Middle Eastern enchiladas.

Anyway, glad to see some other choices on a list like this besides Kasama and Virtue. Nothing against either one—far from it!—but it’s just nice to see someone else get some love and attention for the interesting things they’re doing, too.

Steve Dolinsky and Aimee Levitt appeared on WBEZ to talk about what the NYT missed.


Nick Kindelsperger eats hip sushi in Lettuce’s new high-end sushi spot, The Omakase Room at Sushi-San:

At first, I thought I had slipped into someone’s outrageously expensive condo, complete with sleek furniture, oversized art and expertly manicured plants. (They are real, by the way. Look up, and you’ll see tiny growing lights positioned above each one.) The dim golden atmosphere is so alluring, and the cocktail menu is so well crafted, I momentarily forgot the main attraction. But 15 minutes later, someone pulled a curtain, unveiling a 10-seat sushi counter where chefs Kaze Chan and Shigeru Kitano stood ready to prepare the night’s meal.


In Time Out Chicago, Jeffy Mai tells the story behind the sandwiches at Ryan Pfeiffer and Mason Hereford’s Big Kids:

“We did a lunch thing at Blackbird where he came up from New Orleans and we sold his sandwiches there. Then we just kind of talked about it after that. We’re like, ‘Hey, we should partner up and open a sandwich shop in Chicago,’” Pfeiffer recounts.

Adding to the challenges of launching a new restaurant at the time was, of course, COVID-19. Despite countless places struggling to stay afloat, Pfeiffer wasn’t deterred.

“I talked to Mason about it and we’re like, ‘You know, let’s just do it. We’re just sitting around right now. Try it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.’”


A lotta people who’ve never thought about Italian Beef are writing about it lately, for better or worse (we’ll see how known Italian beef criminal John Kessler handles it for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shortly). I read a piece in the LA Times which put me in mind of a famous and delicious parody of the NY Times writing about pizza (“a kind of baked tlayuda”)—not surprisingly, since it’s by the same author, Lucas Kwan Peterson. Here’s Peterson on Italian beef this week:

Chicagoans like [Michael] Walker — whose Comfy Pup is devoted to the food of the Midwest — can rattle off the necessary components of “a beef” as easily as they can extol the virtues of a pickle-speared Chicago hot dog: The beef meat should be roasted, sliced paper-thin and briefly soaked in flavorful jus, then heaped into a 6-to-8-inch bread roll of hyper-specific origin and topped with sweet (roasted) or spicy peppers, the latter a moniker of tangy giardiniera, which adds a bright, vinegar bite to an otherwise hefty, heavy meal. The sandwich can come “dry,” “wet” or “dipped,” depending on how soaked one prefers the bread, which determines how savory and messy the experience will be.

That’s reasonably good—Peterson apparently comes from Chicago originally—but what the F is “beef meat”? That sounds like an editor’s intrusion, making something more mystifying by “clarifying” it. The phrase you’re looking for is “top round” or “top sirloin,” which is what typically gives you the shaved slices. (I just saw a recipe suggesting that chuck roast is used; the picture, which shows chuck roast broken down into wiry shreds of meat, looked more like Johnny Rotten’s spiked hair than any beef I’ve ever had in Chicago.) I might also argue with the “briefly”—I don’t know precisely where the sweet spot is, but it’s longer than any place that drops beef into the jus when you order (e.g., Serrelli’s in Oak Park, which mainly sells tubs of beef for parties), and shorter than any place that leaves it soaking all day (any hot dog stand that sells a few beefs a day).

And if you want to know more—for whatever reason the announced date for Dr. Anthony (“Antonius” on the original LTHForum) Buccini’s talk on the history of Italian beef at Culinary Historians did not work out. Now it will happen on Tuesday, October 4 at 7:00 pm over Zoom; go here to find out how to catch it.


Titus Ruscitti tries Tengoku Aburiya:

Tengoku is an izakaya meaning Japanese bar food is what they do. It’s a casual space that can typically take walk-ins so basically the opposite of the upscale omakase next door. The whole purpose of an izakaya is to present the customer a comfortable spot to have a bite to eat with some drinks on a low key. My type of place so I don’t why it took me so long to finally get over here as Japanese bar food is second to none.

And a Macedonian spot in Darien, Babba Grill:

…there’s plenty of Balkan restaurants in Chicagoland but I’ve never come across any making Macedonian food. It’s a cuisine influenced by the Ottoman Turkish Empire as well as other Balkan countries. As I learned when looking into Babba Grill, the Macedonian Hamburger is a popular dish and according to the reviews Babba Grill makes a good one.

And fried chicken in Lincoln Park, with a familiar name from the 90s—Red Light:

The menu is as simple as it gets. They have sandwiches, some nuggets, and the option to add fries, that’s it. The sandwiches can be ordered in a few different ways but I was there for a classic fried chicken sandwich and that’s exactly what I got. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Just a really well made sandwich that takes full advantage of a crisp piece of juicy chicken meat dressed with pickles and mayo plus cheese if you want it.


Who knew it was Hispanic Heritage Month? I’d never know any of these if not for press releases that lead with “If you’re planning any Pickled Gherkin Month roundups, I want you to know about…” Anyway, somebody told Steve Dolinsky it was, so here he is talking about El Salvadoran pupusas at Pupuseria:

The wide, flat-top griddle, or plancha, is busy pretty much all day long at Pupuseria. The tiny café in the Clearing neighborhood, just West of Midway Airport, has a tight, compact menu, but nearly every table orders the namesake.


I was talking about the automation of ordering last week—more on that below—but Grimod offers another example of that kind of shift in restaurants: wine list descriptors at places without somms on the floor:

The establishments you have seen indulge in this practice are not quite in the “high luxury,” multi-Michelin star extended tasting menu genre. (Restaurants therein often privilege wine service and promote direct customer interaction with talented sommeliers who manage their cellars with the same care and vision that the chef applies to their cuisine). Rather, you have regarded these annotated, expository wine lists at critically acclaimed eateries—possessing a Bib Gourmand or single Michelin star—offering more varied beverage programs. Thus, the bottles they offer—while often notable—are balanced by robust sales of beer and cocktails. Staffing problems, especially post-pandemic, might privilege a more flexible beverage/floor manager role than a dedicated sommelier. Philosophically, the concept might simply view wine as an interchangeable accessory embedded within a more distinguished culinary experience.


South Side Weekly does its annual Best of South Side issuein fact the tenth anniversary one. As always, food is a major part of it; happy to see Kevin’s Hamburger Heaven taking a nod for late night dining (my only post-midnight visit there, years ago, put me opposite a fellow in an electric blue suit and homburg hat, doing the bookkeeping for his street-based businesss at the counter), a few different mentions of food trucks unknown to those who do not venture so far south, and several new vegan spots. Though I have to say it seems perverse to me that there’s no food choices mentioned for one of the most food-rich and certainly booming-with-new-restaurants parts of town—Chinatown.


It’s too obscene for this upright family newsletter, but read the paragraph that begins “Like the comic book decor at nearby 2d Restaurant” in this Eater Chicago story about a sexually-tinged (okay, way more than tinged) dessert place in Boys Town, as Eater explains what the frosting spurting from a waffle shaped like Willis Tower is supposed to represent. Never would have figured that out on my own… now I must lie down, as I think I have the vapors.


They might as well be that, though their real names are Oliver and Nicolas. They’re the Poilevey brothers, second-generation owners of Le Bouchon and founders of Taqueria Chingon and Obélix, and Ari Bendersky tells you what to expect at the latter at Resy:

“We’ve always worked in our parents’ places and they left us [their restaurants] to carry on their legacy,” Oliver says. “We wanted to do our own thing without being compared to them.” What has emerged is an unpretentious 66-seat spot where you can host a celebratory weekend dinner or simply pop in on a Monday night for a glass of wine and some oysters at the bar.

The Poileveys are also among the second-generation kitchen talents featured in this Chicago mag piece.


Amy Cavanaugh on the cocktail bar inside longtime Chinatown stalwart Moon Palace, Nine Bar:

The duo sling drinks like Paradise Lost, a clarified coconut milk punch with cachaça and Rhine Hall mango brandy; Smoke & Mirrors, a white mezcal Negroni with orange-lemongrass tea; and Chu-Hai, with shochu, baijiu, Midori, and Calpico (a Japanese yogurt-based soft drink). “Chu-Hai is short for ‘shochu-highball,’ and it’s pretty widely found at Japanese convenience stores,” [co-owner Lily] Wang says.


Mike Sula calls attention to four more food books by Chicagoans coming this fall, including Justice of the Pies by Maya Camille-Broussard (featured in this Fooditor piece), and Bread Head by Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread, who I just saw at the Tigray fundraiser. But I think the one I’m most interested in—because I’m highly skeptical of vegetable cookbooks, but one thing I firmly believe is that Italians know how to cook and eat vegetables—is Sarah Grueneberg’s Listen to Your Vegetables, with Kate Heddings:

Grueneberg is trained in the Italian aesthetic of simplicity and superior product, but even with that the variety contained within is exhaustive and a mine of useful tips and techniques (ex: don’t oil your vegetables before grilling). You probably don’t think you need eight asparagus recipes, but flip through them and you’ll see that you do.


There’s a 17-page court document which it seems unlikely anyone will want to read all of, but this release from the Department of Labor sums up the restitution they are requiring of former Grace/Yugen owner Michael Olszewski:

The action follows an investigation by the department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration and subsequent lawsuit. The department’s lawsuit alleged that in spring 2011, Olszewski transferred all funds from the Cicero-based company’s employee benefit plans to personal annuity policies in his own name with his wife as the beneficiary. However, in 2012 and 2013, he filed annual reports for the employee benefit plans indicating the plans had assets. In spring 2016, Olszewski deposited the amounts withdrawn in 2011 into plan accounts on behalf of each plan, but in 2017, Olszewski withdrew $79,649.50 from each plan and deposited the funds into a money market account in his name and his wife’s name. In 2015, Olszewski allowed the fidelity bond to lapse for both plans.

In the consent order and judgment, Judge Martha M. Pacold ordered that Olszewski be permanently barred from serving as a fiduciary in the future and also ordered him to pay a penalty of $15,845 for violating the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Look at that timeline. What else was happening around that time in his world? Well, Grace opened in late 2012, and shut down in late 2017.


Last week I was reflecting on how soon we might be ordering by phone from our tables, and not dealing with actual servers at all. Several people responded saying they’ve already done precisely that—but their anecdotes were all in other cities, and mostly Chinese restaurants. (UPDATE: Derrick Tung of Paulie Gee’s said on Twitter that “We’ve done both. There was a point when you could order fully off your phone, but we’re back to real menus again.”) So we’re still waiting for it in Chicago, I guess, and particularly at the kind of place that offers sitdown midscale dinner. Well, not sure I really mean “waiting for”—more like “anticipating joylesssly.”

The thing that nobody commented on, which surprised me a little, was where I talked about places that gave ghost kitchening or whatever a try, but didn’t last:

…if I was optimistic about ghost kitchens and stuff like that a year ago, I now see a food scene littered with the corpses of good ideas that had a month or two of possibility, but soon gave up the ghost… kitchen. The sticker from Cat-Su Sando on my fridge is a reminder of one cool idea that is no more, and I never did get to try that Azerbaijani ghost kitchen place. Kedai Tapao, one of those places Mike Sula featured in his Kedzie Tap events, might open a Malaysian restaurant—or they might be done, who knows?

I was thinking about others that have come and gone, and leafing through old issues of this newsletter to think of places that hardly existed for a moment, even though they got good publicity, but for whatever reason, starting in a ghost kitchen or a bar just didn’t work long term—Yamma, the Palestinian popup briefly run out of a Wicker Park bar named Pint, and reviewed by Nick Kindelsperger; Kiosk Balkan Street Food, also reviewed by Nick, and now said to be closed “until further notice”; Santa Masa Tamaleria, which had an Italian beef tamale at one point, apparently gone, only the stickers I have in a drawer showing it ever existed; a virtual Indian restaurant Steve Dolinsky wrote about called Saffron Street, whose website promises a permanent location… someday. Just to name a few. The fact is,  you can open almost any issue of Buzz List over the last 2-1/2 years, and you will find somebody’s great idea, given a shot in some virtual way… but almost always defunct within weeks, or at most months. It’s discouraging, and really shows how tough it’s been to even get tried out by customers, let alone make it long term.

On the other hand, there are some success stories. I ran across Sula writing about a Cambodian pop-up called Mona Bella—and didn’t realize until now that it was the larval form of the popular new Cambodian restaurant Khmai Fine Dining on Devon. And I just saw that Malaysian pop-up Kedai Tapao will be doing dessert for an event at BiXi Beer on Wesdnesday. So some are hanging in there….


I’m off to a film festival, and where I have time to work on things food-ish, it’ll be my book. So Buzz List will be off for two weeks, but will return on October 17 (evening of the 16th for subscribers, which you should be one of already, dang it). See ya!