So what’s a James Beard Foundation show without competitive awards? Well, not terribly compelling (online) television, I’ll say that. Like the parts of the MD Telethon that didn’t have Jerry Lewis in them.

The best parts were the mini-documentaries that focused on African-American or native American programs around the country (they were the recipients of “Leadership” awards). Which meant that the Beards were trying to get past the self-inflicted wounds of the last couple of months (like accusing their own judges of being kinda racist), by associating themselves with BIPOC-related programs—an incubator kitchen focused on women and minorities, or a program that trains ex-cons to grow food.

But they don’t really have anything to do with those programs, other than giving them an award; it’s not like each of them got an oversized check from Ed McMahon and the Beard Foundation. And the medium being the message and all, there was an unintended message every time we cut from some posh Beard person to a tatted brown chef on Zoom—they were basically acting as beards for the lily-white, wealthy Beard insiders. In the end, it was as much an elite show out of New York as it ever was, mostly disconnected from the reality of the food industry as it exists in this annus horribilis, and leaving the nominated chefs in the main categories tainted by their presence in the Beards’ own bad process.

That said, there was one bright spot, and it was—is this too predictable? I mean it, though—the part that came from Chicago. Even though location is meaningless in a year when there’s no audience and no parties, the show was hosted “from Chicago” by Chicago food writer and on-air personality Ji-Suk Yi, and she had absolutely the down to earth, genuine personality that was missing elsewhere in the show. Here’s hoping this was a big break for her and she gets to be part of it in future years—if there are future years. You can watch it here.


WBEZ talks to local restaurateurs about what the long winter is going to be like for them. It’s not pretty:

Restaurants losing outdoor tables could mean cutting up to half their seating. And if it’s too cold to eat outside, pushing everyone indoors, there’s worry COVID-19 cases could spike. That could push the state to restrict restaurants even further. Illinois just lifted a three-week ban on indoor dining in Will and Kankakee counties after high COVID-19 rates finally dropped.

That leaves take-out, which is peanuts for most: As little as 10% of business.

Meanwhile, at Plate, Chandra Ram expresses the frustration of the industry that no help is forthcoming from government as we approach winter:

Other industries haven’t had to wait like this. Back in April, the aviation industry, 58 airlines that employ 621,220 Americans, received $25 billion in bailout money. It was deemed necessary to save the economy. But the restaurant industry, in which 50,000 independent businesses employ 11 million Americans, still waits for help. And now that airlines are demanding more money to ward off layoffs, there’s a decent chance they will see a second round of aid before restaurants get a dime.

Buzz 2


I mentioned last week that a couple of publications had been working on stories about bad behavior at Acadia, after the south Loop restaurant and chef Ryan McCaskey were the subject of a post on The86dList, a dormant Instagram page devoted to collecting tales of alleged kitchen abuse. But the only part of that story that had come out was a Tribune piece on ex-employee Cody Nason filing suit against McCaskey for stalking behavior.

Now Ashok Selvam has a piece at Eater with more details—though generally speaking few seem to have been willing to go on the record with their allegations; what’s documented is mainly what’s in Nason’s complaint. Still, I suspect few who’ve worked in the industry will find this exactly hard to believe:

The most striking example of this behavior, staffers say, were the employee parties [McCaskey] held at the restaurant that centered around performances from strippers. A goodbye party for a long-time sous chef, held on March 27, 2018, was apparently one such event. While the performers danced inside of Acadia’s private dining room, the sous chef seemed uncomfortable, and tried to stay in the kitchen. McCaskey, according to workers who attended the party, began bombarding the sous chef and another male employee with homophobic slurs for not wanting to take part.

It’s been widely known that it’s kind of an eternal decadent 1977 at Acadia, since well before The86dList came along to narc on everybody. One manager told me of warning his younger staff every year against going to Acadia’s New Year’s Eve parties, that nothing good could come of it—and them coming in the next day in pain, regretting it anyway. But that has long been the nature of the restaurant industry, to work hard and party harder; it ain’t insurance underwriting. Acadia was at one end of that bell curve, in an often gross way.

My question now is, will it matter? Acadia shut down for August, and remains closed for now—which it might well have done anyway; Oriole (whom no one accuses of anything) has been closed this whole time, too. Selvam says “The86dlist account hasn’t posted since the Acadia allegations went up on July 22, and the operator of the account has not replied to repeated requests for comment”; one of those involved, Joey Pham, is apparently now selling cakes through Regalis Foods, which serves many high end restaurants. All of which suggests that the impetus for ripping chefs apart publicly, that burned like a crucible earlier this summer, has died out—and McCaskey, who owns Acadia, will likely just wait it out a little longer, and then be back to business as usual.


As Phil Vettel points out, the last time Chicago didn’t win the Beards Best Chef Great Lakes category was 2015, when it went to Jonathon Sawyer of Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland. And now he’s joining the Four Seasons here to open Adorn in the space that was Allium.


Mike Sula looks for hope in some previews of things coming in the fall, beginning with Outer Limits Pojangmacha, which is Passerotto chef Jennifer Kim doing street food in tents. There are more from people ranging from Jonathan Zaragoza (who’ll be cooking Mexican dishes on The Promontory’s hearth) to LTHForum co-founder/barbecue guy Gary Wiviott (at Wildwood Tavern in Niles, just west of the Leaning Tower YMCA).

Speaking of Sula, he just did a Culinary Historians of Chicago talk about his Reader compilation book; go here to listen.


David Hammond talks to Noah Sandoval and Bruce Finkelman about Pizza Friendly Pizza, and gets some really interesting stuff about how you create a restaurant in response to lots of existing factors (like configuring your pizza for efficiency in the space), as well as your own culinary interests (Sandoval’s, in this quote:)

“I do what I want and don’t worry what other people are doing. If I start worrying about that stuff, I’d go crazy. If I have a new dish I want to do at Oriole, I Google it and if someone else is doing it or no one else is doing it, I don’t care. I’d never done pizza before, and I decided that I was going to make the best pizza I could, and it seemed like it should be square cut, in a sheet pan, built for efficiency because I knew we would be busy, and I couldn’t be tossing dough to order. So, I started researching Sicilian pizza and I decided that was something I really liked.”


Perry Como references, the kids always dig those in my newsletter. Anyway, Steve Dolinsky, definitely sporting some lockdown hair (tell me about it!), visits Oda Mediterranean Cuisine, but says you should abbreviate “Mediterranean” to Georgia, one Georgian specialty in particular:

Their pride and joy? Khachapuri.

“It comes from the southern part of Georgia, from the Black Sea shore. The name khachapuri in translation from Georgian, ‘khacha’ means cheese curd and ‘puri’ means bread,” [owner Marina Cardak] said.


Lots of fun finds from Titus Ruscitti: Fullerton Restaurant, a coffee shop on Western at Fullerton, turns out to be another place you can get a locally invented Japanese dish; charcoal-grilled kabobs in Woodridge; and Brazilian pastries are available in a new spot in the Gold Coast, PiniPico:

The star of the menu here is Pão de queijo or Brazilian cheese bread. A popular breakfast bite that was fine tuned over time by the local Afro-Brazilian community. They’re small little balls about the size of a dunkin munchkin that are made with cassava flour and stuffed with cheese and other fun stuff like bacon (pictured below). I also loved the Empadas which are little savory Brazilian pies including chicken and hearts of palm. Don’t overlook the beef empanadas either. They’re all sorts of flaky and full of flavor.


I drove down 26th street the other day to see if it had changed much since I did this piece; happily, no, it seemed fairly untouched by Covid troubles. One thing that does aim to change it: a restaurant incubator that will come to the street over the next few years. Block Club has more.


Two that I’m really sad about:

Finom Coffee. This isn’t exactly a Covid closing—their lease was up and co-owner Rafael Esparza is co-opening a middle-eastern restaurant called Evette; they could have kept going but apparently the landlord was going to jack up the rent (now that they made his property known to local diners). But it is a Covid closing for me all the same, because the 19th century building/former massage parlor serving coffee and quirky Hungarian-ish foods with lots of high end touches was a favorite hangout place for me when you could still do that, and I’ve been mourning its absence in my life for months.

For my annual Fooditor 99 appearance on James VanOsdol’s Car Con Carne podcast in 2019, I invited Esparza to join us (and feed us), and you can hear all the things I have to say about why it was such a wonderful, affordable, totally unexpected pleasure, as well as hearing Esparza talk about why an $11 brains toast with high end restaurant ingredients and flowers made total sense to him.

Bombacigno J&C. Why wasn’t Bombacigno J&C as famous as Al’s Beef or Manny’s? An Italian sandwich shop in an old speakeasy on the southwest edge of the Loop, this place had loads of old Chicago flavor and excellent sandwiches with lots of homemade touches. Yet I for one could never seem to get it traction; my c. 2006 effort to get it an LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurant award went nowhere, nor did the world flock to it after this 2013 piece at Serious Eats, in which I described the quality of the homemade products:

Almost everything, in fact, is Joe and Claudette’s own; they make most of it in-house, freshly each day, including the meatballs on the meatball sub ($6.50), which is maybe the best thing and the purest taste of South Side Chicago in the place.

They also grill the eggplant and zucchini on the lemon chicken sandwich ($9.09; a little dry today, but usually only a billion times better than the lifeless, soul-draining “healthy” chicken sandwiches all over the Loop).

Never being downtown, I hadn’t really thought about it until Sandwich Tribunal’s Jim Behymer pointed out its closing per Yelp. It’s not really surprising since Joe talks about retiring already in my 2013 piece, but it’s a slice of a city that is no more, now gone as well. As I said in 2013: “Bombacigno’s is a trip back into another Chicago, where reporters drink at lunch and City Hall fixers rub elbows with cops and Royko lives to annoy Hizzoner another day.”


LTHForum is always unpredictable; they ignore so many hot new places, and then they go deep dive like nobody else would on a place (Shin Thompson’s Bokuchan’s) making Japanese curries. Interesting reading!


Fun, slickly produced videos from a plumber in the southwest suburbs, Kevin Szabo Jr., visiting his favorite blue collar joints in that area. (h/t Kenny Z)


Congrats to Ashok Selvam, longtime workhorse of Eater Chicago who has now officially been rewarded with the editor position of same. In fact, the publication has taken a notable upturn in recent months with Selvam as the unofficial guy in charge, and Fooditor is happy to see someone get the reward they deserve from a large corporate publication.

More than that, Selvam, who is of Indian descent, indicates on social media a commitment to stories about and from people of color. Well, everyone says that right now, but I’m sure he means it. Which will be an improvement for the local food media scene—but more importantly, an improvement for a branch of Eater.

Eater, as pretty much the reigning survivor of the host of food news/celebrity chef-oriented sites that popped up in the mid-2000s (Grub Street, Feast, FineDiningLovers, Daily Candy, etc.) played a major role in shifting food coverage toward business news (what’s opening, where did that chef go) and celebrities (Bourdain, anyone on Top Chef). Which is to say, away from food culture, as pursued by people like Jonathan Gold, who dug deep into their cities’ immigrant cultures, or John T. Edge, who explored the panoply of traditions within cuisines, or the writers for Gourmet or Saveur or The Art of Eating whose ideal story was always about the small artisan in a dying tradition.

So if #FoodMediaSoWhite, Eater (nationally) has to be acknowledged as one of the main organizations that made it that way, focusing its energies on upscale restaurants—with white chefs employing expensive PR to feed stories to sites like them; while at the same time crowding out the kinds of restaurants that a reporter had to explore the neighborhoods to find. The vast diversity of a city like Chicago, which many others on the scene primarily focused on (Dolinsky, Ruscitti, Sula, Eng, etc.), was relegated at best to listicles cobbled together out of places that others had brought to wider attention.

Anyway, Selvam has already made strides in that direction and we could not be more encouraging to him to continue doing so. Let’s face it, the businessy news is mostly going to be bad for a while; the interesting stories are going to be the human ones, in places all over the city, about people from all over the world. We look forward to how the Selvam-era Eater Chicago continues to cover it.