When I was out and about at the Beard awards parties this year, the talk was that New Orleans would probably get the next three year run of the Beard show, and San Francisco was also known to be in the running (and to be making its pitch while in town here). Well never mind—Chicago got four more years, through 2021, and Chicago restaurateurs are happy as can be about that for the national (read: New York media) exposure it gives our scene.


Jeff Ruby is very sharp on why two new places, both small plates focused, wound up with different results. At Giant, “Even when the kitchen gets showy, flavors come through crystal clear. The sweet-and-sour eggplant, which diners spoon onto homemade flatbreads along with cashews, pancetta, and aïoli white sauce, is mesmerizing. A juicy, crisp-edged swordfish loin with perfect fried clams, garlicky mayo, cherry tomatoes, and a brilliant zap of giardiniera showcases the cooks’ ambitions. Three-star fare for $19… It is not Contemporary American or New American. It defies labels. If the owners were pressed to classify the cuisine, it would probably be something like Good Stuff We Like Right Now.”

That kind of simple, personal statement of purpose is not what he finds at Ema, the Lettuce-owned attempt at a middle-eastern restaurant under one of the Intro chefs, C.J. Jacobson: “The menu is so by the book it feels as if the recipes were crowdsourced by a marketing team. Instead of going smoky, a lemony eggplant spread gets a sheen of olive oil and a softening with house yogurt. It’s pleasant but subdued into near invisibility. The housemade stracciatella (Burrata pulled into strings) deserved better than the lifeless roasted vine tomatoes that escorted it.” (Chicago)


Phil Vettel captures exactly the atmosphere of calm expertise at Smyth: “The Shields have achieved that very tricky balance between culinary excellence and unaffected informality. There’s a genuine feel to the warm greeting at the door and the easy confidence of the servers. The high-ceilinged loft space that serves as dining room and kitchen is all natural wood and luxurious spacing. The display kitchen is like a stage, and diners can marvel at the performers, going about their duties with seemingly no wasted effort.” He likes the food, too, and gives the restaurant four stars in its debut.


For its annual food issue, the Reader profiles the different styles of family meal—what feeding your staff is always called—at nine different restaurants, from Alinea to Pub Royale and Birrieria Zaragoza. I wrote three of them—Frontera, Boka and BellyQ—but they’re all interesting, especially as you read them all and contrast the different styles: for instance, Alinea eschews any of the molecular gastronomy it’s known for at family meal, but Elizabeth stresses practicing techniques on your coworkers. Start here.


The crazy Budlong fight is getting Nashville hotter with investor Phil Tadros filing a lawsuit (Eater has the papers) claiming he was essential to the development of the concept and owns the recipes, name, Jared Leonard’s dog and everything else. Besides the lawsuit, I know that he’s sent packets of emails and contracts between Leonard and himself to a number of media people, trying to get them to see his side of his claims that his involvement was essential all along and Leonard is ripping him off.

Again, I don’t have a side in this, but here are the questions I’d pose if Tadros is claiming he’s been involved from the start: 1) Leonard has been developing the Lincoln Square location, called The Budlong because it’s near Budlong Woods, for close to two years; the Broadway location entered the picture late in the day as an alternative due to construction delays at the Lincoln Square one. What has been your involvement in the acquisition and development of the Lincoln Square location prior to the concepting and opening of the Broadway location? 2) Leonard has been working on his recipes for some time, including trips to Nashville to try existing hot chicken spots. How many times have you been to Nashville and which Nashville hot spots were your favorites?


Graham Meyer at Crain’s also went to Ema and says the small plates are better than the large ones—isn’ t that almost always true everywhere? “The deliciousness of Ema’s food varies inversely with its size. From the small plates, the spreads ($7.95 to $8.95 each, $12.95 for a sampler of three) lay down solid versions of hummus and eggplant dip, with a sidekick of warm, soft pita. Tuna crudo ($14.95), Rastafarian in color with red tuna, yellow cherry tomatoes, green avocado and black fried lentils, was a high point. Crispy haloumi and dates ($9.95 on the menu, $10.95 on our bill) presented prominent marinated peppers to go with the crowd-pleasing fried cheese, though the dates seemed blind to the rest of the dish.”


Nick Kindelsperger sings the praises of the soft shell crab taco at Tanuki: “The crackly crust of the freshly fried soft-shell crab shatters when you bite in, unleashing a flood of seafood juices. The brightly colored tobiko add pops of texture. Most important, the nori shell does its job, staying crispy and cohesive, while not getting too much in the way.” Though he doesn’t mention how the seafood tacos at the sushi place came about—owner Tom Kovitsophon developed them with Keng Sisavath as something easily eaten by hand at Sisavath’s upcoming Strange Foods Festival.


I linked last week to a piece by John Kessler and Melissa McEwen directed me to this one, from Gravy, which is about southern food in Chicago and how it’s often found wanting: “I expected to miss Southern food in my new hometown. I did not expect to spy a funhouse version of it around every corner. Chicago is in the throes of an energetic (and, honestly, slightly bananas) infatuation with the South. The word ‘Southern’ has become a capacious vessel into which hungry people slop buckets of desire and nostalgia. It is, yes, fried things. And bourbon cocktails and hockey-puck biscuits (go Blackhawks!). It is also more. Random burgers here earn the sobriquet Southern. Chicken tenders are Southern. Pimento cheese Southernizes furls of cavatappi pasta.” He particularly goes after Charlie McKenna—ironically an actual Southerner!—for the white southern nostalgia allegedly implicit in his new Dixie, which got blowback for being unfair on Facebook from Paul Fehribach (Big Jones), who Kessler uses as an example of someone doing it the right way.

Well, I think he shoots off some well-aimed barbs and I don’t think it’s entirely without problems if white people idealize the south, but at the same time, hey, I grew up in Kansas whose own local food culture was kind of 50s bland when not 19th century austere, and the little bit of southernness that had snuck into the food culture from Oklahoma was, black or white (mostly the latter), warm and welcoming. So I understand why a cuisine about making everybody happy, makes everybody happy.


DNA Info reports on closings on Division Street, including a 25 Degrees, the cute A Baker’s Tale and more. Eater has more closings including a place not far from me that I never, ever heard of, Panz. Looked nice! Would have tried it! So what’s going on? Is this finally the beginning of the crash? I don’t think so, but it’s the beginning of the beginning of a crash, maybe, if real estate markets keep getting so hot that they make landlords greedy and they drive out the small owner places that give a neighborhood character and help it grow. In the meantime, it reinforces that small owners need to get their word out somehow, if you build it they will still never hear of it to come, so if you’ve built something cool… Fooditor is all ears, for one.


No, it’s not a Trump link. Very important work being done in academia on food, according to the abstract for this paper: “This article examines the symbolic whiteness associated with pumpkins in the contemporary United States. Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte, a widely circulated essay in McSweeney’s on ‘Decorative Gourd Season,’ pumpkins in aspirational lifestyle magazines, and the reality television show Punkin Chunkin provide entry points into whiteness–pumpkin connections.”


Everybody likes John Manion’s El Che Bar and Heather Schroering is no exception, giving it four spthffts! “The food isn’t necessarily Argentinian tradition, but the essence is there. Manion calls it “Latin local,” bringing in plenty of produce from Illinois farmers. While cooking steak is close to his heart, don’t call it a steakhouse. You’ll find ribeye on the menu, but the beef short ribs ($24), cut thin and grilled quickly, are the Argentinian way. Gnocchi—a dish traditionally served in Argentina on the 29th of the month before payday—morcilla and veal sweetbreads are other nods to the cuisine. But it’s more the grilling method that captures Argentina.” (Redeye)


Congrats to this year S. Pellegrino Young Chef award winner, Mitch Lienhard. He’s had top positions at San Francisco’s Saison and Manresa, but before that he learned his trade here—he’s a veteran of Grace and Alinea.


Lonely Planet has a roundup of literary bars in Chicago. Okay, a lot of them just happen to have books on their shelves, but still, interesting.


It’s a small world… Sarah Freeman was at the same Entente media dinner that Maggie Hennessy mentions in today’s Fooditor story, and talks more about chef Brian Fisher here at Thrillist.


At Roast magazine, a nice little story about Jim Petrozzini, aka Jimmy Beans, who just opened his eponymous coffee shop in Logan Square.


Took the family for a son’s birthday dinner at Community Tavern in Portage Park, per this Fooditor story, and was impressed with the precision of the cooking and the very good in-house charcuterie. Don’t overlook Portage Park!