I live for my Friday night WTTW ritual: "Chicago Tonight," followed by "Check, Please!" I have something new to look forward to tonight, when Catherine De Oriotakes over the hosting reigns from Alpana Singh following a long audition process earlier this year. The Elmwood Park native has made some bold moves in her career, having ditched her litigator gig for culinary school at Kendall, followed by consulting and writing in the food industry. In conversation, she is warm and engaging, and talks at length about her love for food and the city.
Despite her credentials, De Orio maintains that everyone has a place at the table when it comes to critiquing food. "Everyone's opinion is valid; what my palate likes is different from what your palate likes." I like her style; in a world of buzzwords and overindulgence of using "amazing" to describe experiences, De Orio is quick to emphasize that the success of the show is the conversation that arises between people who simply love food, and the great experiences that come from going outside of your comfort zone and visiting a new place that never would have crossed your mind before. As someone who accompanied a past show participant to Midlothian to check out a restaurant serving pork chops larger than my head, I know what it's like to have the uneasiness that comes with driving over an hour out of the city for a meal that someone on a television show recommended. The show serves as a tour guide of sorts to the newly minted Chicagoan who wants to get familiar with the city through its food, and to the longtime resident who can't seem to expand their horizons past a few mainstay restaurants.
Other than the set, which has gotten a makeover from 555 International (the same people who designed Girl and the Goat), the format of the show is unchanged: three people, three restaurants, and three discussions. The debut episode -- which visits Bucktown's Estrella Negra, Near North's Benny's Chop House, and Tinley Park's Tin Fish -- airs at 8pm.
It should be no secret to anyone who lives in Chicago that people here are hungry. Nearly everyday, whether I'm downtown or on the Red Line or in my own neighborhood, someone is asking for change, is asking for help getting something to eat.
Food insecurity, defined as not knowing where your next meal is coming from, is a huge issue in this city that affects one in six people. It's worse in certain neighborhoods. A whopping one in three people is food insecure in the neighborhoods of West Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Austin. One in three. For perspective, I thought of my near 30-strong department at work and if we lived in Austin, statistically, 10 of us wouldn't know if we were eating dinner that night, maybe a few of us would skip lunch.
SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, is a federal program that aids low-income individuals and families afford food. The already small benefit is getting cut on Nov. 1 and will affect over 820,000 individuals in Cook County who receive a meager $35 per week on average.
More vibrant community than anonymous chat site, the benevolent LTHForum food gods have made substantial changes to Chicago's beloved source of all things culinary. As a repository and portal of food and dining info with over 2 million hits a month (these are visitors, not all posters) the vast collective knowledge shared by the board's participants makes for lively discussions regarding getting your grub on in every way conceivable.
The website itself has remained suspended in amber since 2004, when it began as an offshoot of some disgruntled Chowhound posters. Tired of what they considered to be restrictive policies, our brave culinary refugees met for dinner in Chinatown at soon-to-be-namesake restaurant Little Three Happiness and decided to do it their way -- by moving their posts to a site where they called the shots.
Grass Fed, the Bucktown restaurant that looks like it could have come out of Martha Stewart Living, is adding another twist to their menu -- a Sunday guest chef series called "Keys to the Kitchen." Every Sunday from 7-8:30 p.m., local chefs (currently unknown but we're hoping to get the scoop soon) will get the "keys" to the Grass Fed kitchen to whip up their $30 per person menus. (Price excludes tax, gratuity and beverages.)
Grass Fed is kicking off the series this Sunday with a three-course summer dinner -- Goat Cheese Ravioli with pickled cherry, a tasting of local Pork, including belly, shoulder and loin, with local peaches, pickles and onions and Housemade Churros with nutella.
Supposedly Grass Fed will reveal the chefs and their menus in advance. Don't get your hopes up that Stephanie Izard will be one of the mystery chefs -- this sounds more like an up-and-coming mystery dinner; just more reason to see what the rest of Chicago chefs who don't have restaurateurs to back them are doing.
Reservations are highly recommended. To schedule, call 773.342.6000 (a 48 hour cancellation policy is required). 1721 N. Damen Ave
WBEZ covers changes to craft brewers' production limits and new distributor ownership laws passed in Springfield this week. Unfortunately the whole thing is incredibly difficult to understand. We break it down for you here:
1) Craft brewers (i.e. Revolution, as outlined in the article) may now produce 30,000 barrels, up from 15,000. This seems good since it's double the limit, but bad when you consider that the brewing facility Josh Deth purchased at Kedzie & Belmont is capable of producing 100,000 barrels (and he was looking to have the law changed to 200,000 barrels).
2) Anheuser Busch and other beer/liquor behemoths are prevented from having ANY ownership of the distributors in Illinois - they own 30% of City Beverage, and attempted to buy it in 2010. Fun fact: AB completely owns distributors in nine other states.
3) Revolution may be able to get around this law and make more than 30,000 barrels since the Kedzie facility could be considered a brewpub, and brewpubs can sell directly to beer drinkers. If only Deth will let me bring my dog with me to the Tap Room, my partner and I can assist even further in meeting his sales goal.
After a lengthy interview process, food writer and consultant Catherine De Orio has been named the host of WTTW's "Check, Please!" The Elmwood Park native is a grad of UW-Madison and Kendall College, as well as a former lawyer (that should come in handy when people disagree about wine lists).
Film critic Roger Ebert, who died earlier today at age 70 after a cancer recurrence, had his lower jaw removed in 2006 as part of his treatment, which meant that the writer was forced to take his meals through a feeding tube--a tragedy for someone who relished the art of the screen seemingly as much as he loved food, as exemplified by the following passage from a 2009 blog entry:
"A downstate Illinois boy loves the Steak 'n Shake as a Puerto Rican loves rice and beans, an Egyptian loves falafel, a Brit loves banger and mash, an Indian loves tikki ki chaat, a Swede loves herring, a Finn loves reindeer jerky, and a Canadian loves bran muffins," he wrote. "These matters do not involve taste. They involve a deep-seated conviction that a food is absolutely right, and always has been, and always will be."
Ebert wrote, of all things, a cookbook titled The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker in 2010. Fascinated by the appliance, he emphasized its versatility in areas other than the one simple thing it was meant to do. The irony is that he was writing about an activity he could no longer be part of, and rather than draw the curtains on the experience of eating, he became even more engaged, twisting it on its end. Admirable. If the afterlife exists, I hope it has a buffet ready for him. With a lot of apple pie (NSFW).
Are you already at the market every Sunday and want to learn more about how farmers markets are run while getting a little cash on the side? Well, the booming Logan Square Farmers Market is hiring an Assistant Market Manager for the outdoor season this year. More information can be found here; applications are due by Monday April 22nd.
It's lights out for a culinary trendsetter. Local doughnut chain Glazed and Infused, which opened to much fanfare last year with their high-end apple fritters and red velvet cake doughnuts, has reportedly been bought by retailer Dunkin' Donuts; an unnamed source close to the deal says that the Canton, Mass.-based company plans to replace Glazed and Infused's multiple locations with--what else?--a Dunkin' Donuts. A spokesperson for the national chain declined to confirm the sale, but did boast that "an old-fashioned donut from Dunkin' is just as good as anything made with expensive ingredients like with Valrhona chocolate or Madagascar vanilla beans any day. No one notices the difference, trust me."
UPDATE: If it wasn't clear from the link above, this is an April Fool's joke. Glazed and Infused is open and ready for your order of delicious gourmet donuts.
WTTW released the 17 possible replacements for current "Check, Please!" host Alpana Singh, who will be retiring from the weekly dining show at the end of its current season. Among those vying for the coveted spot are ex-City Provisions chef Cleetus Friedman, Chicagoist's Anthony Todd, and mixologist Emilie Rose Bishop of iNG. Voting runs through April 17. Choose carefully; my Friday night television watching is at stake.
This time every year, passionate food nerds descend upon LTHForum.com for weeks of debate regarding their annual Great Neighborhood Restaurant & Resource Awards. Lively discussions, curated meals at nominated restaurants for a litany of greatest hits, and even more discussions lead to the culinary money shot — GNR status. I participated in at least a half dozen outings myself, and the dedicated GNR committee, many more.
"Distinctly better than the rest" is what to expect. It may be for a lone item or an entire meal. It's best to read the individual award and stick pretty close to what they're honored for. And while "great" can be an ambiguous value judgement, in this case it really means that the members of LTHForum finds there to be something very special living there.
The first wave of the chefs and restaurants (125 in all) participating in April 20th's Baconfest at the UIC Forum (725 W. Roosevelt Rd.), was released today--and it looks good: Slurping Turtle and Glazed and Infused are among some of this year's newcomers. VIP tickets ($200) are still available; general admission ($100) will be on sale Feb. 20th.
It was love at first sight. As love in the wee hours, in a dive bar, after many, many cheap beers so often is. The slender form, the genial and somewhat plain appearance, the intoxicating whiff of something between the familiar and exotic. Just begging to be taken home -- or better yet, undressed right there on the bar, in front of everyone. Aw yeah. The first time I ever tried a Chicago tamale I just knew: it was the start of a lifelong affair. They're as good for breakfast as for bar food, offer endless variations of flavors and fillings, and fit snugly into one of my very favorite categories of edibles: foods stuffed with other foods. And to clinch it, they're just one one little vowel sound away my last name ("tamal-uh"). Tamales and me, we're meant to be.
So when I learned last year about the Feria del Tamal y el Atole, there was no question I would be in attendance. The fair returns a week from Sunday, moving from the ChiTown Futbol indoor arena to Benito Juarez Community Academy this year -- if it's anything like last year, you'll barely notice you're in a school what with the swirling Mexican dance troupe, the crush of bodies and strollers (so many strollers! It's an emphatically all-ages festival), and tri-folded booth dividers that make the whole thing feel somewhat like the Central and South America section of a Model UN food court. Is there such a thing? (There should be.)
But I've had late-night dive bar tamales, you might protest, what more could possibly be done to make a festival out of masa and filling? So, so much more, my dear friend -- bright red chipotle chicken, venison, spinach, dessert tamales filled with strawberries and cream, patriotic tamales dosed liberally with red and green food coloring, flat open-faced tamales, tamales steamed in banana leaves rather than corn husks...over 50 variations in all -- and atole, in everything from chocolate to prune-flavored varieties. (The prune atole was particularly good last year -- warming, sweet, rich tempered with a bit of tang.) If you love a tamale anything like I do, you're probably going to want to go, and go hungry.
Remember the McJordan Special from McDonald's? It was a quarter-pounder with bacon, American cheese, onions, pickles and special "McJordan BBQ" sauce. It was sold in 1992 in Chicagoland as well as a few other markets. It was also known as the Big 33, for Larry Bird, presumably in Boston and Indianapolis.
I haven't been back to Kuma's in a while, too scarred from a previous visit when they forgot to put in my food order (the hungriest, most desperate three hours of my life, I tell ya); however, it looks like all I needed to do was follow the directions of the sarcastic "Hippies Use Back Door" sign they proudly hang to avoid the often colossal wait. From Kuma's Facebook page this morning:
I encounter an older gentleman with [long] grey hair coming in the back door. Upon asking him, "can I help you?" he says, "is this the back door?"
"Yes, what can I do for you?"
"Well, the sign says, 'Hippies Use Back Door,' so, here I am."
It was just announced that Erling Wu Bower, sous chef at The Publican, returns in the coming weeks to avec as Chef De Cuisine (previously occupied by Koren Grieveson) under Executive Chef Paul Kahan. Bower isn't elaborating on what he's bringing to the table but it is rumored that the chorizo-stuffed Medjool dates, the focaccia with Taleggio cheese and the wood-oven roasted pork shoulder will remain untouched. Whew!
If you've ever been to The Aviary, you know what a showstopper this cocktail service piece is. The cocktail chefs at The Aviary unscrew the side of the shallow, circular teapot-like flask to compose beautiful arrays of fruit, fresh herbs and other botanicals that flavor both hot and cold drinks. According to Crucial Detail's founder, Martin Kastner, "On many occasions when The Aviary's guests were told that the Porthole was not available for purchase, they tried to 'liberate' it on their own."
If that was you, you now have the opportunity to take the Porthole home without risking a visit from the police. Early backers were able to preorder the vessel for $75. That level -- and the $85 level-- sold out right almost immediately, but it's still possible to back the project at the $95 level and receive a Porthole and a seasonal cocktail recipe to fill it with. If you've got the money, you can get one of 250 white Porthole (analogous to the white iPhone vs. the standard black, I guess?) for $250, or get multiple (black) Portholes for larger pledges.
There are also five $5,000 packages (three left as of this writing) for which you get two signed Portholes plus a day spent with Grant Achatz and new Aviary chief Charles Joly. According to the campaign page, "You will work the bar during service, learn recipes and techniques, and enjoy cocktails at the Aviary with the chefs."
Tomorrow, the Sun Xien Soy Products factory is opening its doors to the public to tour its new tofu processing plant. The factory, owned by the Cheng family (who also run Sun Wah BBQ in Uptown), will be the second offering Chicago has for fresh tofu, along with Phoenix Bean. Email or call 847-432-8255 to reserve your space on the tour. The factory is located at 613 W. 47th St.; doors open at 10am and admission is $3. UPDATE: We've just learned that the tour is full, but you can still get on the waitlist.
With NATO taking up every ounce of your newsfeed, I'm sure you were thinking as was I, where will all these leaders be eating? Granted, being that we are Chicago, someone's going to try to persuade one of them to forgo the fancy schmansy and get down and dirty with a Maxwell's hot dog or some deep dish pizza. Hopefully, a misguided leader won't end up on the corner of Ohio and Wabash (although it might be funny if Angela Merkel was found throwing back a Goose Island with a slice).
But not to fret, looks like Chicago is holding up its reputation for being a food mecca with its Chicago's Culinary Crossroads program which is like Restaurant Week all over again only NATO style without the prix fix menu. Earlier this month, acclaimed international chefs paired with local star chefs to kick off the festivities and collaborated on menus that reflected their nation's cuisines. Chef David Colcombe of Opus Restaurant in Birmingham, UK paired with Chef Dirk Flanigan of Henri/The Gage and Chef Jason Bangerter of LUMA in Toronto, Canada paired with Chef Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno to name a few. If you didn't get a chance to hit up this culinary pairing, check out the menus.
From now until May 25, 200 local restaurants are serving up tasty morsels and libations inspired by the NATO nations. Cleverly enough, diners can also collect "passport" codes at each participating restaurant they visit for a chance to win a VIP weekend for two to Chicago Gourmet in September. (You have to visit three restaurants to participate to win). If you're not busy protesting or avoiding the drama by escaping to Wisconsin or the Cubs vs. Sox games, get out there and eat something different and increase your chance for a gourmet September.
To learn more about the program visit the Chicago's Culinary Crossroads website.
For Chicago, the 25th annual James Beard Foundation Awards Monday night were primarily a celebration of long, successful careers -- with one notable exception.
Out of a field dominated by Chicago chefs, North Pond's Bruce Sherman won Best Chef: Great Lakes. Meanwhile, Mindy Segal of HotChocolate won Outstanding Pastry Chef. This was both chefs' sixth nomination in each category.
"I am ecstatic and in shock," Sherman told the Tribune's Christopher Borrelli. "I honestly thought it would never happen. It's the grass-is-always greener kind of thing. But I should have known something was different this time; I forgot my tickets to the ceremony, and my tux didn't have any buttons. Everything was pointing in the wrong direction."
Next won Best New Restaurant, however its chef, Dave Beran, lost Rising Star Chef of the Year to Christina Tosi of New York's Momofuku Milk Bar.
Alinea dropped back to seventh in S. Pelligrino's annual World's 50 Best Restaurants list, from sixth. In the process, it lost its crown as best restaurant in America, unseated by Per Se, which moved up from tenth to sixth. They are joined in the top 10 by a third American restaurant, 11 Madison Park, which placed 24th last year. Noma in Copenhagen was named the top restaurant in the world for a second year.
Thomas Keller, chef-owner of Per Se and The French Laundry (which returned to the top 50 this year after dropping off the list in 2011) and Grant Achatz's friend and mentor, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Manny's Deli was the setting for this year's LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurant & Resources Awards Monday night. And in keeping with the setting, forum members and award winners piled their trays high with braised lamb shanks and knishes, corned beef sandwiches and matzo ball soup before settling down to celebrate the GNR's latest additions.
This past Thursday evening, Zina Murray, owner of Logan Square Kitchen, posted a screed to both the Logan Square Yahoo! Group (a very popular neighborhood listserv) and Everyblock proposing to move the farmer's market from its current location at the southeast corner of the square (on the south side of Logan, in front of Jam and New Wave Coffee), to the small stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that runs between Logan and Kedzie. Murray cited the growth of the market, which has expanded into a green section of Logan Boulevard, as her reason for the proposal. She portrayed the move as an effort to "give [the restaurants that line Logan near the Market] room for their lovely outdoor cafes," although last summer La Boulangerie was the only business to utilize sidewalk space (Jam had not yet opened).
Murray's most curious claim is that 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colon supports her plan and has been "working to get CDOT" to get the market moved to Milwaukee. Why a business owner who is no stranger to bureaucratic hurdles would be pressing for a community-supported campaign to reroute traffic on a major city street is befuddling; why an alderman who tried to get the market's operating permit revoked last spring over a grudge with the market's organizers would be trying once again to control the existence of the market sounds even more puzzling.
New Wave Coffee owner Zach Zulauf responded, "New Wave Coffee doesn't have a problem with the current placement of the farmers market. We've never had conflict with the market. And the market has not kept us from doing a patio or hindered us in any other way." Logan Square Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Paul Levin, who was "startled" by Murray's post, also wrote a lengthy response (after the jump).
Recently bought-out Chicago pizza icon Giordano's is now adding gluten-free pizza to their menu as part of what newly appointed CEO, Yorgo Koutsogiorgas, said "is an effort to stay aligned with the trends of the foodservice industry and provide for the needs of our customers while establishing the well-known Giordano's brand into new households". The conversation between Chicago vs. New York style has always been hot, and recently the debate has shifted in favor towards thin crust as Chicago restaurant newcomers move away from deep dish and cater to classic brick-oven techniques. "Giordano's as a pizza brand, especially with its stuffed pizza, has had many years of success and still continues to generate a good business," said Richard Levy, managing partner of Victory Park Capital, the equity firm who acquired the family business in a deal in November after a Ch. 11 filing. "However, the growing trend of gluten free in food-service and the shift away from deep dish is a signal to us that we need to innovate to move ahead and rebuild a profitable business. We strongly belief that offering gluten-free items can help us cater to a whole untouched segment".
To pilot the idea, the new management group is rolling out its gluten free program in its flagship eatery and headquarters at 730 N. Rush starting today. Click here to check out the new additions to the menu, which include items like the Spinach and Mushroom stuffed pizza as well as a Quinoa, Sausage, and Roasted Red Pepper thin crust.
There are entrepreneurs and then there are entrepreneurs. Vanessa Moses, founder and head Chick of the Chicago Cooking Chicks, a Chicago meetup group that has grown beyond typical meetup group into what she dubs the "new foodie" club, falls in the latter. I met Vanessa at my first Cooking Chicks event on one particular Sunday. She was shorter than I expected which is probably the same reaction I get from people (I'm 5 foot flat). She was sporting her usual glasses and sipping on a glass of wine. I liked her already. Moses is one of those easy to approach, casual, no formality yet detail-oriented gals who constantly has an idea churning in her head. And unlike other people who have just have ideas, it's mostly likely that hers will come to fruition. And she's passionate about food.
Cooking Chicks, a community of professional women who love to eat, create, cook and share their love of food is her baby and Moses has grown this group in a short period of only 2 years to a full 700+ members. What many people familiar with The Cooking Chicks don't know about Vanessa is that her day job is in the real estate world, and it was only 3 years ago that her relationship with food started -- a relationship that would turn into a quickly growing group and brand and a side career of food ambassador and demonstrator for big food brands such as ConAgra. This may just be one of those picked-up-a-microphone-last-week-and-now-has-a-recording-contract-story.
We decided to meet at Jam in Logan Square for breakfast where we were treated to an amuse bouche upon sitting. How rockstar. We hemmed and hawed over the menu. I settled for the eggs benedict, a pork belly and beet hollandaise sauce eggs benedict that is, Moses for the smoked ham, gruyere and brussel sprout omelet. "You can't come to a place like this and just get a side of eggs and bacon, right?" I quipped. She agreed. Predictable would have to wait for another day.
Moses didn't waste any time, I quickly reached for my recorder.
However, as predicted, the Best Chef: Great Lakes category is dominated by Chicagoans this year. Michael Carlson of Schwa, Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat, Bruce Sherman of North Pond and Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia got the nod. Anne Kearney of Rue Dumaine in Dayton, OH is the only non-local finalist.
Next and its chef, Dave Beran, both won nominations, for Best New Restaurant and Rising Star Chef of the Year, respectively. They were the only Chicago finalists in those categories. Meanwhile, Grant Achatz was among the inductees this year to the Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America list, the foundation's equivalent to a culinary hall of fame.
The 2012 James Beard Award semifinalists were announced today, and of course several Chicago spots were on the list.
Bistronomic and Next are semifinalists for Best New Restaurant, along with 27 others. That list will be narrowed to five, and if I were to guess, Next might make the final cut but Bistronomic most likely would not. Meanwhile, Next executive chef Dave Beran is a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year, along with Matthew Kirkley of L2O and David Posey of Blackbird. Bistronomic's Martial Noguier is a semifinalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes. Also nominated in that category are Michael Carlson of Schwa, Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat, Martial Noguier of Bistronomic, Chris Nugent of Goosefoot, Brice Sherman of North Pond, Giuseppe Tentori of GT Fish & Oyster, Paul Virant of Vie and Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia. Carlson, Sherman and Virant were finalists last year, but Alex Young of Zingerman's Roadhouse, the only non-Chicagoland finalist, took home the award.
Interestingly, also nominated for Best Chef: Great Lakes is Josh Adams of June in downstate Peoria Heights; it's rare to see such an isolated restaurant receive attention from the Beard Foundation. Adams cooked a meal at the Beard House in New York in 2010, and clearly made an impression.
Wicker Park's friendly coffee shop, the Wormhole, is staging an all out assault on our local landfill. After kicking their greening efforts into over drive on Jan 1, Wormhole is now composting and recycling 80 percent of their waste, mostly comprising of coffee grounds and biodegradable cups. Currently they are cranking out 250 pounds of compostable material per week, but rather than dump that in our landfill, Wormhole has hooked up with Growing Power to see their trash turned into black gold. Growing Power, who has five urban farm projects in the Chicago area, swings by Wormhole twice a week to pick up 15- to 25-gallon tubs and will add this waste to help heat up their compost throughout the city.
In other news, come Feb. 20, Wormhole will be closing up shop for a brief remodel to change the layout of the store and will reopen March 5. They also hope to be a host pick up site for Growing Power market baskets and a drop off spot for Wicker Park community compost. Details on those developments and more can be found on their blog.
Wondering if it's safe to grab a slice at that seedy pizza joint down the street from your apartment? Wonder no more, neighborhood news site EveryBlock is now updating Food Inspection results! Now you can decide whether you're OK with a business failing simply not having a pest control log, or failing for actually having... oh god, I can't even type it*.
(Note: you don't have to have an EveryBlock account to check out these results, but it does help if you want to post about neighborhood gossip.)
Two storefronts with paper signs on the door, two very different outcomes.
Last week the Ravenswood outpost of Bagel on Damen, which opened at 4639 N. Damen in late 2010, had a handwritten note stating that the shop would be closed until Jan. 10 for remodeling. When I stopped by on the 11th, the sign was still up and the restaurant looked deserted -- and there was little sign of a remodel. The next day the sign was gone and the space has been dark ever since. A call to the Bucktown location confirmed that it is permanently closed.
Meanwhile, a handwritten sign also appeared on the door at Asado Coffee, 1432 W. Irving Park Rd., in the last couple weeks. It read, "Asado Coffee is currently reworking the space and experimenting with new roasts. Look for our reopening in the next few weeks." While the note sounded more promising, the paper over the door and windows could have been hiding anything from the specified remodeling to a full tear-out and closure. It wouldn't have been the first time a business closed for good under the guise of a remodel -- see above for a handy example.
Fortunately, updates on Asado's Facebook page show that the remodeling is real, and it's almost complete. They're looking toward a February grand re-opening. Hopefully the changes include more seating for customers. Stay tuned for that.
Rolf's Patisserie, one of the area's largest contract and wedding bakeries, abruptly closed on Dec. 10, citing "sharply higher operating costs, the cost of financing an expansion project and the inability to operationally meet the seasonal demands of our customers." Rolf's was the subject of two FDA recalls around Christmastime 2010, when cream-filled éclairs from the bakery caused more than 100 cases of food poisoning.
The bakery's 136 employees learned of the closure via the company's website, after being sent home while the bakery went through an intensive weekend cleaning. According to a news release from Arise Chicago, the workers' last paychecks bounced when they tried to cash them. This morning at 11am, the workers plan to announce a class action lawsuit against Rolf's for unpaid wages and its failure to give 60 days notice of the closing, in violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act.
Chef Grant Achatz tweeted today that sales of the Next: Paris 1906 iPad cookbook have been "doing well," and shared a teaser of what looks to be the title page of the grilling section of the restaurant's next book, based on its Thailand menu.
Meanwhile, Achatz and executive chef David Beran are hard at work on Next's next evolution, a tribute to Ferran Adria and elBulli. Achatz tweeted that the pair had "just put the finishing touches" on the menu, which Beran tweeted yesterday and was in rough draft, to be tested today. "It's long. Come hungry," Achatz said. Tickets for Next: elBulli will be a flat $365 per person for food and drink pairings -- $473 with tax and tip -- regardless of date and time of reservation. They're expected to go on sale in early February.
It's not every day you get a press release about a new kitchen appliance, let alone one as specialized as a motorized potato grater. But if you're a fan of Eastern European dishes like kugelis or latkes, you'll want to check out Grandma Ann's Potato Grater, created by Burr Ridge native Brian Vaisnoras. Based on his grandmother's handmade grater and designed by Vaisnoras and his engineer brother with her input, the $229 machine has a cast-aluminum body surrounding a 1/2-horsepower motor, a hinged press arm with a comfy-looking grip, and a 2.75-quart stainless steel bowl.
According to Grandma Ann's, the grater may also be used for other vegetables, such as carrots and squash, or for hard cheeses. The grater is on backorder thanks to strong coverage in the Polish press, but promises to ship in January. More info is available on Grandma Ann's website.
In the recent lifting of the ban on horse meat in the United States, the folks over at the Butcher and Larder Facebook page have been debating whether or not the meat would be popular. Some of the responses are funny ("I can finally have my 'Godfather'-themed meal"), some are disinterested, and others voice curiosity. Where do you fall on that spectrum? I have a hard enough time reconciling my love of animals with my love of the occasional steak, but there's no way I would touch a horse.
According to Hub Bub Chicago has just as many cupcake shops as homeless shelters. Extra points to Karis Hustad for including information on the Google map about what each shelter specializes in. But unfortunately this map doesn't also include the cupcake food trucks Chicago has supplying our roving cupcake cravings, nor does it include the homeless shelter trucks.
It was another full hour of self-proclamations of doom and shame about being sent home in the first cut, some editing-enhanced judging tension, and a little bit of cooking on tonight's "Top Chef" episode -- but unlike last week, this was a relatively Chicago-lite installment. Because most of our chefpresentatives (too much?) were already safely installed in their cook castle, we caught only a few glimpses of the five who made it through last week (and the mostly heat-related trials that seem to await them in the future of this season). The major Chicago moment came early in the episode, when Aria's Beverly Kim took a risk on a Korean-style octopus dish and was awarded her blue jacket -- the badge of entry to Chateau Chef, where Chuy, Heather, Sarah, Chris, and Richie were already enjoying champagne and bunk beds. (If you need a fix of our home team, however, Sarah Grueneberg and Chuy Valencia will be featured on Thursday's Chicago Live!, in conversation with Kevin Pang -- ticket info is on their site.) Three quick thoughts on tonight's episode:
The final 16 are chosen! Hallelujah, the chosen chefs have been proclaimed, and shall be feted throughout the -- what now? Someone else gets to come back? Son of a... Look, I'm all for the last-minute twists, but the minute has barely begun. The new online series "Last Chance Kitchen" is going to bring the last two chefs cut from tonight's show back for a final shot at redemption! First time in "Top Chef" history -- except for all of those other times when former contestants come back for a final shot at redemption. Perhaps they're using a different working definition of "final" than I'm familiar with. Because for me, this show just put itself in danger of becoming "Gossip Girl." Just because the whole "Top Chef University" attempt to create and monetize a TC social network hasn't panned out doesn't mean the standards for inclusion within the show itself need to be massaged into meaninglessness. I did not order the Blair Waldorf Salad. (Yeah, I said it.)
The selection of the 16th and final cheftestant at the tail end of the episode seemed to drag on far beyond the usual "Top Chef" standards. Like some rogue "Hell's Kitchen" AD sneaked into the editing bay and added an extra commercial break and some reverb to those tinkly dissonant chimes on the tension soundtrack. Couldn't that airtime have been better spent with, you know, the food? The first episode did an excellent job of side-stepping this reality TV show trap -- it'll be interesting to see which way the rest of the season leans.
As Drive Thru editor Robyn noted during tonight's episode, Bravo is sort of like the guy who steals your stash, and then offers to help you look for your stash. "Ohhhh, bummer bro, did you look everywhere? How about under the couch?" Oh, your intellectual and moral but still TV-watching self needs a break from reality shows where the stakes are constantly shifting and somewhat artificial drama tends to ride roughshot all over content? Check out our programming! Oh man, have you noticed how people are kind of picking on the cruise ship chef? Do you think those two Moto guys are going to turn on each other? And by the way, have you heard about this awesome "Real Housewives" thing? You're a tricky minx, Bravo. But you keep me coming back.
The empty Brand Brewery building at 2530 North Elston (pictured above, ca. 1975) may be the future site of an hhgregg electronics store, if developers have their way. You can learn more about Brand, its contribution to city history, and how the building can be reused (rather than razed) on Monday the 21st at Revolution Brewery, 2323 North Milwaukee (7-9pm). For $20, you'll get snacks and (what else?) beer, and learn more about efforts to save the site from Jacob Kaplan of Forgotten Chicago.
The Wicker Park location of organic restaurant prasino, 1846 W. Division St., announced today that it's offering free coffee from 8am to 11am during the entire month of November to promote its new "on-the-go" breakfast menu. The coffee is a custom blend by Bridgeport Coffee Company, and is normally $2.50. All you have to do to get a cup is stop in and ask. There's a limit of one cup per person per day, but no limit to how many days -- which means if you're a serious freeloader you could have free coffee for the rest of the month.
Prasino's new breakfast options include housemade banana bread; breakfast tacos filled with chorizo, scrambled eggs and tomatillo salsa; and oatmeal with dried fruit.
In unrelated news, a taxi crashed into the front of the restaurant this morning, shattering the front window and sending booths flying.
"One woman was in a booth where the cab came through the window, and the booth was thrown across the restaurant," said Michelle Phelps, marketing manager at prasino. "Fortunately, she wasn't seriously injured," but the diner did seek medical attention.
Phelps said upon reviewing security video, it appeared that the cab driver accelerated too quickly from the stop sign at Marion Court and lost control of vehicle on the wet pavement. The driver was arrested taken in for questioning by the police.
Prasino is closed for the rest of the day for repairs, but hopes to open tomorrow morning.
The king being, of course, the juggernaut that has become the Top Chef franchise. Padma, Tom, et al. have landed in Texas this season (but NOT in Western wear, as this promo photo would have us believe), and there's Chicago talent to spare: Spiaggia, Moto (times two!), Sable, Chilam Balam, represent!! About one-third of the chosen cheftestants, whittled down from a whopping 29 hopefuls hale from Chicago restaurants. We'll keep you updated as this saga unfolds -- because as they say, you don't mess with Chicago. Wait...
Three quick thoughts on the premiere episode:
Hugh Acheson cleans UP! You move some of that eyebrow up into bangs territory and it's a whole different television personality.
Bravo, you cruel mistress -- you toss me hater fodder like Tyler, Personal Chef to the Stars, and you yank him before he even has a chance to mishandle cooked pork the way he violated raw. Top Chef giveth, and Top Chef taketh away.
In a similar vein, there's still one Chicago cheftestant we've barely glimpsed yet, representing Aria, because the final 16 contestants haven't been entirely revealed yet. Top Chef taketh away closure! But on the flip side, this has meant a lot more dedicated film of every contestant we have seen, as well as their food -- elements that both make up Top Chef but often get lost behind the numbers early in the season. Think of it as an injection of extra tension...
In the last 30 years, our grocery aisles have taken a dramatic turn, especially in the produce aisle. We now can buy oranges in May, strawberries in March and tomatoes January. These days, most of us don't even give that phenomenon a second thought, and yet the price that our agricultural system has paid to produce food at that level has certainly been rich.
The state of Florida is home to over one third of our tomato production in the United States and the town of Immokalee, which sits on the sandy edge of the Everglades, is home to a huge population of farmworkers. Immokalee's population is 70 percent Hispanic, and the average annual per-capita income is $8,576. It was here, back in 1993, that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) formed, working to end modern-day slavery in the agricultural industry and to gain fair wages for workers. Rather than fight against the middle men in the industry, CIW went straight to the top: to the purchasers of tomatoes in the fast food industry. Beginning with Yum! Foods, CIW has gone directly the folks who buy the tomatoes these workers pick, asking for 1 cent more per pound. Farmworkers today usually earn 40 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they pick, the same rate as 30 years ago, and have to pick 2 tons of tomatoes to earn about $50.
When news broke that the Sun-Times had fired Pat Bruno, its long-time restaurant critic, one of the first questions asked was, who will replace him? The paper chose to keep that a secret until just before the new critic's first column appeared -- which is today. Michael Nagrant's byline is at the top.
Nagrant is well known in Chicago's food circles. He got early attention and acclaim for his now-dormant Hungrymag blog and podcast; soon he seemed to be writing for everyone in town, filing freelance stories for the dailies, weeklies and even national magazines. His dedication to food writing earned him a spot as one of the essayists in the Alinea cookbook. The economy and a growing family caused Nagrant to pull back a bit from food writing, taking a day job in ecommerce and limiting himself to regular reviews in NewCity and CS; his new position as dining critic for the Sun-Times he sees as a step back into the scene.
I spoke with Nagrant earlier this week about the new role, the state of food writing in Chicago, and whether anonymity is important to a dining critic today.
I love cooking with cast iron. So, imagine my delight when I came across this gorgeously functional cast iron cookware. This 1.5 quart covered pan can come with a trivet so you don't have to worry about the pot damaging your counter or table top. The gorgeous and smartly designed handles look like charred wood. And for folks who don't cook for an army, this is coolest Dutch oven replacement I've seen. There are 28 days left on their fundraising effort, so you've got some time to save your pennies.
In a new study by some website called Bundle, Chicago was named the most caffeinated city in the country, spending nearly three times the national household average on coffee every year. That sounds like a lot. Then again, if you consider Chicago is home to perhaps the best coffee roaster in the country, it makes sense. [via]
Chicago's fancy food fest returns this weekend to the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Tickets are still sort of available for the fourth iteration of the event (Saturday is sold out, but Sunday passes are still available for $163.50, two-day passes for $272.50, and Saturday Grand-Cru tasting passes for $190.75 -- the Dine Around is still an option as well if you've been doing your eating homework over the summer). The schedule is finally available online, so if you've already got your ticket in hand and liver warmed up, you may want to take some time to put together a game plan. Sure, wandering in and just grazing seems like a good idea -- until you find yourself halfway through a line 40 deep, waiting for a single shrimp on a stick, and you don't even have a drink with you. Thoughts on planning a great Chicago Gourmet outing after the jump.
The British Department of Health released a survey yesterday claiming that "Scooby-Doo" is the healthiest children's television program. Apparently this was on the basis of the copious physical activity Scooby and the gang undertake on the show -- mostly in the form of running away from monsters and the like. No word about the Scooby snacks or huge Dagwood sandwiches the canine detective is also fond of.
Meanwhile, Pierre's Bakery, 2747 N. Milwaukee Ave., has baked up some rather odd cookies featuring Scooby. Is he hiding behind a gravestone, or are these some sort of a memorial for our pal's untimely demise? Is that a zombie Scooby? Not really sure.
Pat Bruno, the Sun-Times' longtime restaurant critic, was fired on Monday. His last pieces for the paper will be published Friday. Eater reports a rumor that his replacement has already been chosen.
Bruno has gotten plenty of flack over the years for being less than fresh in his reporting. Grub Street and Chicagoist have been particularly hard on him, noting his very public outing via "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" and his reviewing two locations of the same restaurant in the same year. His reputation (at least among food media and enthusiasts I've talked to) has been for phoning in his reviews. One might have figured the writing was on the wall.
Still, a summary dismissal by a "mid-level editor" after nearly three decades of service seems a little harsh. As he told Phil Vettel, "I've known (publisher) John Barron for 28 years. All he had to do is pick up the phone and tell me himself. He didn't have the balls to do that. I wasn't expecting roses at my feet, just a phone call from someone who appreciated what I did all these years."
For those itching for a Bruno fix, he will continue to contribute restaurant reviews to WBBM News Radio and Pizza Today magazine. He told Feder and Vettel that he plans to develop a website of his own on which to post his reviews, as well. I guess we'll see if he can beat the nattering nabobs of the blogosphere at their own game.
Those of you following the Chicago foodie scene may already know about Nice Cream's recent struggles with the Chicago Department of Public Health. Despite this puzzling and unexpected set back, Nice Cream owner Kris Swanberg isn't sulking away, but is taking a stand and has launched a Kickstarter champaign to help her raise the money she needs to remain in operation. While the initial goal of raising $5,000 has already been met, the more help the better. Plus, with 46 days left in the campaign for continued production of delicious ice cream, and a minimum donation of $1, there's really no reason not to support the cause. So be "nice", donate now.
When I lived in Athens for a bit, I always got a kick out of asking for skim milk at the kiosk down the street from my apartment building -- since the label for skim was green, you'd ask for "green" milk. It sounded a lot better in Greek: "To prasino gala, parakalo." So I smiled inwardly when I saw the sustainable semi-chain (they already have two suburban locations) Prasino is set to open in Wicker Park as early as this coming Monday -- though you can get an early look at a CS-sponsored event tonight. From the looks of it though, Prasino will put the chintzy plastic news-stand kiosks and cardboard milk cartons I keep mentally associating it with to shame. Occupying the first floor of that new construction they've been putting up FOREVER across the street from Moonshine, the newest addition to the Division dining scene will be sleek and modern, with eco-aware touches like burnished wood surfaces, corrugated cardboard lamp shades, and chairs upholstered in recycled polyester. (Urban Daddy has a pretty sweet slideshow.) According to their website, the building should be as energy-friendly as it is aesthetically pleasing.
The menu seems to reflect the building's aesthetic as well, with options like micro-brewed kombucha (which I'm not familiar enough with to be excited about); breakfast dishes like "Paris" eggs benedict with ham, brie, a pretzel croissant, and truffled hollandaise (pretzel...croissant? OK, that's kind of exciting...); small plates including a lobster-stuff avocado with chili buerre fondue (...FONDUE?); and a grilled Thai curry pork loan entree (OK. Officially kind of excited). Despite the Greek name and the presence of a few Mediterranean menu items, Prasino's palate ranges far and wide, from French to Tex-Mex style offerings. While they do have green eggs and ham, they don't have green milk. But everything else sounds pretty tasty.
It started with Nagrant tweeting at Trib reporter Mark Caro about how "a lot of journos would just rather be BFF's with their sources than journalists."
Townsend questioned him, saying, "@MichaelNagrant Didn't YOU collaborate/w a prominent chef on a book?! Now if THAT is not BFF . . ." and it ultimately devolved to Nagrant telling her that he's had fewer than 10 comps in his career, "easy," and later tweeting, "@Audarshia Don't question my ethics when yours are much lower."
What do you think about the state of journalistic ethics in the food-writing/blogging industry in Chicago?
The Reader's Best of Chicago issue this week included a "Best [restaurant] for kids" honor, which went to Lakeview's Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar; runners-up were Wishbone, Ed Debevic's and Rainforest Cafe, but an honorable mention went to kids "[being] locked in a cold, dark, soundproof room," a groanworthy suggestion that is generating a lot of heat in the comments section, particularly from parents. "The Reader is not for me," one commenter wrote, "when the editors of a otherwise reasonable publication fantasize about the abuse and murder of his child." Oy. One upset parent who contacted GB wants the paper to apologize. Double Oy.
Back in 2005, Dan McCauley, the owner of the Andersonville bakery A Taste of Heaven came under scrutiny for a posted sign that read "children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices" in his cafe. A boycott from neighborhood parents and load of publicity followed. The hubbub quieted down, but the sign is still there, and the restaurant survived the criticism. Digs aside, are we still living in a city that finds kids in restaurants annoying?
Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group, which has done a great deal of research on the food desert problem in Chicago, is now sharing the good news that because of improved access to nutritious food in underserved areas in the city, the size of food deserts has decreased by over one-third.
Mayor Emanuel met with the CEOs of six major Chicago grocery store chains to discuss what it would take to bring stores to our food deserts. They discussed what it would take to bring fresh and healthy food to these targeted neighborhoods: North Lawndale, Douglas Englewood, Chatham, Roseland and West Pullman.
Emanuel and his team estimate that 450,000 residents of Chicago (as many as one in six) live in a neighborhood with no access to fresh and healthy food. His team used this map to determine the areas they would work on.
LTH Forum, the fantastic bulletin board known for its Great Neighborhood Restaurant awards and for being a treasure trove of local (and national) dining and cooking recommendations, is for sale. Founder Gary Wiviott, who had been going through tough financial times, is being forced to sell the site--which has never generated revenue, and whose operations he personally funded--as a result of a personal bankruptcy filing. If you want to take on LTH, the opening bid has been set at $45,000; proceeds will go to Peter Daane, a former friend of Wiviott's who is claiming repayment for a loan that he made to Wiviott in 2007.
Are you thirsty? Yes, yes, I know it's not even noon yet. (YET.) But wouldn't a tall glass of beer just make your Tuesday that much more bearable? If you're in the Wicker Park vicinity or have access to the Blue Line, Big Star has you covered -- both tonight, and in perpetuity as they add Three Floyd's to every tap in the joint! Moving forward, the regular beer selection will return but tonight, it's Three Floyds all night long. Gumball Head as the sun goes down. Alpha King as the stars come out. They're pretty psyched too, if this poster is to be believed.
Starting June 6, Big Star will have another new brew on tap, after the Three Floyds madness subsumes. Zephyr, a collaboration between Big Star, the Publican, and Lagunitas Brewery in California, who perfected the idea brewed up here in Chicago. (Brewed! Hahaha, pun.) 200 kegs are on their way to Chicago, and will be available not only at Big Star and the Publican, but your local favorite Lagunitas-carrying bar as well. Word on the street is that Zephyr was conceived as a Prohibition-period style beer -- perhaps hopping on the trend Next Restaurant has started with era-specific eating -- and corn (the grain used to make America's national beverage, bourbon) is used as the base. Which should go just fine with some tacos.
So Chicagoans are apparently pondering these questions about our new mayor. What is Rahm eating and where? What will he do for the food scene in Chicago? Grubstreet Chicago has sited four sources -- WBEZ, The Feast, Time Out Chicago, and The Chicago Tribune -- as all reporting what Mayor Emanuel may be working on or what our fair "food sceners" would like from him. One issue is the legalizing of cooking on our beloved food trucks. Gaztro Wagon's Matt Maroni thinks "it would be good to see something done."
Only time will tell, Chicago. If you see him at Piece in Bucktown, maybe ask him yourself?
The Best Chef: Great Lakes region was dominated by local chefs but was won by the chef at Ann Arbor, Michigan's Zingerman's Roadhouse. North Pond's Bruce Sherman was left standing for the fifth time. Mindy Segal was also a five-time also-ran in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category.
At Friday's media awards night, Michael Gebert and Julia Thiel won the award for Best Multimedia Feature for their Key Ingredient feature in the Reader, while the Tribune's Monica Eng lost in the Environment, Food Politics, and Policy category to Carl Safina's "Sea Change" in EatingWell. Gebert tells his story of attending the awards ceremony over on Sky Full of Bacon.
Perhaps it's just part of a cycle. Chicago did well at the 2010 Beard Awards, on both the journalism and cooking side. In 2009 Chicago brought home just two awards, while 2008 saw the rise of Grant Achatz and Alinea, as well as several other winners. So maybe next year will be our year once again. (And hopefully finally the year for Sherman and Segal.)
I'm sure you've all heard of this new Grant Achatz project, which opened in April: menus changing three times per year, each reflecting an entirely different type of cuisine; the ticketing system that might lead people to sell their own children for a chance to reserve a table of two, four, or six (I don't think this has happened yet); the cocktail lounge (in the space of the former Fulton Lounge) attached to the restaurant where people can go for a few expensive, delicious, and strong pre- or post-dinner drinks.
Our friendly captain told us what kind of food we can expect next, after Paris 1906 has run its three-month course: some kind of futuristic Thai cuisine. It's an attempt to celebrate a particular golden age of Thai food, our captain told us, while also imagining what it might be like more than two decades from now. He was unable to share any hints of what diners might be eating: he doesn't even know, he said. Executive chef Dave Beran is still working on the menu.
In some of the best news my Michigander mom has heard in a while, Francesca's Restaurants has just put out the word that they plan to go national.
If you live in the Chicagoland area you've probably eaten at one of their twenty restaurants, and if you haven't, then get out of town; you'll soon have sixty new restaurants across the U.S. to take home a doggy bag from.
Plans to mimic both the classic Francesca's style and the small plates at Davanti are already in the works in California and Arizona, with Raleigh, N.C. on the horizon.
Before you go complaining that the restaurant is leaving Chicago out in the dust, allow me to let you in on a little secret. Wicker Park's Francesca's Forno will be re-opening as a wine and bruschetteria shop under the name Panza, and if that's not enough, a donut shop named Glaze will be opening near the Blue Line tracks.
(UPDATED)This always happens after an election, eh? Residents of the 35th Ward, which houses the beloved Logan Square Farmers Market (which is scheduled to start up again in June), were given notice yesterday that the City's Committee on Special Events is holding a hearing today at noon at City Hall "to address Ald. Colon's opposition to the Farmer's Market being held in the 35th Ward." An Everyblock post suggests that Colon's actions were done out of spite because an organizer of the farmers market supported an opponent of Colon's in the February aldermanic elections. While Alderman Colon did not return my call for a response to these allegations, several people visited his ward office hours last night--an opportunity for residents to get one-on-one time with the alderman--and spoke candidly with him about the future of the farmers market.
One planned food truck is hoping the public is eager enough for its wares that it'll put its money where its collective mouth is. The Wagyu Wagon has launched a Kickstarter campaign to gather funds to install green technology in the 20-foot step van they've purchased. Pledges will help convert the engine to run on biodiesel and install solar panels on the roof. Give $15 or more and you'll get a free wagyu beef sandwich once the truck is rolling.
If the quality of the playing isn't great, at least the food won't disappoint; both the Cubs and Sox have made some changes to their concession offerings for this season, with a few local restaurants being added to the Cubs' lineup and US Cellular making strides in the beer department. On the north side, Wrigley Field has a large lineup of new partners, among them D'Agostino's Pizza (replacing longtime resident Connie's), burgers from Stanley's Kitchen & Tap, hot wings from The Fifty/50, and kefir from Morton Grove-based Lifeway Foods. Visitors to the Cell's Stadium Club will be able to find Goose Island, Great Lakes and Leinenkugel's at their new Artisan Bar. Both parks have made strides with new gluten- and/or lactose-free versions of ballpark favorites (candy, popcorn, hot dogs, nachos, even beer), and more salads and fruit for those seeking lighter fare.
Still a bit shaky after the fall-out from its offensive Superbowl ads earlier this winter, Chicago-based Groupon has announced they'll be offering a deal for 75% off dinner at Alinea, or a deal for 50% off plus a tour of the kitchen and reserved ticket for the upcoming Next. Unnamed sources at Groupon have suggested the deal is an attempt to compete with new group buying site Bloomspot's Alinea give-away, as well Gilt City, which often adds premium features onto its restaurant deals. The exact date of the deal is still unknown, but more information from Groupon is available here.
Among the journalism awards, the Tribune's Monica Eng is a finalist in the Environment, Food Politics & Policy category, while Michael Gebert and Julia Thiel were nominated in the Multimedia Food Feature for their Key Ingredient series.
The Publican is a finalist for Outstanding Restaurant Graphics. Topolobampo is a finalist for Outstanding Service, and Richard Melman is among the finalists for Outstanding Restaurateur.
Food and Wine Magazine announced the 25 best pizza spots in the U.S. and among the places named were Chicago's own Great Lake and Burt's. No strangers to being rated the best, these two restaurants are known for their fresh toppings and perfect crusts. According to Food and Wine the must order item at Great Lakes is the tomato, homemade fresh mozzarella, Dante aged cheese, fresh herb, and from Burt's the deep dish pizza with caramelized cheese crust. In 2008, Anthony Bourdain visited Burt's on an episode of his Travel channel show, No Reservations, and the New Yorker was converted into a deep dish believer. For me, that's reason enough to visit...
1477 W. Balmoral Ave.
Chicago , IL
8541 Ferris Ave
(between Lincoln Ave & Capulina Ave)
Morton Grove, IL 60053
A week or so ago, Drive Thru got an invitation to try Mercadito's "Tacos for Strength," a promotion where 5% of the taco profits (priced at $12 for three lunch tacos, or $16 for four dinner tacos) goes to support the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. So, it's like eating out, so that others can eat. That's kind of a nice idea, especially at a place, like Mercadito, where the scene otherwise seems to be the main draw. I'd never been to the River North space until today to sample this month's "strength-y" tacos, created by Jimmy Bannoses (Banni?) Sr. and Jr., of Heaven on Seven and The Purple Pig, respectively. If you haven't been, I think it's safe to say that Mercadito is not the kind of restaurant you'd go to for lunch if you have a big, stressful afternoon meeting ahead of you. It's much more the kind of place you might go to for lunch after, perhaps, closing a big deal in the morning and breaking out the margarita mix is all you have scheduled for the rest of the day. The space is colorful and urban, with theater-style colored lighting and graffiti-style wall murals -- but the tacos have a nice, old-school style to them.
The semifinalists for this year's James Beard Awards have been announced, with plenty of familiar Chicago names making the list, as expected. Bear in mind, though, that this list will be cut down considerably on March 21, so an appearance here is not a guarantee of an invitation in May.
The full list of semifinalists is available here [PDF]; see the full Chicago list after the jump. One name that's not there may surprise you: Alinea. As Nick Kindelsperger notes, Grant Achatz and his restaurant have won every award he and it are currently eligible for, so we shouldn't expect to see it on the list again until 2015, when Alinea is 10 years old and therefore eligible for Outstanding Restaurant.
LTH Forum opened nominations for its 2011 Great Neighborhood Restaurants awards today. Nominate your favorites and discuss the nominees in the Eating Out in Chicagoland section; don't forget to register. GNR noms are conveniently highlighted with an icon, and past winners are listed here.
Local billionaires Groupon released a Super Bowl commercial that is getting a lot of heat for its mockery of Tibet's political and social problems through adoration of their delicious fish curry. See for yourself.
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board has launched its second annual 30 Days, 30 Ways with Macaroni & Cheese Blog. Today, Day 1: Macaroni and Blue Cheese with Figs and Rosemary.
But if you don't want to support the state of Wisconsin this weekend, for whatever reason, Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park (100 S. Marion Street) is right there with you: you can order any of their cheese flights for brunch this Sunday, except their Wisconsin cheese flight.
Some big news from Revolution Brewery in the new year: five new beers, news on the upstairs, and a second brewery?!
First, every Wednesday this month (starting tonight!), they are releasing a new beer. Schedule is as follows:
Jan. 5th: Baracus Imperial Stout (11% ABV) & Triple Fist Triple Pale Ale (9.6% ABV)
Jan. 12th: TV Party Rye IPA
Jan. 19th: Village Green English Bitter
Jan. 26th: Black Power Oatmeal Stout
Next, you may have noticed stairs that lead to nowhere on the right when you walk in. Well, the opening date for the upstairs overflow/event/live music/private party space will hopefully happen in late spring. With renovations one can never be sure, but the upstairs bar is starting to be built, and that's always good news.
Finally, in rumors I hadn't heard because it's cold out and I'm a hermit, Josh Deth & Co. are looking to open a new brewery to produce beers you can take home and/or enjoy out of state in bottles smaller than the current growlers. If by chance you could be an investor or know someone who could loan them big bucks, contact them at email@example.com.
OK, not just yet, but The Feast is reporting that Cary Taylor from The Southern will be taking his delicious mac and cheese on the road this January. Smoked Gouda, blue cheese and bacon, white cheddar sundried and caramelized onion and pepperjack and chorizo are just a few of the menu options, all around $8. Finer items like the cheddar and lobster mac will also be available for $12 -14. He'll update his location like all good Chicago food trucks via Twitter.
Working in the chain restaurant death valley known as Streeterville, I am ecstatic that there will be another option roaming the streets. Chef Taylor if you're listening please make a stop at Ohio and Fairbanks, I know we patrons are looking forward to your cheesy treats.
Last night's "Chicago Tonight" was a doozy! Matt Maroni of Gaztro Wagon and Alderman Scott Waguespack took on the owners of Sopraffina and Keefer's last night about the impact (and perceived threat, however irrational) that his food truck is having on the brick-and-mortar restaurant industry.
The request came from the man himself -- Jimmy John Liautaud -- in a letter to franchisees: "Approximately 88 people have gotten ill in 15 states," he wrote. "Of those, 40 have been interviewed. Of those 40, 28 have eaten at Jimmy John's. Of those 28, 25 have eaten sprouts."
I'm not a sprout eater by nature. It's not that they're notorious purveyors of all kinds of foodborne illnesses -- it's that I just don't really care for the taste. Yesterday though, by sheer accident, I was handed a vegetarian sub avec alfalfa and decided confidently that, "Yes, today I will take the first step toward healthy eating." Of course it's no Bootlegger Club with extra bacon, but what's the worst that could possibly happen, right? Well apparently vomiting, diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and rose-colored spots on my chest. Rose. Colored. Spots. If you're out there Liataud, I want you to know that if I come out the other side of this, I'm having my first meal at Potbelly.
'Tis the season of Christmas cookies -- at home, in the office, at parties. It's hard to resist them, but sometimes we all just crave something just a little less waist-expanding.
For the Healthy Schools Campaign's 2010 Cooking Up Change gala, culinary students at Simeon Career Academy created a cookie that we won't feel guilty about popping in our already-full bellies this holiday season. The event, a cook-off, challenges students to create a healthy lunch or a healthy cookie using using the same nutrition requirements, ingredients, and budget constraints that schools have to contend with. Below is the recipe for Simeon Career Academy's winning dessert, Thyme-Scented Lemon Cookies:
Did you know that there's an online journal for ivory-tower style musings about food and community development? One that ISN'T this blog?? Well, I didn't either, but nevertheless the aptly named Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development is looking for submissions for its next issue. An online, peer-reviewed publication with international contributors, the journal "emphasizes best practices and tools related to the planning, community economic development, and ecological protection of local and regional agriculture and food systems, and works to bridge the interests of practitioners and academics."
Right now they're looking for articles (applied research papers, critical reflection essays, commentaries, etc.) about "small- and mid-scale food value chain development." Essentially a strategic view of the supply chain and partnership constellation of agriculture, food value chains are apparently the current burning issue in the field (no pun intended). If you understand that more clearly than I do, maybe you should submit a paper. More details on submission process and guidelines are available on the journal's site. Papers are due February 15 for submission in the next issue. Best of luck, food scholars!
Ah, school lunch. I have fond memories of buttery bread sticks, cheesy pizza and lots of candy during my high school years. Looking back, I'm slightly appalled by the food I consumed and am grateful that my parents made sure I ate healthy food on a pretty regular basis.
For a lot of kids, this isn't the case. In Cook County, a recent survey shows that just 7.8 percent of children meet the recommended daily allowance for both fruit and vegetables. Almost more shocking - 45 percent of children surveyed missed a main meal in the previous 24 hours.
Thankfully, Congress passed the Child Nutrition Reauthorization yesterday. The bill will reauthorize child nutrition programs for five years and includes an additional $4.5 billion in funding for school meal programs over 10 years. For Chicago, the bill will help to improve the quality of school meals while helping hundreds of thousands of children receive nutritious food after school, during evenings, weekends and over the summer. The new legislation will improve the Greater Chicago Food Depository's nearly 100 meal programs for children. The Food Depository serves more than 250,000 children in Cook County each year.
"Few children are aware of summer programs, and many locations must limit the number of children who participate due to bureaucracy and logistics," said Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. "The child nutrition bill will raise program awareness, expand eligibility and reduce the administrative burden that keeps sites from serving all youths in their neighborhoods."
Have you been dying to share your drink recipes with a wider audience? Think your Dirty Frenchman (wine and olive juice) or Yeast Infection (rum and milk)* needs to bless the gullets of other Chicagoans? Consider entering Prairie Fire's first-ever bartender contest, where you can submit your drinks and photos for a chance to guest-bartend at the restaurant. The only stipulation: you must use a local ingredient in the beverage. Upload your drinks to the Prairie Fire Facebook page between now and December 10.
The top two mixologists, chosen by the restaurant and cocktail master Adam Seger, will compete on December 14 for tips, which will be donated to hunger-fighting nonprofit Share Our Strength -- whoever earns the most will appear December 22 with Prairie Fire chefs and co-owners Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris at a Green City Market demonstration.
*Thanks, Home Movies. I knew my obsessive watching of you would come in handy some day.
The Senate passed the Food Safety Modernization Act yesterday, which will bring significant improvements to the Food and Drug Administration's role in managing food safety, namely the agency's new ability to mandate recalls of suspect or tainted food, and stronger involvement of the FDA with regard to testing, inspections, and training requirements for food producers. I must be living in a cave, because I thought this is what the FDA already did.
Logan Square Kitchen can finally close an unfortunate chapter in its short history. The commercial kitchen and event space unanimously won its appeal to the city's zoning board today, which means the space can stay in business without having to implement an archaic parking requirement. Relieved owner Zina Murray wrote, "I dreamed of a business that would help people start and grow little food businesses. I never knew the twists the road would take, or the kind of work I would need to do to fulfill that dream. And I'm just in the first inning."
The most important meal I've had this year was a box lunch from Sopraffina. No, it didn't earn a Michelin star or introduce me to sea urchin. Those are fun, exciting moments in eating this year that have been only subtly underscored by something much more serious, something which makes me uncomfortable and is much easier not to think about. So, like most people, I usually don't. But it was something that was staring me in the face in the form of a roast beef and provolone sandwich, nestled in a cardboard box resting on my knees during the lunch break at Wednesday's State of the Plate conference on sustainable meat production, the new (hopefully annual) forum put together by the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-Op: Where does our food come from, and what power can we possibly have over it?
It's not like these questions are groundbreaking in and of themselves. I've read The Omnivore's Dilemna and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I've skimmed through Fast Food Nation. I've seen clips of Food, Inc. CAFOs bad, local food good, organic labels confusing. It's frightening, and depressing. But there's something very different about encountering this information on my couch or in front of my TV in my spare time, and sitting in a room with people whose daily lives are very much affected by these issues. At State of the Plate, I was literally surrounded, with chefs and culinary students on one side, and sustainable ranchers and food scientists on the other. And through their words, in the form of several panels and a keynote from Robert Kenner, director of Food, Inc. it also seems that there may be a glimmer of hope in the dark night of American eating.
The Michelin Guide decided to announce the list of restaurants receiving stars in the premier Chicago guide this morning, a day earlier than expected, after a purported leaked list popped up on Yelp Monday. According to a Michelin spokesperson, the restaurants on that list were fielding dozens of calls from journalists and diners asking about the star awards. Rather than wait until Wednesday, Michelin Guide Director Jean-Luc Naret decided to move up the announcement by a day so that the chefs and restaurants wouldn't be hassled for an additional day without actually knowing whether the awards were true.
And as it turns out, the official list, below, is identical (except for more more accurate spellings) to the list leaked on Yelp by David "Primo" R. Here is the official list of Michelin star-rated restaurants in Chicago:
Popular and aptly named Wicker Park bagel purveyor, Bagel on Damen, is adding another location -- still on Damen, but about 35 blocks north. The new shop is taking over the former and, I always thought, un-fully realized Damen Kitchen and Cellar space directly under the Damen Brown Line stop. Renovations have been progressing for the past several weeks, brightening up the formerly cave-like space for Monday's grand opening. The new shop promises the same doughy rounds and creatively spiked cream cheeses (white truffle and toasted pine nut, nom nom nom) as its older sister, but will also feature booze, and stay open until 7pm, ready to ply evening commuters with carbs and alcohol as they step off the train. And if that's not intriguing enough, they're also hiring...
In just one week, Chicago will officially be entered into the elite group of Michelin Guide-crowned cities. As we here at GB HQ get ready to celebrate the guide's release, the famously discreet Michelin inspectors have graciously let some of their secrets slip by revealing their "Bib Gourmand" picks.
As the Michelin Man says himself, "The Bib Gourmand designation denotes good cuisine at a reasonable price in a variety of comfort categories. Defined as "Inspectors' Favorites for Good Value," Bib Gourmand restaurants offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less (tax and gratuity not included), and are often of most value to a city's residents, who regularly dine in neighborhood restaurants." They also cause the Michelin Man to adorably lick his chops in anticipation of a good meal.
The Trib is reporting: Sea salt and russets are coming to a Wendy's near you.
By kicking up the salt and leaving the skins on, Wendy's is changing their 41-year old fry recipe in hopes to snag you and your other foodie friends. The slimmer cut, crispier fries will be arriving sometime in the next two weeks.
We're glad that our suspicions were correct that they actually are potatoes but at some point we ask ourselves, what's next?! Truffle fries at McDonalds and duck fat fries at Burger King? One can only hope...
The Michelin Bib Gourmand award is given to restaurants that offer excellent food at equally excellent prices; this year's winners, which were announced today (along with the scarlet letter of a Michelin Man in chalk outlined in front of recipient restaurants), include a mix of standards (Lula, Frontera, M. Henry) and new(er) arrivals to the culinary scene (Purple Pig, Girl & the Goat, Ceres Table). The first-ever Michelin Guide to Chicago will be released next week. The full list of winners is after the jump.
Logan Square Kitchen owner Zina Murray, who has been embroiled in a parking-related zoning issue with the City that is seriously threatening the future of her business, heads to court next Friday to plead her case. You can help her out by sending a letter of support to the Zoning Board of Appeals (downloadable from the LSK website).
If you're on the fence about this whole Meatless Monday thing, perhaps because you're already having a manic Monday (wishing it was Sunday, even) consider that veganism is now linked to power on the pages of Business Week. According to a recent article, Bill Clinton, Steve Wynn and Russell Simmons are part of a group of powerful vegan bosses. It's an exclusive club, not only because such a small segment of the population is vegan, but also because veganism isn't cheap. For some of these moguls, the change in diet is prompted by love. NYC restauranteur Bart Potenza says, "the rise of the power vegan coincides with the rise of the vegan second wife."
This is the time to get that salt pig, pizza stone, or Kitchenaid mixer that you've been swooning over lately; you'll get a 20% off coupon for anything in the store during this Thursday's Customer Appreciation Day at the Lincoln Square location (4747 N Lincoln) of the Chopping Block. Christmas always comes early when it's for you.
The newest iteration of the daily-deal phenomenon is My Drink On, a group-couponing site offering drink deals for Chicago bars.
Tomorrow, November 4, MDO hosts its 8pm-1am launch party at Rebel Bar & Grill (3462 N. Clark St.). Rebel is also the location of its very first featured deal: $40 worth of drinks for $20. For celebration's sake, buying the deal is not required for the complimentary cocktail reception (8-10pm).
The Frontera Farmer Foundation is now accepting applications for their 2011 grant cycle. Small, sustainable Midwestern farms serving the Chicago area are eligible to apply for up to $12,000 in capital improvement funds. Successful farm applicants must be individually owned, in operation for at least three years, and able to demonstrate how these funds will promote the availability of local foods in the Chicago area and improve the farm's viability.
As always, the TOC Blog has the scoop on Lula Cafe's annual Halloween costume as another restaurant. This year, Kuma's Corner is the object of flattery by imitation, as Lula's menu transforms itself into band-themed burgers (with a twee, indie vibe -- Kuma's dog mascot gets supplanted by the new, cuddly Luma owl). Judging by Drive Thru editor Robyn and my experience last year, the lines will probably not be any shorter than the actual Kuma's, but it will be so, so worth it. TOC has part of this year's menu posted, if you're interested in how Iron and Wine translates to a burger, or what Tim Kinsella wants on his tribute sandwich.
Luma's Corner will be one-night only, Saturday, October 30 (leaving your actual Halloween free for recovery or trick or treating). Be sure to arrive early and be prepared to wait. Costumes are totally, totally acceptable. Rock on!
So I'm a pretty big fan of Devon Seafood Grill. Reasonably priced for its downtown location, their food is inventive (lobster tamale!) and consistently high-quality. An important point for a seafood joint nestled in the tight, land-locked embrace of the Midwest. Anyway, the folks at Devon are holding Pinot Noir event next week, and are offering three evenings of Pinot pairings dishes for a special $29 price for GB readers (actual Pinot pairings are an additional $18, so $47 for the whole kit and caboodle, as the Devon PR team clarified for us after this posting first went live). Call to make your reservation and be sure to mention the blog.
Pinot and poisson, you say?! The light-bodied red plays well with heavy sauces (a seafood standard -- drawn butter, anyone?) and its fruity sweetness complements the freshness of the fish. At Devon's event, the goods will include four Pinots (including, Benton Lane, which the event planners are particularly excited about, as it will be featured in Food & Wine Magazine's December issue) paired with such dishes as swordfish with butternut squash risotto, short-rib with pappardelle and a fig demi glace, a mushroom and goat cheese filled corn crepe, as well as beet salad and dessert dishes.
To try these four wines and entrees, get yourself over to Devon (and peep in the new Anthropologie storefront windows on your way...if you dare. They're getting shoes) next week, October 19, 20 and 21 anytime after 4pm. Remember to call ahead for the special GB price: 312.440.8660.
Jonathan Blaustein lately suffered from a bout of sticker shock. He purchased a container of blueberries from California for one buck and upon opening the container realized he had just paid 10 cents for 1 blueberry as ten little berries stared back up at him.
the New Mexican photographer began to think about the cost of his food, and how far a dollar gets you these days. Particularly, how far it gets you in fresh produce market and how far it gets you at your "local" fast food joint.
from Kerry Macdonald's piece in the NYT:
"The project allowed him to ask questions about the things North Americans eat in a fast-food culture. Is this food? Just because we can put something in our mouths, does that make it food? At what point do we decide that something isn't food?"
His telling slideshow and story were written up today under this week's LENS at the New York Times found here
This Friday, October 1, is International Sake Day, and here's a list of some sake hot spots around the city to help you celebrate the Japanese rice beverage (also known as "the drink of the gods"):
It might be hard to get into Chizakaya, since it just opened a few weeks ago and it's getting a lot of buzz, but, considering izakaya means "sake house," you're going to get a pretty large selection of the stuff.
If you want sake without the sushi, try Mana Food Bar (1742 W. Division St.). This small-plates vegetarian joint offers a selection of sake cocktails, including the refreshing-sounding coconut water and fresh lime, and the cucumber sakerita.
Staying on Division, the newly opened Makisu (1725 W. Division St.) has a huge selection of sake on its menu, with more than 20 different kinds and some unfiltered, sweeter sakes like Summer Snow -- which you can also find at Sunda (110 W. Illinois St.) in River North.
For a total experience of Japan (or at least how I imagine it), go to Murasaki Lounge (211 E. Ontario), which has an extensive sake menu -- and there's a karaoke room in the back.
Or you could always get a big bottle of sake from Binny's, a six-pack of Sapporo, and a few pairs of chopsticks and sake bomb deep into the night.
Another food festival is behind us, and after the double-whammy of food coma and hangover has cleared (and nooooo, it didn't take a full 24 hours, some of us just have day jobs, jeeeez), it's time to look back on some of the highlights (and disappointments) of this year's Chicago Gourmet. The prevailing complaint, echoed in both the fog of overheard conversation as well as in the specific comments of my new coffee-line friends Aaron and Mary Beth: not enough food! As with years past, the booze outweighed the bites, which can get dangerous when we're talking consumption by actual weight. As new friend Mary Beth noted, "A lot of old ladies in the bathroom seemed like they were really having a hard time with that much alcohol." Yikes, not good for the old ladies (a not-insignificant demographic for C.G.), and not particularly more good for the folks who shelled out upwards of $90 for an extended meal. More thoughts on the ups, downs, and possible old-lady pleasing next steps for Chicago Gourmet...
Proving the old adage that the third time is, indeed, the charm, Chicago Gourmet seems to have finally hit its stride. The balance between food and drink, while still topped towards the latter, feels a bit more equitable this year -- possibly based on the organizing decision to group most of the liquid suppliers in the middle of the festival, and leaving the solid foods on the edges. And for the first time, I left the Pritzker Pavilion well before the end of the day feeling, well, full. This year's Chicago Gourmet feels not unlike a food-themed amusement park: excitement is high, even though lines are long. Twenty minutes of standing around may result in a bite that's consumed in 30 seconds or less. But at least you get to revel in some Goose Island and pork belly at the bottom. Plenty of plush seating has been added this year in various formations so you can ease off your slowly-expanding ankles as your salt intake increases throughout the day. Seriously, it's a nice addition.
More thoughts on the highlights on this year's fest as it draws to a close tomorrow. In the meantime, some tips for any attendees venturing out tomorrow:
Arrive on time, if not early. Lines stretched all the way down to Michigan Avenue just to enter the event this morning, and formed rapidly in front of the tasting and sipping stations inside. They only got longer as the day went on.
It may seem tempting to follow the smell of burning charcoal and dive headlong into the Allen Brothers tasting pavilion that's closest to the entrance. Don't do it -- grab a pour of wine (or an entire bottle of Stella, Leffe or Hoegaarden, with complimentary branded glassware!) first, and sip while you wait to make your way down to the chefs. This is actually a good practice to observe before getting into just about any food line.
If you're going in a group, make it work for you. Split up to gather multiple plates for your entire party and halve the time it takes to try two separate dishes. The hunter-nester division also works well, where one member of your group sets up camp at a table or cushy bench and the other reels in the goods. (This seems to be particularly popular with the stroller-pushing set.)
If the weather's anything like today, bring along some fingerless gloves. Just in case. You won't feel cold, based on the amount of alcohol available to you. But losing a plate due to stiff fingers would be a darn shame.
If you're getting a little wobbly after hitting up the center aisle of the festival, head to the Labriola Bakery station. They've got bread. Lots and lots of bread. Served with meatballs, pasta, or a caprese-style tomato and mozz slice. Or served with...more bread. It's great bread, and a wise idea.
If you've learned valuable lessons from Day 1, please post them in the comments. (And remember, we want to see your photos in the GB Flickr pool.) See you back there tomorrow!
The AP posted an article this afternoon about how restaurants are using this new-fangled Twitter thing to engage users and address customer service concerns. It's a fairly bland piece that discusses a lot of stuff people probably already knew. That said, one quote from our favorite "MasterChef" judge did catch our eye:
Chicago's other taste festival returns this weekend to the green pasture of the Prtizker Pavilion, where Chicago Gourmet will be setting up camp for its third annual appearance. Tickets are sold out at this point for everything but the Hamburger Hop event taking place tomorrow night ($75 for beer, wine and many many burgers), although I did notice that the Illinois Restaurant Association's event page allows you the option of transferring tickets -- should, say, your friend with a two-day Grand Cru pass suddenly meet with an unfortunate, unseasonal icy patch on their way down their apartment stairs... Those Dine Around receipts will also get you in, if you had the forethought, appetite and budget to participate.
The set-up of the event seems to be in keeping with the past two years--attendees will be able to explore culinary groupings (organized this year by category, Mediterranean, Gastropub, French, Asian, Dessert, etc., instead of a randomized association understood only by the event organizers) featuring bites from chefs all over town, watch cooking demonstrations in the stage area that's usually restricted only to the performers and roadies, allow Alpana Singh and lots of other local celebs to discuss everything from wine pairings to sustainable seafood without the pesky distancing effect of your TV screen or an annoyed dining room of hungry people willing you to get out of the damn kitchen, my hollendaise is growing a skin back there. And of course drink lots and lots of booze in tiny cups. Seriously. Lots.
Attracting a major sponsor in Bon Appetit magazine seems to be helping the festival firm its offerings up across the board, providing a financial as well as physical center for the event (the publication has its own pavilion tent, where the wares of the other sponsors can be sampled, and executive chef Cat Cora will presumably be hanging out between cooking demonstrations). Other major sponsors, Allen Brothers Steaks and the awesomely named Supreme Lobster & Seafood Company will also host dedicated tasting areas where the goods will be, unsurprisingly, steak- and seafood-oriented. And for the first time ever, attendees will be able to purchase food to take home. Not that this will curb the line of guests chugging their last dregs of wine before the security guards will allow them to hobble out towards Michigan Avenue. But it's surely one of the most sensible business evolutions in the Chicago Gourmet model -- extending the experience, building those chef- or brand- (or...chef-brand) relationships, and probably encouraging people to come back for more next year. We'll see. (If it's all floral honeys and dipping sauces, I'll be way less excited to pull out my wallet.)
Check back for insights and reflections over the next couple days. And if you've already got your ticket in hand and are trying to figure out which pair of eating pants offers the most style, be sure to post any of your photos to the GB Flickr pool.
I think we can all agree that croissants are awesome. What two Logan Square businesses cannot agree about is who can sell just one.
Last week, the Chicago Reader covered the news that newly-opened La Boulangerie cannot sell a single croissant, yet can sell them by the dozen. Turns out, owner Vincent Colombet signed a lease with a non-compete clause that prevents his business from selling goods that would overlap with neighboring New Wave Coffee: coffee, tea, sandwiches, baked goods, etc. This is a fairly standard business practice, especially when you consider La Boulangerie and New Wave are in the same building.
People in the rapidly-gentrifying area are up in skinny arms about this, bitching to anyone who will listen in the comments on the Reader story, on Yelp, and of course on the ever colorful Logan Square Yahoo! mailing list. Well, today New Wave owner Zach Zulauf responded on the mailing list. After the jump, the text of the letter:
School lunch seems to be the Next Big Thing to warrant some public-private partnership attention. The wave has been cresting for some time, arguably, with such programs as the Healthy Schools Campaign, and mainstream and popular reporting about the often-disturbing realities of public school lunch. Now the USDA and the Let's Move campaign to fight childhood obesity are looking to crowdsource "tasty, healthy, exciting new recipes for inclusion on school lunch menus across the country" with the Recipes for Healthy Kids contest.
Submissions will be accepted from now until December 30, and recipes must be developed by teams that include the major stakeholders in the front lines of the fight to reform school nutrition -- round up a current student (grades 4-12), a parent or community member (that could be you!), a willing chef, and the holy grail of the team, a school nutrition specialist. There are resources on the contest site to help you link up with chefs in your community, in case walking into your favorite restaurant and demanding to speak to the chef seems daunting. Even if you can't find all of the required participants, this might be a great way to get the word out among your PTA peers, or fellow chefs, that a forum for change at least exists. And doesn't involve Jamie Oliver. (Unless you're into that whole Naked Chef thing...) Who's to say you couldn't end up rubbing elbows over a potential "Dark Greens and Orange Vegetables" category entrant with one of Chicago's culinary elite, and helping change school lunches nationwide?
This story was submitted by freelance writer Christopher Gray.
Seventy-year-old Janice Brown reaches over the Dunne Elementary fence along 108th Street and asks to see some turnips. "I just want the bottoms, not the tops, just the bottoms, not the tops," she says.
Paula Roderick, a North Sider volunteering at the half-acre S.E.E.D.S. minifarm in the South Side's Roseland, plucks out some turnips from the large, thriving garden, twists off the edible turnip greens and leaves Mrs. Brown with just the edible bulbs, perfect for soup.
Roderick charged her a nominal price, but S.E.E.D.S. (Southside Education and Economic Development Systems) is not really looking to make a profit on any of its produce which sprouted for the first time this summer in what had been just a grassy lawn north of Dunne Elementary.
Pumpkins vine their way across the garden, which also has rows of tomatoes and beans, melons, corn and greens.
The garden has been so popular that many residents have just been sneaking in and stealing the vegetables. "You see old ladies come in, and all of a sudden, you see the bag," says Darryl Gibson, a second volunteer.
Students at Nettelhorst Elementary can finally start cooking again. Thanks to Oprah pal and celeb designer Nate Berkus the school has a completely new and redesigned kitchen. The fresh white kitchen boasts new appliances, including a double oven, and is fully stocked with new dishes and utensils. Currently the kitchen is only for student use, but there may be plans in the future for adult cooking classes in the evenings.
OpenTable and the new "Top Chef" spin-off series "Just Desserts" are promo-partnering to give you a free dessert on Wednesday, Sept. 15. Check out OpenTable for the list of 100 eligible Chicagoland restaurants and the fine print (it's actually a dessert to split, and you have to order an entree... but still! Mostly free dessert!) and to set up a reservation. Ironically, or not, Stephanie Izard's restaurant is not on the list. But plenty of others are. Celebrate the "Top Chef" Emmy win, and make Gail Simmons proud!
Bad news for the weekly Hideout-based fundraiser Veggie Bingo. The event's September dates are canceled due to unforeseen circumstances but the event will return in soup form again, as always, next winter...which is a long-ass ways away from now...(right?)
Former Carnivale employees (and married folk) Mark and Liz Mendez -- Mark was the executive chef; Liz, the wine director -- are opening a new restaurant, and they've started a Windy Citizen blog to document their experience and reflect on the process. They've only written three entries so far, but one common thread running through them is that they're barely thinking about the food right now: "It's funny," Mark writes, "that now when I go into a restaurant the food is usually the last thing on my mind. I'll ask my wife what she thinks of the space, what the check average is, how many seats, what do you think the gross sales are, do you like the look, is it a good location..."
Bon Appetit named The Purple Pig one of the 10 best new restaurants for 2010. Which means it's going to be even harder to get in for decadent pork neck rillettes, balsamic-braised pig's tail, chorizo-stuffed olives and one of the better cheese selections in the city.
Chicago food photographer Stephen Hamilton has a nice gig, tasting and shooting delicious meals and drinks from the best restaurants nationally. Even Bravo, discoverer of talents, has endorsed his expertise: he's appeared as a guest judge on the most recent season of Top Chef Masters, and his photography adorns the Top Chef DC abode.
His publicist has recently released Hamilton's ranking of the top five most beautiful dishes in the Windy City:
"Since only fresh, seasonal vegetables from the nearby Green City Market are used on this pie, the Farm to Crust Pizza is a masterpiece that changes with the weather. Stephen loves the seasonally appropriate ingredients and simple presentation -- a piping hot oblong pizza, fresh out of Table 52's special wood-burning oven, served on a breadboard." [Full disclosure: Hamilton was the photographer for chef Art Smith's 2007 cookbook Back to the Family.]
"Known for his creative culinary creations, Stephen loves Graham Elliott's Corn Bisque for its flavor, color, and uniquely simple presentation. The soup is poured over a homemade garlic marshmallow and a sprinkling of pepper jam, corn nuts, and hint of lime crema."
"Served in a large pint glass lined with parchment paper and a small side of truffle cream, the Pommes Frites at MK are a staple on the menu. MK fries their potatoes in beef fat, a unique practice that helps bring out the delicious, crispy taste. Stephen absolutely loves the perfect golden color."
"At Girl & the Goat, the talented Stephanie Izard utilizes thin slices of fresh raw hiramasa, a yellowtail fish, for her hiramasa crudo sprinkled with pork belly, caperberries, and aji aioli. Though this dish is a bit complex, Stephen loves the abundance of color."
"Though pasta dishes tend to be heavier, the English Pea Ravioli at Bristol is fresh and beautiful. The pea-stuffed ravioli noodles are tossed in a light cream sauce and topped with delicate pea tendrils for a sweet, airy presentation with just a hint of color."
Over the next 40 days, the Greater Chicago Food Depository will be assembling 40,000 boxes of food for needy families -- and they need your help. Sign up for a three-hour shift on the non-profit's Flex Line, where you'll pack out individual and family-sized boxes of food for distribution throughout the city. For more info, or to sign up, click here. (Thanks to Blue Kitchen for the heads-up!)
Thinking about retiring that jersey that you wore the whole month of June for the next four years? Think again. Chicago's newest soccer bar, The Pitch, is opening this weekend to keep you in the game. Settling in the old once-was-John-Barleycorn-Lincoln Park-then-Cagneys, we're hoping this one sticks around a bit longer than its predecessors. Run by the guys behind Rocks and the Technical Director of the Chicago Fire, the Pitch has three floors, 30 screens, 12 taps and made from scratch grub-- all you need to keep your eyes glued to the 11 on the field.
Opening this weekend.
2142 N Clybourn Ave, at Wayne
This morning the Redeye ran a piece on Chicago's food deserts -- vast expanses of the city without access to fresh produce or healthy food, but with ample fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
City-run farmers markets that accept food stamps and discounted deliveries of fresh produce are helping low-income residents in underserved neighborhoods gain access to healthier food.. But the oasis in the desert? Wal-Mart.
Stephanie Izard, of Girl & The Goat, is competing in a virtual sandwich contest. Imagine eating a crisp panko-breaded pork loin sandwich with spicy-salty tapenade and sweet pepper aioli. Then imagine giving a boatload of cash to Common Threads, the Chicago nonprofit group that teaches low-income kids to cook healthy, affordable meals.
Now stop imagining things and go vote for Izard's sandwich (and get a copy of the recipe). If she wins Mezzetta's Celebrity Chef Sandwich Charity Challenge, Common Threads will get $10,000. Now that's a lot of guacamole...er, tapenade. Voting runs through September 6.
Didn't you read something recently about the Chicago French Pastry School? Oh you did, and you were so so so intrigued, but not quite ready to fork over a pile of dough to go and learn how to make dough at the school? An intermediary experience is now available! Or rather will be, September 15, when the documentary Kings of Pastry opens September 15. The doc, from the production company that brought Stonewall Uprising out earlier this summer, follows Chicago French Pastry School co-founder Jacquy Pfeiffer as he returns to his homeland to vie for a title at the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France -- a never-before-filmed competition to determine the best craftsmen in French pastry. Did someone say "sugar sculpture"? (The LA Times gave the doc a nice review following its showing at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June.)
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Hitch your wagon to a star"--but in Chicago, we are hoping that we can flip it around a bit and hitch our stars to wagons.
Starred Chicago chefs and foodies alike have been working with the administration to change city code and allow food wagons in Chicago. You've heard about the Gaztro-Wagon opening, Flirty Cupcakes mobile sweet treats and their new competition but now, Chicago is finally getting down to business. At last Wednesday's City Council meeting, Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd ward) proposed new legislation to license and regulate Chicago food trucks. Currently, mobile food trucks may sell pre-packaged food, but no prep is allowed once the wheels hit the pavement.
Getting the conversation to the City Council feels like we are finally approaching the river, and now need to decide if we're going to forge through it, caulk the wagon and float across or pay for the barge to take us there. If you'd like to track the process, follow @ChicagoFoodTrux on Twitter or check their website to find out how you can help us keep the wheels moving.
This is one wagon worth jumping on and hitching your star to.
Lula Cafe sent out a press release this morning announcing a temporary close due to damage incurred by last night's weather; however, their pop-up restaurant at the Logan Square Kitchen this weekend is still open.
Filmmakers Ernie Park and Michael Graziano brought their documentary, Lunch Line, to Chicago this week. The film follows six high-school students from Tilden Career Community Academy who won the Cooking Up Change challenge in 2009, and then went on to take the affordable and healthy school lunch they created to Washington, D.C. Interspersed with the footage of their journey and their musings about whether their audience in D.C. even cares about what's served to America's school children, the film covers the history of the National School Lunch Program.
Robin Linn of WBEZ's Sound Opinions and CS Mag's food editor Michael Nagrant teamed up on this morning's 848 to discuss the music and food offerings at this weekend's Pitchfork and the upcoming Lollapalooza festivals. My recommendation? Water is better than any meal you're going to eat this hot weekend.
Last night, Chicago entered with distinction into the elite group of cities to have a Michelin Guide created in its honor. A crowd of well-dressed and enthusiastic supporters lined the walls of A New Leaf's event space at 1820 N. Wells in Old Town, to welcome the announcement of the Michelin Guide Chicago due out in November. On hand to formally dedicate the Guide was Mayor Richard M. Daley, Michelin Guide Director Jean-Luc Naret, Michelin COO Parmeet Grover, and none other than the Michelin Man himself.
Briefly addressing the audience, Daley spoke of his pride in the city's chefs, who he believes "are really artists who define our city and give opportunity so much to our city." Noting that the higher-profile chefs who have made Chicago a foodie's destination tend not only to be entrepreneurs but often committed charity donors as well, Daley praised the group as civic boosters in bringing Michelin to town. In all, it was "a wonderful day," Daley said, "for us to celebrate, not our past, but most important, our future."
Mayor Daley speaking at Chicago Michelin Guide announcement gala
Michael Phillips of Intelligentsia won the winning title at the eleventh annual World Barista Championship in London last month after wowing the judges with a fifteen minute-long presentation in which he had to make an espresso, a cappuccino and a drink of his own creation for a panel of judges.
Yesterday morning, the Green Chicago Restaurant Co-Op's "Guaranteed Green" restaurant group was announced to the world: 20 restaurants that started working through the Co-Op's certification process last year and have come out living up to green standards. Specifically, the Green Seal and Green Restaurant Association standards, basically analogous to LEED standards for buildings and construction. The Green Seal standard covers not only sustainability in energy use and water management, but food sourcing, food innovation, composting, grease recycling and other industry-specific areas where sustainable practices can create long-term benefits.
The whole landscape of sustainable standards is still pretty boggy at this point. LEED-certification, while a top shelf achievement, is a messy thicket of suggestions, stages of sustainability and levels of commitment. Organic certification is a sinkhole of ambiguity, with competing standards from the USDA, the California Certified Organic Farmers (providing standards and certification far beyond Cali since the 1970s), and Organic Crop Improvement Association, to name but a few. So the Guaranteed Green group may not be the last word on sustainable food service practices, but it certainly seems like a step in the right direction.
If you were planning to attend this evening's Slow Food Chicago Summer Solstice Potluck, stay home and take cover from the approaching weather; the event has been rescheduled for this Sunday, June 20, from 4-7pm.
A section of the city underserved by major grocery stores and other sources of fresh meat and produce will welcome a new market this summer. A project of the West Humboldt Park Healthy Community Initiative Committee (HCIC), the West Humboldt Park Farmers Market & Bazaar will feature locally-grown fruits and vegetables and other natural, holistic products when it opens on Saturday, June 5.
The market will run the first Saturday of every month from 12 to 4pm through October in the parking lot of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS) at 3601 W. Chicago Ave. HCIC also says that visitors to the market will be able to partake in live entertainment, cooking demonstrations and other health-related resources.
Chicagoans are nuts for Groupon -- and other similar services that seem to roll out every week. But in an article in today's RedEye, Kyra Kyles asks restaurateurs whether Groupon's crowd-sourced coupons are worth it on their end.
But is there another, possibly dirty, secret when it comes to the deep deals and visibility? Some local restaurant industry insiders -- including at least one Chicago owner of a public relations firm focused on restaurant clients -- have questioned whether businesses, specifically high-end restaurants, suffer when they allow a third party to offer patrons half-off for a meal.
On one hand, the restaurants cut a deal in order to attract new customers; while those diners may not be as profitable, the hope is at least some of them will become repeats, and return visits won't be at a discount. On the other hand, says Ellen Malloy of the Restaurant Intelligence Agency, there can be a temptation on the part of restaurant staff to treat coupon-carrying diners as second class citizens -- and reap the results of the poor service in terms of reputation and repeat business, negating any boost the coupon may have delivered.
An aspect of Groupon discounting that's not mentioned, though, is redemption rates. Depending on the deal and the restaurant, the number of coupons actually used might be significantly lower than the number purchased; the ones that aren't used are basically free money in the restaurant and Groupon's pocket. While the unredeemed coupons aren't going to make up for the full cost of the promotion, they do mitigate costs somewhat. I know we've had a Restaurant.com gift certificate that went years without being spent; we finally just threw it away. Chances are there are Groupon deals wasting away in drawers as you read this.
What do you think? Are collective deals like Groupon a bad idea or a boon for businesses?
Koren Grieveson of Avec won Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region -- which was slightly stacked in Chicago's favor, with Michael Carlson of Schwa, Arun Sampanthavivat of Arun's and Bruce Sherman of North Pond receiving three of the four other nominations.
Mayor of Paris, France, Bertrand Delanoë received a warm welcome by 300 people at a cocktail reception yesterday at the Chicago French Market (131 N. Clinton). The French mayor was in town this week to participate as a guest of honor in the Richard J. Daley Global Cities Forum at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Invited to be a guest of honor at the Forum by Mayor Daley, this was Delanoë's first official visit to Chicago since becoming Mayor of Paris in 2001.
At yesterday's reception, newsman and rancher Bill Kurtis introduced Mayor Delanoë, who thanked the city of Chicago for its hospitality and praised the Windy City's grandeur and beauty. Delanoë spoke in French of the relationship of cities to their residents and thereby the kinship of Parisians and Chicagoans. Then, Kurtis, pretending to translate Delanoë's remarks, said that the Paris mayor had just declared his candidacy for the office of Mayor of Chicago, eliciting laughter in the room from non-French and French speakers alike. Mayor Daley, to close, spoke of his love for Paris and the inspiration he has drawn from France's capital.
Todd Burbo says Intelligentsia is the Yankees of espresso after their latest win at the US Barista Championships, but unlike the Yankees, they'll be sitting out a season by choice. And they've shared the secret to their success:
Along with the crushing revelation that Soundgarden is headlining this summer's Lollapalooza festival is the reiteration of the news that Graham Elliot Bowles will be overseeing the festival's Food Town. Bowles will also be serving as a judge on Fox's upcoming show "Masterchef" alongside famous swearer and sometimes chef Gordon Ramsay.
In Fuel, we're sharing our favorite beer gardens, patios and other outdoor seating areas for enjoying this wonderful weather. GB staffer Jasmine Davila is helpfully mapping them for your future reference at icanhaz.com/chicagoalfresco.
Time Out Chicago is a bit ahead of us: they've got a good list already started.
Intelligentsia coffee recently announced that it is leaving the coffee bean sourcing and roasting business and will now simply package other beans using their trademarked winged logo. After establishing roasting facilities here in Chicago and also out in LA, they have grown tired of providing exceptional quality coffee and latte art to hipsters across the country. Intelligentsia's spokesperson remarked that "It is time for this generation to learn to drink plain old instant coffee like our parents and we will lead the charge to bring the standard burnt tasting drip coffee back to everyone's mugs." So stock up now on your favorite beans, because once they run out, it's Pike Place Roast for all! To read the entire distressing press release click here.
If you haven't signed up for a produce CSA for this summer and are becoming dismayed by their high prices and limited selection, a new option is hitting the markets: The PlayGreend, a new CSA run 100% by children. Working in shifts revolving around school recess, afternoon and morning preschool and kindergarten, and school breaks, kids ages 4 to 12 learn on-the-job training in the organic farming industry, from growing to harvesting. Current Weekly deliveries to the Chicagoland area will begin in mid-June starting at $350 per 10-week share. You can also pay in cookies.
The James Beard Foundation announced the finalists for its 2010 James Beard Foundation Awards, and there are plenty of Chicago names on it. Here's who to watch for on May 2-3:
Best Chef - Great Lakes: Michael Carlson, Koren Grieveson, Arun Sampanthavivat and Bruce Sherman Outstanding Pastry Chef: Mindy Segal Outstanding Restaurant Award: Spaggia Outstanding Service Award: Alinea Outstanding Restaurateur: Rich Melman America's Classics Award: Calumet Fisheries (as previously announced) Book - Writing & Literature: Terra Brockman for The Seasons on Henry's Farm Newspaper Feature Writing About Restaurants or Chefs: Kevin Pang for "Plan D" Newspaper Feature Writing: The Reader's Mike Sula for "The Charcuterie Underground" and Cliff Doerksen for "The Real American Pie" Reporting on Health, Environment, or Nutrition: Monica Eng for "Nacho Lunch? Yes, Every Day" Multimedia Food Feature: Kevin Pang for The Cheeseburger Show Television Segment: Steve Dolinsky for "The Hungry Hound" on ABC7 Best Television Food Personality: Rick Bayless Audio Webcast or Radio Show: Eight Forty-Eight Outstanding Restaurant Graphics: Korn Design for Mercat a la Planxa
Kitchen Chicago, the shared-use kitchen in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor recently at the center of a tragic licensing clash with the City, launched a blog last week to discuss all matters related to small, food-related businesses and shared-use kitchens.
This month Kitchen Chicago has also invited guests to speak on the topics of product development and labeling for food safety. Tom McClure and George Burny of Barrington Packaging Systems Group will present "Beyond the Test Kitchen: Commercializing Your Idea and Bringing Your Product to Market" on March 20. On March 24, Tim Shekleton of the Illinois Department of Public Health will discuss guidelines for food labeling and sanitation. Both presentations are free and open to the public. Kitchen Chicago is located at 324 N. Leavitt.
This week, the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign launches a national effort to increase awareness of what's served in school cafeterias and to secure more funding for the Child Nutrition Act. The program, called Cooking Up Change, kicks off tomorrow with local students from Tilden Career Community High School going to Washington, DC, to serve a healthy meal to members of Congress. The Tilden students won last year's Cooking Up Change cooking contest with a meal of chicken-vegetable jambalaya with jalapeno cornbread and cucumber salad. You can go to the HSC's web site and click on a button to urge your elected leaders to eat a school lunch on March 2. Photo courtesy of Fed Up: School Lunch Project
If you don't know a school kid who is subjected to the salty, processed foods schools around the country serve up every day, you can get a good glimpse at the meals through the Fed Up: School Lunch Project blog, an anonymous diary by a public school teacher.
If you're home this morning, tune in to the Martha Stewart show (NBC Channel 5, 11am)--one of her guests on today's homage to Women Chefs is Hot Chocolate's Mindy Segal, who will be making banana brioche monkey bread with almond brittle. It's been a busy week for Segal, whose restaurant celebrated its fifth anniversary Monday night.
Semifinalists for this year's James Beard Foundation Awards were announced today, with a few new places and faces among the usual suspects of the city's high-end dining options--Bill Kim of UrbanBelly was nominated for Best Chef in the Great Lakes region, and Cibo Matto at the Wit is up for Best New Restaurant. Finalists will be announced March 22.
James Beard Foundation announced this year's America's Classics Award. Among the five recipients this year is Anthony Bourdain-approved smoked fish emporium, Calumet Fisheries. A strictly takeout-only operation, Calumet Fisheries has been a favorite of many a fried/smoked fish lover since its opening in 1948.
Press release says that the award is given to those restaurants that have "carved out a special place on the American culinary landscape" (think small mom-and-pop eateries with decades of history, greasy spoons with devout following, lunch counters serving regional specialties). Fitting, isn't it?
3259 E. 95th St
("95th at the Bridge")
Somewhat less surprising, Chicago restaurants dominate the Midwest list, taking all but three of the 15 slots:
1. Alinea - Chicago
2. Schwa - Chicago
3. Spiaggia - Chicago
4. Carlos' - Highland Park
5. Moto - Chicago
6. Charlie Trotter's - Chicago
7. L20 - Chicago
8. Sanford - Milwaukee
9. La Belle Vie - Minneapolis
10. Sidney Street Cafe - St. Louis
11. Everest - Chicago
12. Blackbird - Chicago
13. NoMI - Chicago
14. Green Zebra - Chicago
15. North Pond - Chicago
The full survey of more than 1,000 restaurants will be released March 1.
According to the Tribune'sThe Stew, inspectors from the city's Department of Health "seized, slashed open and poured bleach over thousands of dollars of local peaches, pears, raspberry and plum purees owned by pastry chef Flora Lazar" of Flora Confections. More than a thousand dollars worth of food prepared by the Sunday Supper Club, which shares the same kitchen, was also destroyed, although none of the inspectors was willing to say that the food imposed any danger to the public. Sounds like the unclear licensing requirement, concerning shared kitchens, is to blame. Read the whole heartbreaking post over at The Stew.
UPDATE (Tuesday, February 9): According to the Chicago Public Radio, health officials shut down the kitchen at Kitchen Chicago, where Flora Confections and other small-scale food start-ups share the kitchen. On Monday, inspectors returned to destroy more food. Chicago's unclear licensing requirements have some of Kitchen Chicago's clients considering a move out to the suburbs.
No more using weak paper ramekins to hold your ketchup! Heinz has debuted the "Dip and Squeeze," a new way of using ketchup that will allow you to keep the packet upright for optimal fry dipping. This is almost as innovative as KFC Bowls!
According to Veronica Avila of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of Chicago, four restaurant workers of Ole Ole restaurant is filing a federal lawsuit against their employer today. The employees, who are members of the ROC, are seeking back wages and assurance that the swanky Andersonville restaurant will comply with the law, guaranteeing that the tips are paid to the workers and proper compensation is made for overtime work.
Tribune reports that a devastating fire that started just before midnight Sunday completely destroyed Costas, a Greek restaurant that has been a cornerstone of this Greek corner of the city. The restaurant has another location in Oak Brook Terrace, but whether their histrionic "Opa!" over flaming saganaki will be heard again in its original location remains to be seen.
According to the Trib article, it took firefighters more than three hours to extinguish the fire. While it raged, the fire also heavily damaged the building on the north side of Costas, which houses Athens Grocery, Greektown Gift and Music Shop, and Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop. I used to walk past these buildings daily on my way to and from UIC until a few years ago, and the sight of bushy-eyebrowed old men sitting outside of the Pastry Shop, chatting over tiny cups of coffee and playing chess was as endearing as it could get. This building, perhaps more than any of the restaurants, seemed to anchor the "Greekness" of the area, providing everyday necessities and a place to socialize to the few remaining descendants of Greece.
The area around Greektown has been going through some gentrification with condo towers sprouting up here and there, and I only hope that the damaged building will not push the these businesses out of existence.
Bleeding Heart Bakery is whipping up special banana/pineapple/coconut cupcakes available for $3 each this weekend. The special cupcakes will be available at both the Roscoe Village and Oak Park locations. All proceeds will go directly to the Red Cross.
If you're the type of person who spends hours online reading recipes and then partial hours sniffing produce in Whole Foods before coming home to create complicated, multicourse meals; and you're also the type of person who wouldn't mind a little friendly "encouragement" from Gordon Ramsay (on national TV), then clear your weekend schedule. Ramsay and Fox are searching for amateur chefs, passionate foodies and accomplished dinner party hosts or hostesses for a U.S. version of Ramsay's cooking-competition "MasterChef." And they're bringing their search to Chicago: On Sunday from 11am to 4pm at Sur La Table in Naperville, casting directors will interview hopeful amateur chefs, who must bring a photo of themselves, a dish (which they'll have five minutes to "plate") and a photo of the dish. Applications and information about casting are available here.
Inspectors from the Illinois Department of Agriculture made an unannounced visit to Frontera Grill today and seized a box of bacon and an eighty-pound headcheese from the restaurant's kitchen, as it hadn't been inspected by state officials. Wisconsin officials had inspected the headcheese, as it came from a supplier to a Milwaukee-area business recently profiled in a Reader cover story for its rogue practices of selling charcuterie outside of government regulations. In a News of the Weird-style maneuver, the inspectors then made their way over to North Pond Cafe, the other restaurant listed in the article as a customer of the illegal charcuterie, to continue their raid; however, North Pond was closed.
The NYT visits a few new (and old) places around town--Xoco, DMK Burger Bar, Big Star Taqeria and Bar, Great Lakes and Kuma's Corner-which means that you're gonna have to plan your next trip to these places as if you're waiting for Walmart to open the day after Thanksgiving. Dammit.
Most gardeners in Chicago have readied their vegetable plots for a long winter sleep. However, students from Near North Montessori School (1434 W. Division) will be busy this winter revitalizing a nearby half-acre parcel of land at 1102 N. Wood St. to create a dynamic year-round garden and outdoor classroom.
The project started a year and a half ago, when administrators from the school approached the Chicago Botanic Garden to explore the feasibility of an edible garden on school property. Anna Viertel, the Botanic Garden's School Garden Coordinator, worked closely with Near North Montessori staff to develop plans and identify possible sites. The vision for a garden quickly grew to that of a student-driven vehicle for interdisciplinary, experiential learning and civic engagement that would ultimately be a replicable model for other schools and communities.
Despite significant help from the Chicago Park District, locating and securing a parcel of land viable for food production proved challenging until the fortuitous loan of the vacant Wood Street lot by the Rappe family, whose grandchildren attended Near North Montessori. The school secured permission from the Rappes to build the garden in the open space and promptly began consulting neighborhood residents about the project this past summer. In September, Viertel transitioned from the Chicago Botanic Garden to assume the new full-time position with Near North Montessori of Urban Farm Manager. Clearing of weeds and diseased trees from the site will begin this Friday.
Kellogg's announced a shortage today in the supply of its Eggo Waffle. The company promises on its web site that, "Eggo is working around the clock to bring everyone's favorite waffles back to store shelves as quickly as possible. We hope to regain full distribution of Eggo products by the middle of 2010." 2010?! This might not be big news for some, but for others, who rely on a steady supply of frozen waffles and Nutella to get their kids off to school, this sounds a little worrisome. If you are such a person, fear not: the freezer aisle still holds frozen waffles from Van's Natural Foods, which come in healthy organic, wheat-free and hearty-oats versions. There are in-house organic waffles sold by Jewel, Dominick's and Whole Foods. But the truth is, these other waffles don't toast to the same golden hue. And the kids pining away for Eggos say the pictures on boxes of other waffles just don't look as appetizing.
Several farmers markets and community agencies (among them Green City Market and Evanston Farmers Market) scored some federal dollars this past week to boost locally grown eating, but the largest check went to CBS-2...to buy advertising.
Bleeding Heart Bakery, known for its scrumptious organic pastries, is branching out with a new weekly artisan bread co-op. Bread lovers can order a loaf of bread each week, placing the order no later than Friday and then picking up the loaf on Sunday. Loaves only cost $5, but be sure to place your orders! The weekly special will not be available for sale at the store.
This co-op kicks off this week with Polenta Asiago Roasted Garlic Bread (does it get any better??).
Two Chicago area colleges are in the Daily Beast's list of of the best campus food. Wheaton College's cafeteria, which under Klaus Mandl, an Austrian chef who preferred to call the dining hall an "in-house restaurant," was rated best in the nation by the Princeton Review. Mandl has moved on, but the cafeteria still buys local and turns out dishes like pork loin with dulce picanta salsa and wheatberry pilaf. Illinois Institute of Technology also made the list, partly for the Rem Koolhaas-designed campus center and partly for the dining options, which include a trayless cafeteria, a food court and a sit-down restaurant offering an inside out BLT or a chicken breast grilled with cilantro and tequila.
Kids, sharpen up your Craigslist "Missed Connections" writing skills, 'cause Metromix is reporting that the dearly-missed coffee shop/neighborhood signifier Filter is reopening at 1373-75 N. Milwaukee in October. Possibly even more exciting: on-site roasting.
Even though Labor Day has come and gone, marking the (unofficial) end of summer, the stands at many of Chicago's farmers markets are looking more lush than they have all season. Squash and apples are starting to appear, and the peaches and berries are still abundant. The Andersonville Farmer's Market, which started just this year, has been so successful than it has extended its run through October 7th. Today's market will be held, as usual, from 4 to 8 pm. Starting next week, the market will run from 3 to 7 pm. Come on up to Clark & Berwyn to take advantage of the early fall harvest.
What can't Chicago's macchiato-mustachioed molé-master conquer? Last week, fending off fierce competition from Californians Hubert Keller and and Michael Chiarello in what looked like quite possibly the best meal on earth (recipes online, cooking ability tragically not included), Rick Bayless proved himself a standout not only among Chicago gourmands and élotes vendors everywhere, but the nation's top cooking talent. With dishes like the tongue tacos that got him through the first round (a quickfire challenge creation that's become a hot menu item at Frontera) to a concentrated conchinita pibil that made me want to lick my TV, Bayless has, hopefully, proven his worth even to critics who doubt his ability to convincingly rep traditional Mexican cuisine to the masses--to say nothing of his many supporters. Suffice to say, I'm sold.
You may have seen some liquor stores advertising about the upcoming liquor tax increases that take effect September 1. Today the Chicago Tribune had an article that clarified some of this advertising--apparently Binny's has called this the largest alcohol tax increase in state history, but that's not technically true.
Semantics aside, Susan Hofer, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, was quoted as saying the new taxes wouldn't be so bad. "When you look at the price differential for each item you buy, it's not that much," she said.
Let's look at that price differential, shall we? Beer? The tax goes up from 10.4 cents to 13 cents a six-pack. Wine? The tax per bottle is going from 13 cents to 28 cents. Spirits? That one-fifth bottle you used to pay 90 cents tax on? Going to $1.71.
Although Hofer's argument could be valid for beer and wine, it's way off when you look at spirits. Honestly, the spirits tax is almost doubled. I personally think that's a pretty big price differential, especially considering that you also pay sales tax on top of these taxes. Adding a good couple of dollars to a bottle of spirits might actually be the straw that breaks the camel's back--or in this case, closes the wallet.
Wonder no more about which wine to serve with the gazpacho you just whipped up in your blender, or the (grass-fed) beef marinating in your refrigerator. Chicago-trained and Omaha-based Master Sommelier Jesse Becker has just launched a wine-pairing search engine and iPhone app.
The web site, which is easy to navigate using little illustrations of nearly every concievable food group, including offal, dark fish, light fish and legumes (sadly, no soup category), leads users through a series of questions about the heaviness of the food, the cooking method and cuisine. This generates a selection of wines to pair with your food, with the most "agreeable" matches in larger type. If there's a wine in the list of matches that's not familiar, you can click on the wine and get a description. For example, when I searched wines to match legumes cooked with Indian spices, one of my choices was Silvaner. WinetoMatch informed me that this is a white grape from Alsace and Germany's Franken region, and that it's usually dry, light and soft. Right Bank Bordeaux and Merlot were also good matches.
Becker and the algorithm aces at Consulting Merengue, a southern California software developer and web publisher, are already busy building updates (and perhaps a soup category). They acknowledge that wine-matching advice and charts already exist online. But theirs is the first attempt by a Master Sommelier to create such software. "Rather than developing an application which pairs a finite number of named dishes, such as Veal Parmesan or Bouillabaisse, we designed a robust software engine that pairs any conceivable dish," says Becker. The questions about weight and spiciness are the same ones sommeliers would consider when helping guests in a restaurant.
On Chicago Public Radio's eight-forty-eight, South Side reporter Natalie Moore reports on this past weekend's "farmers market," held by Wal-Mart in Chatham. According to her report, the retail giant sold an impressive four days' worth of produce in just three hours. I briefly considered going to the Saturday event to see what it's like, but instead visited my sister-in-law (the allure of their new cats were too big). Thank God CPR was there.
Moore also interviews Rhymefest, a Chicago-based hiphop musician on the possible role of Wal-Mart in the South Side. His take on the proposed Wal-Mart, as a savior in food desert, is an interesting contrast to that of a woman quoted in the earlier piece, who says the characterization of the neighborhood as food desert is an offensive misnomer.
One in four Illinois adults are obese--a reported record, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measured that 26.4% of Illinoisans were "good eaters" (aka a BMI of 30 or greater). In 1985, less than 10% of the state's adults were obese. Before we all freak out over the demise of our starch-addicted, sugar-addled society, let's step back and realize that statistics are just descriptive numbers, and that we've got other business to mind. Did you forget that we have cheeseburger war to attend to?
Joey Chestnut took first with 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, while Kobayashi ate 64 and a half. That's a little under a hot dog every 10 seconds, bun and all, while Deep Dish didn't quite manage to break that threshold, he still kept up an incredible pace. In a pre-contest blog post, Bertoletti said, "it's a game of hot dog roulette with a ¾ full pack of hot dogs in the chamber."
If you want to catch Deep Dish in action, you'll have to travel to Madison or Minneapolis next weekend, where he'll be tackling a pair of Jimmy John's sandwich eating challenges.
The Vilcek Foundation is giving chefs and artisans that are under 38 years old and were born outside of the United States a shot at $25,000. The Foundation aims to award culinary professionals who have made notable contributions to the field at an early stage in their career.
The Vilcek Foundation honors the contributions of foreign-born scientists and artists living and working in the United States by focusing attention on the extraordinary drive, talent, and ingenuity new generations of immigrants bring to our culture, arts, and sciences. Applications and more information are available on the Vilcek Foundation website. Applications are due July 31st.
Chicago's "new wave of microbrews" is highlighted in the travel section of this Sunday's New York Times. Metropolitan and Half Acre both get shout outs, as well as the venerable institutions where their beers are sold, such as the Hop Leaf and the Map Room.
Tomorrow night, at 7pm at an undisclosed location somewhere near Pilsen, fine dining and music criticism come together to create a themed menu and perhaps, if their on-air banter is any indication, a Desert Island Pantry list of dessert toppings. Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot of Chicago Public Radio's Sound Opinions have teamed up with Chef Efrain Cuevas's community dining project Clandestino for a meal and Candid Wine pairings based on five selected albums, including selections from Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, Curtis Mayfield, Common, and Mavis Staples. Why exactly Naked Raygun goes so well with fennel and herb crusted hanger steak, braised marrow, potato terrine, oyster mushroom ragout -- I guess you'll have to try it to find out. The inspiring albums will, of course, supply the soundtrack for the evening.
Spots still seem to be available (click to RSVP) -- $250 covers the meal and gratuity for one guest, and a portion of the total is tax deductible. Exactly how much, and exactly where the event will take place will be announced this week via email to registrants.
I know many people have asked me, and I've wondered myself, why Chicago doesn't have hot dog, pretzel, elotes, knish, etc. carts hanging out on downtown streets like New York and many other cities do. Despite what Hollywood would have you think, there are no folks in business wear standing on street corners to get their dog fix on.
Claire Bushey wrote a great piece for The Reader called Legalize It that explains a bit of the history of the fight to license food cats and what many vendors are getting together to organize.
The restaurant owners in predominantly Latino neighborhoods (where you're most likely to see the carts) are uncomfortable, and reasonably so, with having a cart parked outside their business selling the same food (probably for less) than what can be purchased inside. But there are many areas of the city where the ratio of potential eaters to restaurants is much greater. The city cites concerns for health reasons, which is understandable, but those are things that can obviously be relegated and inspected.
If you want to see more street vendors near where you live or work, contact the Chicago Worker's Collaborative to lend your support. And a call to your alderman certainly couldn't hurt.
Many of us have memories of "pizza boats" and "walking tacos" from our school days, but if you need a refresher a fewsites have started cataloguing differences between school lunches around the world. The U.S. lunches sure aren't pretty (or nutritious).
On May 5th, a healthy meal created by Chicago high school students was served on Capital Hill. Yu Kizawa wrote about the effort by The Healthy Schools Campaign in a recent Gapers Block Drive-Thru article.
According to The Healthy Schools Campaign, more than 30 million students in the United States eat school lunch every day. Through their website, you can urge your legislators to reauthorized a well-funded Child Nutrition Act that will help future students avoid the unhealthy and unappetizing school lunches many of us experienced. To learn more about the childhood obesity epidemic and how it is affecting our nation, visit the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Ribfest Chicago is expected to draw 50 thousand people to Chicago's North Side this weekend - people who will consume some 65,000 pounds of ribs. But not all those ribs will come from animals.
Kevin Porter and Chelsea Waldrop are the married couple that runs Delicious Cafe (previous review) in the St. Ben's neighborhood. Starting Friday, they'll be at Ribfest Chicago, introducing the carnivorous crowd to vegan ribs.
Although it's an event that needs little advertising, the City is throwing a Taste of Chicago Preview at Daley Plaza from 11am-2pm tomorrow, where you can buy $2 "Taste Portions" of several foods that will be on sale when the monster hits town on June 26.
If your stomach grumbles at the sound of the word "free," you've got a couple good opportunities to fill up on the cheap this week and next -- provided you've got a little cash.
Whuh? Yes, there's a little money being exchanged before you get your freebie on a couple of these. Today from 11am to 2pm, are Potbelly Sandwich Works locations are giving away a free bag of Zapp's chips with every sandwich purchase, in honor of Zapp's being their new chip supplier. And starting at 2pm, you can wash the Crawtater chip flavor out of your mouth with a free iced coffee from Au Bon Pain, no purchase necessary.
Then on Friday, June 5, the 470 Chicagoland Dunkin' Donuts stores will give a free donut with any beverage purchase in honor of National Donut Day -- which was started in 1938 by the Salvation Army right here in Chicago.
And next week, on June 11, Panera Bread will be giving away free samples of its new summer salads: Chopped Cobb Salad, Strawberry Poppyseed or Fuji Apple Chicken Salad all day. [via]
If you're like me (meaning, you have little to no self control when it comes to sweets), you've been guilty of making an emergency run to Whole Foods not for organic wheat germ or Acai berries, but for one of the way-inappropriately sized Carol's Cookies sold in their bakery. (Toffee Crunch is my fave.) Recently, I learned Carol's has been making these half-pound beauties in the Chicago area since 1979 - the year of my birth. Coincidence? I think not.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Carol's recently put out a call asking loyal fans to submit ideas for the company's next cookie flavor. (Yes, the winners get free cookies. Stick with me here.) To participate, visit Carol's Web site or join the new Facebook fan page, "Carol's Cookies Giant Cookie Club." The contest starts June 1 and runs through Aug. 12, 2009.
After reviewing all entries, Carol's bakers will select the top five flavors and spend four weeks perfecting the recipes at the Carol's cookie factory. The five finalists' recipes will be judged on Sept. 15, 2009, at the Carol's factory by Carol Goldman (yes, the Carol), and foodies Katrina Markoff of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Marc Shulman of Eli's Cheesecake, Bryant Keil of Potbelly's Sandwich Works, and restaurant critic Sherman Kaplan from WBBM AM 780 radio.
The winner will receive a year's supply of free cookies, as well as virtual applause from the online universe. Oh, and the champ also gets to be guest baker for two days at Carol's Cookies Highland Park bakery. The runners-up even get some cookie dough. So what more can I say, people: Cookie it up!
Every restaurant in the Belgium city of Ghent must now offer at least one vegetarian meal on Thursdays. Lisa Mullins of PRI's The World checks in with the chef (via Chicago Public Radio) at one top restaurant, who tells us about the great success he found serving a tofu product that "seems a little bit like meat." The BBC brings us the deputy mayor, not a vegetarian himself, who explains why the city is promoting eating less meat (play audio).
Despite the extensive list of nominees hailing from Chicago, the winners [pdf] of the James Beard awards, which were announced last night, contained only two awards for nominees from the Windy City: Grant Achatz's Alinea cookbook and Publican (for restauarant design, not food). Le sigh.
On May 5, lawmakers Washington D.C. will have an opportunity to eat school lunch in the Capitol Hill Cafeteria. But they need not fear: we are not talking about oil-coated cardboard pizza with watery skim milk here.
The lawmakers will be served what could be the future of school lunch, designed, and hopefully cooked, by Chicago-area high school students in culinary art programs. Back in October, the Healthy Schools Campaign, an NPO dedicated to the improvement of healthy overall environment in schools, held Cooking Up Change contest. (Photo from HSC.)Six students from Richards Career Academy High School won the first prize in the healthy school lunch division, and theirs will be the menu served to the lawmakers, with the help of White House Chef Sam Kass. The same menu will be served in more than 40,000 students across the country.
Alinea made the top 10 in the annual S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants survey sponsored by Restaurant magazine. That's not all that surprising, though -- Alinea's star has been rising steadily since it opened. What's a bit shocking is the continuing fall of Charlie Trotter's. The Lincoln Park institution has been on the list since its inception, but this year it didn't even make the top 100. This is obviously a major blow, coming on the heels of being dropped from New City's own Resto 100. As Michael Nagrant said then, "We don't dispute the fact that his Lincoln Park spot was influential in building the world-class food city we have today, but in recent years he's been a victim of his own success, as protégés and followers have gone on to provide more cost-accessible and innovative quality restaurants by watching him." Apparently that opinion is shared by many.
Chef Shin Thompson of Humboldt Park's Bonsoiree has been tapped to cook an "Artisanal European Wine Dinner" in June at the James Beard Foundation in New York. The meal sounds amazing: an inside-out trout, a velvet Zucchini Bisque with Maple-Poached Lobster and Eggnog Crème (it's Christmas in June!), and a Goat Cheese Cheesecake are on the menu. Tickets there run $100-125 per person, but save the plane fare and take the #73 bus to California Street instead. You won't be disappointed.
Green City Market moves outside to Lincoln Park (1750 N. Clark) on Wednesday, May 6, with a rally and 2009 season kick-off on Saturday, May 9. Green City will continue in the park Wednesdays and Saturdays (except July 4) from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Until then, Green City continues in their winter home at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 18 and Saturday, April 25. Alice Waters visits the market on the 25th for a book signing of her book, The Edible Schoolyard, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
We're giving you a heads up that the Food Network's Guy Fieri gave another PR blast to Kuma's Corner on an episode of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" that aired last night; it'll run a couple more times next month, too. So if your last wait for a table at Kuma's was three hours, now it will be five.
It didn't take long for our story about Hot Doug Drop to make the rounds about town yesterday, but before the day was done, the unofficial Hot Doug's delivery service was put on hold after restaurant owner Doug Sohn talked with Drop owners Nico Westlund and Greg Michaels. The services website was updated with the message, "We're taking time off for Passover and working out some kinks with the Sultan of Sausage... Please be patient, as we may have angered the Big Dog."
"We had that discussion with Doug," Westlund told me this afternoon. "Things are cordial and this morning we were able to meet to discuss things." He said Sohn didn't give them much hope that a full-blown delivery service would return, "but we may be able to use this notion of group buys in some way," operating more like a catering set-up than its current form. "The possibilities are still there, and we're excited to be able to work with Doug," Westlund said.
Sohn was less encouraging when I contacted him after the restaurant closed today. "I told them to present something to me, that I'm always willing, certainly, to listen, but that I wouldn't be hopeful."
Knowing just how hard it is for some people working in the Loop to make it up to encased meats emporium Hot Doug's, Nico Westlund, a nationally ranked bike messenger, and his friend Gary Michaels have launched Hot Doug Drop, a service that lets you email or fax in your order and have it delivered to one of two "drop" locations in lobbies of the Mercantile Exchange, 20 S. Wacker Dr., and Chicago Board of Trade, 140 W. Van Buren St., at 11:30am and 1:30pm. The service was launched a couple weeks ago for the benefit of friends who worked at the trading centers. "I used to deliver Bari Foods, and saw how much the people at the BOT appreciated having Bari in the middle of the day," Westlund said. "The idea of having Hot Doug's at a boardroom meeting is so appealing." The service was expanded beyond friends at the end of last week, and its Facebook page already has 170 fans.
Hot Doug Drop is unaffiliated with the restaurant, and charges $1 per dog for delivery. Hot Doug's owner Doug Sohn is not pleased.
If you've got a Lettuce Entertain You Frequent Diner Card, Monday is a good day to score some points. Present your card at any Lettuce restaurant on Monday and you will automatically get triple points. Maggianos, Don & Charlies and banquets are excluded along with a couple of other restrictions. Chow down and get closer to those gift card rewards!
Vosges has their "Green Collection" for Spring available now in their boutiques and on line.
The collection includes:
Ellateria - Indian green cardamom + dark chocolate + white poppy seeds
Kaffir - Thai kaffir lime + fresh coconut + dark chocolate
Kayoko - Japanese macha green tea + white chocolate + cherry blossom petals
Buddha's Leaf - Malaysian pandan leaves + dark chocolate + cocoa powder
Green Truffle Collection, $28-$42
Vosges is also making great strides in eco-conscious production. Their shipping department uses air-filled bags that are made from 100% post-consumer waste and are biodegradable as opposed to styrofoam peanuts. Vosges manufactures their products using 100% renewable energy and heir boutiques in Chicago, New York and Las Vegas run on 100% renewable energy as well. Catalogs are printed with paper from a mill in the USA that is 10% post-consumer waste and certified for sustainability.
So you can feel good about all that chocolate you snarf down.
951 W Armitage
520 N Michigan (North Bridge Mall)
Sunday is the start of World Water Week (which kicks off with a one-mile walk and other festivities at the Field Museum) and the Tap Project, a chance for the nation's restaurants and restaurant patrons to help bring clean water to children around the world. For the week, restaurants around Chicago will charge $1 for the tap water they normally provide for free, and the money raised will go to UNICEF's clean-water works. The Tap Project web site has a list of participating places in and around town. There's an inspiring variety, in terms of location and price point, including the Goddess & Grocer, Naha, Southwater Kitchen, Big Bowl and C-House, the kitchen featuring Marcus Samuelsson, celebrity chef and UNICEF Ambassador (and, some might say, tall, cool glass of water himself).
Evanston bakery Kim's Kitchen (located at 815 Noyes) was mentioned in a NYT piece about the loveable whoopie pie. Kim's sells pumpkin and chocolate versions, and judging from a picture accompanying the story, they're the size of Quarter Pounders. If you can't make the trek up north, Trader Joe's also sells whoopie pies in their baked goods section.
The Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit is being held in Chicago this week, with a few choice quotes from the kings and queens of industry in attendance being released to the public to chew on, and it looks like they've finally given an ear to healthier eating:
"With the success of Starbucks and Jamba Juice, there are a lot of people interested in oatmeal, it's becoming the new black. Oatmeal is in."
--Mark Schiller, President of Pepsico/Quaker Food and Snacks Division (maker of Frito-Lay, Rice-a-Roni, Aunt Jemima, and of course, Pepsi products)
"There is a perception that high fructose corn syrup is evil and that's changed some behavior. Some manufacturers are taking it out of products. We're taking some out. We've had some push back from natural foods centers."
--David Wenner, CEO, B&G Foods (maker of Ortega brand foods, Cream of Wheat products)
More interesting trends: meat sales aren't doing as well as a result of economic problems ("Huzzah!" to our livestock in the audience), but restaurant business is slowly picking up again and rural economies are doing well in this recession, which could mean that (overall) brighter days are ahead. But I'm sure you already knew that.
The Heartland Cafe was closed by city inspectors Thursday after finding that perishable ingredients were poorly refrigerated, a "black slime" was growing in the ice machines, and the restaurant had a rodent infestation. Heartland's owners vow to correct the problems. The restaurant has no prior health violations (their last passing inspection was in July 2008), and their website now states that they are closed for renovations.
I stopped in Whole Foods today to pick up some wax-paper bags for my daughter's lunch box. I stopped using plastic baggies last year, and since then have been packing her sandwiches and snacks in little plastic containers. But recently I've been hearing scary stuff about the plastic, which, they say, leaches when I wash it in the dishwasher. So I'm using the wax bags now. While there, I also picked up some overpriced antibiotic-free lunch meat. Then went home and looked through the New York Times. In it, I found more to worry about as I pack those lunches. Nicholas Kristoff's column today is about MRSA, or staph infections on the skin that are resistant to antibiotics. Kristoff links the buggie pimples to "the routine use -- make that the insane overuse -- of antibiotics in livestock feed." Time to hit Whole Foods again; this time for the fake meat and tofu.
The NYT profiles Springfield, Missouri, the capital of self-important actors and...cashew chicken. What began as a Chinese restaurant's 1950s-era renovation of an American dish turned into a citywide obsession (and culinary culture war?).
The Trib reports that Yelp.com, the opinions website that gives everyday folks a chance to applaud or criticize thousands of businesses, has been conducting some unfavorable business of its own. Yelp staffers reportedly approached owners of local businesses (e.g. Ina Pinkey of Ina's and Patty Rothman of More Cupcakes) to ask for sponsorship of Yelp events in exchange for guaranteed higher ratings for their business's entry. Graham Elliot Bowles says he had his Yelp account suspended after personally contacting reviewers whose entries about his restaurants seemed questionable, and several other business owners claim that Yelp removed positive entries after they passed on offers to advertise on the Yelp website.
This doesn't seem shocking. What comes to mind is a restaurant whose review skyrocketed after a free party held exclusively for Yelp "Chicago Elite" members a couple years ago. While the food is perfectly edible, the place will never be a culinary standout in the city. Here's a review from the night of the Yelp party: "Every bite was a mouthful of satisfaction." Now compare that to a line from their most recent review, written a few weeks ago: "It is always dead too so at least you know you'll get a seat."
Yelp, after all, is a business. Their Myths section addresses the problems cited in the Trib article and claims innocence in managing their site and customers, but I doubt that Rothman, Pinkney and Bowles are voicing their gripes merely for publicity. What do we do as customers? Continue to use it, but like any opinion, take it as another piece of information floating out there for us to use or discard.
Ward was restaurant critic and food columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, from 1978-1984. Prior to this, he was restaurant critic for the Chicago Daily News.
From 1969 to 1974, Ward served as editorial director for R.R. Donnelley & Sons in Chicago where he was responsible for producing travel and food magazines.
He began his career as a restaurant critic as editor and assistant publisher of Restaurants and Institutions, a food service industry trade magazine from 1960-1969.
Ward, a Chicago native, graduated from Loyola University, and holds a Master's degree in political history from the University of Chicago. He and his wife reside on the city's north side.
Ward was memorable for his often flamboyant delivery and purple prose, employed here in this review of Lindy's Chili (from early 2000s, judging from the website at the end) -- and his trademark red-rimmed glasses.
A hearty thanks to those of you who visited us at the Hideout last night for Soup and Bread. You were there to enjoy a bowl of the good stuff and more importantly, donate money to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which is having a tough week as they recall over 500 pounds of donated food containing peanuts due to the nationwide salmonella outbreak. That's a bowl of boo-hoo if I ever saw it, so make sure you head to the Depository's Sunday Soup-Off event to help them out in this trying time. You'll also get another bowl of the good stuff.
For a sad reminder that small businesses need our support, Pilsen's locally owned neighborhood grocery storefront Soy Organic will soon close, citing "hardship times." They plan to remain open at 1700 W. 19th Street through the end of this month with sales of 30% to 50% off, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then move to operate from a warehouse. (312) 850-9801. El: Pink to 18th Street. Bus: 9-Ashland, 18-18th Street, 21-Cermak, 60-Blue Island.
Outstanding Restaurateur: Rich Melman of Lettuce Entertain You
Outstanding Chef: Jean Joho of Everest, Paul Kahan of Blackbird
Outstanding Restaurant: Everest and Blackbird
Best New Restaurant: L2O
Outstanding Pastry Chef: Jimmy MacMillan of Avenues, Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate
Outstanding Wine Service: Avenues and Bin 36
Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional: Anthony Terlato of Terlato Wine Group
Outstanding Service: Spiaggia, Courtright's Restaurant in Willow Springs
Best Chef, Great Lakes: Suzy Crofton of Crofton on Wells, Christophe David of NoMI, Curtis Duffy of Avenues, Kendal Duque of Sepia, Koren Grieveson of Avec, Michael Maddox of Le Titi De Paris, Martial Noguier of Cafe Des Architectes, Arun Sampanthavivat of Arun's, Bruce Sherman of North Pond, Giuseppe Tentori of Boka, and Paul Virant of Vie
No local chefs made the cut for Rising Star Chef of the Year, but otherwise a rep in every possible category. The finalists will be announced on March 23, and the awards ceremony takes place May 4 in NYC. See the full list of semi-finalists here [PDF].
Bleeding Heart Bakery received clearance to reopen today after a health department re-inspection found that all problems had been fixed. The bakery is offering a special cookie to celebrate: the "Kitchen Sink Cookie" -- oatmeal with flax, dried fruits and chocolate -- just $2.50.
Michelle Garcia of Bleeding Heart Bakery distributed a news release today explaining the circumstances surrounding its closure yesterday due to health code violations. The full text of the release follows after the jump.
Despite the shock and dismay that often arises with such closures, the reasons behind them are often more procedural than anything that truly endangers customers' health. In Bleeding Heart's case, some temporary and easily fixed plumbing issues and a late trash pickup were involved, compounded with some missing paperwork regarding employee certification, led to a mandatory closure. If it were just one of the three problems, the bakery may have simply gotten a slap on the wrists and an order to have it fixed for another inspection in a couple days, rather than a week off.
Obviously, if the inspection reported rodent droppings, things would be different. But if you look at the details on this case, it was much ado about not very much.
On Tuesday, March 3, Crain's Chicago Business and "Check, Please!" will host a party at Texas de Brazil to videotape people from all over Chicago talking about their favorite spots to meet for a business breakfast, lunch or dinner. Crain's will post a selection of these segments to its web site, ChicagoBusiness.com.
The party isn't a free-for-all, though. You must register here, and the deciders will let you know if you're in.
The S-T reports that like the hustlers they are, Wal-Mart is renewing their interest in opening several stores on the south side in "food desert" neighborhoods (e.g. Chatham, Pullman) that have little or no access to full-service grocery stores. A Wal-Mart spokesperson said there's "a new sense of urgency from aldermen due to the worsening economy and job losses." Bringing labor superstar Wal-Mart in to bolster the economy of underserved neighborhoods makes about as much sense as paying city aldermen almost $100k per year in salary. Carry on.
If the City of Chicago were to celebrate one seed to plant and cook from this coming growing season, what would you want it to be? NeighborSpace and the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance created One Seed Chicago to put the vote to you. Vote for either cucumber, okra, beets, or beans. The sunflower, not an option this year, took it in 2008. Submit your physical address and you'll receive a free seed packet of the winning seed, to be announced at the Green and Growing Fair on April 25.
If you've been feeling jealous of all the cooking apps available to iPhone users, such as Dinner Spinner, Grocery iQ and Beer Brands, among others, fret no more. Your regular, ordinary cell phone can transform your grocery shopping, food prep and cooking too. Wednesday's New York Times dining section tells of the many ways cell phones are transforming the lives of professional chefs and home cooks. A Chicago college student talks about photographing a lasagna with her cell phone, then IM-ing her mom about the lasagna's topping. Chefs use their phones to e-mail others in their kitchens, instead of yelling, as in the days of yore. And no one needs to carry a list around the grocery store; a cell phone, especially if it comes from Apple, can organize your shopping list by aisle. If your phone can't do that, it can at least help you remember when to turn off the boiling eggs so your apartment won't smell like sulfur for the rest of the week.
Cru Cafe & Wine Bar is closing its doors next Saturday, Jan. 24, due to the "economic climate," according to owner Debbie Sharpe. If you're in the market for higher-end wines, the cafe will be selling off some of their better bottles this week.
The space will be closed for three weeks for renovations and re-open as a Feast Restaurant + Bar, to complement The Goddess and Grocer next door. A new chef will be announced on Monday.
In related news, Feast Restaurant + Bar and The Goddess and Grocer are expanding to Lincoln Square at 4743 N. Lincoln Ave., right near the fountain at Giddings Plaza. Both are expected to open sometime around June. Feast will seat 120 people indoors, with sidewalk seating for 80 in good weather.
Green Grocer just received their liquor license and is now selling wine and beer. To celebrate, they are holding a wine tasting this Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. They will follow this up with "Tasting Tuesdays" every Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. Don't forget your grocery bags. 1402 W. Grand Ave. (at Noble). Bus: 9 Ashland, 65 Grand.
Phil Vettel released his best-of 2008 list (what a coincidence! we did, too), which applauds the opening of L20 (and claims it could possibly be the best restaurant in the nation right now) and the Publican, but claims that even with its warts, the Chicago Gourmet festival was the best food event last year (read Drive-Thru's coverage of the event).
The August 2001 episode of "Check Please!", featuring the then-State Senator Barack Obama and his visit to the Dixie Kitchen will air on Friday, January 16 at 8pm on WTTW. The popular restaurant review show will mark its 100th episode by airing this "lost" episode. (Via Eight Forty-Eight.)
The Wall Street Journal reported this past weekend that more than a few cocktails are showing up on Chicago bar menus in "honor" of His Honor, Gov. Rod. The drinks at Harry Caray's and Nacional 27 are name-checked, but most concoctions seem to include some pun on "impeach," mostly through peach-flavored or -infused alcohols, which leads the WSJ to wax historical about one particular Chicago drink -- the Cohasset Punch. The story is neat, and the drink sounds nifty -- give it a whirl at your politically themed holiday party!
From the Wall Street Journal:
1½ oz dark rum
1 oz sweet vermouth
juice of ½ lemon
½ oz syrup from canned peaches
½ oz Grand Marnier
2 dashes orange bitters
Start by putting half a canned peach in the bottom of a saucer champagne glass; then half-fill the glass with shaved ice. Put all the liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into the glass.
A Madison, WI-area man gets a write-up in the Wisconsin State Journal for his love of foraging for food, e.g. making his own "catnip energy drink" made of minced burdock and dandelion root. The story is truly mind-boggling when compared to how the modern forager lives: he roams floodplains and forests looking for snacks in roots and grasses while I silently complain over the ten-minute walk to the corner coffee shop to buy a muffin. He cites his south side childhood as an inspiration, "where our Italian neighbors dug dandelions and added them to the hot fat of fried bacon, heating them just to the point of wilting'." Spring's only a few months away, people.
Morton's turned 30 this year, and to celebrate, you can get free mini cheeseburgers this Sunday, Dec. 21, at any of their locations from 5pm to 6pm. (They also have a $49.95 three-course prix fixe deal if you're interested.) UPDATE: Morton's will also be handing out complimentary steak sandwiches on Friday, Dec. 19 from 4:30pm to 5:30pm at the Wacker Place (65 E. Wacker Place) and State Street (1050 N. State St.) locations.
On the other hand, The Reader's Free Shit blog reports that only half of McDonald's downtown locations are prepared to make good on the promise of free McCafé coffee on Mondays. The others either aren't participating or can't because the new machines aren't set up.
What could be cooler than being in culinary school and winning a trip to the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal because of your talents? Next year two Kendall College culinary students will do just that, having won the first Cockburn's Culinary Competition, which put students to the test of pairing entrees with Cockburn's Special Reserve Port.
Last Wednesday, Kendall hosted the final round of this competition, where three teams of two vied for this prize. Fellow GB-staffer Lori Barrett and I attended this event, where we got to sample Cockburn's ports and taste all three finalists' dishes.
This week Half Acre Beer Company received their Federal Brewers Notice, which legally allows them to brew beer in America. Although the label has been available since August 2007, Half Acre used The Sand Creek Brewing Company, a contract brewer in Wisconsin, to brew their beer. Now they'll be able to move production in-house when they open their new North Center brewery. Their timeline for starting Chicago-based production still changes, but as The Decider reported, it may not be until February.
Researchers at Children's Memorial Hospital are undertaking one of the largest food allergy studies ever, with families in Chicago, Boston and China as their participants. The NYT reports on the many difficulties of people living with severe allergies.
Looking for a good holiday cookie recipe? Check out the Chicago Tribune for winning recipes from the paper's annual Holiday Cookie Contest.
But what if you can't bake - or just don't feel like it this year? Chicago's bakeries can be your secret weapon for holiday parties. I surveyed friends and co-workers, asking them to tell me their favorite cookie in Chicago. Here are their picks:
The anticipation ends here: Epicurious released their list of food trend predictions for 2009, and the news will make you scratch your head in some parts ("Portland (Maine) is the new Portland (Oregon)"), and stare blankly at others ("Top-Rated" is the new "Critic's Pick"). The good part is that Alinea and The Violet Hour, which got nice shout-outs in the list, are predicted to still be "in" as of next year.
• Compare and contrast these approaches to making recipes from the Alinea cookbook: Decider/Reader and Alinea at Home. Oh, and Metromix (no photos, alas). I'm looking forward to having some time to try one myself.
• It's the time of the year to once again point you to Mondo Fruitcake, the world's only blog devoted to that unfairly maligned holiday treat.
UPDATE: Two scoops of Stephanie Izard: 312 Dining Diva reports Izard is teaming up with the guys behind Boka, Landmark and Perennial for her forthcoming restaurant, which Time Out reports will be called The Drunken Goat.
Earlier this year, Wicker Park's Sweet Thang bakery lost its lease and had to close its doors, Chef Bernard Runo promised to reopen in a new location. And indeed it did, at 2142 W. Roscoe Ave. in Roscoe Village.
Unfortunately, the new Sweet Thang is nothing like the old one. Runo appears not to be involved, as the new location apparently doesn't bake its own cakes and pastries, and prominently features a Chocolate Shoppe ice cream counter.
Wait, does that sound familiar? Oh yes, sounds exactly like the offerings of the late Sweet Occasions chain. And in fact, the new Sweet Thang is in fact a reincarnation of Sweet Occasions, which abruptly closed over the summer in what was later revealed to be a scandal involving unpaid employees, extravagant spending and more. In the comments on a post about the store closures on Edgewater Crime Blotter, a former employee made passing mention of one of Sweet Occasions' owners, Andy Singer, "concentrating on the purchase (with what money, I don't know) and opening of Sweet Thang in Roscoe Village." Reviews in Yelp -- which have been almost universally negative since the new location opened -- seem to confirm it.
Unfortunately, history appears to be repeating. Paychecks began bouncing, and after being confronted on the matter, Singer has closed Sweet Thang.
The employees aren't taking it lying down, however. They have teamed up with the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues to stage a protest and press conference on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 3pm in front of the store, demanding payment (full press release follows after the jump). Maybe they can get some money for all the unpaid Sweet Occasions employees, too.
Stephen Colbert last night reported on the brewing advertising battle between Progresso and Campbell's soups. Both have had full-page ads in the New York Times recently claiming to have fewer soups with MSG. Colbert would make a good commentator on this subject, given his love of MSG (he says his favorite soup is Campbell's MSG with Stars). But, it turns out he's "heavily and proudly invested in Campell's soup stock," he admits in the broadcast. He holds some beef stock, as well as some chicken stock.
Meanwhile, the Glutamate Association is also weighing in on the battle. The GA says that these ads might cause consumers to assume there's some reason for them to avoid MSG, a flavor enhancer that's been in use for 100 years. The FDA says MSG is a safe additive, and I believe that. But I was a bit horrified to learn from this article from Food Product Design that, surprise: like so many other foods ingested by Americans, MSG (a once natural product derived from seaweed) is made from corn glucose.
Stick with Colbert. He promises to follow this battle as it simmers.
Marion Konishi, founder of Kamehachi (open since 1967), will be honored today as the "first lady of sushi" in Chicago with an honorary street dedication at 4pm at the corner of Wells and Schiller (Kamehachi's Old Town location). Interested in the background of street dedications in Chicago? GB Book Club Editor Alice Maggio has the scoop.
• The Local Tourist and Tweating Out have launched Chef's Table: Chicago, a new dining series where foodies can interact with some of the city's leading chefs without paying an arm and a leg. First up is Powerhouse, and there were two seats left at press time. Get'em quick!
The fifth season of "Top Chef" premieres tonight at 9pm on Bravo. This time around the cheftestants and judges will be holding it down in New York City, but the show will still have Chicago flair due to CHIC grad and Between Cafe and Lounge Executive Chef Radhika Desai, who will be competing.
Even though diners may be cutting back on appetizers and drinks with their meals, recent research by Zagat has shown that 83% of respondents dine out as much now as they did two years ago. Also, the Sun-Times reports that the average cost of the Chicago restaurant tab is up slightly, to $35.17.
The Trib announced their Good Eating Award recipients, who are honored for their contributions to Chicago's culinary industry. Among the winners this year were Delilah's owner Mike Miller and Vanille Patisserie's Keli and Dimitri Fayard.
On Thursday evening at the Merchandise Mart, NEFF of Chicago hosted a fund-raiser for the Organic School Project. The evening was also hosted by Chicago Social and featured food from Greg Christian catering loosely based on what the OSP serves to public-school kids at Alcott Elementary school. (Christian founded the OSP.) Lauren Pett from Rich Chocolates manned a table full of mini mint-chocolate chip truffles, dark chocolate flavored with chai and other sweet treats. Hosts NEFF, meanwhile, launched a ten-week period in which the luxury cabinet manufacturer will donate 10% of every cabinetry project sold to the OSP. So, if you're in the market for some cabinets with sexy curves or a unique holographic finish, now's the time to hit the NEFF showroom.
Money from sources like this is important to the Organic School Project. They currently feed the kids at Alcott with very little money from the USDA's National School Lunch Program or the Chicago Public School System. It's becoming more widely recognized that the money schools get from the NSLP barely pays for food, once salaries, transportation and equipment is factored into the equation.
Chicago may have just come one step closer to daily farmers markets and seeing more local produce available year round. Chicago's Downtown Farmstand opened on October 1 as a pilot, and while it may close for the season this winter, the goal is to have it open year round next year. This market, in the Loop at 66 E. Randolph, stays open 5 days a week through mid-December - Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. - re-opening in the Spring. Products come from within 250 miles of the city.
The Farmstand, put together by Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs, reminds me a lot of the Green Grocer. Both sell a variety of local produce and locally made packaged goods. The Farmstand's refrigerated cases currently chill local English muffins, various apples, jugs of cider, preserves, small pumpkins, and greens like Swiss chard, arugula, and spigariello. Shelves and baskets are stocked full of locally grown beans, artisan bread, jars of vegetable dips, and locally roasted coffee. You'll also find Brussels sprouts, onion, peppers, green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes. Behind the counter near the registers, they'll make you a smoothie of cider, fruit and ice. Cooking related classes start September 11. Photo courtesy of Kate Gross Photography.
Mayor Daley is wagering a boatload of Chicago-based foodstuffs (Ferrara Pan candy, Vienna beef hot dogs) on the Cubs/Dodgers divisional title with Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who in turn has wagered a rice cake and some Pinkberry coupons (just kidding).
• Monica Eng sits down with chefs Graham Elliot Bowles, Paul Kahan, Bill Kim, Carrie Nahabedian and Jackie Shen to talk about a variety of things, including foodbloggers. (Bowles and Kim think we have too much time on our hands, apparently.)
Chicago Public Radio's Chicago Matters: Going Forward covers how the National School Lunch Program decides what Chicago Public School students eat for lunch, and how CPS is trying to make lunches healthier and from local growers tomorrow at 7:20 a.m. on Morning Edition and between 9 and 10 a.m. on Eight Forty-Eight.
Meanwhile, Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs brings Chicago's Downtown Farmstand to 66 E. Randolph with fruits, vegetables, preserves and baked goods from within 250 miles of the city. The pilot Farmstand will offer educational programs and lunchtime demonstrations on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Farmstand opens October 1, with a Grand Opening celebration featuring samples and demos from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Afterwards, the Farmstand operates Tuesday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through mid-December, and re-opening in Spring 2009.
Last month, I wrote a love note of a review in Drive-Thru to Orange on Harrison, the South Loop location of the popular local chain of brunch eateries. Well sign me spurned, because according to sources at Orange, the Harrison Street location is slated to shut its doors permanently by mid-September.
Apparently, the lease is up and the landlord wants more money than Orange's owners wish to bear, given the allegedly shoddy state (according to Orange) of the building and its HVAC system. Owners are hoping to make up for the loss in business with the opening of a new Orange later this month at Clark and Fullerton.
Say it isn't so. The best grilled cheese in downtown Chicago about to bite the dust? Where will the hordes of weekend students with visiting parents in tow who usually people the place on Saturdays and Sundays go? It's not like Yolk has the space to handle that many gourmet pancake-flight refugees.
I should have seen it coming. My last favorite, Pilsen's Take Me Out, burned down soon after I discovered it. Note to any eateries I've reviewed recently: you may want to cross your fingers for the next few days. Bad news always seems to travel in threes.
In all seriousness, a sad loss this will be for a neighborhood with few other close-by options anywhere near as cool, or with as good grub. Oh well, River North's Kitsch'n. I guess you're my new brunch daddy now.
• Meanwhile, Dish tips us off that Sweet Occasions in Andersonville has closed (end of column). The branch under the Damen Brown Line stop shuttered soon after that station closed for repairs, and the long promised Bryn Mawr location never opened.
Fulton's on the River was "scolded" (whatever that means) today by city officials after being caught removing the requisite large sign that announced the suspension of their operating license. A city inspection yesterday revealed a significant fruit fly infestation in their kitchens.
Here in Chicago, local salad spot Dream Salad is planning to offer free salads from 11 am to 2 pm on Friday, August 22, if Phelps wins eight gold medals (which will top Mark Spitz's record of seven)--and if customers show up with a business card. Dream Salad owner Rich Levy is a former high-school swimmer, and he's excited that Phelps has reenergized the sport. (Dream Salad is part of the Salad Spinners chain, but the offer is only valid at 200 E. Randolph Street.)
Free pizzas would be more in line with Phelps's 12,000-calorie a day diet. The guy eats at least a pound of pizza a day, but not a lot of salad. Any pizza purveyors out there willing to sweeten the pot?
Tomorrow: A benefit family-style dinner at Osteria via Stato (6pm, 620 N. State); proceeds will help fund a SFC delegation to the Terra Madre conference in Italy. RSVP required. Tickets are $65 for Slow Food Members/$75 for Non-Members.
Wednesday: The "Annual Garden Celebration" at Evanston's Dawes School Garden of Eatin' (6pm, 440 Dodge Ave). Bring a side dish for 10 people, a non-alcoholic drink and your own utensils. Dessert will be provided.
Thursday: Tomato Festival and Potluck Supper at the Chicago Honey Coop (6pm, 3740 W. Fillmore). Yes, another potluck, but haven't you always wanted to see the Chicago Honey Coop? RSVP required. Tickets are $15.00 for Slow Food members and Honey Coop members & potluck dish; $20.00 for non-members & potluck dish.
Chicago's newspapers and magazines have been overrun lately with articles and lists outlining where to dine or drink al fresco. But in New York, according to an article in the New York Times today, people are hitting the streets to dine where there are no restaurants. There's a story about a guy who hauls some food and drink on to the Brooklyn Bridge and throws a dinner party there every summer. Others tell about setting up tables and chairs on the sidewalk in front of their buildings. I spent a summer in Amsterdam, and every evening residents of the building where I stayed would bring out tables and food and wine. It's something that requires a certain amount of inhibition, and for the New Yorkers in the paper, a desire to take back public spaces that are starting to feel off limits. Two of the diners in the Times story live in and around SoHo, and say they're repsonding to the invasion of glass-walled condos and chain stores. One person even noted that "it's when money hits the street" that the feeling of community and spontaneity go away from a neighborhood. This is something a lot of people in Chicago have experienced in their own neighborhoods. So, why not haul out a card table, some chairs and a pitcher of margaritas, and show your love for your hood.
• Chuck Sudo reviews Graham Elliot, and notes of others, "Those initial reviews also seemed to have served notice to Bowles that, while he may have earned some benefit of the doubt in realizing the vision for his restaurant, that doesn't mean he should hang himself with the rope he's been given."
Mexican chorizo sausage, Asian pear chutney, Indian paneer cheese, chili mustard, served on a multi-grain roll. As the original Chicago dog reflected our immigrant heritage (Greek, Italian and Jewish immigrants), this encased meat reflects our new and future immigrant population. Latinos now account for 1 in 4 city residents, our Asian population is expected to grow over a third in a matter of a decade, and India presents the third largest group of new immigrants to Chicago. This new sausage celebrates this new Chicago.
The New Chicago Dog was created by open source programming consultant Kevin Haas; his masterpiece will appear on the Hot Doug's menu soon. All four finalists were pretty awesome, though, and "Hot" Doug Sohn has said we shouldn't be surprised if all of them — and others not chosen as finalists — made it to the menu at some point.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is exploring the idea of expanding commercial development, including grocery stores, near its L stations, according to the Chicago Tribune.
As a frequent visitor to Alta Vista Foods, a small but fully loaded produce and grocery store accessible from inside the Sheridan Red Line station, I can attest to how great it is to be able to pop in after work to pick up hamburger buns, lemons, tomato sauce or even a package of chicken legs. My husband and I got rid of our car last year, and grocery shopping is about the only reason we miss having it. Alta Vista definitely makes things easier -- and based on the fact that there's always a steady stream of fellow L riders in line with me, it makes good sense that the CTA is looking to spread the love to other stations.
The friendly and local Green Grocer is hosting an open house to celebrate the new seasonal magazine Edible Chicago, while debuting local farmers, artisan food makers and chefs. Bring your friends to sample, watch demos, get recipes, and buy lots of tasty groceries. Judging from owner Cassie Green's charismatic personality, this is sure to be a love fest that you shouldn't miss. Monday, July 21 from 5 to 8 p.m., 1402 W. Grand Avenue.
Sure, there's 80 years of history in Margie's, but it's cramped, cluttered and not all that comfortable, especially on busy nights when there are waiting hordes standing in every available space, often boring a hole in the back of your head as they try to will you to finish and leave. Not to slam a Chicago legend, but the city has a wealth of independent ice cream shops that offer better ice cream in a more appealing space.
We've talked about ice cream more thanonce in Detour, highlighting some of your many options. If Forbes wanted a classic destination, why not feature the Original Rainbow Cone, a South Side institution with at least as much history as Margie's — I'm sure they could scare up some notorious mobster to mention, too.
Or how about one of the amazing modern shops, like Bobtail with its tasty custom flavors — where else will you find merlot-chocolate chip alongside stalwart vanilla and chocolate?
New Communities Project has a great write-up of a new Woodlawn-area farmer's market. The market featured many of the same vendors you'd find at the Green City Market, from Bleeding Heart Bakery to Mint Creek Farms. The goal for this market, as well as upcoming markets to be launched in Englewood and Bronzeville, is to make more nutritious produce available to underserved communities. The Woodlawn market's debut was deemed a big success, aided in part by the acceptance of LINK public aid cards.
• The next season of "Top Chef" will be back in New York, but there will be a Top Chef Tour this summer, featuring several "cheftestants" doing cooking demos, talking about the show and offering tastings. It'll hit Chicago Sept. 3-4.
It had been two weeks since my last visit to Wednesday's Green City Market (vacation, bronchitis) and I was itching for a change from my daily fresh repast of garden lettuce. I was pleased to see so many people turn out at the market, including scores of cyclists who stopped by the Chicago Bike Federation's commuter station.
As far as fare goes, pie fixings ruled. Nearly every table hawked Earliglo strawberries and rhubarb. I picked up two quarts of berries and a bunch of rhubarb to make an early summer crostata.
Here's a longer list of what you'll find at the Green City Market:
The city wants each food vendor at this year's Taste of Chicago to offer a "healthy" menu item, and so far the qualifying entries are pretty questionable: Billy Goat's potato chips (for being healthier than fries), sugar-free and reduced fat Eli's Cheesecake, and Indian samosas, as they're made from peas and potato...which have been covered in dough and fried. No mention of whether ketchup will be classified as a vegetable.
Smoke Daddy, the "legendary blues kitchen" on Division, has launched their barbeque sauce onto the shelves of grocery stores like Olivia's Market, Southport Grocery and Cafe, and Provenance Food and Wine. They say it "complements the flavors of a variety of meats and chicken," but I'm wondering what it will do for all the tofu and seitan in my fridge. They plan to sell the sauce online and, by fall, nation-wide.
Carrie Nahabidian won Best Chef for the Great Lakes region. This was Nahabidian's third year nominated, and she was up against two other Chicago chefs, Graham Eliot Bowles and Bruce Sherman — as well as Iron Chef America's Michael Symon.
Much farther down the awards bill was Robert Louey Design, who won Outstanding Restaurant Graphics for their work on Sepia. Lastly, as previously announced, Tufano's Vernon Park Tap was honored with an America's Classics Award.
Greg Gibbs, of the Chicago Bagel Authority, is always looking for a big bite of food press. It's the CBA's 10 year anniversary, and over that decade, Gibbs & Co. have apparently tried every guerrilla marketing trick in the social media book, from film fests to jingle writing contests an upcoming toaster demolition derby. But what we'd consider truly newsworthy is whether or not you, dear GB eaters and readers, like or dislike CBA's steamed bagels and daily sammitches. Comment away!
Chicago Bagel Authority's toaster steamroll will take place on Sunday, June 15.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Dunkin' Donuts has canceled an ad with Rachel Ray because the black-and-white scarf with fringe that's draped around her neck looks too similar to a keffiyah, the wrap traditionally worn by Arab men. The company got too much flak from conservative critics and bloggers, who managed to look beyond the paisley print to see something more sinister. The L.A. Times's blog All the Rage puts the scarf in perspective, with photos of other celebrities wearing actual keffiyahs. Writer Monica Corcoran points out that "the kaffiyeh has been worn by many a Parisian grad student and dozens of celebrities -- including Colin Farrell, David Beckham, Kirstin Dunst and both of the Olsen twins." What's worse for Rachel is that at the New York Observer, there's speculation that hipsters will have to burn their keffiyehs now that they're associated with her.
The home office has already reported on Hollywood's invasion of Lincoln Avenue. Many of the storefronts just above Fullerton have temporary awnings, and windows full of clothes and goods from the 1930s for the filming of Public Enemies with Johnny Depp. At night the street is closed for filming, but during the day you can walk around and gawk, or gape and cause a block in traffic. The Red Lion Pub's facade didn't need to be changed too much. Down the block, the restaurant Fiesta Mexicana has been transformed into Mee Wong Chop Suey and is being used as an extras holding area. But you can still eat in Zig Zag Kitchen, which has a 1930s interior, complete with this menu hanging on the wall. They say Johnny came in and ate.
The New York Times reports on the Farm Bill's nearing to become law. It would make child care costs deductible for some families, increase amounts for food stamps and food banks, and, for the first time, provide incentives to grow fruits and vegetables. There is concern, however, that it will cost too much, particularly in corn subsidies. The article's title hints to anyone who says the bill would be more appropriately called the Food Bill.
This morning was the official launch press conference in the Pritzker Pavilion for the Chicago Gourmet food and wine festival, produced by the Illinois Restaurant Association and the Anton Family Foundation and backed by the City. The event will take over much of Millennium Park on September 27 and 28, with a gala opening party on the 26th.
Chicago Gourmet promises to be a culinarily star-studded affair, with nearly every Chicago chef of note involved (list after the jump). It's almost easier to list the ones that weren't on the initial list: Charlie Trotter, Grant Achatz, Homaro Cantu, Bruce Sherman, Michael Carlson, Mark Mendez of Carnivale. The festival will include food from Chicago's great restaurants, tastings of more than 150 wines from around the world, cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs on the Pritzker Pavilion stage (yes, you get to go on the stage!), and seminars on food and wine trends. A special family pavilion will offer kid-friendly food events, including a cooking demo led by Rick Bayless and his daughter Lanie. Additional events will be announced in the months to come.
Thanks to a partnership with the Culinary Institute of America, a version of the CIA's World of Flavors conference will bring chefs from Mexico and Latin America to Chicago to offer samples of traditional and contemporary cuisine from their home countries.
Tickets for tastings in the family pavilion will cost $30 per adult, with up to three children. The World of Flavors Pavilion will cost $95. There's no word yet on the cost of the opening night party or the other planned special events, such as a Grand Cru wine tasting, which will be ticketed separately. For reference, tickets for similar special events at the 2008 South Beach Wine & Food Festival ranged from $28 all the way up to $500 — $250 would have been a conservative cost for an equivalent experience there. In other words, your full price tag for Chicago Gourmet could potentially run toward $1,000 or more per couple.
Mado, in the old Barcello space at 1647 N. Milwaukee, has been open for just three weeks and is getting largely solid reviews, likely helped by owners Rob and Allison Levitt's proven track record at del Toro and others. And possibly also by this peek behind the kitchen curtain.
Mexique at 1529 W. Chicago Avenue hopes to bring chef Carlos Gaytan's Mex-French flair to West Town this month with its made-to-order tacos, fancy tamales, and a full bar to go with brunch. Every day more and more butcher paper comes down off the windows...it's only a matter of time.
After honing his upscale skills at Charlie Trotter's, Trio and Le Lan, chef Bill Kim is opening Urban Belly at 3053 N. California Avenue in Logan Square sometime in June. A family affair that will focus on noodles and dumplings, Urban Belly may also soon be the Northwest side's answer for weekend dim sum. We can only hope.
Dadaist art gets a nod from newcomer Duchamp, also opening in June, from a team taken from Lumen and Zealous. Taking up residence in the old Meritage space at 2118 N. Damen, Duchamp will feature French and Mediterranean-inspired New American plates with a neighborhoody casual-feel. And, egads, more brunch!
A small essay in the Chicago Tribune's Good Eating section today caught my attention because its subject matter touches on two of my favorite things: words and food.
The author, Kathleen Purvis, muses on the words we've created to describe devoted eaters, such as omnivores, carnivores and, more recently, locavores. Then she wryly dishes out a list of names for some of the "tribes" prowling the modern foodie landscape, including "opportunivores" (people who will eat anything if given the chance); "foodfearists" (adults who still avoid foods they hated when they were kids); and, my personal favorite, "snap-and-eaters" (those who take photos of their food to post , ahem, on food blogs).
Maybe a person who writes regularly about food shouldn't admit this, but I've not been terribly interested in cooking lately. I'm in a serious rut, such that not even last summer's issues of Gourmet, with their centerfolds of sun-drenched people looking improbably gorgeous while eating corn on the cob and barbecue spare ribs, have inspired me.
Tonight, I will mark my calendar for May 14, and dream of mounds of Japanese and Thai eggplant, orange and yellow bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, ripe peaches, fresh-picked lettuce and herbs, purple cauliflower, elephant garlic, Michigan blueberries, portabello mushrooms, fingerling potatoes ...
Democrats guzzle Evian; Republicans prefer Fiji. That's according to a NYTimes article on micro-targeting voters via food. As to how effective and accurate that is, I don't know, but I suppose it does make the political news easier to swallow for the style section-addicted news readers of today.
Our friends at Half Acre Beer let us know that owner Gabriel Magliaro is turning the ceremonial hand delivery of the first case of their beer to the Heartland Cafe into a fundraiser called the "Half Acre Hike." He'll be walking from Monroe Harbor, approximately 0 North, to the cafe at 7000 N. Glenwood -- about 9 miles north, carrying a case of beer the whole way. The walk will raise money for First Slice, a nonprofit that provides healthy, hearty meals to underprivileged children.
The walk gets underway at 4pm on April 26, and a party at the Heartland, featuring Chicago Samba, starts at 8pm when the walkers arrive. You're welcome to sponsor Magliaro -- or join him on the walk and raise money yourself (no need to carry a case). Call 312-492-8494 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
• Also on April 26, there's a great event for fans of beer ...and zombies. Chicago is finally getting its own Zombie Pub Crawl! The drunkard zombies will be invading Andersonville, and it's $10 in advance, $15 day-of.
Proving that high-end dining has friends in low(er) places, Grant Achatz of Alinea has announced that he will be teaming up with Dan Coudreaut, Director of Culinary Innovation for McDonald's USA, to develop a twenty-one course tour menu that combines Achatz’s culinary genius with the popular, familiar tastes of the fast-food giant. “It’s time to really push flavor away from the experimental and back into the sentimental,” Achatz said at a press conference earlier today. “McDonald’s has been single-handedly responsible for developing the American palate. We will learn a lot from each other through this venture.”
While most of the menu remains a closely-guarded secret, several dishes were revealed to the press, among them the “Happy Meal,” a trio of mini-cheeseburgers made from Wagyu beef topped with a housemade “Velveeta” savory cheese tart. A tableside deep fat fryer will prepare French fries infused with black truffle. The “prize” of the Happy Meal is an edible toy made from liquefied carmel and bacon lardons. The “Shamrock Shake” will consist of a gelee of green food dye, a single mint leaf, and a frozen “vanilla milkshake froth” served in a spoon. Achatz and Coudreaut would not reveal their plans for the chicken McNugget, but did indicate that their version would involve trout roe and nutmeg. For more information, click here.
On the heels of the revelations that the City's five cent bottled water tax has fallen 40% short of revenue projections, several restaurants (among them Ina's and Clarke's Diner) have announced that they will only be serving tap water as part of their pledge to Think Outside the Bottle, which promotes the benefits of tap water and the burden of one-use water bottles to the environment.
Thanks to Chicagoist for passing along some great news: Flossmoor Station is bottling! Look for it beginning April 5th.
Flossmoor has consistently impressed me since I first tasted their beers at the Great Taste of the Midwest a few years ago. Their brewpub serves up delicious food and is an easy and highly recommended trip from the city.
The nominees for the 2008 James Beard Awards were just announced, and Chicago has pretty good representation this year. The Chicago chefs/restaurateurs nominated are:
• Rich Melman, Lettuce Entertain You, Outstanding Restaurateur
• Grant Achatz, Alinea, Outstanding Chef Award
• Mindy Segal, HotChocolate, Outstanding Pastry Chef
• Brian Duncan, Bin 36, Outstanding Wine Service
• Spiaggia, Outstanding Service
• Graham Elliot Bowles, formerly of Avenues, Best Chef: Great Lakes
• Carrie Nahabedian, Naha, Best Chef: Great Lakes
• Bruce Sherman, North Pond, Best Chef: Great Lakes
Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap received a James Beard Foundation "America’s Classics" Award. The citation said, "One of the few remnants of Chicago's Little Italy, Tufano's Vernon Park Tap has been owned and operated by the same family since it opened as a bar in the early 1930s. The small table in the bar's kitchen has since expanded to include two dining rooms that are regularly packed with businessmen, police officers, families, and pre-game sports fans. The restaurant's chalkboard menu offers diners Italian-American classics like lemon chicken, eggplant Parmesan, and fettuccini Alfredo at prices that make just about everyone a regular."
In addition, the Sun-Times' Janet Rausa Fuller was nominated for Best Newspaper Feature Writing without Recipes for her story "Fish Fraud: The Menus Said Snapper, but it Wasn't!"; CBS2 Chicago's Vince Gerasoli's "Table for Two" was nominated for Best Television Food Segment, National or Local; and the WTTW special "Foods of Chicago: A Delicious History" was nominated for Best Television Food Special. Robert Louey Design was nominated for Outstanding Restaurant Graphics for their work on Sepia.
World Kitchen, the series of cooking classes sponsored by the Department of Cultural Affairs, has extended its class schedule into June; registration is now open for a range of courses, among them tutorials on Mediterranean cooking, making jam from seasonal fruits, mastering the art of improvisational cooking a la Top Chef, and baklava making with Armenian church ladies. Class fee is $30 (unless specified), with all sessions held at Gallery 37 for the Arts.
An Ebay bid for a corn flake in the shape of Illinois is currently going for $56; the auction closes Thursday. The famous flake's owners, two sisters from Virginia, plan to use the proceeds from the sale to buy more boxes of Frosted Flakes, because "[they] like cereal."
This week, a landmark Chicago hotel and a former Chicago hotel both get some time in the spotlight for their new dining options. Yesterday's Trib Tempo section trotted out a long Phil Vettel review of Lockwood, the new restaurant at the Palmer House Hilton (which had arguably been without fine dining even before Trader Vic's closed shop). While some have cited rocky service as a potential downfall at chef Phillip Voss's new establishment, the mid-century-style decadence and playful menu have others, particularly the other Phil, eating it up.
Just a bit further down Michigan Avenue, The Blackstone (Blackstone Hotel? Whatever it's called, it was a hotel, now it's condos. Let's move on) has also gotten a new kitchen crew with the opening of Mercat a la Planxa, a new tapas joint from Chicago-born, Philly-tried chef Jose Garces. The Mercat website (beware, annoying music) touts Garces style as "mod-Mediterranean" which sounds fun, and the grill-heavy menu sounds delicious. Tapas is something of a crowded market in Chicago, but the Southish Loop could benefit from a few more options, and some are already heralding Mercat's success. Mercat opens tomorrow, March 8.
Paul Kahan of Blackbird and Avec won The Chef's Chef, for "the chef who continues to make the kind of food other chefs like, while flying largely under the national radar," beating out Scott Bryan of Veritas in New York and Mark Vetri of Osteria and Vetri in Philadelphia.
Mike Nagrant of Hungry Mag won The Steingarten, for "the writer or blogger who actually gets it." He beat out Bill Buford, author of the best-seller Heat, and Pim of popular foodblog Chez Pim. Not even Nagrant expected it.
Author Michael Ruhlman and chef/author/TV guy Tony Bourdain have created the Golden Clog Awards, a goofy but fun series of awards named mostly for various TV celebrity chefs. The nominees have been announced, and two Chicagoans are among them: Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec) for "Chef's Chef" and Hungry Mag's Michael Nagrant for The Steingarten ("for the writer or blogger who actually GETS it").
The Washington Post's campaign blog is reporting that Ben & Jerry have decided to support Obama, now that their guy Edwards is out of the race. In more food-related detail, the blog says: "As part of the event, Ben & Jerry and [Vermont Sen. Patrick] Leahy rode in customized Honda Elements they dubbed 'ObamaMobiles,' to American Flatbread, a Vermont-based artisan pizza company. " Not sure if there's a pizza named after Obama. But, food blog Serious Eats says the Obama ice-cream flavor is called Cherries for Change. This is good news and, more importantly, a good pick-me-up for those suffering from Obama Comedown Syndrome.
Part A: The USDA announced the biggest meat recall in American history earlier today after discovering that California-based beef producers Hallmark/Westland did not follow proper protocol in the slaughtering of injured cows. The precautionary recall of 37 million pounds of beef covers sales from as far back as February 2006. Before you throw out that steak in the cooler, note that there's been no evidence of human illness, and the questionable meat would not have been sold in retail stores but rather to other food manufacturers. Yay! Yay?
Part B: Crains reports that Northfield-based Kraft Foods is trying to retool their Oscar Meyer frank recipe in order to make it (literally) a "beefier" competitor to rival Sara Lee's Ball Park Franks. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that R&D meeting!
A story in today's Tribune talks of the precious real estate and tight scheduling in 17 Chicago Public School buildings that results in lunch being served around 9am daily, with the next opportunity for students to eat being when school is over in the late afternoon. While the government mandates that schools serve lunch between 10am and 2pm, CPS received a waiver from the State Board of Education to serve lunch at such abnormally early hours at these schools. The students technically are not allowed to have food with them outside of their early lunch period, but the rule is reportedly unenforced so that students can scarf down food while changing classes.
According to the readers of the Tribune, the best neighborhood dining can be found not in the city, but in Forest Park. "But back to Forest Park -- and in particular Madison Street -- which packs 30 or so restaurants and bars in less than one mile. That means there's at least one place to eat or drink every 200 feet." It's also apparently good for shopping.
At least the runners up are both in Chicago proper. Lincoln Square was second, and Logan Square was a distant third (placing, perhaps, on the strength of Lula Cafe supporters alone.) The Trib certainly knows its audience, which is primarily suburban, and these results confirm it.
Montrose Avenue reopened for traffic on Friday, but that doesn't mean the knot of businesses around the Montrose Brown Line stop have all returned to normal.
Glenn's Diner, one of several restaurants and bars closed by the Montrose Hole, reopened today, and the neighborhood welcomed them back with a packed lunch service. Subway and Beans & Bagels returned last week, the latter having used the closure as an opportunity to do a little clean-up and remodeling. Other spots remain closed, including El Torito, Scot's and Roong Petch remained closed, with little activity inside. The water main break severely damaged the foundation of the building housing El Torito, so it's uninhabitable until the city inspects and approves the repairs -- a delay that may close the restaurant for good.
• Thinking of Drinking reviews a wide range of ginger beers (part one, part two).
• If you're a foodie, you've probably already seen this, but just in case, Slice's list of regional pizza styles is excellent, and includes all three Chicago-indigenous styles (deep dish, stuffed and Chicago thin).
Sunflower Market in Lincoln Park is closing February 21, or when supplies run out, according to a chalkboard easel at the front door. (They plan to close stores in Indianapolis and Ohio, too.) It might be tragic to loose a chain store that has supported Chicago-made products from granola to bakery since it opened about a year and a half ago. Still, it shouldn't be a shocker if the aisles have always been as quiet as I've heard them, and with Trader Joe's and Whole Foods within a few minutes walk. Now, the chilled walk-in vegetable section is almost barren, but their shelves are still relatively full. Reusable "Sunflower Market" shopping bags are free with any purchase. 1910 North Clybourn Ave. (773) 348-4667
With recent articles featuring the growth industry of personal image consultants (who would want to pay someone else to go shoe shopping? Does not compute) and the emergence of deal-brokering power breakfasts, Crain's has been all over the personal tangents of business life lately. Their list of the 25 best downtown business dining options is online today, with accompanying kind of hilarious video (the critics are shot with the same obscuring technique that goes into making a meth-user's documentary. Secrecy is funny) and interactive map-thing). They don't exactly cover new ground (Morton's and Gibson's steak houses? shut up!) but a few new, though still critically ambivalent names pop up on the list (The Gage, Table 52). If you're like me, most of your business lunches take place at the cheap taco place down the street, or maybe, if you're feeling particularly fancy, Potbelly's (wreck on wheat, holla!). But it's nice to have some suggestions in your pocket for that rare promotion-lunch or some advice on where to go for your first real wine-and-dining client signing. And at most of these spots, it's probably also nice to have an expense account.
• Dish points us to HotChefs.TV, a video site with a bunch of chef interviews, and notes that Harry Caray's Tavern will replace the former Hi Tops at Addison and Sheffield (didn't even know it had closed.)
Sometimes I’m not as good a foodie as I pretend to be. (My blog posting stats would bear that out, if nothing else.) Until last week, I had never been to Avec – though it’s safe to say that after that meal, I’ll be looking for a way back as soon as humanly possible. Especially since the menu featured an Iberian ham special for which there are almost no words. In a special reporting segment for today's Trib, however, food author and Spanish resident Janet Mendel offers up many many words to reach the same eventual conclusion. This ham rocks.
Here's the Cliff-Notes version: Iberian ham comes from black acorn-fed pigs from a specific Spanish hog bloodline, and is similar in appearance and texture to proscuitto. Our Avec waitress described it as being served with olive oil, which seemed reasonable in an abstract way until the plate arrived with naked shavings of ham, glistening in a bit of olive oil. So...that was pretty accurate, really. For $25, a simple plate of ham slices might seem a let-down – until of course you start eating it. It’s like pig candy. Pork crack. Words fail to do justice to its richness, its buttery-chewiness and salty tang. Only recently made available in the US, and whole legs (so ubiquitous in the decorating scheme of your favorite local tapas bar) won’t be up for purchase until sometime this summer, and will set you back quite a bit further than the comparatively thrifty shavings at Avec. Even at $1,000 a shank, it may very well be worth it.
The Chicago Tribune Web site reported today that some of the city's best restaurants will offer cut-rate, three-course, prix fixe lunches and dinners the week of Feb. 22 to 29.
For just $21.95 for lunch or $31.95 for dinner, you can enjoy an appetizer, entree, and dessert at places like David Burke's Primehouse, Naha, Blue Water Grill, Roy's Restaurant, and Smith & Wollensky. The slogan for the city's first-ever Chicago Restaurant Week is "Eat It Up!" And that's just what restaurateurs are hoping you'll do during what is traditionally a slow time of year for fine dining. Make reservations starting Tuesday.
While you were nursing a hangover on New Year's Day, hometown food critic, Steve Dolinsky, appeared on the Food Network's Iron Chef America. If you happen to have caught the episode or read Dolinsky's blog, that's old news. No word yet on when it will re-air, but the Hungry Hound pledges to update his blog as soon as he knows.
Both Metromix and Chicagoist have reported on Schwa's comeback. According to Metromix, Shwa's chef, Michael Carlson, was just taking time off to spend time with his baby daughter and spiff up the joint.
While Schwa won't be back in business until late January at the earliest, you can pass the time with Naz's foodporn, shot at the restaurant early last year.
• Sweet Occasions opens its third location, on Bryn Mawr at Kenmore, next Tuesday, Jan. 15. Three more locations, in Roscoe Village, Boystown and Lincoln Park, are planned for later in '08.
• The owners of Think Cafe recently began construction on a new restaurant, to be called Knew, in Wicker Park. No opening date set yet.
• At Wilson and Ravenswood in underserved Ravenswood, O'Shaughnessey's is nearing completion; looks to be a couple months from opening. From the external signage, it'll be a standard model Irish pub, unless they're serious about being "tea merchants" and "whiskey blenders."
• Metromix reports that a new beer garden is growing in East Ukrainian Village. The Old Oak Tap is aiming for a September opening.
• Pollo Campero will open its third Chicago location on a western stretch of North Avenue in the coming months.
• Eno, the wine room chain with an outpost in the Hotel Intercontinental, is opening another branch in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel; look for it to pop up in May.
• The beloved, belated Tiny Lounge (formerly under the Addison Brown Line stop) is soon to reopen in the former Charlie's on Leavitt space at Leavitt/Lincoln/Montrose. Let's hope for a quick build-out and open.
Zagat Survey has chosen the top 11 restaurants of the year based on cost, service and decor. It is an interesting mix with only two establishments hitting close to home. All of the restaurants scored a 29 out of a possible 30 points. Has anyone dined at these restaurants?
You may have missed the blurb in RedEye this morning on nudo-italia.com. No, it's not a Web site for Italian nudists. Nudo is the name of an olive grove in Le Marche, Italy, and you can adopt one of its trees for the low, low price of about $133.
In addition to an adoption certificate and booklet about your tree, you'll receive a package in the spring containing extra virgin olive oil from your tree, and another in the fall with three flavored oils. Olive oil aficionados out there are probably thinking, "Wait just one second! One tree does not a bottle of olive oil make!" You are correct: in fact, the oil you receive will be produced from your tree and about 49 of its neighbors.
The coolest part about the site is that you can choose which tree you want based on the varietal of olive, the tree's location in the orchard, and even what kind of "view" your tree has. If anyone wants to adopt a tree in my name, I urge you to choose one in the Ardelio grove, which boasts "a breathtaking view of Mogliano in one direction, and in the other, a marginally less breathtaking view of a dilapidated farmhouse."
Another one bites the dust: a bankruptcy judge has allowed the sale of the Pullman factory that produces Jay's Potato Chips, Krunchers and O-Ke-Doke popcorn to Pennsylvania pretzel manufacturer Snyders of Hanover. The closing results in the loss of 220 union jobs, although the snack foods will continue to be made in another factory in Indiana. If you want to know more about the rich history of Jay's and its ties to Al Capone, watch the next broadcasts of the earth-shaking Foods of Chicago documentary on WTTW this weekend.
The answer? Ebay. Burgundy Bistro, an Olympia Fields restaurant serving French/Cajunish/American food, has gone up on the market for $195,000. According to the Tribune, the Bistro's "hospitality and quality make it a gem," so I would hop on this bid soon. Hey, where's Olympia Fields?
Wine geeks in the South Loop have two new spots to shop in the hood.Binnys Beverage Depot and Sam's Wine and Spirits have both opened giant new stores on Roosevelt in the South Loop. The new Sam's features a wine and cheese bar and fine wine room, with two floors of wine and spirit selections in a landmark building circa 1928. Binny's new location, less than a mile west, is simply gigantic. In what looks like even more floor space than the Lincoln Park Sam's location, Binny's South Loop has a tasting room with over 100 wines and 16 beers to sample, a rare wine cellar, walk in humidor, and special section of their gourmet market dedicated to chocolate. Both stores have Grand Opening events scheduled for the week.
Never in my life have I been so steamed. The Tribune declares open season on serving pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, offering artsy alternatives created by local chefs. Jeez. The pumpkin pie is only reason why I even show UP for Thanksgiving dinner. As a kid, I didn't care about the turkey, cranberries, or the candied yams; it was the delight of seeing the empty Sara Lee box in the garbage, the small rim of aluminum foil gracing the crust to prevent it from burning as it baked in the oven, and the blistering top of the pie as it sat on the table waiting to be devoured. Very little has changed as I've grown older. This Thursday, you'll know what I'll be eating. And it won't be a ginger custard with cornmeal-spiced cookies.
PETA2, the PETA offshoot that knows even vegetarians care about cute clothes and vegetarian celebs, voted Northwestern University the nation's most vegetarian-friendly campus. There were 30 entries in the online contest. Northwestern was a new entrant this year and beat out last year's winner, Indiana University, with the vegan riblets, vegan pancakes and seitan fajitas offered to students.
Three years after their comeback in late 2004, Fannie May now offers a bit more than chocolate. Starting this Saturday, the candy company (hand in hand with Chicago Water Taxi) will be running free ferries that connect Oglilvy Metra station and the Michigan Avenue Bridge during the weekend holiday shopping rush. And you've guessed it right, there'll be chocolate samples to try on board. If the equation (Chicago winter plus boat ride) proves too chilly for you, you can warm up your fingertips with the complimentary cup of hot chocolate at their Michigan Avenue store (at Wacker Drive) after the ferry ride. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
According to the press release, the ferry runs on weekends from November 17th to December 23rd. Weekend service runs about every 25 minutes, from 10 a.m. to 6:25 p.m. on Saturdays and 10:35 a.m. to 5:12 p.m. on Sundays. It also runs on the Black Friday (of course). For the complete schedule, visit Chicago Water Taxi or call (312) 337-1446.
Newcity Chicago's latest paper edition features a "selective indie coffeehouse guide," helpfully organized by neighborhood. The collection of reviews is fun to read. Did you know there's a coffeehouse in Ukrainian Village where you can take tango lessons several nights a week? Or that you can get a tamale, Viennese breakfast, or even sushi with your coffee at shops around town? Despite the loss of institutions like Filter in Wicker Park, it's nice to see that so many indies are still serving it up hot and quirky in Chicago.
The Web version of the Newcity's guide is more extensive -- though my one minor gripe is that I wish it linked to the coffeehouses' Web sites, when available, so readers could more easily check out the menu and hours of operation.
Half and Half at 1560 N. Damen is closed. The inside looks gutted. No cabinets. Electrical conduits are all that are left of the counter - they rise up from the floor with outlet boxes at their tops and look as lonely as a few trees in an otherwise barren landscape. A sign on the door sends us thanks for years of business, and tells us that Feast (a block north on Damen) will have Half and Half's breakfast sandwiches as of Monday.
Earwax Cafe and Film is now just Earwax Cafe. A new door blocks the downstairs entrance to what used to be the cafe's video store. They couldn't compete with Netflix, someone coming out from the closed downstairs told me. I'm going to miss a guru of movies who used to work there. The cafe remains open.
If you're a chocolate lover with a little extra (OK, a lot extra) cash lying around, why not fly to New York to check out the world's most expensive dessert? The dessert, deemed the "Frrozen Haute Chocolate," earns its expensive price tag by containing the following:
- A blend of 28 cocoas, 14 of which are the world's most expensive varieties
- 5 grams of edible 23-karat gold infused in the chocolate
- A whipped cream topper containing even more gold
- A side of La Madeline au Truffle from Knipschildt Chocolatier, which retails at $2,600 a pound
And if that weren't enough, it's served in a goblet lined with edible gold, with an 18-karat gold bracelet with 1 carat of white diamonds at the very bottom.
To fulfill your extravagant chocolate sundae craving at a much more reasonable price here in Chicago, check out Margie's Candies. $50 gets you the Royal George sundae, which consists of 25 scoops of ice cream and a variety of toppings, including English toffee, fudge, strawberries, bananas and much more.
• Last week's Dish included a little more info about Butter's closing, news that NY chef Marcus Samuelsson is coming to town with a new restaurant this spring, and an interview with LTHForum's David Dickson about their Great Neighborhood Restaurants awards.
Sometimes the truth hurts: in a few days, Halloween will be here, and whether you work in an office building or are a third-grader, you'll be eating candy. Lots of candy, unless you're the part of the Power Bar and Aquafina set. The Tribune had a nice debate over whether candy corn or a mini-chocolate bar was healthier to eat, with the victor being the candy corn, as it has less calories and is sweet enough to curb your sugar jones. Frankly, I think the candy corn should be used as a chaser for the chocolate. Times are hard. Eat more candy.
Handlebar owner Josh Deth is pursuing financial help from the city for the redevelopment of a vacant storefront at 2323 North Milwaukee into a two-story brewpub and restaurant scheduled to open by the end of next year. Deth is asking for $490,000 in TIF (Tax Increment Financing) money to help build Revolution Brewing. Deth's proposal, which would be a welcome tenant in a blighted section of the avenue, has the support of 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colon and neighborhood residents. The TIF money would account for a mere 15% of the total bill to rehab the space. Deth's request is pending approval by the City Council.
The Tribune announced the winners of the eighth annual Good Eating Awards, which honors significant contributions to Chicago's culinary scene. This year's winners include educators, businesspeople, bloggers (i,e. Gary Wiviott, creator of LTH Forum) and local celeb Alpana "Check Please!" Singh.
Speaking of "Check Please!," we hear that host Alpana Singh will be hosting the holiday party at Google's Chicago offices this year. With Singh's sommelier skills and Google's budget, you can bet the folks at that party will be drinking well.
Production of Frango Mints, the candy mascot for Marshall Field's, will be returning to Chicago, according to today's Sun-Times. The mints have been produced in a Pennsylvania factory since 1999, but will now be manufactured by Cupid Candies, a south-side factory that is already familiar with chocolate-covered mints. The change was promised by Macy's Chairman and CEO Terry Lundgren in 2005 when the New York-based retailer took over the Field's chain and discontinued the department store's name and branding.
This year, localvorism has been the rage; Green City Market's eat-locally challenge immediately rushes to mind. Some, though, have gone further than just buying food from local sources. NPR has an interesting story on a guy who tried to live off of a hand-made "farm in his 20- by 40-foot Brooklyn backyard." At the start of his month-long challenge, he dreamed of collecting fat from his ducks and brewing vodka from his potatoes. When the challenge ended, he had earned the neighborhood recognition of eccentricity. Listen to the story here and see what he thinks of this extreme localvorism.
Chicago restaurants have been getting their fair share (though still short of the share they rightly deserve, one could argue) of national press these days. With Saveur's Chicago cover still gracing supermarket magazine racks, a related shin-dig scheduled for tonight at the Chopping Block, and the festive juggernaut of the Trotter's anniversary, our fair city's cuisine is not ready to give up the spotlight anytime soon.
If you missed Trotter-palooza and can't make it to the Chopping Block tonight, how about grab a drink in its fifteen of food fame? The October issue of Gourmet magazine has, as the frontispiece to its Drinks section, a piece on the mojito garden at Nacional 27 featuring seven kinds of mint with more herbal additions on the way. Cheers, Chicago.
• On November 8, Vella Cafe and Cellar Rat Wine Shop are holding a Spanish wine dinner. $65 (tax and tip included) gets you six courses and wine pairings for each. The dinner will be held at Vella, 1912 N. Western; purchase tickets at the Cellar Rat, 1811 W. North Ave.
According to Time Out Chicago, Schwa officially closed yesterday. No word on any new projects from Chef Michael Carlson but he tells Time Out that he will return to cooking in Chicago "after dealing with personal issues." I'm sure all of Chicago joins me in wishing him the best.
Bill Daley reports in The Stew that Governor Blagojevich signed HB429 into law yesterday. Starting next June, Illinois residents will be allowed to purchase and ship up to 12 cases of wine directly from Illinois vineyards and out-of-state wineries. This is in compliance with the 2005 Supreme Court ruling on Granholm vs. Heald which determined that states must allow all wineries to direct ship to their residents, regardless of their location, or none at all. Wineries within the state may not have preferential treatment.
There are a few more restrictions that legislators snuck in, though. Illinois residents will no longer be able to purchase wine from out of state retailers. Some of the larger Illinois wineries will be forced to sell all of their goods through distributors, which means price increases to the consumer and tougher competition from other brands.
While these details of the bill may seem trivial, they will impact Illinois consumers more than most folks realize. Winediva is investigating and will report more soon!
Meanwhile, The Stew has been seeking out filming locations for "Top Chef: Season 4," which is shooting here in Chicago. So far, they've learned that the Green City Market and the Boystown Whole Foods will be regular shopping locations. Know anything we should know? We'd love to hear it.
8:55 pm - I still hate Padma. I don't know why Salman Rushdie married her and I wish she could move her forehead. Sometimes she makes me long for Katie Lee Joel. Yikes.
8:58pm - Eric Ripert is so hot as to not really be comprehensible. That was schoolgirly, yes. And I've seen Part 1 of the Finale several times and he still makes me fan my face.
8:59pm - I am really hungry so order a cheeseless Chicago's pizza with broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes. That and the Amy's Apple Pop-Tart knockoff I had should tide me over. I'm also sipping a 2004 Everett Ridge Syrah from the Dry Creek Valley. Yum.
Okay, Blockers. According to Bravo's Finale Clock, we have right about 28 mins until the Top Chef, Finale Part 2. Here at GB HQ, we're all about Dale, but we could go for The Girl. We all hate Hung. I'm sort of thinking you all agree with this, yes? Nobody wants Marcel Deux, although Hung's hair has nowhere near the architectural importance of Marcel's.
One thing: During the live bit, we hope whoever is the loser gets as wasted as Marcel did last year. Yowza.
Richard M. Daley Mayor is a bettin' man. If the Diamondbacks end up winning the first-round play-off series against the Cubs, Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon will find the following items in a box on his doorstep:
-- Hot dogs and Polish sausage from Best’s Kosher
-- gum and candy from Wrigley’s
-- root beer from Windy City Soda
-- pastries and baked goods from Abundance Bakery
-- ice cream from Bobtail Ice Cream
-- Mexican food from Los Dos Laredos
-- pizza from Connie’s Pizza
-- nuts from Fisher Nuts
-- "various delicacies" from Harry Caray’s
What does Daley get when the Cubs win? "Ass-kickin' salsa" and a copy of Arizona Highways Magazine. Sounds like a raw deal to me...
Chicago Tribune's Julie Deardorff blogged earlier this week about a company offering "healthy, eco-friendly school lunches" to kids for five bucks a lunch. The company, Green Bag Lunch offers a meal containing "whole grains, lean protein, fresh organic fruits and veggies, and a delicious treat for dessert," which, according to Deardorff's blog, offers a lesson in portion control. All of the packaging is made of "re-usable, recyclable and biodegradable materials" and meals are delivered right to students' lunch rooms.
In theory, this a great idea, right? Well, that is until you discover that each school lunch costs five dollars, and that parents have to order a minimum of 20 lunches. If my math is correct, that's about $100 a month on school lunches for one kid.
Deardorff writes, "Weber acknowledges that a $5 lunch isn't for everyone, every day." Isn't that like acknowledging that healthy food isn't for everyone, every day? Who is it for then?
It should come as no surprise then that Green Bag Lunch is testing out their program in Evanston, Highland Park and Wilmette.
At least the goal is to get the lunches down to $3 each. It's more reasonable, but still pretty unattainable for many parents.
According to this story, Michael Baruch, who authored a book on Polish cuisine, has written new book on Chicago street food. The book is 455 pages worth of recipes for, the history of and photos of "Chicago’s beloved street foods."
Their blaring, repetitious songs may be tedious, but summer wouldn't be summer without the ice cream truck. Yet it seems they're facing regulation and possibly banishment due to safety concerns. The Tribune reports that in ironicly-named west suburban Sugar Grove, parents are considering a ban on ice cream street vendors, due to concerns about children's safety. The article reviews ice cream truck-related sound policies in several other suburbs, including Aurora, where the Eskimo Man truck driver simply rings a single bell as he rolls down the street. I don't blame him; with that 30-second song on infinite repeat, it's the ice cream man's sanity I fear for most.
All of the businesses on the East side of Lincoln Ave bewteen Wilson and the square have been without power since about 1:10pm this afternoon. Better call ahead before swinging by The Grind, Fine Wine Brokers or Costello's for an afternoon snack.
Today's New York Times Dining section has a preview of a new batch of restaurants that are set to open this fall in the Big Apple, but they don't entirely neglect the rest of the country. In a sidebar, the Times mentions a few much-anticipated openings in other cities, including Chicago. Here's what they say:
A few weeks ago, NPR took a look at the effects of Chicago's ban on foie gras one year after it was declared law. Correspondent Adrienne Hill visited Cyrano's Bistrot to talk to Chef Didier Durand about his method for getting around the ban and serving up the tasty liver treat without technically breaking the law. The segment basically confirms what we all already knew about the ban, that it's just another byproduct of ridiculous Chicago politics.
If you missed Top Chef's recent auditions, why not try out for their more dramatic (and less food-centric) cousin Hell's Kitchen? Auditions will be held Wednesday; click here for details. If you're looking to get into reality shows in general, several of them will be looking for their next cast here in Chicago over the next week; click here for the GB post that lists the opportunities.
Finally I can do away with the doggie bags: Governor Blags has signed legislation that would allow dogs to accompany their owners to outdoor seating areas of restaurants. The law, which will be reviewed by city aldermen later this month, would also forbid employees from handling the dogs; prohibit dogs from sitting on a seat, table or countertop; provide disposable towels and liquid hand sanitizer for you and your animal, and require cleaning of all spilled dog food. The law also states that pets can't be inside any restaurant or food prep area. Restaurant owners are not required to observe this law, and will have the right to refuse service to the dog owner in case the dog shows aggressive behavior.
HB429, a bill that prohibits Illinois residents from purchasing or receiving wine from out-of-state retailers, passed both houses yesterday. While it mostly affects high level collectors who purchase Bordeaux futures and very rare wines from stores in New York and California, casual wine lovers will feel the pain as well. Most California "wine of the month club" memberships will now be illegal. A thoughtful friend in another state can no longer go to their local wine store and send you a gift of Champagne for your birthday. Dean and Deluca may not include a bottle of wine in the gift baskets you order for an Illinois client. All of your wine purchases must now be made through an Illinois retailer, with a small provision allowed for folks to buy less than two cases a year, directly from an out of state winery.
There is some talk of this decision being overturned. It could possibly be in violation of the US Supreme Court ruling on Granholm vs. Heald in 2005. The high court ruled that a state must allow wineries from all 50 states to ship to their residents or prohibit their residents from receiving wine in the mail from any winery in any locale. Previously, New York and Michigan laws allowed wineries within their state to ship to residents, but no shipments were allowed from wineries out of state. The high court found this unconstitutional.
So what’s an angry wine lover to do? Visit FreeTheGrapes to read up on the latest news and use their site to contact your legislators.
Even if you're not headed to the classroom after Labor Day this year, you can still get a history lesson or two. This fall, WTTW 11 will present the special, Foods of Chicago: A Delicious History with host Geoffrey Baer.
While the show will investigate Chicago classics such as deep-dish pizza, Italian beef and the Chicago dog, Baer will also visit a pita factory while exploring the city's Lebanese culture, enjoy sushi at an Italian kosher restaurant and investigate Chicago's place in the candy industry.
McDonald's has reportedlycut local rapper Twista from its upcoming Live Trek musical tour, citing a conflict with the content of his work, including explicit language, drug references, and other derogatory material. Because, you know, one doesn't normally expect such things from rap music in this day in age.
But let's back up a moment... McDonald's is sponsoring a concert series? Oh yes, in yet another brilliant/wacky marketing move by the Oak Brook corporate giant, McDonald's Live promises to bring up and coming "multi-genre" artists to perform in, wait for it, a McDonald's parking lot near you! At the moment, though, Chicago fast food scenesters won't even get a chance to field the question, "Would you like Twista with that?" at the scheduled August 7 gig.
200 was the number when the city's health inspectors stop counting the fruit flies that infest the State Street Macy's food court. According to the Consumerist and Chicago Tribune, the city health inspectors shut down the lower-level food court of the Macy's State Street on Monday, following a recent inspection after a customer complained that s/he became sick from their pre-packaged salad.
Citing higher materials costs, Starbucks will be raising the price of most of its drinks by nine cents starting July 31. Thankfully, the cost of the easy listening CDs for sale next to the cash register will remain abundant and at reasonable prices. Everybody gonna dance tonight!
Looks like there was a "mild" 4.2 earthquake near Oakland California this morning. I made a quick call to nearby Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda, as featured in my post earlier this week, and the nice folks in the tasting room assured me no one was hurt and no barrels were lost. A wine shop in Montclair California was not so lucky. I'm having trouble with a direct link, but it you visit CNN's video section, and search Montclair, you will find footage of the damage.
Were you aware that July is National Blueberry Month? Well, in 1999 the USDA declared it as such, and to celebrate, two Chicago area restaurants are featuring menu items that put those little, antioxidant rich fruits in the spotlight. Karma is serving Blueberry Mojitos (with Stoli Bluberi, simple syrup, lime juice, fresh blueberries, and soda) and a "Blue-tini" (Stoli Bluberi, Stoli Vanil and fresh blueberries), while Dine will do it up with a more classic treat: blueberry cobbler. Karma is located at 510 East Route 83 in Mundelein, and Dine is at 733 W. Madison in Chicago.
• I noticed a "coming soon" sign for the Pannenkoeken Cafe in Lincoln Square earlier this week, and so did Mike Sula at the Reader. "Breakfast at 6am, Brunch" says the window. Mmm, early morning Dutch pancakes...
• ...And a block or so south on Western, Chubby Weiners is celebrating its first anniversary with a deal: two hot dogs, fries and a drink for $2.99.
In today's "Five for Frying" column, Michael Nagrant profiles Bill Dugan, fishmonger and sometime restaurateur. Dugan's shop on North Elston Avenue is a must-visit for fresh, sustainably caught fish and shellfish. Plus, their Illinois sturgeon caviar is to die for.
Today, we launch the first installment in a series about food on Chicago Public Radio's848. Be sure to listen to 91.5 FM today from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. or again from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. or online. We also have a feature up on on Drive-Thru which includes more of the story not included in the radio piece.
This is exciting stuff, so let us now what you think about the project!
Americans are more eager than ever to try new ingredients and new flavors. NY Times says food companies and chain restaurants are working their butts off to keep up with the accelerating demand for the new and the hip. An example is the Chicago-based Wrigley, which introduced "mint mojito" gum back in January. Where did they get the cue that consumers might be ready for that exotic taste? That was when they noticed the flavor "showing up in candles and bath products."
It's been a weird year for food safety. A banner year, perhaps, if you're an FDA employee and get your kicks from getting your hands dirty and protecting the public. But a disturbing year if you're, you know, everyone else. From tainted pet food and the quiet horrors of unwittingly endangering man's best friend, to e. coli ridden spinach and salmonella-laced peanut butter, more than a few consumers are entering grocery stores on their own new level of orange alert.
Looking back to the source of these nasties' introduction into our American cornucopia, NPR's All Things Considered recently spent some time with Gurnee, IL wholesaler Woodland Farms to talk about food imports and the new safety obsession. (Read the whole story here and be comforted that some suppliers still hold themselves to the highest standards.) While the nightmare landscape of Upton Sinclair may no longer be the backdrop of American food production, we are most certainly hacking our way through a new jungle of imports, additives and biological abuses at the most microscopic level. Happy hunting.
This Saturday, you'll have an opportunity to live out your dream of riding in a public transportation vehicle disguised as food should you board the Chexpress, which is a CTA bus dressed up in...chocolate Chex cereal. According to our buddies at the Tribune, four decorated buses will be in service most of the day (no word on which routes will be used, although it will definitely be one that travels north/south in the downtown area). Adding to the giddiness of your travel experience, the ride will be free, and you may even get a cereal sample.
I don't know what was with the Speed 2 moment there, sorry about that. However, if you happen to cruise down Belmont avenue in the near future, keep an eye out for the new Bleeding Heart Bakery location at 1955 W. Belmont in the former Phillips Bakery space. Staff at the current location says they're still not clear on the details of the move, and the Chicago Avenue location may continue on as a bake-shop and lunch locale, while the new Belmont shop would be the home base for all operations. If this means more hibiscus pancakes with lemon curd for Roscoe Village, that neighborhood just got a whole lot more plausible as a brunch spot (for some of us, anyway, because my God, have you tasted them? Go taste them. Now), though we'd be a little sad to see the Bleeding Heart team leave their current adorable digs.
According to the Tribune, Indiana State Fair is going trans-fat-free for the 7000 gallons of oil it consumes during the 12-day (Aug. 8-19) festivity. To ensure that all its food vendors oblige, the Fair is requiring them to purchase the frying oil from the fair itself. What are the Illinois Fair people thinking about the issue? Well, they think--the Illinois State Fair manager Amy Bliefnick says--that fairs are for splurge and fun, and you can get your healthy food elsewhere.
While eating brunch with a friend recently, I found a hair stuck to a piece of bacon. If I was home, I'd forget about it quickly, as I'm the only one frying the bacon (and bringing it home, I might add), but obviously I'm in a restaurant, so my reaction was different. The waiter apologized and quickly brought over a replacement plate. My experience was minor compared to some of the horror scenes that city health inspectors encounter when visiting restaurants, such as parades of cockroaches, mountains of mice droppings, and poorly refrigerated or stored ingredients. An article in today's Tribune dicusses the number of restaurants in Chicago that have been permanently or temporarily shuttered due to health violations in the past year, and how to notice the warning signs of a poorly maintained eatery. Another resource you can use is the city's online database for researching inspection status of restaurants.
An article in today's Sun-Times uncovers the hottest new trend (huh?) in bars: groups of customers ordering a pitcher of alcohol to share, instead of (wimpy) individual glasses. The trend, according to the South Water Kitchen bartender who was interviewed for the story, has also extended to home entertaining, especially when grilling is involved, as "most [pitcher drinks] are more diluted than most cocktails." Well, he apparently was not collecting data at my apartment. The article also lists several recipes for popular pitcher drinks, one of which involves coconut flakes.
Today's Tempo section of the Chicago Tribune features a front-page spread on Monica Eng's successful consumption of 253 different dishes featured at the Taste of Chicago. Ignoring the annoying mystical food-wisdom flashes from two professional (?) eaters consulted for the ordeal, ahem, challenge, and let-down in the recommendations (only 3 desserts get a shout out?) it's an interesting piece in that car-wreck-can't-look-away kind of way. Thankfully no reporting on purging accompanies the story of the binge, and for the low low price of $1,022 you too could throw down the Taste Gauntlet. Though Monica doesn't seem to imply that you should.
Got an itch for a very specific flavor of ice cream? Pomegranate with chocolate-covered cherries and marshmallows, maybe, or lavendar-honey-orange marmelade? Your wish is the command for Aria's Chef Noah Bekofsky.
This summer, Chef Bekofsky is answering a custom ice cream hotline for guests at the Fairmont Hotel -- as well as locals jonesing for a special scoop. All he needs is 48 hours notice and a novel idea — don't be calling him for any old Baskin Robbins flavor — and he'll whip up a pint of the flavor you're dreaming of. It costs $12 for a pint. Call 312-565-8000 for details.
• Sweet Cakes Bakery is now open, friendlily serving vegan and non-vegan cookies, scones, cupcakes and more behind an open door in a wooden wall along the sidewalk at 935 N. Damen Avenue. A large patio hides inside, including a 7-foot or so tall tower of increasingly small metal Tonka-like trucks (photo), as you walk back toward the bakery. Their vegan chocolate chip cookie (photo) has a good outside crunch with a tender inner chew and chips small enough to easily melt in the mouth. It costs one dollar. They brew Casteel Coffee, roasted in Evanston. Closed Mondays. Tuesday - Sunday 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
• Lovely, "a bake shop", opened today at 1130 N. Milwaukee (photo) with homey tables and stools along a bar (photo). Monday - Friday 7 a.m. - 7 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
• The Division Street favorite, Milk & Honey is opening a bakeshop in July at 1543 N. Damen. Time Out Chicago this week says we can expect mostly takeaway but a few stools, with cakes, cookies, focaccia, panini and salads. Meanwhile, Milk & Honey's Web site announces a Milk and Honey Granola at 1520 N. Damen, the address of the closed and boarded Del Toro.
Chef Joel Dennis, most recently Chef de Cuisine at Tru, has been named Executive Chef at Blue Water Grill Chicago. Before moving to Chicago, Chef Dennis worked under several other rock-star chefs including Alain Ducasse and Charlie Palmer. Wonder if we'll get a Blue Water version of the caviar staircase?
This morning's Chicago Public Radio news update had it that Logan Square's farmers' market starts to accept LINK Card this Sunday. (Though I couldn't find the CPR news item, I did find a few references to the new program, one of which is a Tribune article.) This is pretty cool, though I don't know how much fresh produce people can sneak into their very limited food stamp budget (especially after reading a few senators' pathetic attempt at eating at the food stamp budget back in May).
• Chicago Foodies reminds us that Thursday, June 21, is Caribou Coffee "Cooler Day;" stop by your local 'Bou in the 2 o'clock (pm) hour for a free 12-oz. Northern Lite Cooler drink in a choice of chocolate, vanilla or caramel.
• We've stayed out of the fray piling praise on Coalfire, and that's not going to stop quite yet. We will, however, point you to the news over at Menupages (where else?) that Coalfire has changed its menu after just six weeks in business.
• Ukrainian Village's Dodo is now open for dinner, and serving specials to boot, weekdays only from 5 to 9 p.m. BYOB. Dodo is also open weekdays 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and weekends 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They told me that they hope to have air conditioning in a few weeks.
• Sweet Cakes Bakery hopes to open Tuesday at 935 N. Damen Avenue, (773) 772-5771.
• Taste of Randolph Street kicks of Friday; of all the neighborhood festivals, this is the one with probably the best food and the best music — where else can you nosh on food from Sushi Wabi or Red Light while listening to Fountains of Wayne?
It seems there are few things that life in Chicago can't turn into a big-ass ridiculous political showdown, and the eating of big-ass goose livers is apparently no exception. With the Chicago City Council foie gras ban on the books for over a year, the fuss surrounding the issue and all its attendant concerns (save the geese! save the gourmands! save DougSohn! save the constitution!) continues at a low roar. This month alone, the Foie Gras Debacle (FGD) has received attention from PETA, a federal judge, and the US House of Representatives. This month will see the City Council consider a repeal of the ban, just in case anyone was ready to call it a day.
For those who just miss something salty to go with their cornichons, it does seem to be verging into surreality. And yet, beyond the silliness of the FGD, perhaps there are some real issues at stake...
While gas prices climb to ever greater heights, the ripple effect has in fact hit food prices even worse. Across the board we’re paying an average of 3.7% more for food than we did last year (gasoline was up 2.8%), and the experts feel that increase might double by this year’s end according to a story in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune.
Apparently the blame rests on a vague mix of fuel prices, bad weather and general inflation (that’s economics for ya). Predictions note that prices will cycle back down eventually like they did after a spike in the early 1990’s, but no one’s guessing exactly when. Meanwhile, what we pay for bread will likely soar well above the 6% rise we’ve already seen and the 18.6% extra we’ve already been paying for eggs could double.
The moral? Enjoy that omelet and toast brunch now ‘cuz next month, it might cost more than your electric bill.
We've been bracing for the cicada invasion for over a week now; the Sun Times published a prediction that May 22nd would be the big day earlier in the month. I think most of the little red-eyed creatures were stymied by the chilly weather we had last week, and are late to hit the city streets. But they are beginning to emerge in the suburbs. My son brought one home from school today. He got it from a friend who'd come to school with a take-out container full of cicadas he'd found in his uncle's backyard.
Meanwhile, other Chicagoans are boiling water, preheating ovens and sharpening skewers in preperation for a cicada feast. The Reader's and our David Hammond joined Marilyn Pocius, authur of "A Cook's Guide to Chicago," on ABC News recently to talk about cooking and eating cicadas. Pocius's book includes recipes for dishes like Cicada-bobs, Cicada Tempura and martinis garnished with fried cicadas on toothpicks rather than olives. Hammond, meanwhile, has posted on The Food Chain about how the cicada's taste is reminiscent of peanut butter, so he put his on a celery stick with a dollop of blueberry preserves. He's going to be on Chicago Tonight tonight, offering cicada-cooking tips to those with strong stomachs. See also his feature describing the media frenzy over his cicada cookery.
If the dishes look good, at LTHforum, people are tossing around the idea of getting together for a cicada-thon. As for myself, I'm going to make sure our pet cicada has enough air in his new home.
MSNBC.com is reporting that two Chicago area people became ill after eating a frozen product labeled as monkfish but that actually may turn out to be a poisonous pufferfish. This on the tail of a Sun Times report busting a number of high profile Chicago restaurants for selling any number of fish as "red snapper" that were far from snapper, including tilapia.
• Trattoria No. 10 is offering a dinner and ticket package with High School Musical, including a spectacular buffet with beverage in the private 1st floor dining room, all taxes and gratuities, a special HSM souvenir and complimentary valet parking. $130 per person.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Daley announced today that he intends to have a vote to repeal the foie gras ban in Chicago. Looks like Alderman Ed Smith took the challenge to his committee's ban quite personally, saying "my professionalism, my manhood, my integrity is at stake." Seriously? Read more here.
• Gridskipper doesn't seem to know how to talk about Chicago's culinary scene without trotting out deep-dish pizza and hot dogs; they're in there again in the intro to this round-up of Chicago vegetarian dining. At least there's no mobster reference.
Condé Nast Traveler published its annual "Hot List Tables" feature, a list of the best restaurants around the world. Out of 95 listings (39 in the US and Canada), two are in Chicago. I bet you think you can guess them, right? Well, you're probably wrong.
• Webster's Wine Bar is host to the 2nd Story Festival through May 13. Go drink wine and listen to great storytelling.
• Pinstripes, a bowling/bocce/bistro concept in Northbrook, opens this Sunday, April 29.
• Peerless Candy, makers of those little candies in the metallic strawberry wrappers, closes Monday, April 30. [via]
• Not a single person in this LTHForum thread has had a bad thing to say about Pasticceria Natalina, 5406 N. Clark — and neither has any review so far. The prices are a little high, but the top-grade, imported ingredients and perfection in detail and preparation more than justify. Stop in a couple doors down at Bon Bon for handmade chocolates to match.
Indie rock and food seem to go hand in hand these days. According to Pitchfork, I Like Food, Food Tastes Good, a cookbook with recipes by the Decemberists, the Hold Steady, Belle and Sebastien and more than 100 other bands, is due out today. Time Out New York reports that the Decemberists "contribute a recipe for pork loin with poblano chilies, while Death Cab for Cutie offers one for a scary-sounding veggie-sausage and peanut-butter sandwich."
This sort of thing follows in the same trend of Franz Ferdinand's lead singer, Alex Kapranos' recent book, Sound Bites. And also this.
• Hungry Mag's Michael Nagrant has a new weekly column in the Sun-Times (jeez, who doesn't he write for these days?) called "Five for Frying," in which he grills local chefs with "five fun questions." Watch for it every Tuesday.
In the midst of a publicized legal battle over their building lease, Jimbo's Lounge, the conveniently located tavern near U.S. Cellular Field, will likely be open throughout this baseball season. The bar management claims that the Sox's recent success contributed to the dispute, as the landlord may have wanted to level and rebuild the place to accommodate the new throng of baseball enthusiasts in the area. If that's the case, Jimbo may want to close up shop and split anyway, given how well the Sox are doing this season.
• Dish confirms that Pasteur, the beloved French-Vietnamese restaurant, will be closing so the owners can concentrate on their newer places, Simply It and Viet Bistro. No closing date was given.
• Also from Dish, Bobtail Ice Cream is having a "Birth of a Flavor" contest. Stop into one of their stores and submit your suggestion for a brand new flavor by April 30th. You can also enter to be one of the judges of the five semi-finalists on May 3. The final winners — one kid flavor, one adult — will debut on Mothers Day, May 13.
• Ever wonder what the "LTH" in LTHForum stands for? Pay close attention in this dim sum round-up on Hungry Mag and you'll see that Michael Nagrant reveals the secret. (I hope that doesn't get him in trouble.)
• Cooking Fools in Bucktown announced by e-mail a vegan cooking class to teach "delicious savory and sweet vegan dishes ... utilizing non-meat proteins, beans, grains, nuts and seeds, non-dairy products, and of course, fruits and vegetables," on Wednesday, April 18.
• Finally, I can't get enough of the amazing photography and anecdotal recipes at 101cookbooks.com.
• A new Indian place, Bombay Grill, is scheduled to open April 14 just north of Irving Park on Sheridan, next door to the Holiday Club.
• The old Biasetti's Steakhouse (notable in later years mainly for having been reviewed by Ira Glass in the Reader) closed last year, and its replacement, Cordis Brothers Supper Club, 1625 W. Irving Park, plans to open "mid-April" according to its website. Rumor has it the new restaurant remains in the Biasetti's family — it's supposedly run by nephews of the old owners. Look for a "Wisconsin supper club mixed with 1930s-40s" vibe, which sounds suspiciously like Lettuce Entertain You's Wildfire. Stay tuned.
The nominations for the 2007 James Beard Foundation Awards are out, and a slate of Chicagoans are on the list. They include, among others: Isabella and Olivia Gerasole of the spatulatta.com Cooking 4 Kids webcast; Mindy Segal, of Hot Chocolate on Damen, for Outstanding Pastry Chef; Tony Mantuano, of Spiaggia, for Outstanding Restaurant; and Graham Elliot Bowles, of The Peninsula's Avenues, for Rising Star Chef of the Year. The full list (PDF) is available on the James Beard website. The awards will be given out May 7 in New York City.
It seems Gourmand has gone out of business... or has it?
Conflicting information abounds. Employees of sister store Filter tell us that it's just remodeling and will be open again soon. Others have told us that the store went bankrupt, yet another had heard that it was going to become a Mandarin restaurant. Drive-Thru contributor Christian stopped by the shop today and found someone inside who told him that Gourmand was indeed closed for good, but that the same owners were remodeling in preparation for a completely new concept under a different name.
What's the true story? We'll just have to wait a couple weeks to find out.
I read this article in last Saturday's Tribune with great enthusiasm. Author Sandra Jones lamented the absence of local businesses from the Mag Mile area, and that mega-retailers like H&M, Nike and Gap, who currently have prominent spaces on Michigan Avenue, are "more interested in building their brands than building local character." I couldn't have agreed with Ms. Jones more, having just returned from a the Memphis airport, where I ate the best barbecue in years while waiting for my flight home.
The 2007 James Beard Foundation Award nominations were announced today in New York City. Hungry Magazine has a list of all the Chicago nominees, including Rich Melman of Lettuce Entertain You for Outstanding Restaurateur and Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate for Pastry Chef honors. The awards ceremony will be held on May 7 at Lincoln Center in New York. The James Beard Foundation, which seeks to promote American culinary achievement, is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year.
My bud Phil Vettel reports in today's Tribune that after nearly 30 years of being the pinnacle of upscale Lincoln Park dining, Ambria is closing at the end of June. Before you bust out your Smiths compilation and sit weeping in a dark room, word is that the space may be taken over by a new establishment headed by Laurent Gras, a culinary rock star who has worked with Alain Ducasse and Mario Batali. Which means that this guy may start sleeping with one eye open soon.
Apparently People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has taken offense with Chicago chef Graham Elliot Bowles' recent performance on "Iron Chef America" last weekend. While Iron Chef frequently makes use of all variety of dead animals in their battles, PETA found Chef Bowle's killing of a live lobster especially abhorrent.
Bowles, executive chef at The Penninsula, sticks by his claim that he killed the lobster in a completely humane and respectful manner.
It looks like there could be yet another warning sign about the food we are consuming at restaurants in Chicago if the Menu Education and Labeling Act passes.
This bill would require restaurants to post a sign no smaller than 5”X8” stating that "certain foods on the menu may be high in calories, grams of saturated fat plus trans fat, and milligrams of sodium per serving, which has been known to cause diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.” Similar bills have been introduced and defeated in the past. Several states have proposed similar bills this year.
You can support the Menu Education and Labeling act in Illinois here by March 24, 2007.
The well known titan of US wine, Ernest Gallo, passed away yesterday at his home in Modesto, California.
While most folks think of the Gallo family as producing the Hearty Burgundy in big jugs, the Gallo company makes everything from Boone's Farm to Ecco Domani to the namesake Estate Cabernet Sauvignon that sells for well over $50. Chances are everyone in the US has sampled a Gallo wine at one point or another. As recently as 2003, they still owned over 25 % of the wine sales market in our country. With dozens of labels, including MacMurray Ranch, Frei Brothers, Red Bicycle, and Rancho Zabaco, Gallo is still a huge force in the wine industry.
But the folks in Chicago were the very first to taste Gallo grapes. In the late 20s, the Gallo family loaded up all of their harvest on railcars destined for Chicago for sale to home winemakers. Ernest himself traveled to Chicago frequently, starting at the age of 17, to sell his family's grapes and conduct business. Clearly he did pretty well.
Sam's Wine and Spirits was quietly sold today to one of the family members and a group of outside investors. The store has been family owned and operated by the Rosen family since its humble beginnings on the Near North Side in the 1950s. Youngest brother, Brian Rosen, and his financial backers have purchased his brother Darryl's interest in the company and seem to be making changes rather quickly. Eight employees were let go this week, which continues a trend of many key staff members giving notice or receiving pink slips over the last three months. No word yet as to whether they intend to make changes to the business model or how the selection or service will be affected.
Mike Sula wonders if Hot Doug's can survive an exodus to the suburbs due to his current vacation and the loss of the foie dog, but I really can't imagine that's going to happen. The foie gras is a nice novelty item, a way to stick it to the city, but it's hardly Hot Doug's life blood. Not to mention, driving to Glenview for a hot dog, no matter how decadent (and at $8.50, rather expensive), is pretty unlikely for the average city eater.
• The Horseshoe, a country'n'western bar with a killer Sunday brunch, has closed without notice, leaving country music fans with one fewer venue in the city — and literally leaving Sunday night's bands locked out in the cold. [via]
• On the other hand, Bleeding Heart Bakery just reopened, with an expanded menu encompassing soups and sandwiches, weekend brunch and a selection of chocolates. Check it out at 2018 W. Chicago [via]
Both the Tribune and Sun Times reported last week that Wisconsin-based Roundy's is coming to Chicago. The chain will be opening the first of a hoped for 13 in the New City YMCA property near the shopping corridor at North and Clybourn. Another possible location is the Carson's building on State Street, in which there is talk about a "food emporium."
Roundy's CEO, Robert Mariano, is a Jefferson Park native and a former CEO of Dominick's. He lost his position when California-based Safeway took over the local grocery chain. He'd been with Dominick's for 27 years. Now he's back on the radar and told the Sun Times that opening Roundy's locations in some of the 14 Dominick's slated to close would "make a lot of sense."
I've never been to a Roundy's (or Pick 'n Save, Rainbow Foods, or Copp's - the other three names under which it operates), so I don't really know whether Chicagoans will welcome the new addition. What do you think? Can we expect more overpriced produce and boxes of cereal, or is Roundy's going to up the ante?
With all the buzz about the rumored Stephen ColbertBen & Jerry's flavor that was leaked to No Fact Zone last week, I couldn't help but think of some flavors the ice cream gurus could make just for Chicagoans. Regional delights could include Nepotism Neopolitan (a layered dessert comprised of three ice creams flavored with Daley'sIrish Cream, Irish whiskey and Guinness), El Tracks (just like Moose Tracks, but in "Slow as Molasses" ice cream) or Rocky Road Construction.
I think that these could be big hits in Chicago, and I think my ice cream maker will be working overtime this weekend. If all goes well, I'll post recipes.
When West Loop Salumi opened in July, it generated a ton of buzz. What's the big deal about another meat facility in the city's meatpacking district, you ask? Well, dear reader, make no mistake -- this is no ordinary... Read this feature »