Big Heat, 2016, is Newcity’s list of chefs, bartenders, bakers and other food producers who are, undeniably, very good and sometimes great. The best? YMMV.
Lists are fundamentally flawed in that they suggest an objectivity impossible to attain because, you know, we’re talking about taste, which is individual, subjective, difficult-to-impossible to verify.
To compile our list, we took input from leaders in Chicago food culture, people who’ve been on the list before and others in the industry. We based our decisions on those recommendations as well as upon the performance and promise of candidates. Throughout, we kept thinking of other names we wanted to include, names that one could argue should be included; yet we have space for only fifty. Some omissions may be obvious and some, arguable. Why, for instance, isn’t Grant Achatz on the list? Because Alinea is closed for re-concepting. Why aren’t dozens of other worthy men and women on this list? Because tough decisions had to be made.
A particularly painful omission was that of Jean-Claude Poilevey, chef/restaurateur of Le Bouchon and La Sardine; Poilevey died in a traffic accident shortly before we went to press. Long a member and mover of Chicago’s restaurant community, Poilevey was so much a part of the local culinary landscape that we, admittedly, lost sight of him, as did many who in the last decade or so compiled such lists. We’re not seeking forgiveness for such omissions; simply understanding.
Although you may disagree with a call this way or that, we hope that, for the most part, you agree that all the people listed here should be on the list—and, no doubt, many more. (David Hammond)
Big Heat was written by John Carruthers, Sarah Conway, Robert Gardner, David Hammond, Rebecca Holland, Monica Kass Rogers, Lauren Knight, Rosemary Lane.
Cover and inside photos: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux Read the rest of this entry »
By David Hammond
Driving south on Pulaski, between 48th and 49th, even if you’re looking hard for Birrieria Zaragoza, even if you’ve been there before, you might drive right past it. It’s a small, family-run restaurant, seating around twenty. This well-kept, humble place doesn’t have any flashy signage. It probably doesn’t need it, judging by the crowds inside who regularly chow down, elbow-to-elbow, on what might be the finest birria tatemada you’ll find anywhere (except, perhaps, Jalisco, Mexico).
The birria is prepared and served up by John-Juan, his wife Norma, and their children Jonathan, Erik, Tony and daughter Andie.
The hungry horde that comes to eat at Birrieria Zaragoza is frequently so large that a storefront next door is opened up for people to sit in several rows of chairs, like at the DMV, patiently waiting for a table or take-out.
In early 2016, the Zaragozas accepted the Jean Banchet award for “Best Ethnic Restaurant,” the first time this award was given to anyone. We strongly suspect this category was created specifically to honor the family’s work in perfecting birria tatemada in Chicago. Birria tatemada is goat meat, steamed for hours, slathered with mole sauce, and then roasted to create a beautiful blend of textures, crunchy crisp in places, lushly soft in others, with good spice but not so much that the goodness of the goat is obscured.
Top 5 Handcrafted Tortillas
Rubi’s, Maxwell Street Market
La Casa de Samuel
Nuevo Leon (RIP)
Top 5 Old School American-Chinese Restaurants
Luo’s Peking (Oak Park)
Tony’s Chinese & American Restaurant
—David Hammond Read the rest of this entry »
Newcity’s Big Heat 2015 represents a thick slice of Chicago’s culinary culture: butchers and cheese mongers, restaurateurs, critics, even some sommeliers and chefs. This year, however, we’re focusing less on people at the stove and more on the people behind the stove. These are the men and women who set the standard, change the game, initiate food movements, re-imagine what it means to have dinner in Chicago—and perhaps most importantly, help fill our lives with exponentially more deliciousness. Some of their names will be very familiar, others will be entirely unfamiliar, and they’re all just some of the personalities who are critically shaping the way we eat in Chicago. Just some. Just a slice of a large and growing community of leaders in Chicago food culture. Apologies if we missed a few of your favorites, which we undoubtedly have. There are many more who could easily have been on this list, which only overviews the immense range of enthusiasm, creativity and talent that decisively influences the food served to us in restaurants, in retail stores and on the streets of Chicago, which stands among the major food capitals of the world, thanks in good measure to the following fifty. (David Hammond)
Big Heat 2015 was written by David Hammond, J’nai Gaither, Rebecca Holland, Lauren Knight, Rosemary Lane and Anthony Todd
Cover and interior photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Seven Lions Read the rest of this entry »
By David Hammond
Most Chicagoans were introduced to Alpana Singh on “Check, Please!” After hosting this truly ground-breaking restaurant review show for ten seasons, Singh left in 2013. She soon opened her first restaurant, The Boarding House. Earlier this year, her Seven Lions opened on Michigan Avenue across from the Art Institute. Despite those accomplishments, one feels Singh is just starting to make her mark on the Chicago restaurant industry. Certainly, her excitement for the industry remains undiminished, telling us “Every time I walk into a restaurant it’s still magical for me. It’s thrilling and it’s exciting and it transports me.”
This fascination with the restaurant industry goes back to her early years in Monterey, California. “My mom waited tables, and she would let me play restaurant. It was the most exciting thing I’d ever done. I was eight or nine at the time. I’d go to the tables and take their orders. I’d fill the Coca-Cola. I would try on her uniform, always asking ‘Can I do it? Can I do it?’ Restaurant work was all I wanted to do. As soon as I turned fifteen [the age when you can work in a California restaurant], I got my permit and started working as a hostess at Bakers Square. I just could not wait to start working in restaurants.” Read the rest of this entry »
Top 5 Places to Eat Your Mother-in-Law (a corn-roll tamale with chili, usually in a hot dog bun, sometimes with cheese)
Donald’s Famous Hot Dogs
Top 5 Classic Food and Drink Joints in Hyde Park
Medici on 57th
Top 5 New Restos
—Amber Gibson Read the rest of this entry »
Food lovers will enjoy these delicious treats, all made locally by passionate culinary artisans.
CH Distillery and West Loop Salumi join forces to offer a holiday booze box ($85 and up) with your choice of a locally distilled CH Spirit, customized stainless steel CH flask and West Loop Salumi’s finnochionna salami. Beverage director Krissy Schutte recommends CH’s peppercorn vodka as her preferred pairing. “The Tellicherry peppercorns that we use pair beautifully with the Berkshire pork and fennel pollen,” she says. After the one-hundred-percent Heritage Berkshire pork salami is cured and seasoned with fresh fennel pollen, it’s slowly fermented and dried for at least a month. CH is also offering 210 limited-edition bottles of CH Center 100 Vodka ($150), a premium version of their signature spirit. Each bottle is decorated by one of ten local Chicago artists and a portion of the proceeds goes toward Un86’d, a local charity for restaurant professionals in need. chdistillery.com, 564 West Randolph, (312)707-8780. Read the rest of this entry »
This year’s selection of Chicago’s dining and drinking leadership focuses on the artists behind the beautiful and delicious compositions on our plates and in our glasses. A few on our list may be celebrities, at least in the food community, but that’s not why they got into this business, with its long hours, burnt fingers and demanding customers. Whether it’s food or drink, fine dining or pizza, salumi or chocolate, these chefs, mixologists and artisans toil behind the scenes so that we can enjoy some of the finest and most innovative food and drink in the country. It’s thanks to this impressive group—and the hundreds right behind them on our ever-growing short list—that Chicago is considered a national culinary treasure. It’s unquestionable that we lost one of our giants this past year with the passing of Charlie Trotter, but his legacy is carried forward in the artistry of the many who served under him. And they, in turn, are inspiring the next generation to learn classic cooking techniques, respect the work of legends past and dare to innovate. Oui, Chef. (Amber Gibson)
Big Heat was written by Brendan Buck, Stefan Castellanos, Amber Gibson, Veronica Hinke, Ben Kramer, Marla Seidell and Sara Tenenbaum
All photos taken on location at the Arts Club of Chicago by Joe Mazza of BraveLux.