Dining and food culture in Chicago

Fulton Market Transformation: When Google Comes to Dinner

Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »
Google HQ/Photo: Lauren Knight

Google HQ/Photo: Lauren Knight

By Lauren Knight

Once gentrification starts, it’s hard to stop. When the shift occurs between small businesses seeking new ground to full-scale land grabs by large companies, how do the little guys prepare for that transition? Take Fulton Market. What was once the bastion of meatpackers has swiftly become one of the hottest dining and drinking destinations in Chicago. As Randolph Street blossomed into “Restaurant Row,” a few pioneers trekked just a few blocks further north to take advantage of empty storefronts and warehouses.

The neighborhood is now Chicago headquarters to Google.

At the corner of Morgan and Fulton Market, an old cold-storage facility is being transformed into a beacon of new development. The 550,000-square-foot building will house other companies as well, such as SRAM International and Sandbox Industries, but Google’s 500 employees will fill the bulk of the updated structure.

One Off Hospitality Group was one of the first to see the potential in the Fulton Market neighborhood; the transformation that has occurred since opening The Publican in 2008 is an affirmation. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembrances of Restaurants Past: A Server Laments His Lost Province

Gone but not forgotten, West Loop No Comments »
Randy Zwieban/Photo: Laurie Proffitt

Randy Zwieban/Photo: Laurie Proffitt

By Nicholas Ward

Chef Randy Zweiban spent seventeen years of his cooking career focused on the flavors of Central/South America and the Caribbean islands, first at Norman’s in Florida and then Nacional 27. Province—his first solo venture—sought to focus more on local, seasonal ingredients, though with Latin highlights. The restaurant was located in the West Loop and the menu was intended to be easygoing and casual, a place where guests could grab a burger and a beer, something a little fancier, or a few things to pass around. While the shocking pink walls showcased a boldly designed West Loop restaurant, the food wouldn’t be flashy. It would just be really good.

I remember the first time Chef addressed the entire serving staff. It was October 2008, a perilous time to open a restaurant, as the country was sinking into recession. The price of everything had just gone up and nobody was certain if, in the short term, people were going to dine out. Chef thanked us for taking this risk with him. He told us that the people who helped construct the restaurant—laid floors, built tables,crafted the menu—were family to him. Read the rest of this entry »

The Perfect Cure: West Loop Salumi Brings a Taste of Italy to Chicago

Italian, West Loop No Comments »
Drying room at West Loop Salumi

Drying room at West Loop Salumi

By Amber Gibson

Krug salami, anyone? It may be a little early to start planning holiday parties but soon you’ll be able to get some bubbly and Krug-flavored salami from West Loop Salumi to ring in the New Year. This will be a new flavor and recipe for Greg Laketek, who opened Illinois’ only USDA-certified salumeria in July and has been doing brisk business since. West Loop Salumi is already available at restaurants and retail locations including Benny’s Chop House, G.E.B., Travelle, Lush Wine & Spirits, TWO and House of Glunz.

Laketek’s Krug-flavored salami, which will be released in December, is a project with Moët Hennessy and Plum Market, with whom he’ll also be making Numanthia Termanthia and Numanthia Termes Chorizo for a November release. Most of the salumi at Plum Market is refrigerated, but Laketek’s salumi comes straight from his West Loop drying chambers and no refrigeration is necessary. The meat is good for up to a year, “but it’s at its best straight from the chamber,” Laketek says.

As a kid, Laketek spent summer in Italy with his extended family in Centobuchi, Italy, a hundred miles east of Rome. “All their friends owned farms,” he says. “They would make their own wine, bread, pasta and salumi.” Laketek went back to study in Italy as an undergraduate, and after spending two years running his own construction consulting firm, he says he was burnt out doing something he didn’t love. In a sharp twist, Laketek attended Kendall College and decided to open a salumeria, spotting an opportunity to add something new to Chicago’s already vibrant culinary scene. Read the rest of this entry »

Sugar Freedom: Chef Homaro Cantu and his Magnificent Miracle Berry Obsession

Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »
Photo: Michael Silberman

Photo: Michael Silberman

By Amber Gibson

Chef Homaro Cantu can make cheesecake without sugar, fat or cheese. Instead, all he needs is a spoonful of non-fat sour cream, a lemon wedge and a miracle berry tablet. Lemon and sour cream might not sound like dessert, but the miracle of the berry is that it makes these two ingredients taste better than Eli’s Cheesecake.

Cantu, a molecular gastronomer, among other things, has spent more than eight years researching the rare miracle berry, which temporarily makes sour things taste sweet. At a recent cooking class at his Michelin-starred Moto restaurant, he demonstrated to wide-eyed guests how easy miracle berries are to use.

“You just made cheesecake in a split second,” Cantu tells his class of fourteen students, after they diligently squeeze several drops of lemon juice over their servings of non-fat sour cream. After exchanging incredulous looks, one by one each person eats a miracle berry, then tries the sour cream. It’s unanimous. This stuff tastes good. Read the rest of this entry »

Shifting to Park: The Newest Trend in Food Trucking is a Storefront

Argentinian, Food Trucks, Lakeview, Pastry, Trends & Essays, West Loop No Comments »

Beavers Coffee & Donuts Drivers Side PicIf you want to get your fix of gourmet mini donuts from Beavers Coffee & Donuts, you normally look to their website or Twitter to find the food truck’s location and hours. But once Beavers opens its first storefront restaurant in the Chicago French Market in early January, you’ll know where and when to get your hot breakfast on demand.

Since the Beavers truck opened in December of last year, requests for its catering service—and for donuts after the truck’s weekday morning-through-lunch hours—grew so rapidly that co-owners Gabriel Wiesen and Jim Nuccio started planning an expansion this summer. “Logistically, it makes sense to have a storefront in conjunction with a food truck,” Wiesen says. “Being able to facilitate those requests was really hard without a store.”

Operating a food truck makes starting a brick-and-mortar restaurant a much easier task. For starters, the idea has already been tested: Food-truck owners know what sells, know who their customers are and, when scouting for locations, know where their customer-base lives. They already are making money, and they’ve built a brand that can attract investors. Read the rest of this entry »

Avenida Ashland: A micro-community of restaurants develops near the Mexican Consulate

Mexican, West Loop No Comments »


By Giovanni Wrobel

Sometimes, especially in the winter, they come well before the sun rises. Carpools of families making their way to Ashland and Adams to stand in line waiting for the Mexican Consulate to open at 8am. These are some of the people who brought restaurant owners Pedro Angel and Luis Perea to the neighborhood to open establishments nearby.

Angel’s Restaurant occupies an odd structure sandwiched between a two-story office building and a small storefront within two row houses facing Ashland near Jackson Boulevard. The restaurant opened two years ago, when Angel moved his family’s eighteen-year-old business from the Andersonville neighborhood to the West Loop.

Angel’s start-up was not easy. “In the beginning, I think the biggest challenge was trying to get our dinner working, because the area is a little weird,” Angel says. “It’s definitely more for breakfast and lunch, people come to the neighborhood to work, so by four o’clock things were kind of dying out.” Read the rest of this entry »

411: Taste of Chicago Food Trucks

Food Trucks, West Loop 1 Comment »

While the fannypack set will be trucking through Grant Park this week, turkey legs and fried dough in hand, another high-octane food-sampler gathering will be revving up in the West Loop, with the debut of Ethyl’s Truckin’ Thursdays.

Ethyl’s Beer & Wine Dive, Scott Harris’ (Francesca’s) latest dining concept, will become a food truck city, a safe haven for Chicago’s gourmet meals on wheels when its spacious parking lot and patio will function as the campgrounds for seven food trucks every Thursday from 6pm-9pm. Ethyl’s founding partner Donnie Kruse thinks this is a big move for a city that has been slow to welcome the trucks to its streets.

“Food trucks are kind of a controversial thing in Chicago, however, they’re a big story. The Food Network had a show, ‘The Great Food Truck Race,’ and I spend a lot of time in Austin, Texas, Portland, Seattle and think they’re a wonderful part of the food community,” says Kruse. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Heat #47: David Friedman

Burgers, Lincoln Park, South Loop, The Big Heat, West Loop No Comments »

David Friedman
Owner, Epic Burger
With never-frozen beef, cage-free fried-egg toppings and fresh-cut fries, Friedman is on a quest to feed the world a more “mindful burger.” That’s cool, but it also actually tastes pretty good too, good enough to spawn a third location in the West Loop this summer with plans for nine more.

See details on the The Big Heat

411: Meet the Big Cheese

Events, West Loop No Comments »

“We’re not just putting cheese next to cheese,” says Greg O’Neill, “it’s going to be like speed dating.” O’Neill, the co-founder and proprietor of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, is organizing the First Annual “Artisan Producer Festival” on Saturday, April 30 at the Chicago French Market, 131 North Clinton, from 11am-3pm. With a focus on American producers, the festival will have more than forty vendors offering the highest quality cheeses, meats, pastries, wine, beer and more. “The genesis of the festival came from the idea of people meeting the maker,” explains O’Neill. The Pastoral shop maintains a European-inspired store in which the staff shares their product knowledge with customers. As a primary source of information, many of the vendors at the festival will be the actual producers of the commodity. This will make for an intimate understanding of where food comes from at this “meet-the-maker” affair. A free event with loads of samples, Pastoral’s Artisan Producer Festival is a foodie’s haven, however, “it is a no-attitude-about-food event,” O’Neill says. “This event is for everybody who has an interest in trying and learning about food.” (Tiana Olewnick)

Gilded Boy: Overnight sensation Brendan Sodikoff’s recipe for success

News etc., River North, West Loop No Comments »

Photo: Kari Skaflen

By Michael Nagrant

Brendan Sodikoff could be Liberace’s son. He’s got the same round cheekbones, the unmistakable wincing smile, and a pair of deeper-set eyes that draw you into a maelstrom of mischief, brooding and delight. Which is funny, because Sodikoff, owner of Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar and the forthcoming Doughnut Vault and Ox Diner, is quite possibly the anti-Liberace. In this era of frenzied battles for food-blog scoops, Sodikoff launched his first project in February 2010, Gilt Bar, by saying almost nothing.

This wasn’t some wily move by a cunning impresario to generate buzz. It was a defense mechanism. The first-time restaurateur wanted to make sure things were ironed out before the throngs descended. Sodikoff says, “One of the worst days of my life was when I signed the deal. It was only me and this restaurant [Gilt Bar] filled with stuff. I couldn’t imagine where to start.” Add in the fact that he’d just acquired one of Chicago’s most snake-bitten spaces, home to excellent but short-lived gems like Havana, Aigre Doux and Pili Pili, during a crippling recession, and keeping quiet seemed like career suicide.

Months before he’d almost resigned his dreams. He says, “I’d been looking at spaces for six or seven years. I’d kind of given up on the possibility of finding something that would work because it was cost-prohibitive.” He lived across the street from River North’s Aigre Doux and noticed their clientele dwindling. He adds, “So, in my frustration I asked them if they’d consider selling their business. They couldn’t move fast enough.”

And the crowds, they came. Sodikoff is the fastest-rising local restaurateur I’ve ever seen. Thirteen months ago, no one had heard of him, and now he has four projects on the table. His second restaurant, Maude’s Liquor Bar, has three-hour-plus waits on weekends. Read the rest of this entry »