Dining and food culture in Chicago

“To Try to Raise a Foodie is Obnoxious”: Anthony Bourdain on Early Childhood Education and His Weird Life

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Anthony Bourdain/Photo: David Hammond

Anthony Bourdain/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

At an event in early December sponsored by Balvenie Rare Craft Collection, Anthony Bourdain (who curates the collection) and I sat down to talk. He is a very smart and articulate man. Turns out, he also has a good heart and, as you know, a colorful vocabulary.

You have a young daughter, still in single digits. How are you—or are you—educating her about food?
I think it’s imperative to not educate my daughter about food. I think to try to raise a foodie is obnoxious and weird and counterproductive. My wife’s Italian from Lombardy; I’m from where I am. The food my daughter saw her parents eating was interesting and she made her own decisions from there. I was always happy to give her pasta with butter and grilled cheese if that’s what she asked for, and I’m not going to say, “C’mon honey, try this sushi.” Read the rest of this entry »

Christmas Belle: Interview with a Fairy Princess in the Walnut Room

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Suzee Belles, Fairy Princess

Suzee Belles, Fairy Princess/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

My wife and I were seated in the Walnut Room beneath the big tree. While we waited for lunch—the signature Mrs. Hering’s Chicken Pot Pie—we watched wide-eyed children gazing in awe at the holiday spectacle. A winsome young woman in a gold-laced dress seemed to float over to us, offering to grant a Christmas wish. We took her up on that. Then we got her backstory. Her name is Suzee Belles.

What does it mean to be a fairy princess?
To me, being a fairy princess is a huge deal, bigger than Santa. True, many people are lured into the store by Santa, but the real driving factor is the Walnut Room. When I was a kid, we didn’t come to Marshall Field’s to go shopping. We went to see the windows. The thing that got us INSIDE the store was the Walnut Room, and what makes it so special is the great tree and the fairy princesses. Being a fairy princess means that you are the ultimate role model. Read the rest of this entry »

A Genuine Myth: If They Call It “Authentic,” It’s Probably Baloney

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Inauthentic but traditional. Minty pea empanada at Wahaca, London.

Inauthentic but traditional. Minty pea empanada at Wahaca, London/Photo: David Hammond

By David Hammond

Earlier this month, a chorus of Chicago food writers criticized what seemed an uninformed drubbing on Yelp of Chicago’s Cantina 1910.

You don’t have to look very deeply into the Yelp commentary about this Mexican restaurant to find statements like “It’s definitely NOT authentic Mexican” and “There is nothing authentically Mexican about this place.”

Similarly, watch just about any episode of Chicago’s excellent, Emmy Award-winning “Check, Please!” and you’ll hear citizen reviewers extolling the “authentic” flavors of this restaurant or that.

With all due respect, it doesn’t seem that many of these good people know what they’re talking about. Read the rest of this entry »

Of Vice and Vegetables: The Fulton Market District Furiously Builds on Chicago History

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Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished hi-rise/Photo: MKRogers Features & Photography

View from Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished high-rise/Photo: MKRogers.com

By Monica Kass Rogers

“The last thing any of us wants is to see this neighborhood Disney-fied”

Riding the elevator to the top of developer Jeff Shapack’s almost-finished high-rise at the corner of Halsted and Lake, I’m fussing with the Velcro on the front of my neon yellow construction vest. The lift-operator, who looks uncannily like former mayor Richard M. Daley, has just confided that he’s afraid of heights. Somewhere between levels twelve and twenty-three—six floors shy of the top—Shapack quietly says, “This is the tallest building I’ve done yet.”

Standing in the open air looking out at the booming Fulton Market Innovation District that stretches from Halsted to Ogden below us, the Shapack Partners, Sterling Bay and other developer-owned vacant lots stand out, white blanks among the rubble and splintered timbers of demolition, as do signage-wrapped new construction sites and just-finished restaurants with so-new-it-sparkles HVAC and ductwork.

Randolph runs along the southern edge of the scene. Elevated-train-topped Lake Street is in the middle and Fulton Market sits to the north. Right now, each thoroughfare is lined with the mix of meatpackers, light industry, grunge and gleam that defines the city’s last remaining market district, which is now also its hottest restaurant neighborhood. Next year, there will be another dozen restaurants and bars down there, plus retail, new residences and hotels.

As for the industry and grunge? Says Shapack: “The last thing any of us wants is to see this neighborhood Disney-fied.” The “any of us” Shapack refers to—developers and restaurateurs, meatpackers and wholesalers, politicians and planners—have all been racing to keep up with unprecedented change without losing the essence of a neighborhood they love. Read the rest of this entry »

Fulton Market Transformation: When Google Comes to Dinner

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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 »

Hot Dog! Chicago Gets a Foodseum—A Museum Dedicated to Food

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Classic Chicago hotdog/Photo: David Hammond

Classic Chicago hot dog/Photo: David Hammond

By Rebecca Holland

Chicago may still be best known for its humble hot dog, but now the city’s food reputation is undeniably international and there’s no doubt: Chicagoans have an enduring affection and taste for the classics as well as newer food innovations that characterize Michelin three-stars like Alinea and Grace.

“There really is no better place for a museum dedicated to food,” says Suzie Fasulo, director of people and operations at the Foodseum, Chicago’s newest museum slated to open later this month. “We wanted to create a museum for the people of Chicago, but we’re also opening in a very foodie time, where people are drawn to food from a tourism perspective.”

The Foodseum will soon start up as a pop-up at Block 37. The first exhibit, “The Hot Dog and Encased Meat of the World,” is fitting for a city whose primary claim to culinary fame once rested on the humble wiener. Visitors can learn about the hot dog’s history in Chicago and engage with the exhibit by getting hands-on with local butcher shop tools from the 1800s and smelling the familiar spices used in encased meats. “We know people use all of their senses to really understand and connect with things,” says Fasulo, “so the museum is very interactive. We want to engage all of your senses so you can take the inspiration of food and culture with you.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Dining Preview 2015

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Composing/Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

Composing/Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

By Iliana Regan

Fairy tales are the theme of the autumn menu at Elizabeth. This theme will be reflected in some of the ingredients we plan to use, including pumpkins and apples, both of which have well-known connections to Cinderella and Snow White.

One of the great things about the fairy tales of Mother Goose and the Grimms is there’s the cultural and geographical background of the writers—Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm—who were French and German, respectively. The cuisine we serve will reflect both of those rich culinary traditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Dining Events 2015

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Bunny the Micro Bakery (2928 North Broadway), Iliana Regan’s second act, is scheduled to open any day now. It’s really small— “perhaps the smallest bakery in town,” says the website—and will be serving baked goods that have been most popular at Elizabeth.

Foodseum, the Chicago food museum, slated to open September 19 at Block 37 (108 North State), explores food in Chicago’s past and present, and it will offer interactive exhibits for hands-on learning. Read the rest of this entry »

Ramen Wars: Chicago Chefs Go Bowl-to-Bowl

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Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

Photo: Monica Kass Rogers, MKRogers.com

By Monica Kass Rogers

With thousands of variations worldwide, ramen has always been a hot mess of flavor and texture that invites playful experimentation. And that’s what Chicago ramen battles are all about. Invited by host restaurants, chefs have jumped into the ramen-battle ring with characteristic Chicago swagger. Most of their ramen bowls have been great, some not so, but there’s no denying the exhibitionist fun of the throw-downs.

Chef leaders of the Chicago ramen-battle pack are Bill Kim (BellyQ, UrbanBelly, Belly Shack) and Matthias Merges (Yusho, A10, Billy Sunday), and both have been hosting two different styles of ramen-offs. Read the rest of this entry »

Still Falling In Love: Romantic Fondue Classic Geja’s Changes Hands at Fifty

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Jeff Lawler, new owner of Gejas Cafe

Jeff Lawler, new owner of Geja’s Cafe

After two decades of working for venerable Chicago romantic dining destination Geja’s Café (340 West Armitage), Jeff Lawler will succeed John Davis as owner of the restaurant, just in time for Geja’s fiftieth anniversary.

Lawler, who has been in the restaurant business since he was seventeen, came to Geja’s in 1994 as general manager. He spent a few years working for Davis’ Wine of the Month club, but soon found himself drawn back to managing Geja’s day-to-day operations, a job with which he says he continues to “fall in love.”

“My responsibilities won’t really change all that much [as the owner],” Lawler says. “I got into the restaurant business because I love to serve people, and at Geja’s in particular I love working with staff to create special experiences for our guests.” Read the rest of this entry »