Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Big Heat: Chicago’s Food & Drink Fifty 2014

The Big Heat 5 Comments »
Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

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.

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The Big Heat #17: Phillip Foss

The Big Heat No Comments »

Photo: Huge Galdones

17
Phillip Foss
Chef/Owner, Meatyballs Mobile, El Ideas
Once, a high-end molecular gastronomist at Lockwood in the Palmer House hotel who got fired for tweeting about a “bong,” Foss is now determined to put his submarines stuffed with balls including “schweddy”—spicy Tunisian-style lamb and chicken meatballs—and “chocolate salty” in your face. In addition to his three Meatyballs trucks, Foss is about to launch a storefront operation called El Ideas which will be a supper club of sorts featuring an assortment of rotating themed meals.

See details on the The Big Heat

411: One EL of an Idea?

News etc., Pilsen No Comments »

Phillip Foss’ confidence has never been in question. “Literally, I’m making this up as I go,” he says. He debuted his Meatyballs food truck before the City Council had amended the ordinance that prohibited cooking fresh food onboard approved food mobiles. With his latest culinary experiment, a fine-dining restaurant simply called EL, he’s fully aware he is riding on blind faith that anyone will even show up.

“The way I’ve always lived my life and the way my career path has wound up has always been about being outside the box,” Foss says. “I’m doing this, opening the restaurant this way because I feel it’s the best way for my vision to see fruition. It’s definitely a bit maverick, but I’ve kind of taken a ‘Field of Dreams’ approach to it—if I build it, they will come.”

Using the space he’s been running the Meatyballs operation from—an unassuming dead-end street on the far west end of Pilsen—Foss is putting together a menu based on his own ideas of “elevated” self-expression, with everything from seafood to chicken and lamb. It’s a “multi-sensory” tasting menu that requires such an effort on the part of his bare-bones staff that if guests who’ve won reservations in the email lottery arrive after the 6pm start, they’ll have to sacrifice a course or two. Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Things: Street Food Edition

Fast Food/Street Food, News etc. 1 Comment »

Taco Koreano

By Michael Nagrant

On June 9, the Chicago City Council was expected to introduce an ordinance for the legalization of food trucks. The ordinance got delayed, because Alderman Scott Waguespack needed more time to create a comprehensive bill. No matter, thanks to the work of a few diligent local chefs, including Matt Maroni (chef/owner of the recently opened Gaztro-Wagon), and Phillip Foss of Lockwood, the time of legit roving eats is almost upon us.

I’ve generally been quiet on the subject, but make no mistake, I’m a big proponent. One of the things I’ve been concerned about over the years covering the food beat is the enormous cost and sacrifice it takes to run a restaurant. There are far more talented chefs in the city of Chicago than smart, patient investors willing to endure the ups and downs of a fickle business built on razor-thin margins.

I believe one of the primary reasons we’ve ascended as a food city over this last decade is due to the availability of reasonable rents (as opposed to NYC), thus allowing chefs to take chances, experiment and build a business without burning all their operating capital on lease agreements. Read the rest of this entry »

North Side Dog Show: Franks ‘N’ Dawgs enters the gourmet sausage game

Hot Dogs/Sausages, Lincoln Park 1 Comment »

By Michael Nagrant

“Oy think she’s a little maw, shall we say, enhanced thair.”

It may not be the jovial wise-cracking of Hot Doug’s owner Doug Sohn, but Franks ‘N’ Dawgs owner, the Australian-born Alexander Brunacci, cracking here about a photo of Kim Kardashian, is doing fine with his own brand of cash-register-side smart-assery.

I hate to even bring up the whole Hot Doug’s thing, because I know everyone else will too. But, frankly (so punny, I know), it’s impossible not to. Franks ‘N’ Dawgs with their “5-Star Dining on a Bun” tagline and by virtue of its similarities to Doug’s, has the encased-meats emporium in its cross hairs.

But Franks ‘N’ Dawgs, more often than not, is not like Hot Doug’s. It’s not a pop-culture-kitsch-laden dining room filled with mustard-and-ketchup-colored bric-a-brac or sexually charged mustard-covered Britney Spears’ photos. It doesn’t serve duck-fat fries, and the Buzzcocks aren’t snarling in your ears. Franks ‘N’ Dawgs also makes some of its own sausages. Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s Essential Restaurants 2009

African, Albany Park, Andersonville, Auburn Gresham, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Bistro, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bucktown, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Chinatown, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Deli, East Garfield Park, Events, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near South Side, New American, Organics, Pakistani, Palestinian, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Seafood, Senegalese, Soul Food, South Loop, South Shore, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, Wicker Park 4 Comments »
In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

Resto 100 is, as it has been in years past, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

In these particular hard economic times, we find ourselves dining out a lot more at the BYOBs, mom-and pop-spots and small ethnic joints than we do at the high end.  That being said, while we didn’t set out to consciously create a list to address our lighter wallets, it sure turned out that way.  More than ever, this list is a cross section of the wealth of culturally diverse and reasonably priced restaurants Chicago is lucky to have. Read the rest of this entry »

The Fearless Mr. Foss: Unlocking the man at Lockwood

Cuisine, etc., Hot Dogs/Sausages No Comments »

By Michael Nagrantcover

Do you like pinball?

What do you mean?

You know, do you play it? Do you find it fun?

A minute or so passed without an answer from one of Chicago’s mega-celebrity chefs, as he faced a local food reporter while they stood near a pinball machine. The chef was usually so prepared that he’d given the same answers to many questions for almost twenty years with almost no variation in delivery or syllable. His ability to stay on message made even the disciplined Barack Obama look more like the drunken political godchild of Gerald Ford and Sarah Palin.

But that’s when the chef expected to be interviewed. The reporter had not given the chef a heads up that he’d stop by this particular photo shoot. And when he did, the chef was so befuddled he couldn’t even answer a simple question about an arcade game without calculating what the answer might say about him.

Sure, chefs are the new rock stars, but rarely have they acted like them. I chose to write about chefs and restaurants in no small part because I had no interest in profiling celebrities so doped up on fame that their paranoia and control made Kim Jong Il look asleep at the wheel. Read the rest of this entry »