Dining and food culture in Chicago

411: Pork Bellies

Events No Comments »

“Bacon is truly the Helen of Troy of meats, ” says Baconfest co-founder (and acclaimed theatrical sound designer) Andre Pluess. And if all goes according to plan, bacon is going to be the meat that launches (nearly) a thousand plates Saturday April 10 at the Stan Mansion in Logan Square. “We almost instantly found ourselves in meetings with some of the best chefs in Chicago eager to participate and to help us realize the dream,” says Pluess, describing the reaction to their idea. What now sounds like a modest plan—a hundred guests being served bacon specialties by ten chefs at the Publican last fall—has blossomed into twenty-four chefs from some of Chicago’s top restaurants serving 800 attendees this Saturday. If you slept on buying tickets, however, no bacon for you. “Our event sold out in less than fifteen minutes,” says Pluess. Aside from the bacon menu created by the pros, the fest includes an amateur bacon cook-off and  more than twenty vendors selling anything from bacon themed t-shirts to lip balm. “There will also be readings of bacon poems,” says Pluess. “And we will present the winning bacon music video entry from the Baconfest Youtube contest.” What started as a late-night conversation over drinks, “writing a musical called BACON!” Pluess remembers, “has quickly snowballed into reality.” (Peter Cavanaugh)

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Food & Drink

Cookbooks, Guides & Lists 3 Comments »

Top 5 New Fine Dining RestaurantsIMG_9074
Cibo Matto
Brown Trout
Kith and Kin
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 New Informal Restaurants
Café Senegal
Han 202
—Michael Nagrant Read the rest of this entry »

End of the Zeroes: Chicago Restaurants, 2000-2009

Brazilian, Burgers, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, French, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Ice Cream, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, New American, Organics, Pastry, Punk Haute, Seafood, Steakhouse, Trends & Essays, Vegetarian 1 Comment »

By Michael Nagrant



Since 2000, Chicago has gone from being a Rat Pack-worthy steak-and-potato-slinging stereotype to a destination for international culinary travelers. Chicago’s affordability, its diners’ willingness to suspend disbelief and its proximity to the sublime bounty of the Midwest all play a role in that transformation. Most important to the renaissance are the places that put everything together to inspire our collective culinary imagination, the best restaurants that opened in Chicago this decade.

The history of cuisine was written in the kitchens of millions of chefs, but we only remember a few by name, guys like Escoffier, Careme and Robuchon. There are probably only three Chicago chefs, as of now, who have a shot at making that list: Jean Banchet, Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz. Though Achatz started making a name for himself at Trio, Alinea was the game changer, the restaurant where every aspect of dining from menus and silverware to the wine service and emotional content of the food was reimagined.

Love it or hate it, this was ground zero for what is now today’s communal table free-for-all. More importantly, Avec was the place that launched a thousand salumi, the fringe of Chicago’s now-burgeoning charcuterie movement. Koren Grieveson’s restrained soulful style is still the late-night hang of choice for chefs.

You probably don’t remember Gerhard Doll or David Hayden, the chef-stewards who drove the good ship Avenues through a successful seafood-driven era, but there’s no doubt you won’t forget the Pop Rock and foie-lollipop fantasia, the convenience-store chic of Graham Elliot Bowles. Without Bowles’ whimsical, accessible style, the emotional roller coaster of Grant Achatz’s cooking and the theater at Homaro Cantu’s Moto likely wouldn’t have quite captured the nation’s imagination, nor garnered Chicago cuisine the countless magazine features it received mid-decade. Today, Curtis Duffy, the culinary love child of Achatz, Thomas Keller and Alice Waters, is executing some of the most exciting cuisine Chicago has to offer. Read the rest of this entry »

Good for the Goose: Chef John Manion steps up the cuisine at Chicago’s classic brewpub

Gastropub, Lincoln Park No Comments »
Pork slider

Pork slider

By Michael Nagrant

Why’s Russell Crowe wearing a chef’s coat and standing in the lobby at Goose Island Clybourn? Maybe craft brewing has finally reached the tipping point and he’s studying up for a role in a beer version of “Sideways.” I can see it now, Crowe bellied up to some tavern next to his sidekick, maybe Steve Zahn, bellowing, “I am NOT drinking any fucking IPA.”

Or, better yet, I thought, maybe Crowe’s studying up on Goose brewer/owner Greg Hall to portray him on some future biopic about the craft-brewing revolution. But, just as I started imagining Crowe, as Hall, locked in Jedi-like combat with the sudsy showman Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head brewery, I realized the Crowe lookalike is actually John Manion, former head chef of the old Wicker Park fave, Mas. But, damn, with his slicked-back tresses, sharply coiffed beard and brooding eyes he sure looks like a dead ringer for Ben Wade in “3:10 to Yuma.” 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 »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2008: Food

Guides & Lists, Trends & Essays No Comments »

Top 5 New Higher-End Restaurants
Mercat a la Planxa
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 New Casual Concepts or Storefronts
Cafecito Read the rest of this entry »

Resolutions for Culinary Revolution: A few tips for a better 2009

Coffee & Tea, Trends & Essays No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

I punked out a few times this year. Tired and overworked and having drunk too much bourbon or ingested too much garlic (I’m mildly allergic) on a Pat-Bruno-worthy Italian red-sauce bender, I’ve occasionally written a few columns that didn’t require a whole lot of research (like this one). I’ve hated myself for it. Shame on me. I plan on doing better next year. But, I’m not the only one who mails it in from time to time in the culinary world, and so in the spirit of the New Year, I give you my resolutions for the Chicago food community. Read the rest of this entry »