Chicago Sun-Times
Tasty morsels about Chicago's food scene

March 2011 Archives

5-27 Stewart Bruno05 9.jpg [photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times]

Beer giant Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser, is buying out Chicago's Goose Island Beer Co., according to a release issued today.

The deal is worth some $38 million, with Anheuser-Busch also buying out the Craft Brewer Alliance's 42 percent stake in Goose Island. Anheuser-Busch has a minority stake in CBA.

Goose Island fans can expect more and better beers, says Goose Island founder and president John Hall in a statement on his company's website. Hall explains that the brewery has "outgrown the capacity of our brewery."

"Recently, we've even had to limit production of some classic and medal-winning styles," he says.

That shouldn't be an issue any longer. The Fulton Street facility is getting a $1.3 million upgrade "as early as this summer" as part of the deal, the company says.

Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall, meanwhile, is stepping down and will be replaced by Brett Porter, currently head brewer. Hall will continue on in a consulting role for the brewery.

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[Avli Estiatorio in Winnetka, an LTHForum Great Neighborhood Restaurant. | Brian Valentin~Sun-Times Media]

"Deliciousness and character."

That, according to LTHForum.com, is what makes a great neighborhood restaurant, in this city of neighborhoods.

The chat site for food lovers on Tuesday announced its sixth annual list of Great Neighborhood Restaurants. There are 19 in all, which, in typical LTHForum fashion, skew towards the hole-in-the-wall taquerias (Carniceria y Taqueria Tierra Caliente, 1402 N. Ashland), mom-and-pop Thai (Aroy Thai, 4654 N. Damen) and out-of-the-way lunch counters (Mr. D's Shish-Kabobs, 6656 W Diversey).

Which might make two other picks -- Xoco and the Purple Pig, owned by two of Chicago's most recognizable chefs, Rick Bayless and Jimmy Bannos, respectively -- a little surprising to some, says LTHForum moderator Ron Kaplan.

"Typically, our results have always been a little more offbeat," Kaplan says.

The group's verdict on the Purple Pig, 500 N. Michigan: "Yeah, yeah, it's a bit of a celebrity spot, but it delivers. And not just the pork products -- the vegetables are delicious, too. Really, we wanted to hate it, but it is too good."

LTHForum doesn't limit its search to within the city limits. Avli Estiatorio, a Greek restaurant in Winnetka; Kabul House, a BYO-Afghan joint in Skokie; Zenwich in Elmhurst, serving Asian-inspired sandwiches, and Lincoln's O in Highland, Ind., a "trip back in sandwich time," also made the list.

Edzo's Burger Shop in Evanston, another suburban pick, embodies the GNR spirit, Kaplan says. At Edzo's, you can have your burger grilled or griddled, and choose from 10 milkshake flavors and as many fry options, including "old fries," which are overcooked -- on purpose -- so they're crunchy.

Owner Eddie Lakin is "completely woven into the fabric of LTH," Kaplan says. "Before he even opened the place, he started a thread on the forum, soliciting advice, getting information on places that grind their own beef and do fresh-cut fries."

"It's a big deal," Lakin says. "I love the GNRs because I use them as a customer as well . . . They have good taste, the LTHers."

Since 2009, LTHForum also has recognized food-related shops and businesses. The two getting a nod this year: Three Floyd's Brewery in Munster, Ind. and Ream's Elburn Market in Elburn. ("His brats are the best," Kaplan says.)

LTHForum will hold an awards dinner on April 11 at Sun Wah BBQ, 5039 N. Broadway -- naturally, another Great Neighborhood Restaurant.

For the full list of 2011 GNRs, click here.

Is Girl and the Goat, Stephanie Izard's much hyped and always crowded West Randolph spot, America's best new restaurant?

It's a contender, says the James Beard Foundation.

The New York-based organization on Monday announced the finalists for its prestigious chef and restaurant awards, with Izard's restaurant at 809 W. Randolph among the Chicago nominees.

Paul Kahan, the chef and partner in a growing restaurant group that includes Blackbird, the Publican and, soon, a butcher shop, is a finalist for the Outstanding Chef award. Patrick Fahy, Kahan's pastry chef at Blackbird, is up for the Outstanding Pastry Chef award, as is Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate.

In the category of Best Chef: Great Lakes, four of the five finalists are from Chicago: Michael Carlson of Schwa, Curtis Duffy of Avenues, Bruce Sherman of North Pond and Paul Virant of Vie.

Lettuce Entertain You's honcho Richard Melman is yet again in the running for Outstanding Restaurateur; Topolobampo, Rick Bayless' fine-dining Mexican restaurant, is nominated for Outstanding Service, and Chicago firm JNL Graphic Design is a finalist in the category of Outstanding Restaurant Graphics.

The winners will be announced in New York on May 9.

Food for good

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Thinking this past week about St. Joseph's Day (did you know he is the patron saint of pastry chefs? Neither did I), and it's charitable, as opposed to culinary, traditions, I was reminded that one aspect of the holiday traditionally has been that a feast is prepared in honor of St. Joseph, who answered the prayers of the people of Sicily in the Middle Ages, bringing them rain after a terrible drought. Part of this tradition is that food, or donations received from those partaking of the feast, are given to the needy.

What can we do, though, if not holding our own St. Joseph's Day feast? Currently, I know of two efforts to do good through dining out (and if anyone knows of other such efforts, please let me know).

One is via the Chicago Diner, the meatless Lake View eatery that often incorporates disaster relief efforts into their menu. Through April 1, $1 will be given to Japanese earthquake relief efforts from every Titanic BLT burger or Lucky Leprechaun Shake sold at the Chicago Diner. The proceeds will go to Direct Relief International and AmeriCares, each of which is working to provide disaster relief in Japan.

Another type of charitable effort has been taking place at Outback Steakhouses. So far, Outback has given more than $1 million to Operation Homefront, a national non-profit providing emergency financial and other assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors. The money is raised through the contribution customers, when they order items from Outback's Red, White and Bloomin' menu. You can still help add to that $1 million figure, as this menu will be available at Outback through April 5. If you can't make it to an Outback before then, you can also visit Operation Homefront's website if you want to learn more and help that organization out.

There is alot we can do to help each other out. These are two little ways we can contribute something, but it is something, and collectively, our efforts just may be significant somehow.

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[photo courtesy Dirk Flanigan]

Both recipes in Mike Austin's cover story celebrating the versatile, beloved potato call for roasting potatoes on a layer of kosher salt.

Why do this?

Mostly for flavor, says Seasons chef Kevin Hickey. Some cooks also say the salt ensures even roasting, and thus tender flesh.

Though you might be loath to empty out half your box of salt, relax -- you can re-use the salt after roasting. Just pour it back into a pinch bowl, a resealable bag, whatever.

If you didn't notice, today's Food section was overwhelmingly starchy for obvious reasons, with our Low Mileage Kitchen column also offering potato lore and two more recipes and a corned beef (and potato!) recipe in Swap Shop.

Still didn't get your fill of spuds? Head to the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark, at 10 a.m. March 26 for a potato lecture given by culinary historian Andrew Smith. He's the author of the book, Potato: A Global History. Admission is $5. Call (312) 286-8781.

Thumbnail image for student16_5563.jpg Kendall College senior Marco Bahena won the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef competition in Napa Valley over the weekend, beating out nine other culinary students for the title.

Bahena, 21, a Vernon Hills native, gets $10,000 and a yearlong paid apprenticeship with one of the chef judges of his choosing (who include luminaries such as Michel Richard and Chicago's own Tony Mantuano).

Bahena's dish, a Mediterranean lamb loin, also won in the Signature Dish category -- which puts an additional $3,000 in his wallet.

For the competition, Bahena recreated his dish from the Chicago regionals, but instead of making six full portions for judges, he had to make 200 tasting portions.

Bahena says he hasn't decided yet which chef he'll work for, though he adds, "I will say I plan on taking the opportunity to go work outside of Chicago for a while and come back with a whole new set of knowledge."

[photo courtesy S. Pellegrino]

A few more notes from the International Home and Housewares Show, which ended Tuesday at McCormick Place (and what you won't read about in today's Food section):

* Green Toys, an eco-friendly California toy company, has ventured into kids' tableware made from curbside-collected milk jugs. The pastel-colored line of plates, utensils and cups ($5.99 to $12.99) are BPA-free and dishwasher-safe. Sales director Steve Markey says the company was getting so many requests from parents who confessed they were letting their kids use the toy dishware at the actual dinner table. I have no clue what they're talking about . . . Perfect-Portions-Food-Scale-Nutrition-Facts-Photo-1.jpg

* For weight watchers, Design Manufacture Distribution, based in St. Louis, exhibited a Perfect Portions digital food scale ($49.95) that incorporates the familiar Nutrition Facts panel on its surface. It comes with a book listing USDA values for about 2,000 foods (more than other similar scales, says inventor Chris Chupp); you plug in the code for whatever food you're weighing, and it gives you the nutritional breakdown. "What's really valuable is it's re-training people's eyes so they know how much a serving size is," Chupp says.

Scoot - cutting pizza.jpg * If you're in the market for a $15 pizza cutter, Joseph Joseph, a London company whose products have a Michael Graves feel to them, has just the thing. The Scoot does away with the handle of the typical pizza cutter. Push the center button, and the blade cover opens; the cover rotates back and locks in place for safe storage.

* I always try and stop by the Lodge cast iron booth to see what's new but also, I think, because I'm in love with cast iron. And Lodge is this Tennessee company that's been around for more than a century. And the first pan I bought with my own money was a Lodge skillet.

Two years ago, the company came out with these adorable mini-pans. They're got a petite guitar-shaped pan this year (a carryover from a promotion country singer Alan Jackson did with Cracker Barrel, spokesman Mark Kelly tells me), as well as the obligatory silicone in the form of pot holders and trivets. My eyes, however, were drawn to Lodge's ever expanding line of enameled cast iron, the same stuff sold by the deluxe French company Le Creuset. Lodge's 6-quart Dutch oven is $97; the Le Creuset 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven retails for as much as $315. Good to know.

* These candy eyeballs from Wilton need no description. It's just hard to believe someone at the Woodridge-based company didn't already think of these.

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house-FOO-0309-02.jpg [Bodum locking lid containers. | photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times]

Back from the International Home and Housewares Show at McCormick Place, where the breadth of reusable food containers -- stackable, collapsible, microwaveable -- was impressive. It gives me hope. Maybe people are cooking more, and thus producing leftovers that need containing.

But I know better.

Harry Balzer, vice president of the market research firm NPD Group and the guy I turn to whenever I want to know how people are really eating because he has the data to prove it, tells me what we are doing more of is eating at home.

And, he says, what we're eating more of are frozen foods. And the fastest-growing "preparation method" ("cooking" is such a loose term these days -- see Exhibit A, Sandra Lee), not surprisingly, has been warming and heating.

So kudos to these kitchenware companies who are paying attention and building nifty vents into the lids of their space-saving, eco-friendly containers.

Some day, when we're all actually cooking, we'll have somewhere to put the food.

Three things to note in Reality Cooking Show TV Land:

* Bravo is holding a casting call for the next season of "Top Chef" -- the ninth season -- and for the second season of "Top Chef Just Desserts" from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 7 at the Dana Hotel, 660 N. State. Do your homework here before you show up, so you don't make a total arse of yourself.

* New York chef Marc Forgione, recently crowned the Food Network's "Next Iron Chef," stops by Macy's on State Street at noon March 8 for a free cooking demo, fulfilling an obligation as the retailer's newest Culinary Council member.

* "Top Chef Masters" got a facelift. The third season, which premieres at 10 p.m. April 6, has ditched host Kelly Choi for Aussie eye candy (and chef) Curtis Stone and judges Jay Rayner and Gael Greene for former Gourmet editrix Ruth Reichl (Saveur's James Oseland stays on as judge). Alas, there are no Chicago chefs in the mix this season.

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[Gonnella Bakery, circa 1905, on Sangamon. Owner Alessandro Gonnella is on the far left, seated in a delivery carriage. | photo courtesy Gonnella]

Chicago's Gonnella Bakery turns 125 this year.

To celebrate, it's collecting and posting stories from customers on its website, gonnella.com. (There may or may not be some free bread and bread products at stake for those who send in stories.)

Tom Marcucci, Gonnella's vice president of sales and marketing, whose grandfather was founder Alessandro Gonnella's brother-in-law, says it is the oldest bakery in Chicago, and likely in Illinois.

Think about that -- 125 consecutive years in business. The bakery is older than the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jack, Lenox china and Salisbury steak.

The story goes much like you'd expect:

[photo by Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times]

Next, opening next month from Alinea's Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, may be the first restaurant in Chicago that will require customers to buy tickets to eat there, but it may not be the last.

Kokonas (at right, with Achatz) is starting a company to develop a Web-based system that restaurants or other companies can use for ticket sales or reservations. achatz-FOO-0302-12.JPG

The idea, Kokonas says, is to enable companies to incorporate the software into their own websites and set their own parameters (such as "dynamic pricing," which is how Next will operate, where tickets will be pricier at peak times -- say, 7 p.m. on a Saturday), and to make it "far less expensive than competing systems like Open Table."

"So if you are a gallery, the event you have coming up can include the info right on your website, plus the ticket sales right there," Kokonas said via e-mail. "No need to click to another site, or pay any further fees or percentage of sales etc."

As far as Kokonas can tell, there isn't a software system like this out there. Of course, this is how Kokonas and Achatz roll. Doesn't exist? Create it.

After the jump: other random tidbits buried or otherwise left out of this week's cover story on the release of Achatz's memoir and his forthcoming projects.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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