The first time I walked in to Avenues, the polished restaurant on the main lobby level of the Peninsula Chicago, the maître d’ looked me up and down as if I were Daisy Duke stepping in to Buckingham Palace. Advertisements
Nightwood (2119 S. Halsted St.), the second restaurant from Lula Cafe co-owner’s Amalea Tshilds and Jason Hammel and partners Kevin Heisner and Matt Eisler, is set to debut in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. I sat down with Hammel last December in anticipation of the opening to talk about Lula, his cooking philosophy, and the new restaurant. In the following podcast interview he talks about his old writing mentor, the late David Foster Wallace, the impromptu ping pong games in the basement during the early years at Lula, and the importance of the French Laundry cookbook. I apologize for the background noise on this one as we recorded it in the busy front room of Lula cafe. Enjoy.
A couple of nights ago I drank away some of my recessionary angst at the new Humboldt Park watering hole, Rootstock (954 N. California). The tiny little wine bar is a joint venture from Webster’s Wine Bar vets Jamie McClennan, Tonya Pyatt, and Johnny Hap. It is a totally idiosyncratic spot that like the best places honors the whims of its owners and operators. The night I was there, both Hap and Pyatt were super-gracious, with Pyatt even pulling up a chair to hang with me and my friend for a spell and dish on the wonders of our other local fave beer joint, Archie’s bar (2600 W. Iowa).
Is getting four hours of sleep a night the secret to staying young? What does snail caviar taste like? Can you wear a punk rock t-shirt and jeans to dinner at the four star restaurant Avenues at the Peninsula hotel? All these answers and more can be found in our recent podcast interview with chef Curtis Duffy of Avenues. Duffy, formerly of Charlie Trotter’s, Trio, and Alinea, is putting out food on par with those giants and is one of Chicago’s most promising young chefs.
In my fourteenth year I had the good fortune of befriending a teenage entrepreneur and a crew of stoner pizza makers. The entrepreneur, my buddy Mike, was the proud owner of a lucrative paper route as well as a premier lawn-care business in Shelby Township, Michigan. Even before Mike could drive, he had a fleet of commercial walk-behinds and tractors, and a shiny trailer to haul them. He was generating mid-five figures while I was still begging my mom for quarters to secure Slurpees at 7-11.
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.”
If Chicago’s newest gourmet sandwich shops Birchwood Kitchen in Wicker Park and Lunch Rolls in the Loop were twins, they’d be Julius and Vincent Benedict from the 1988 film, “Twins.” In case you’ve forgotten the plot, and really who could blame you, Julius and Vincent were the product of a secret experiment to create the perfect child from six different fathers. While the exercise spawned the superior intellectual/physical specimen of Julius (Arnold Schwarzenegger) it also created a fraternal twin, Vincent (Danny Devito) made from the leftover genetic garbage. Neither Birchwood nor Lunch Rolls is particularly deficient like Vincent (in fact they’re both pretty decent options for their respective hoods), but as sandwich-slinging brethren they’re definitely opposites.
For five years, I’ve been a food writer without a country, or at least a great neighborhood restaurant to call my own. You might protest that as a West Loop denizen, I’ve been luckier than most, what with the glittering jewel of restaurant row on Randolph and carnivorous visions of glistening lamb spit-roasting in my Greek-joint-littered backyard. But expensive, even if inspired, lacquered glitterati-filled palaces and ethnic-focused conveyor-belt kitchens do not a neighborhood restaurant make. The bustle of such places may boil the blood, but they do not stir one’s soul.