Deli food, like sex and barbecue, is very personal. Within minutes of posting a picture of the Uncle Rube Reuben ($13 or $22 “overstuffed”) from Steingold’s, a new deli and cafe in North Center, on Twitter, people harrumphed, “Where’s the beef?” Advertisements
Elvis died early, but, he made the most of his short life. He wore glittery jumpsuits, hung out with Nixon, had a private jet with a state of the art eight track player and his own super-estate, aka Graceland. Culinarily speaking, he totally didn’t GAF. I mean the guy’s favorite sandwich was reportedly peanut butter, bacon and banana on white bread, maybe, sometimes deep fried.
If the dudes from “American Pickers,” Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, opened a burger joint, it would probably look a lot like Flip Burger in West Town. The dining room behind the kitchen is a junk collector’s paradise, featuring a vintage Coke machine, a communal table ringed with reclaimed tulip-style diner stools and a vintage parking meter. “I’m like a ‘Sanford and Son’ garbage collector. I like to go through the back roads in Indiana, finding stuff in small shops and old barns,” owner Felipe Caro said.
Not so long ago, the West Loop was known as one of America’s most notorious skid rows. Madison Street west of the Kennedy was a maleficent mile of burlesques, flop houses and sleazy taverns. I moved to the neighborhood in 2003 into a building that held an annual progressive Christmas party called The Taste of Skid Row.
All-encompassing menus are generally the province of Greek diners and recent culinary school grads who somehow fumbled into an executive chef role. As such, I had my suspicions when I saw the menu at Income Tax, a new Edgewater restaurant from chef Ryan Henderson (Maple & Ash), owner Nelson Fitch and GM Collin Moody. The dishes here are broken down by four countries: Spain, France, Italy and Germany. I also noticed that the Income Tax guys dubbed themselves a “neighborhood restaurant,” which is often shorthand for “Yeah, we have dry roast chicken, a mediocre burger and some beers on tap.” Things didn’t look good
There are a lot of things Chicago doesn’t need more of: potholes, corruption, red light cameras and polar vortexes, to name a few. On the dining scene, that list includes taquerias, steakhouses and Italian restaurants—there are arguably plenty to go around. Italian-wise, we’ve got fancified gourmet versions such as Balena, Nico Osteria and Acanto. There are plenty of old-school red sauce joints like Tufano’s, Sabatino’s and La Scarola, and enough Rosebuds to fill the White House Rose Garden. What we don’t have is a red sauce joint running with the aplomb of a modern restaurant group. Until now. The folks behind Balena and The Bristol—John Ross and Phil Walters, aka B Hospitality—along with chef/partner (and former Balena sous chef) Tony Quartaro, have now put down a stake with the opening of Formento’s, their attempt at old-school Italian run with modern sensibility. I stopped in to see if it would be a red sauce revelation or a limp noodle.
Jason Paskewitz, chef/partner of recently opened Rustic House restaurant in Lincoln Park, is the antidote to the Ladies’ Home Journal circa 1955 aesthetic that continues to dominate modern food media.
Dear Raymond, I really don’t like steakhouses. They’re generally exercises in hubris built to prove that you can have asparagus stalks as thick as the forearms of a cage fighter no matter the season.
This year I broke down and finally asked what Jesus would do. It happened at the 3pm Christmas Eve mass in the back of Old St. Pat’s church in the West Loop. Somewhere during the Gospel pageant, when a tiny Mary wrested plastic baby Jesus from his makeshift manger and hoisted him by his head like Michael Jordan palming a basketball, my mind started to wander.
Whatever the medium, there are always a few masterpieces that capture everyone’s imagination. In cinema, it’s Citizen Kane. In music there’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And as far as Chicago wine lists go, it’s the one at Vivere, the upscale Italian jewel in the 83-year-old Italian Village restaurant family.