My Full Response to Sky Full of Bacon


On Fri, Sep 13, 2013 at 7:40 AM, Mike Gebert wrote:

So a couple of years ago you ragged on Dolinsky for tweeting what he thought about a place on opening night or something (do you remember what that was?) What’s changed since then?

On Fri, Sep 13, 2013 at 9:00 AM, Michael Nagrant wrote:

I didn’t rag on Dolinsky for tweeting on opening night. I ragged on Dolinsky because he faux naively suggested it wasn’t a review or that his opinion doesn’t carry weight. As you know, I’m a believer that when the door is open and people are paying full price, judgement is fine. However, if last night had been bad, I probably wouldn’t have said anything, because I’m not a cold-hearted bastard.

I fully understand that what I tweeted last night will be regarded though and that’s the intent. I thought the chicken and Mac and Cheese was outstanding and I think people should know about it.

Also, unlike many when I get a free meal or I have a relationship, whether it’s a feature or a review, I disclose it as I did last night (I paid but I know them).

It would probably be also interesting that I was asked to review them in a few weeks, but I declined because of my relationship, i.e. I’ve met them many times at their Sunday dinners and over interviews and felt the review would be compromised as such.



The Kith and the Kin Break Up

Bites: News and Miscellany

One of the best new chefs in Chicago just got fired.

Or maybe he didn’t. More »


Gettin My Goat

Restaurant Reviews

Who names their restaurant after a bestiality porn video? I mean, c’mon Stephanie Izard, don’t you have PR people who are supposed to vet that stuff? You’re practically best buds with Spike from Top Chef. Dude clearly watches lots of seedy stuff – he could have given you the heads up that a Google search for your restaurant would be illegal. More »


Yes, There Really is a Food Mecca There


This article was written for a national publication three years ago, but was never published for space reasons. Life got in the way and I never got around to publishing it. The New York Times and Food and Wine have recently show some interest in the region, so I figured it was time to ressurect the piece. Sadly, Tapawingo, the great restaurant referenced in the article has since closed. The winemakers are are still putting out incredible product, including Left Foot Charley wines which wasn’t open yet during my initial visit. The cheesemakers at Black Star Farms are also still first in class.

As far as I could remember, Michigan had always been dubbed a rust belt state by embattled politicians, but growing up in metro-Detroit, I never believed it. Sure, shopworn laborers left their jobs drenched in sweat, with the boom, thud, plodding of pistons and a gnash of gears ringing in their ears, but they did so in shiny Cadillacs or trailed by the guttural purr of Corvette exhaust pipes.

Local prosperity lingered far past damning rhetorical pronouncements, and nowhere was our good fortune more evident than “up north”, what native Michiganders call all land above the city of Flint. If Detroit was the rust belt, than the Northwestern quadrant of the state that includes Leelanau County and greater Traverse City was the natty suspenders that always lifted the spirit of the working class. Childhood summers spent at my father’s friend Walt Schrodt’s rusty red pine cottage near Traverse city provided me plenty of opportunity to witness the spoils of good union jobs: the thunder of power boats on the Grand Traverse Bay, the buzz of snowmobiles ratcheting nimbly through the snow capped pines, and the chattery schuss of skis on local slopes.

But, by the time I graduated from college and applied for local work, I finally realized how tight the rust belt noose was drawn. Jobs, including the perennial well of skilled trade positions, finally dried up. So for me it was on to Chicago, where urban and coastal cultural superiority crept into my consciousness. As I began to see it, New York City had a gleaming LCD soaked Broadway, while Detroit only the gritty racial dividing line of Eight Mile, California a never ending growing season, and Michigan, an interminable killing frost. Something was askew. I needed to get back to my roots, and Traverse City seemed the perfect place to visit for perspective. More »


Grub Street’s State of the Food Union

Bites: News and Miscellany

The kind folks at Grub Street and NYMag were kind enough to allow me to play in their sandbox and share my thoughts on the state of American dining. Most of my opinions made it in, but for those who are interested, here is the full transcript of my responses.

1. Who are the three most important chefs today, and why?

Rachael Ray, Jamie Oliver and Guy Fieri.

Guy Fieri has more frat boys wearing sunglasses on the back of their heads at a single Dave Matthew’s concert than Thomas Keller has served meals in his lifetime.

Go to any non-foodie cocktail party in the nation and I’m willing to bet 7 out of 10 people won’t even know who Ferran Adria or Grant Achatz are. The road to eating at Robuchon for the majority of people goes through Rachael Ray.

Ray and Fieri are the culinary versions of marijuana, the food TV gateway drug to eating and cooking either bigger, better, and badder food, or for lazier folks, a lifetime of the cooking equivalent of smoking really bad weed.

Thankfully with guys like Oliver who’ve consciously chosen to cook in an unfussy appealing way while featuring super-fresh ingredients, and promoting reasonably healthy eating, people will hopefully be doing more of the former. More »


Stay Hungry

Bites: News and Miscellany

In case you couldn’t already tell, Hungry is officially on vacation. Thanks for reading. Have a good summer!



Food History, Recipes

When I was a child at summer camp in northern Wisconsin, I made the astonishing discovery that there were plants throughout the forests with fruit on them. Even though my family was keen on buying from local farmers, you had to drive to the farm, and you had to pay someone for the fruit (which was, by the way, already picked—not much charm in that for a child). But there I was, surrounded by fruit just waiting to be plucked from a gracefully arching branch. I could eat it any time I wanted—and it was free. This made me almost giddy with delight. While there were a few incredibly sweet wild blueberries, the most abundant fruit was raspberries. More »


30 Seconds on Top Chef: Rick Bayless’ French Kiss Edition

Bites: News and Miscellany

1 – My name is Ludovic Lefebvre and I will have sex with you with my eyes.

2 – But, that being said, I have a man crush on Rick Bayless. He makes me want to do yoga.

3 – My name is Wilo and I’m a misogynist.

4 – Why isn’t Kelly Choi eating?

5 – I think Ludacris is gonna be pissed that this French dude is stealing and mangling his nickname.

6 – It scared me when Cindy said “testicles”.

7 – Talk about providence. Bayless draws tongue. I mean is there a better taco?

8 - I like how Bayless thinks the quesadilla idea is horrible, but he doesn’t discourage Ludo.

9 – Bayless pulls the bacon card.

10 – “Once Rick Bayless has slipped you tongue, you never forget it.”

11 – Wilo made homemade Cheez Whiz

12 – It’s funny how Fabio’s foreigner lothario persona came off as charming, but Ludo is just an ass.

13 – Cindy’s dish is perfect for Kelly Choi since she looks a little short on good circulation.

14 - Jay Rayner would make a great professor of the dark arts in the next Harry Potter movie.

15 – Bayless wins.



Food History

When you think about it, the lemon is the only really important fruit that nobody actually eats. It’s one of the most popular flavors in the world, but no one sits down and bites into a nice, juicy lemon. But that’s not the only odd thing about lemons. More »


Wild Among the Organics

Bites: News and Miscellany

From our Cincinnati bureau: A true story

Last Friday morning, a young deer was wandering in the parking lot of a local “upscale” Cincinnati shopping plaza when he became disoriented by the seemingly endless sea of Lexus RX350’s confronting him at every turn. Driven by instinct and panic, the deer bolted toward the first building in his line of sight, a Whole Foods market, the reigning symbol of affluence, sophistication, and moral self-righteousness. The store was originally built as a Wild Oats market, which was acquired by Whole Foods last year, re-badged, and re-stocked, all to the delight of the center’s owners, who so carefully cultivate its haughty, uber-demographic image. More »


30 Seconds on Top Chef Masters: This wine tastes likes tears edition.

Bites: News and Miscellany

1- If Graham Elliot Bowles’ style is punk rock, then what does that make Michael Carlson of Schwa? Speed Metal?
2- Frying an egg is molecular gastronomy, FYI.
3- If the camera puts on ten pounds, is Kelly Choi invisible in real life?
4- I am Suzanne Tracht. I am a zombie robot sent by my children to talk about my children.
5- Wylie seems to have some anger-management issues.
6- Nothing says Top Chef Masters like Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio
7- Gael, there’s nothing “chemical” about sous vide.
8- Suzanne Tracht earns the right to lose to Rick Bayless (who talks smack next week by saying “What does a French guy know about quesadillas?”) in the finals.


Grapes of Mirth

Grape Pun: All Things Wine

There may be no better time in our history to hit the bottle. Certainly we are not lacking for motivation, what with all the layoffs, pay reductions, bankruptcies and mortgage adjustments. But, more importantly, even with thinner wallets, because of the over-production of wine, the growth in negociants (folks who often capitalize on that over-production by buying great wines for a song and selling them for a comparably low price at retail), and increases in manufacturing efficiencies, we’ve never had greater opportunity to buy relatively low-priced wine. More »


Low and Slow BBQ Signing


If you’ve ever wanted to meet legendary LTHforum founder, local foodie godfather and general Barbecue Life Coach Gary Wiviott, he and food writer Colleen Rush will be signing copies of and giving selected readings from “Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons” this weekend.

June 13th at 11am
The Book Stall at Chestnut Court
811 Elm Street
Winnetka Illinois 60093
Book signing

June 14th at Noon
Barnes and Noble
297 Oakbrook Center
Oak Brook, IL 60523
Book Signing


30 Seconds on Top Chef Masters: Tim Love Drinks a lot Edition

Bites: News and Miscellany

1- I’ll never recognize Gael Greene because of her sneaky hat disguises.
2- Is Jay Rayner Marco Pierre White’s long lost twin?
3- It’s really scary how Kelly Choi over-annunciates exactly like Padma.
4- Seriously, even the Top Chef Masters are retards – dude watch the show. For like 10 seasons they have been doing dessert. If you don’t know how to make a great dessert by now, go home.
5- Tim Love is an alcoholic. And yeah, we get it dude, you’re just an aww-shucks boy from Texas.
6- The chicken fried strawberry negates the fact that nothing says 1984 like chocolate covered strawberries.
7- Is GE Monogram gonna be pissed that their logo got flashed when the cakes weren’t baking?
8- In this case, some of these chefs really are getting schooled by little girls.
9- Yo, my dorm room didn’’t have a shiny stainless steel toaster oven and microwave.
10- This Michelob Light is for you Mr. Rolling Cooler Cooler Roller.
11- These judges are almost reverent of these dudes. I almost miss Toby Young.
12- Cooking competition rule #1: Never cook risotto
13- Hubert Keller wins. I was pretty certain of this halfway through the episode.



Food History

There really is no good substitute for chocolate—but you couldn’t tell that to the creative Aztec forgers who found a way to create a cacao alternative at a time when the beans were a form of money. Fake cacao beans might have been harder to keep in circulation than forged paper money, however. More »


Workin’ on the Nightwood

Podcasts, Profiles in Food: Interviews

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.

If you have Adobe Flash installed, you can play the file right on this site, below, by pressing the play button. If not, download the file and play it on your PC or on an MP3 player here: Jason Hammel Interview


Duck Liver for Charlie


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). More »


Ace of Coffee?

Bites: News and Miscellany

Though he’s been wearing it for a while I just noticed a few weeks ago that Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, Duff Goldman, owner of Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes is often rockin’ an Intelligentsia Coffee hat. Spoke to Sean McMahon, National Production Manager at the Chicago coffee roaster, who says: More »


Strollin’ Down the Avenues

Podcasts, Profiles in Food: Interviews

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.

If you have Adobe Flash installed, you can play the file right on this site, below, by pressing the play button. If not, download the file and play it on your PC or on an MP3 player here: Curtis Duffy Interview


Slow Ride

Restaurant Reviews

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. More »

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