Cholent, a slow-simmered stew of brisket with pearl barley and potatoes from Eve Studnicka Credit: EVE STUDNICKA

Last month Alexis Thomas of Black Cat Kitchen and Eve Studnicka of Dinner at the Grotto officially joined forces by rebranding their binomial meal delivery service “Funeral Potatoes,” named for the classic midwestern cheesy hash brown casserole.

It was a small but significant flag-planting for one of the first of many pandemic chef pivots I covered in the last year. In a time when we couldn’t (and definitely shouldn’t) go out to restaurants, Instagram pop-ups like theirs kept the creative life force of the Chicago restaurant industry alive. You could only order so much pickup or delivery, but even vicariously eye-gorging on what chefs like Jasmine Sheth of Tasting India, John Avila of Minahasa, or Mona Sang of Mona Bella Catering came up with each week was inspiring. In many ways these underground foodlums found ways to support themselves and feed others with concepts the old brick-and-mortar restaurant economy seemed too hidebound and risk-averse to greenlight. And as someone who lives for good food, they’ve certainly helped me get along without completely losing my mind.

New ones seem to pop up on my feed each day. These exciting young cooks are forerunners of a thrilling renaissance of the Chicago food scene. Who knows what that’ll look like in a few months, but right now it looks fucking delicious.