chojin salad
The chojin salad is on the menu for the pop-up from the Vietnamese-Guatemalan mashup Giong Giong. Credit: Jeanette Tran

In January 2020 I assumed I had a lock on the annual Kedzie Inn chili cookoff, with a three-day smoked brisket braised with Cremeria La Ordena mole picoson. I spent a lot of time peering into the Dutch oven, building it, finessing it—no, caressing it—making sure the judges would drown in its smoldering, head-spinning complexity. So I never really got over losing to bar owner Jon Pokorny’s chipotle-spiked black bean-lamb-and-sirloin bowl.

Jon, on the other hand, was drunk on victory, scheming about what other food competitions he could host and dominate in order to feed his insatiable, bloated ego. Barbecue? Casseroles? Hot dog eating?

It took a state-mandated lockdown two months later to slow his roll. But the dream never died. Back then, like everyone, we hoped that bars and restaurants would be back in business in short order once the nation united to vanquish the virus with proven science and common sense. Couple of weeks tops, right? Months? Next year?

What if that happened and the Irving Park bar started hosting some of the amazing itinerant chefs I’d begun writing about, popping up on social media to make life bearable for the sheltered-in-place?

It took a lot longer than we expected, but with respect to the city’s new mask mandate, the time is nigh. On August 23, the Reader presents the first Monday Night Foodball at the Kedzie Inn, a seven-week pop-up series featuring some of my favorite chefs stepping out of their Instagram virtuality into a real life brick and mortar Chicago neighborhood bar, with a roomy dining room, shady patio, and fully stocked bar.

First up this Monday is Jeanette Tran and David Hollinger of the Vietnamese-Guatemalan mashup Giong Giong.

When last we left chef Jeanette Tran, she was two weeks out from bringing Jones Van Dean into the world. He’s a healthy, bouncing baby boy, and Tran is back at work heading up private dining at Oriole. But she and Hollinger, who works at Aya Pastry, have continued to refine their particular transcontinental synthesis based on the surprisingly “same-same” qualities of Vietnamese and Guatemalan cuisine.

They’ve continued intermittent pop ups while scouting brick and mortar spaces, and they’ve posted their menu for Monday, featuring a reprise of their excellent chojin salad; a take on citrusy-minty cold Guatemalan radish and pork salads, bumped up with fish sauce, shredded papaya, shrimp paste, and shrimp chips. Bot chien churrasco is a chimmchuri’d flank steak egg scramble over rice noodles, and the spicy noodle tostada is a riff on the tostada de chao mein, with confit lemongrass chicken and pickly cabbage slaw, aka curtido. There’s a banh mi on deck with two country sausages (nem nuong and longangisa, respectively) topped with a fried cackleberry, and for dessert, a jiggly corn-based take on each cuisine’s bruleed custard tradition with rice-based ice cream (rice cream?).   

That’s just Monday. Here’s a bit of more what to expect over the weeks: The Kedzie’s not a rarefied cocktail bar (though you can get a blue motherfucker). But some nights will feature special beverage collaborations between the chefs and the front of the house (i.e. Jon). Have you ever had a picosita, the Guatemalan michelada? Drain one on Monday. Have you ever spiked one of Eve Studnicka’s opulent drinking chocolates? September 27’s your chance.

Some nights are just going to be wild. Mona Sang is bringing in Khmer dancers.  John Carruthers and Dennis Lee are putting their very souls at risk, employing the Dark Arts to summon pizzas not of this world. Many more surprises are in store.

I’ll be catching up with the chefs in this space the week before each of their pop ups and letting you know what and how to order. Monday, which starts at 4 PM is cash only for food. Tran says everything’s under $15. (For drinks, the bar will take your card).

At the debut pop-up you can try out a picosita, a Guatemalan michelada.

Here’s the lineup. See ya there.
August 23: Vietnamese-Guatemalan street food with Giong Giong at 4pm. Cash only.
August 30: Malaysian from Kedai-Tapao
September 13: Mumbai! with Tasting India
September 20: Cambodian prix fixe from Mona Bella Catering
September 27: Midwestern Weird with Funeral Potatoes
October 4: Pizza and Doughnuts night with John Carruthers (Crust Fund Pizza), World’s Greatest Food Writer Dennis Lee, and Tubers Donuts
October 11: Khmer street food from Ethan Lim of Hermosa
Monday Night Foodball at the Kedzie Inn, 4100 N. Kedzie Ave., 773-942-6771