Earlier this week, the city dropped its outdoor dining rules for winter: all about tents, heaters, and safety protocols, and all about as agreeable to restaurant owners as the creeping chill that precedes a patrol of White Walkers occupying a six-top in the parking lot.
The clock has run out on the gorgeous summer that made it possible, every now and then, to forget the grim circumstances the approaching winter presents for the Chicago hospitality industry. I’ve taken every chance I could to highlight folks who have found ways to pivot in the pandemic; to keep working and keep feeding people.
And I have every faith that no matter how bad it gets, Chicago’s restaurant workers are going to find ways to keep doing just that. Here are a few I’m excited about:
Pop-ups will abide
I told you a couple weeks ago about chef Jennifer Kim’s post-Passerotto preserving project, but she only hinted at the pop-up she’s planning in the style of pojangmacha, the outdoor street food tents of South Korea. But now here she is with more:
“The pop-up is called Outer Limits Pojangmacha, and we’re running it only for the five Saturdays in October (10/3 to 10/31) in a few undisclosed areas near West Town and Ukrainian Village. It’ll be a fully-outdoor, Seoul-style KBBQ mirrored after Seo Seo Galbi in the Mapo-gu area of Seoul, Korea (“seo seo” means “to stand”), which we visited on the tail-end of our two-week trip to South Korea in January. It was bonkers good and so much fun, we want to recreate aspects of that experience with Outer Limits. Everyone working alongside this pop-up was on that trip so it’s a lovely shared memory for us. All proceeds benefit staff members undergoing financial duress as we gear up for a long, hard winter. Creating viable means of income and community are at the forefront of our minds in these next two months or so.” The Outer Limits Pojangmacha website is live now with the menu and some very reassuring safety guidelines. Kim said it should be taking reservations by the end of the week, which at press time means any minute now.
But that’s not all: “I’m also working on a Mutual Aid Market centered around hospitality workers, artists, and social organizers for some time in late October,” she writes. “Should also have food + cocktails in a safe, outdoor setting. That info should be up by the end of the week as well.”
And the preserves are ready!
“Been burning the midnight oil to get the website for the preservation stuff up,” Kim writes. “Alteconomy will eventually turn into a community hub for other small biz/alt econ/working artists/pop-ups to share a website together as well as have an online mutual aid component for folx to buy, trade, barter for goods + necessities that doesn’t rely solely on cash as currency.”
Masa-focused dishes, a cheffy take on Al’s Beef, and BBQ
In mid-October, Jonathan Zaragoza is setting up at the wood-burning hearth at the Promontory for El Oso, a three-month (or so) residency of “traditional Mexican and masa-focused dishes.” Zaragoza, as you well know, has been cooking over live fire since he was a wee ninito, well before his family opened Birrieria Zaragoza.
Here’s a peek at one dish on the menu leaked at great risk by a top-secret source: “Crispy pork belly roulade and mole manchamanteles, served with house-made tortillas.” 16” on Center’s publicist goes on to reveal that dinner, along with an agave-based cocktail list, will be served “via counter service with social-distancing friendly seating available both on the patio and indoors near the restaurant’s large open front window.”
I’m just as intrigued by what Virtue chef Erick Williams’s interpretation of an Al’s Beef combo is. And for $17.50, between October 15 and 17, you can find out if you order it through Resy. It’s part of a national corporate promotion, sponsored in part by the American Express Gold Card, “pairing top chefs with legacy restaurants,” that actually appears like it might not suck.
Speaking of legacy restaurants, Gary Wiviott, former pitmaster at the erstwhile Barn & Company and co-author of two Low & Slow art-of-barbecue cookbooks, is popping up October 3 and 4 at the Wildwood Tavern, former home of the legendary Myron & Phil’s, with hickory smoked ribs, buttermilk brined smoked chicken wings, and Chicago-style hot links on split-top buns with pickled red onion and giard. There’s indoor dining, if you must, but also a covered patio and takeaway available; masks and social distancing will be “strictly observed.” Wiviott says that if you have a large order, contact him directly ahead of time on Instagram via @lowslowbbq.
Magical Ube Doobie, a Mexican-Lebanese collab, and DIY firepits
There aren’t too many more details about the cannabis-infused Filipino pop-up promised by @adoboloko chef Rob Menor, whose magical Ube Doobie I wrote about in August, but he’s promising a mid-to-late October event as soon as he nails down the location. Any day now, he says.
If nothing else, hope isn’t dead. People continue to open brick-and-mortars. I’m particularly keen to order carryout pita nachos and lamb tacos arabes from Evette’s in Lincoln Park, a Mexican-Lebanese collaboration between Rafael Esparza (Finom Coffee, Dorian’s) and Mitchell AbouJamra (DMK Group, Bistro 110, Sur La Table). If that sounds like an unlikely combination, just know that there would be no tacos arabes or tacos al pastor if it weren’t for Lebanese migration to Mexico in the early 20th century. It opens October 5.
And finally, “fire pits are not permitted heaters” for restaurants, according to the city’s rules, but if you’re lucky enough to have access to a private backyard, or similarly sheltered spot, they’re going to be the best and safest way to hang out with your pals this winter. Just in time for that, Meat Project: A Backyard Fire Cooking Zine, by El Che Chef John Manion and food writer Maggie Hennessy, hit its Kickstarter goal this week and is already off to the printer. The first issue is all about how to build a backyard firepit and grill a big hunk of meat over it, along with some suitable accompanying recipes by other notable chefs and bartenders. v
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