The unstintingly sustainable City Provisions Deli in Ravenswood closed Monday, after about two and a half years in the storefront. In an interview with Dish and an email statement, chef/owner Cleetus Friedman addressed the closure.
• On the intersection of ecological sustainability and economic viability:
“In the end I found that sustainability . . . wasn’t sustainable.”
• On sticking to his principles:
“I could have bought different milk. Different eggs. I could have used non eco-friendly parchment paper. I could [have] sent everything to landfill. . . . I could have had a Sysco truck deliver my food and have one person work a deep fryer and microwave. . . . Maybe I was stubborn. I was committed to doing what I believed to be the right thing.”
• On the community response to the closure:
“It’s overwhelming. I wound up turning my phone off last night. When I woke up [Tuesday] morning, I was just kind of flabbergasted. 175 e-mails.”
• On the suddenness of the closing:
“It’s how I wanted it to go down. I couldn’t have this long, drawn-out going-away party. I’m not dead.”
• On whether he’ll take a vacation:
“No. I would never be able to relax. I still have meat in the cases.”
Kosherly You Jest
Let us clarify Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed (3411 N. Broadway, 773-661-6384). The 50-seat, full-service restaurant, now open just over a week, serves only kosher food, with no dairy and no pork. Chicken, beef brisket, and falling-off-the-bone braised ribs pair with Memphis, Kansas City, and Carolina barbecue sauces, and sides such as coleslaw, sweet potato fries, and fried okra can come alongside, although the dairy-free stipulation means no macaroni and cheese and no butter in the desserts. All Milt’s profits go to local charities, beginning this month with their Chicago Public Schools neighbor, Nettelhorst Elementary School. That only leaves us one question: If you’re planning to eat all of them, are they still spare ribs?
“Barbecue is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent sauce.” —Vince Staten (b. 1947), American writer
Simone Freeman, 24, owns Sol Café (1615 W. Howard St., 773-814-7256), a coffee shop near the end of the Red Line that opened December 10. Here, in her own (condensed and edited) words, is how a recent college graduate—George Washington University, international affairs—came to own a café:
“There was an outdoor coffee kiosk right on campus but independent of the university. I started working there. This guy who owned it for 15 years had just started hiring outside help. . . . He started to think about selling it. I was crushed. I thought it was a one of a kind. Sort of jokingly, he asked me if I wanted to buy it. ‘I do,’ I said. So I gathered investors and used my life savings and bought it. I named it Sol Café. . . . We took his Costco coffee out and put in fair-trade coffee: Dean’s Beans. We didn’t have to change our prices, because we gained so much business. Instead of prepackaged [grocery] muffins, we got a local French baker and got some student bakers who wanted a job. . . . I graduated and moved back to Chicago temporarily, or so I thought. I was going to be here for a month. Last October, I got a call from my father. He told me that someone who works in his building was planning to lease a coffee shop space on Howard Street. I hopped on the el.”
But what ever happened to the kiosk at GWU?, you ask.
“I picked up the whole stand and drove it cross-country with my brother, to Chicago from D.C. I want it to be a like a satellite coffee shop,” Freeman says.
It’s All Mayan
Instead of the end of times, the New Year marked a beginning for El Maya (1522 W. Montrose Ave., 773-878-1882), a modern-Mexican restaurant replacing the second location of Chilapan. The chef/owner, Jimmy Lituma (RL, Eivissa), broke off from the Chilapan partnership, closed the Montrose location, redecorated, and reopened as El Maya about a month ago, with a similar menu. Popular Chilapan dishes received minor tweaks; for example, the skirt steak with Chihuahua cheese and sautéed spinach now has chile de árbol salsa and wild mushrooms. Other dishes are all new. BYO for now, El Maya will acquire a liquor license later this year, if all goes well. The timing of this opening suggests everyone interpreted the Mayan calendar incorrectly—it was just counting down the time until wild mushrooms were added to the skirt steak.
Updated Review: Cafe Spiaggia
New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Cafe Spiaggia increased its rating from two and a half to three stars in the February issue, on newsstands now.
Cafe Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-2750). Italian.
$$$ ($40–$49 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
Dining at this pretty, less formal sibling of Tony Mantuano’s Spiaggia is a great way to experience his artful offerings without breaking the bank. The small but interesting menu changes daily, and everything is executed with real mastery, from the addictive cheese crisps and rosemary focaccia to the perfect gelati. In between, expect delicacy and memorable flavor bursts. Pastas shine; ravioli with ricotta and kale is a knockout. And seafood never disappoints—keep an eye out for salmon tartare, a spectacular brodetto (seafood stew), and ruby trout. Impressive wines, cheeses.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.
Putting the Cart Before the Main Course
“At our house [in Indonesia], we lived at the end of the street near an alley, near a rickshaw depot,” says Oscar Setiawan, the general manager of the family-owned Rickshaw Republic (2312 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-697-4750), which opened this past Friday. “At night all the rickshaw drivers would pull up and sometimes sleep in front of our house. After midnight, our house was completely blocked by rickshaws.” Setiawan’s mother and brother run Rickshaw Republic’s kitchen, and he and his dad run the business side. Menu specialties include grilled satay skewers with peanut or sweet soy sauce as well as other southeast Asian street foods. Funny, the picture of the Setiawans’ street at midnight sounds a lot like the hordes of pedicabs in Wrigleyville before a Cubs game.
- Money doesn’t always buy flavor.
- These little guys are sprouting up everywhere.
- Thankfully, the idiomatic meaning of “get your goat” doesn’t apply.
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Things to Do
- Brush up on your bread-making (and get toasty by the ovens) at Baker & Nosh (1303 W. Wilson Ave., 773-989-7393). Every Monday and Tuesday, the bakery runs bread or croissant classes ($75 and $85, respectively). Call for reservations or see the website for details.
- Slide over to Wicker Park’s Moonshine Brewing Company (1824 W. Division St., 773-862-8686) this Sunday for its second annual Slider Bowl. During the big game, a slider buffet and all-you-can-drink drafts of Moonshine’s beers are available for $35 per person in advance or $40 at the door.
- Download the new Chicago Dining & Drinking app for your iPhone or Android for another way to get the Dish—plus mobile versions of other Chicago dining articles, including “Best New Restaurants” and “Best of Chicago.”
- Taco Joint Urban Taqueria and Cantina (158 W. Ontario St., 312-337-8226) has opened its second location in River North, with a walk-up window and patio seating.
- The second location of Lillie’s Q, in the Chicago French Market (131 N. Clinton St., 312-575-0306), is open today.
- Flour & Stone (355 E. Ohio St., 312-822-8998) dares to bring Brooklyn-style pizza to Streeterville, starting Monday.
- Jonathan Fox’s (La Madia) doughnut shop, Firecakes (68 W. Hubbard St., 312-329-6500), opens at the end of this week.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Jury’s in North Center will become Copper House on Friday and roll out a new menu that emphasizes hand-crafted sandwiches. . . . Farmhouse plans a barn-raising for May for a second location in Evanston’s Hotel Orrington. A larger kitchen space will allow for more house-made pickles, preserves, and jams. The executive chef, Eric Mansavage, will be based in Evanston, with a new sous chef, Eric Vollono (Boka), running the River North branch. . . . Tom and Geri Foley (Broadway Cellars, Southport & Irving) teamed up with Danny Coronel and his family (What’s Cooking) to open Egg Head Diner, a 100-seat breakfast and lunch spot in the former Alps East space specializing in Mexican—but the matzo ball soup and Reuben sandwich from What’s Cooking are on the menu.