Pizza links For Your Reading and Viewing Pleasure

My testing thin and crispy pizza made with locally milled flour and a rye starter.

When I was in college, I read about the political economy of race, existentialism, and American Literature. My days were filled with Camus and Baldwin, William Julius Wilson and Kozol, Faulkner and Cather. I don't know what happened, but now I read up on thin crust and pizza al taglio and fineness of the stone ground and bran cutting gluten. I love a lot of things (burgers, in season tomatoes, steak tacos, broccoli slow cooked, my wife, etc.) but I am a little crazy for pizza. Here is all the pizza that I've been reading, watching, and staring at:

Please Lord, I Really Want a New Co-op

Today I discovered that the wheels are in motion to drum up support for a new food co-op in Chicago - specifically up in the Lincoln Square/North Center area. Check out this damn exciting vision from the Chicago Cooperative website:
The vision for the food co-op is that it will be a big, bright, beautiful store featuring organic, local, and natural produce, organic meat and dairy products, seafood, prepared foods, fresh baked goods, canned, dried, and frozen foods, bulk foods, local beer, wine and liquor products, dry goods and groceries. It will also have other services including true butcher service, a salad bar, juice and coffee bar, community workshops, and classes. Members will shape and further define this vision and the future of the co-op.
Yes please!  As a long time member of the incredible Madison, Wisconsin Williamson Street Coop, I have long pined for an excellent, full service co-op here in Chicago.  As a college student in Madison in the mid 90s, I belonged to the Willy Street Coop when it was in a small space.  It was great, but magic happened when a group of visionaries there decided to push for and build a full service grocery using the co-op model.  Willy Street has became integral to the community that surrounds it, it has benefited small artisans and farmers across the local region, it has nourished families and provided many important, sustainable jobs to it workers.  The possibility of this happening here is daunting but I encourage anyone interested to please sign up on the website - attend an informational session.  A co-op truly is owned by the community and it's only as limited or limitless as it's base of support.  

City Provisions Deli Closing

Cleetus Friedman - one the good guys - a truly loyal and supportive friend whose optimism and commitment to doing what is right in business has announced that his deli, City Provisions, is closed.  The closing of CP is not just sad for those of us that seek responsible and delicious food options, but I feel for his awesome staff, as their commitment to Cleetus and his food philosophy was palpable - all the best to them.

Cleetus mentioned in his newsletter announcing the closing, that his farm direct ingredients and business philosophy of sustainability were costly, saying:
I could have bought different milk. Different eggs. I could have used non eco-friendly parchment paper. I could sent everything to landfill. I could have used an inferior product. I could have had a Sysco truck deliver my food and have one person work a deep fryer and microwave. I consciously chose to do things one way. Maybe I was stubborn. I was committed to doing what I believed to be the right thing.
Having cooked many times with Cleetus, including a couple of dinners at the deli and at one time having been a vendor with our now retired Eat Green Foods Granola Bars, I know that what he was doing at CP was not smoke and mirrors.

Cleetus is the real deal when it is comes to putting his money where his mouth is.   The conversation about food costs and the "price of sustainability" has been debated before and will continue (you can read some of my thoughts on the topic here, in a discussion about tamales from a couple of years back).  But what I do know for sure, is that whether it was Illinois Sparkling wines or Gunthorp ducks or Pinn Oak Lamb or responsibly sourced shrimp in his awesome salad, the ingredients and products that Cleetus sought were thoughtful and generous.  Cleetus used City Provisions to support many small business, seeking to showcase products from area farmers and artisans.

At a time when many of us in the food business crave an opportunity to provide not only great, responsibly sourced food, but also a respectful and fruitful workplace, this closing is a tough pill to swallow.

Mission Chinese Bathroom is Really Something

Mission Chinese Lamb

Mission Chinese Lamb

So, yes, I actually did have my mind blown at Mission Chinese in NYC this past week.  Really, the food is beyond exciting, yet humble and truly delicious.  The cumin lamb ribs were the kinda thing that requires loud grunting to eat.  I've never been so happy to have perfectly popping, crunchy cumin crusted, perfectly rendered, super lamby hunks of lamb fat in my mouth.  Fuck.  It was so good it kinda hurts me a little.

Besides the food, they have a way with decor that can make you feel a bit . . . funny?  As a guy who is in the process of opening a restaurant, it's the little things I notice when I am out to eat - like the fact that they store extra dining chairs in the ceiling - right above your head:

Ceiling Chairs

Ceiling Chairs

But what really changed everything, was the bathroom.  Yes, go eat the damn lamb and the salt cod fried rice and the mapo tofu and all the rest, but if you go to Mission Chinese in New York, take a nice long break in the bathroom.  Check out my video, direct from the Mission Chinese water closet - and please, watch with the volume up:

GRANDMA ALERT: Rigatoni Filo e Fumo

At Sunday Dinner Club we are always asked about our style of cuisine - we are never totally sure what to say, but I like "seasonal grandma food."  Food that stays rooted to tradition but is updated for the seasons.  I'm always on the look out for "grandma food."  Food your grandma (or your fantasy grandma) might have made.

Here's one: rigatoni filo e fumo at

La Bocca della Verita'

in Lincoln Square.  Seems to translate to rigatoni with wire and smoke.  The dish is simple - spicy tomato sauce, smoky guanciale, wiry fresh mozzarella and rigatoni.  It's fucking good.  They often don't have it on the menu, sometimes it's a special.  They might hate that I share this, but if you ask for it when it's not on the menu and it's a slow night - they just might make it for you.  

La Bocca is the quintessential neighborhood Italian restaurant - nothing pretentious, easy decor, and relaxed environment run by a mother and daughter who clearly love what they do and have built a life that revolves around the restaurant.  Food is exactly what you want and always good - tomato sauces are pretty special.  Had my first date with my wife there.  She had Spaghetti and Clams and I had, you guessed it, filo e fume! 

Rigatoni Filo e Fumo at La Bocca de la Verita

Seen here through the GRANDMA ALERT filter!

Skinny People Booths

Visited the Violet Hour on New Year's Day for the first time.  Not sure why I had never been before.  Had a great time with friends, and guess what - the Violet Hour was great!  I didn't get turned away at the door - I fit into the booth - just barely.

Our server was so good at his job that I wanted him to be my friend.  And the drinks: thoughtful, exciting, and like a great but simple bite of food - you can tell when care has been infused along with the kefir lime leaf. Oh, and sad Leonard Cohen filled the room - not a alt/hipster wispy peep heard all night (although this video is something).

My drink at the Violet Hour?  The Presbyterian.  I always go for the religious beverages.  It's absurdly simple - ginger, bubbles, sweetness, whiskey, lemon, ice cube (or if you are the Violet Hour, one gigantic, phallic ice cube).  Make sure each item is the best you can get and you will be quite happy, at least for a little while.  I like to throw in a little molasses for some extra bite.

Josh's Presbyterian

Ginger Syrup
1 large knob of ginger, unpeeled, washed
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 TB blackstrap molasses
1 tsp lemon juice

For the Cocktail
Ginger Syrup
Good Rye, Whiskey, or Bourbon
Soda Water
Lemon Peel

Make a ginger syrup by grating the ginger (or just slice it thin if you prefer a little less gingerness).  Combine the ginger with the water, sugar, molasses and lemon juice in a small sauce pot and stir.  Bring to a simmer for a moment and then reduce heat to a bare simmer for a half hour or so until delicious.  Strain syrup to remove ginger bits and cool.

To make the drink, fill a 12 oz glass with ice (or the above mentioned ice phallis).  Add some ginger syrup, it's a preference thing - about a tablespoon.  Add a shot or two of whiskey/bourbon/rye.  Add soda to fill and run a little lemon peel around the rim of the glass and drop it in.  Have a nice day and lose some weight.

Links To The Past

As a chef, the task of building flavor into a single dish is a constant.  If we're making a lobster ravioli, goddammit, we want that bite of food to taste like a giant lobster.  Now we might add some alternate flavor notes, some herbs, a little booze, perhaps a little acid, but lobster must permeate.  So, obviously we would fill the ravioli with lobster, but the b├ęchamel we make to sauce the ravioli - we'll start with a base of lobster stock.  The mushrooms we serve as a garnish - toss em with some lobster butter.  Lobster on lobster on lobster.  Throw in a little tarragon, a splash of sherry and you really have something.  When a diner takes a bite of that lobster dish, we want them to taste depth, and layering, and fully lobster (yes, I can't stop thinking about lobsters).

That's all fine and good for a single dish, but what about a whole menu?  At Sunday Dinner Club we think in menus - we serve a set four, five, or six course menu that has to flow, be balanced, and feel "right."  We always attempt to find complimentary dishes and flavors as the menu progresses.  We try to balance starches, and dairy, and meat, and veg.  We try to flow from one dish to the next, focused on the progression, moving forward on the menu, but also moving away from the previous dish.  Unlike the repetitive layering of a single plate, when composing a full menu, we have always been conscious to not repeat ingredients, to move ahead in an appropriate but certainly different way from the previous dish.  Our method of menu building, to find a menu direction, and go forward has been successful, exciting and useful.

But recently I was lucky enough to dine at Goosefoot, and experienced top level execution, elegance and soul.  Goosefoot blew me away.  After the meal I could not stop thinking about the menu, and the progression.  Goosefoot operates in set menus as well, and Chef Chris Nugent and his team offered a menu that of course had direction and flow.  But it had something else as well -  it had continuity, it had links to the past.  Nugent's menu, kept returning to flavors from previous courses.  An example - rather than serving mushrooms once, and then moving along, Nugent returns again and again to mushrooms.  Currently he offers truffles with chestnut soup, maitakes with sea bass, later trumpet mushrooms served with beef.  Other flavors and herbs and aromatics return as well.  Ever finished a dish at a great meal and felt angry because it's over?  At Goosefoot, the dish keeps returning, not in a bash you over the head sort of way, but in a subtle, thoughtful, and truly generous way.

The Goosefoot menu was a revelation to me.  Rather than settling for building flavor in each dish, and then moving forward to build another separate, yes, maybe complimentary, but still distinct flavor and dish, Goosefoot keeps reminding us of where we just were, and that was truly magnificent.

Shiver Thinking of the Prep Work

Little Goat has arrived - and along with it a menu of epic proportions.  I am impressed with how much of the menu appears to be locally and sustainably sourced.  When you consider the volume this restaurant will see, when you think of how easy it would have been to cut corners and justify simpler logistics, consistent product, lower prices - all the reasons to not be responsible - it's quite a feat.  Kudos to Chef Izard - she really does walk the walk.