What's a "classic" Chicago restaurant? Totally subjective, but Penny Pollack makes a good argument in the introduction to Chicago's Classic Restaurants: Past, Present and Future
. The Chicago
mag food editor's plaint is that the ever changing menus and "educational" focus of today's restaurants come at expense of kitchen consistency and the diner's ability to let her hair down and order a reliable chicken Vesuvio. By that definition, I'd say it's a bit too soon to classify the ever seasonal Blackbird
or relative newbie Girl & the Goat
as classic in this contemporary oral history by Neal Samors and Eric Bronsky, but they aren't unwelcome inclusions, if only for the unvarnished accounting from the likes of Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia, Kevin Boehm, and Rob Katz about their origins in the business. Add to that more veteran voices like Rich Melman (who deserves a book of his own), Jean Joho, Lawrence Levy, Rick Bayless, and Gordon Sinclair, and you have a pretty representative accounting of the last 40 years of Chicago restaurant history. And that's just in the chapter on 1970 to the present.
But you already know plenty about those guys, right? Remember Henrici's? Ireland's Oyster House? Hoe Sai Gai? Thought not.
Samors, whose Chicago Books Press published the Vienna Beef valentine Never Put Ketchup on a Hot Dog, has produced a book illustrated with photos, menus, and postcards that starts before the John Drury era and covers spots as ignoble as the M. Jungblut Coffee Shop to those as celebrated as the pre-Schrager Pump Room. At 208 pages, with more than 200 photos, it should contain at least a few classics you'll be able to agree with.
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