The Top Food Stories Of 2012
By Anthony Todd in Food on Dec 31, 2012 5:00PM
It has been a busy year for food in Chicago. Amazing new restaurants have opened, some dear old friends have closed. Chicago did battle with Chick-Fil-A, Charlie Trotter's shut its doors, "pink slime" filled the media and food trucks were legalized. We ate about 2 million calories — all in your service. Here, dear readers, are the best food moments of 2012.
The year opened with the stunning announcement that Charlie Trotter's was closing. Our attention rapidly shifted, however, to one of the biggest food stories of the year: Pink Slime. This ammonia-treated meat filled headlines across America when fast food companies stopped using it after protests. It rapidly turned into a political referendum about how you feel about industrial food. Some school systems and the USDA school lunch program rejected it. Some states said they'd take as much of it as they could get. Jewel stopped carrying it. There were lawsuits. Then, pink slime got its own lobbying group that claimed "beef is beef" - and that the stuff was just as healthy as could be. Most of the plants making it closed down as demand dropped like a rock.
Two other ongoing food sagas mixed food and politics in 2012: Chick-Fil-A and Licensing. After years and years of fighting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration finally got the ball rolling on food truck legalization. A ordinance (that many disliked) passed the city council. It's got some problems, it ignores the entire south side and still gives a huge advantage to brick and mortar restaurants, but it's a step. We bet that the implementation of the law will be one of the big stories of 2013. At the same time, the city dramatically reformed the restaurant licensing system to make it simpler, more efficient and more adaptable to the needs of innovative food businesses. Unfortunately, it didn't happen soon enough to save Logan Square Kitchen.
Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno made headlines in July when he attempted to block construction of a new Chick-Fil-A, citing their anti-gay politics. The Mayor jumped on board, saying that Chick-Fil-A did not share Chicago's values. A comedy of errors ensued where one branch (the PR branch) of Chick-Fil-A would insist that they were wholesome, fair-minded people and another branch (The CEO) would promise that they would continue their bigotry indefinitely. After a couple of months, things started to get ridiculous: we found out that Colonel Sanders just loved the gays and a petition circulated to force Chick-Fil-A to serve only heterosexual chickens.
Let us pay homage to some of the restaurants that we lost in 2012. It's a downer, but at least far fewer restaurants closed than in previous years of this darned recession. Custom House shuttered. Zealous closes tonight after 20 years. Bonsoiree changed formats and died shortly after. The Gaztro-Wagon. Chicago's Downtown Farmstand. Blue 13. The Southern Mac and Cheese Store. Alains lasted for such a short time we barely noticed it. Chizakaya. Salatinos. BLT American Brasserie. Moderno. One SixtyBlue. Felony Franks. Charlie Trotter's. Rest in Peace.
As always, however, amazing new restaurants (and a few bad ones) rose to take their places. Nellcote opened to great fanfare. Publican Quality Meats lived up to its name. Donuts swept the city at Do-Rite and Glazed and Infused. Ada Street created a cozy den for us to hide in, while Allium gave us a celeb-watching perch. Homestead. Carriage House. RM Champagne Lounge. Elizabeth blew us away with its forage-based cuisine. Honey Butter Fried Chicken finally got a location. Tortoise Club. Baume and Brix. We swooned over the hot chocolate at Katherine Anne Confections new store. The omakase at Kai Zan moved to the top of our sushi wish list. Bang Bang Pie Shop. Bad Happy Poutine. Covo Gyro. Bar Pastoral. Little Goat.
A lot of smaller news stories caught our attention and filled our tummies in 2012. Illinois fought the sale of shark fins. Goose Island got national distribution. Chuck tried some really old cheese. Illinois schools banned Flaming Hot Cheetos in a desperate attempt to save our children. Letherbee distillery opened and immediately became a staple of our bar. Hyde Park got a ton of new restaurants-to-be. Michelin... pretty much ignored us this year.
Lastly, 2012 brought a ton of stories that reminded us why we love food: its power, its potential to change the world and the ways that it makes us happy.Paul Virant made canning glamorous and convinced the world that preserves were a part of fine dining. Chick beer made us mad. Candy Expo 2012 reminded us how bad candy could get. Seed Savers Heritage Farm showed us how beautiful saving our agricultural system could be. We found great food in an unlikely place at the Bristol Rennaisance Faire. iNG's Homaro Cantu combined food with film for an experience not soon forgotten. We stared into the mouth of hell - really a huge restaurant donut fryer - early in the morning at Glazed and Infused. We learned what food tasted like when you couldn't see. We asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel to do something about hunger in Chicago.
It's been a hell of a ride. Thanks for reading (and eating) with us all year, and we'll see you first thing in 2013.