Neighborhood restaurants still cooking through the ban

By Stephanie Racine, Elisa Shoenberger, and Daniel Patton


The Chicago culinary community is not taking a backseat during the restaurant shutdown. With Illinois’ shelter-in-place order planned through April 7, local restaurants have had to alter their methods of feeding the community.


Volare Ristorante is a great friend to have

Benvenuto “Benny” Siddu, owner of popular Streeterville eatery Volare Ristorante Italiano, is responding to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis by helping others.

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Benvenuto “Benny” Siddu, owner of Volare Ristorante Italiano

“Twice a week, we donate food for 50 people at the Ronald McDonald House,” he said. “We are not allowed to go in, but we drop it off and we do whatever they need.”

Helping the Ronald McDonald House, which supports the families of children who are hospitalized, is just the beginning of Siddu’s generosity. He is also doing everything possible to retain the staff that has helped his restaurant thrive for 23 years.

“We’ve got 120 employees,” he continued. “Yesterday, everybody came to pick up their check, and we offered to feed them all.” When the restaurant order is lifted, he hopes to “have a general meeting with the entire staff and hopefully compensate them for the time that they have taken off.”

Located at the intersection of E. Grand Ave. and St. Clair St., Volare has become renowned for an extensive menu that includes traditional pasta, robust chops, gilled calamari, and spaghetti and meatballs. Siddu, who was born in Italy, says that his favorite dish is the linguine with zuppa di pesce — linguine with fish soup.

Besides serving its full menu every day, Volare has also increased the size of its pasta dishes for the duration of the in-person order. “We do 16-ounce portions,” he said. “That’s a one-and-a-half order.” The restaurant also plans to repeat a half-priced special on steaks that ran last week and sold out the entree.

And if Viddu is available when the food is ready, he’ll make the delivery in person.

“The neighborhood has been more than gracious to us,” he explains.  “They have made me who I am today, and I love what I do.”

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Entrees from Volare Ristorante Italiano

To place an order, call (312) 410-9900 or visit


Sweet Mandy B’s still baking away

Business at the Streeterville bakery has been “pretty solid with online delivery” during the in-person restaurant ban, according to, Assistant Manager Laura Amelang.

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“We have temporarily reduced staff, but we look forward to being fully staffed when things get back to normal,” she explained. “We had to figure out a lot of changes very quickly because we had just opened when the in-person prohibition was issued.”

Amelang says that the most popular items are the cupcakes, with red velvet, peanut butter chocolate, lemon among the favorites, but she likes the confetti best. There is also a big demand for birthday cakes.

To order, visit any time between 10 a.m. 5 p.m., when the last online order is taken. Customers have until 6 p.m. to pick up their goodies.


Miki’s Park open for takeout & delivery

Calling itself “a Korean bar with Seoul,” the new River North restaurant located at 109 W. Hubbard opened up just in time to greet the in-person dining ban, but that hasn’t stopped it from cooking away.

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“We are currently doing a carry out and we are available on caviar,” said Chris Johnson.

He remained in high spirits while speaking with New Eastside News on a drizzly Saturday afternoon. “We are all keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that sooner than later we can be open again. I’m spending 13 hours a day at this takeout window on a street that’s usually really busy, and there’s not a soul on it right now.”

The takeout menu is available every day from 11a.m.-11p.m. To order, visit


Cupitol Coffee & Eatery working as a team

Owner Sellia Georges thanks her staff for being adaptable and rolling with the tide. “Everyone is working more as a team now,” said Georges, “My barista is helping run food, or my food runner is making a smoothie”

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Georges has retained employees who relied on Cupitol as their sole job, and is hoping to re-hire everyone back when this is over.

But customers are being generous with tips, and new people are ordering for delivery services and pickup at their 455 E. Illinois location. Coffee and all of the morning sandwiches seem to be the most popular orders, according to Georges.

Cupitol is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for delivery and pick-up. Visit, to place an order.

Restaurants still cooking through the ban

Chicagoans love for food will not be dashed by the specter of the coronavirus. Although the two-week ban that began yesterday prohibits people from dining in restaurants throughout the state, the option to pick-up a meal or to order delivery still remains.

In an effort to keep everyone satisfied, New Eastside News has compiled the following list of establishments that are cooking through these trying times. It will (hopefully) expand over the days to come.

For those eateries that do not appear below, check the website Dining at a Distance for more options and information.  


III Forks (Pickup only)
180 N Field Bvld., (312) 938-4303

Avli River North
702 N Wells St., (312) 643-5656

Bar Siena
832 W Randolph St., (312) 492-7775

Burrito Beach,
200 E Ohio St., (312) 335-0668 | 251 E Huron St. (312) 475-0442

465 E Illinois St. (312) 280-9200

30 E Chicago Ave., (312) 266-8888

Chipotle – Free delivery
291 E Ontario St., (312) 587-7753
316 Michigan Ave., (312) 578-0950

Cupitol– includes 100 free loyalty points with every online order
455 E. Illinois St., (312) 414-1400.

Doc B’s
100 East Walton Condo, (312) 626-1300

Drunken Bean
400 E. South Water St., (312) 549-8900

Eggy’s Diner
333 E. Benton Pl., (773) 234-3449

Five Guys
180 Michigan Ave., (312) 291-9686

Francesca’s on Chestnut
200 E Chestnut St,, (312) 482-8800

130 E Randolph St., (312) 616-1200 | 730 N Rush St., (312) 951-0747

Goddess and Grocer
1127 N State St., (312) 265-1888

Greek Islands
200 S Halsted St., (312) 782-9855

Hannah’s Bretzel
233 N Michigan Ave., (312) 621-1111

JoJo’s Shake Bar
23 W Hubbard St., (312) 624-8963

Just Salad
111 East Wacker Dr., (866) 673-3757

333 Michigan Ave., (312) 624-8422

355 E Ohio St., (312) 964-5112

Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants

535 N Michigan Ave., (312) 955-3100

Lao Sze Chuan
520 Michigan Ave., (312) 595-0888

Lou Malnati’s
410 Michigan Ave., (312) 858-5600

Maple and Ash
8 W Maple St., (312) 944-8888

333 E. Benton Pl., (312) 240-5000

333 E. Benton Pl., (312) 228-1333

233 N Michigan Ave., (312) 540-0721 | 645 N McClurg Ct., (312) 944-5665

Meli Café
540 N Wells St., (312) 527-1850

Molly’s Cupcakes
419 E Illinois St., (312) 600-6323

Nando’s Peri-Peri
117 E Lake St, (312) 729-5340 | 227 E Ontario St., (312) 488-6551

Pinched on the River
443 E Illinois St., (312) 526-3883

111 East Wacker Dr., (312) 861-0013 | 277 E Ontario St., (312) 337-6488

Protein Bar
151 Michigan Ave., (312) 374-1459

Robert’s Pizza and Dough Company
465 N McClurg Ct., (312) 265-1328

Siena Tavern
51 W Kinzie St., (312) 595-1322

Stan’s Donuts
181 Michigan Ave., (312) 729-5480

Steak 48
615 N Wabash Ave., (312) 266-4848

150 N Michigan Ave., (312) 471-0300

The Palm
323 E Wacker Dr., (312) 616-1000

58 E Ontario St., (312) 631-3656

355 E Ohio St., (312) 822-9655

Music Journalist turned Owner of The Goddess and Grocer, Debbie Sharpe says feeding 300 people is nothing

By Elisa Shoenberger

Debbie Sharpe came through Chicago on Paul McCartney tours while working as a caterer. “I met some people and I thought, ‘Oh nice place to stay,’ and so I just decided to stay,” Sharpe said.

Sharpe opened her own business, The Goddess and Grocer, which provides both ready-made and made-to-order food in several locations in the city. She’s even licensed out the name Goddess and The Baker to stores, including a recently opened location on 44 E. Grand Ave.

Australian-born Sharpe started off as a music journalist and ended up going to England working for Adam Ant’s manager. She ended up working in the catering company for a year and thought “I can do this myself” and that’s what she did.

Sharpe wanted to open an Australian deli. Fifteen years ago she could not easily find a good sandwich. “I was used to having a food store you could get sandwiches at and you could get prepared foods that you can just take home and reheat and not bother about going to the supermarket,” she explained. 

Sharpe still caters to the musicians, working big shows like Lollapalooza or Michigan-based Electric Forest. “I love the bigger the numbers, the better for me ‘cause I like the challenge.” 

The biggest event Sharpe ever catered was over 2,000 people in Lenin Stadium for the Moscow Music Peace Festival in 1989. They had just fed about 1,000 people but realized there were many more people waiting in line to be fed. She told her staff, “Oh no, we are so not done.”

On a considerably smaller scale, The Goddess and Grocer caters for Teatro ZinZanni, the downtown cabaret circus show. She was asked to cater for the show long before the show found the space in the Cambria Hotel Building. 

Each night, they serve 300 people but Sharpe noted, “Catering 300 people is nothing for me. But you’ve got to get 300 dinners in 22 minutes with a dance routine. It really adds a new level of difficulty.”

Sharpe’s staff are an important part of the show, she explained.  “They sing, they dance, they move props,” all while serving food. 

The Goddess and Grocer features a popular and immensely Instagrammable Rainbow Cake. Asked where it originated, Sharpe said, “We’re not sure. We just think one of our pastry chefs made it one day.” While it’s not exclusive to the Goddess stores, Sharpe recommended Goddess’ version. “I just think ours tastes really much better than everybody else’s because of the buttercream frosting.”

Chicago restaurants showcase future of dining

by Doug Rapp

Self-ordering kiosks with food appearing in a cubby minutes later. Robots working as concierges and assisting restaurant servers.

All of these are happening in Chicago in what might be a version of dining in the future.

 Hotel EMC2, which bills itself as “at the intersection of art and science,” has added two  robot concierges. Named Leo and Cleo, the robots deliver amenities for guests who book the Bot Experience Package through March 2020, according to website Travel Pulse.

The X Pot, a Chinese hot pot restaurant, plans to use robots at its South Loop location  opening this summer, according to the Chicago Tribune. Owner David Zhao told the  Tribune the robots will move around similarly to Roombas, delivering food to tables and  taking away empty dishes.

Wow Bao, a fast Asian street food eatery,  has two fully automated locations, plus a semi-automated one in Streeterville. At the 200 N. Michigan Ave. spot, customers order from a kiosk and their food is placed in a cubby, limiting human interaction.

“It makes the ordering process a lot faster and more accurate because you’re entering your own order,” said Christine Reznicek, Wow Bao’s marketing manager.

The restaurant usually has two to three employees preparing the food, according to Reznicek, and a concierge up front during peak times to assist customers.

Reznicek said it’s a feature the company wants to move forward with.

 “We like the excitement that it encourages,” she said. “It definitely is a draw for  traffic coming in.”

The reception has been almost uniformly positive, Reznicek said.

“It’s been great. Once everyone gets used to the order flow, they like it. We’re pretty big with tourists. They hear about it and want to  come check out the animations.”

She was referring to the dancing bitmojis that traipse across the cubbies’ thin screens at the 200 N. Michigan location.

 KDM Engineering employee Mani Appalamcen, who was picking up lunch, said he  “loves” the vegan options at Wow Bao.

“I like the way your order appears on the monitor and then in the cubby,” he said. “That’s cool and it’s convenient.”

Cleanna Smith, a supervisor at the 200 N. Michigan location, said the technology rarely  has problems but occasionally a guest needs help navigating the ordering stations. 

“I just like that we have all this technology that’s a new experience for people,”  Smith said.  

Cooper’s Hawk opens first urban location

by Doug Rapp

An upscale wine and dining chain that started in the suburbs has come to downtown Chicago in time for the holidays.

Cooper’s Hawk, which has 41 locations nationwide, recently opened its first urban location at 58 E. Oak Street, in the Gold Coast’s historic Esquire building.

“The Esquire space presented the perfect location and footprint to serve as the flagship restaurant (in Chicago),” Executive Chef Matt McMillin said.

The renovation of the space took nearly 10 months, according to publicist Laurie Cairns.

“Incorporating our Napa-inspired look was a fun challenge,”  she said.

The large, multi-floor restaurant and winery covers 23,000 square feet. It can accommodate more than 400 people, with a patio and private event space.

They offer a standard menu plus an Esquire signature page featuring upscale dishes, such as pistachio-crusted Australian rack of lamb, 25-ounce prime, bone-in ribeye and miso-glazed Chilean seabass, McMillin said. He’s excited about the “Tribute to the World of  Wine” signature five-course pairing dinner he curated with master sommelier Emily Wines.

The new Chicago location is the first Cooper’s Hawk to offer wines outside their normal portfolio,  Cairns said. It has 1,600 collections from around the world,  including 750 bottles from the personal collection of founder and CEO Tim McEnery.

In addition to the “immersive” experience of fine wine and  dining, Cairns said Cooper’s Hawk offers Wine Club memberships, featuring new wines each month, available for pickup or shipping.

 “(The wine club) is a great introduction for anyone curious about wine, as Cooper’s Hawk  is all about making wine accessible to everyone,” Wines, the  sommelier, said. “We have over 50 varietals, ranging from sweet wines to big robust reds, and everything in between.”

Cairns said they also have holiday-etched bottles, wine ornaments and a 12 Nights of Christmas gift box, which includes a variety of wines.

“We trust Chicago will embrace what we have created at Cooper’s Hawk Esquire Chicago and look forward to how it evolves over the years,” McMillin said.  

Musician wins a spot in the heart of New Eastside

by Mat Cohen

In New Eastside’s version of American Idol, there’s no Ryan Seacrest or dimming of lights,

but there is a pretty great deal for the winner. Musician Justin Elliott has reaped the rewards after winning the competition Magellan Development Group puts on each year.

Elliot, a solo artist as well as frontman for the band Honeystone, has been living at the Aqua since the summer in exchange for being the real estate developer’s in-house musician.

The performance venue includes the Drunken Bean Coffee and Wine Bar every Sunday from

10 a.m. to noon.

“I like it, it’s a great atmosphere,” he said. “Sunday morning people are coming before football or after exercising. There’s a lot of traffic and I hope some people stay a little longer than normal because they like what they hear.”

Elliott also played in the park during the summer and throughout the neighborhood in other Magellan Development properties. “I am grateful for Magellan and the whole Lakeshore East community for being so supportive,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of work in creating this solo business so I can have events like the Drunken Bean. Same goes for the band, they’re some of my closest friends in the city and it’s been an irreplaceable experience.”

Elliott, originally from Connecticut, moved to Chicago in 2015 with a goal of using music to make a living. He said it took about two years to become financially sustainable.

Creating the band was an integral part of his Chicago success. Honeystone formed in fall 2016 with members David Koslovsky, John Nordquist and Adam Hatcher. The band released a new album at the end of October, but will be splitting when Elliott moves to Charlotte, N.C. in January for “a dream opportunity” and the next challenge in his music career.

But before then he will be playing his guitar and soothing vocals at the Drunken Bean every Sunday through December.

“I’m hoping to soak in the last few months here,” he said. “But I’m also excited to move onwards.” He’s happy with how far he’s come in his career, his time in Chicago and what the community has done for him.

“For this opportunity I am so grateful for how amazing Magellan has been to me,” he said. “Overall, I’m super happy with the fact I’ve been able to make a living off of something I love to do while living in a city that I love.”

Chocolate, tea a perfect pairing for Chicago fest

By Elisa Shoenberger

Ever wondered if Earl Grey tea should be paired with milk or dark chocolate? Or how to make a cocktail infused with matcha or other green teas? These are two of many lectures set for the Chicago’s International Tea Festival.

Taking place Nov. 1-3 at Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, 350 W. Mart Center Dr., the festival will bring 35-40 vendors from around the world, including vendors from Nepal, Japan, and Sri Lanka, as well as local tea vendors. Tickets start at $25 for a one-day consumer pass.

The show will be Chicago’s first tea festival, started by Festival Director Nicole Burriss and six founding board members. 

Burriss, a Kansas City structural engineer, was inspired by the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle, now entering its 11th year. She created the Midwest Tea Festival in Kansas City five years ago. 

“We tried to convince Nicole to come here and organize a festival because Chicago is such a diverse city,” said Agnes Rapacz, President of TeaGschwendner and a founding board member. “We believed this location would be successful for the tea festival.” 

Burriss agreed to run the fest as long as she got help.

The tea festival is open to both consumers and people in the trade. The first day is meant for people in the tea trade, though dedicated tea fans can come, and the second two days will be open to everyone.

For the price of admission, people will get a ceramic tea cup and a tote bag and will be able to taste teas from the many vendors. Burriss said people could try up to 100 teas. 

It’s also a great place to deepen knowledge about tea. People can attend more than 80 lectures or classes for an extra fee. Classes will include “Tea & Chocolate” by Sheila Duda and “Tea Cocktails” by Rapacz. There will also be a free lecture room and people can talk to the vendors.

For the “Tea Cocktails” lecture, attendees will taste cocktails and learn how to mix alcoholic drinks with tea. TeaGschwendner has also hosted chocolate and tea pairings. Rapacz recommended pairing chocolate with an opposite kind of tea, like dark chocolate and white tea, or complementary flavors such as pairing a pumpkin spice truffle with chai tea.

Filini introduces lobby sushi as part of plan to revamp its kitchen

(Published 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Longtime fans of Filini Bar and Restaurant may have noticed some recent changes.

Since April, Filini, 221 N. Columbus Drive, has been helmed by executive chef Leonard Ventura, a veteran chef with experience in Texas and California.

Ventura added a sushi station to the Radisson lobby and introduced dollar oysters on Friday and Saturday with half-off martinis as well as a sundae cart during the summer months.

The sushi bar moved into the lobby in July and Ventura said it’s been a hit with visitors who enjoy watching the proverbial sausage get made.

“It’s something I always did at different hotels,” Ventura said. “I saw it was always successful.”

The sushi bar has something for everyone and Ventura said he’s not through tweaking the menu. He plans to add new breakfast items and he’s making an effort to source more local produce.

“We’re always looking for more local and sustainable food,” he said.

This can be hard in the Midwest, with long, cold winter months, but Ventura said he’s sourcing what he can from nearby farms.

“Towards winter I do more pickling and add more heavier items,” he said. Ventura is also looking into local meats, and said he plans to add a smoker in January.

“We want to get beef and different types of meat like lamb,” he said. “I’d like to start to make my own sausage as well. In Texas, I did my own bacon and sausage and smoked hams.”

Ventura is looking to beef up the craft beer selection. In the coming months, he said the restaurant will unveil a 20-tap craft beer selection featuring 18 local beers in addition to standbys like Budweiser and one signature beer.

“We have a company that’s brewing a craft beer for us now that will be featured here,” Ventura said. “Brickstone Brewing will make the beer.”

Ventura said he’d also like to get a rotisserie oven in the kitchen and he has plans to hire a baker, so all the breads will be done in-house.

These are long term plans, but in the months since Ventura has taken over, changes to the menu have drawn more diners.

“Since last year we’ve more than doubled our reservations,” Ventura said.

For more information, visit Filini online at 

Signature Room launches signature beer

(Published July 31, 2019)

The Signature Room, the restaurant located on the 95th floor of the former John Hancock Center, announced in July the launch of its first exclusive beer label, Top View Brew. The beer is a result of a partnership with suburban brewery Crystal Lake Brewing, currently offered exclusively at The Signature Room.

“We have been fans of Crystal Lake Brewing for quite some time—and their Beach Blonde has been a top seller for years—so partnering with them on a custom beer was a no-brainer,” said The Signature Room’s VP of Sales and Marketing, Tricia Bryant. “We hope Top View Brew will be a beverage that guests want to enjoy not just during the summer, but all year-round.

Top View Brew is a golden wheat ale with smooth malt sweetness, low bitterness and a bright lemon aroma at 4.5 percent alcohol by volume. The brew pairs well with salads, along with light fish and chicken dishes and can handle spicy foods and cut through heavier dishes.

Taste to offer De La Soul, 82 food vendors from across the city

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

With July comes the annual Taste of Chicago, a celebration of all that’s great to eat in the city.

This year’s Taste will be held July 10-14 in Grant Park and will feature 82 restaurants and food trucks and 300 menu items. The event also offers live music including headliners De La Soul with Taylor Bennett and Courtney Barnett with Sunflower Bean among others.

Mary May, a spokesperson with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said the event will offer something new even for longtime Taste of Chicago veterans.

“We have a number of new restaurants this year,” she said. “We have more restaurants than we’ve ever had.”

However, not all restaurants and food trucks will be available through the entire festival, so attendees should check schedules on the website While the general admissions area is free, the music performances are ticketed events and food tickets begin at $10 for 14 tickets. Visitors can purchase those online. In addition, people can also purchase tickets to the Taste Oasis area. This is a new area which provides attendees with exclusive access to music and seating and dining options. Those tickets are $50.

May suggested visitors try the new entrants and try restaurants that are unfamiliar. Often, Chicagoans spend most of their time in their neighborhoods, places they’re already familiar. She said Taste aims to shake that up and break people out of their habits.

“One big thing about the Taste of Chicago is it is an appeal for people to get out and try a new restaurant,” she said. “After Taste is over, we want people to go out and see a new part of the city and to spread their wings.”

In addition to the food and music, the festival will also offer chef-led demonstrations and other specialty events. On July 10, the Best Lists event will recognize award-winning chefs and restaurants listed on “best of” lists. On July 11, the City Streets event will feature chefs from around Chicago. July 12 will feature a Healthy Eating event will spotlight dishes that are vegan or vegetarian. On July 13 the Spicy Hot demonstration will highlight cuisines that bring the heat and sample the all-time American favorite Mac N Cheese on July 14 at the Mac N Cheese Smackdown.

The new restaurants include: 90 Miles Cuban Café, A Place by Damao, Bar Takito, Barangaroos Aussie Pies, Ben’s Bar-Be-Cue, Big Wang’s Chinese Street Food, Black Dog Gelato, Brazilian Bowl Inc., Buscia’s, Bacon Buns, Coastline Catering, Da Pizza Dude, Dmen Tap, Dog Haus, Egg Rolls Etc., Frönen, Gordo’s, Homemade Ice Cream Bars, Hakka Bakka Indian Kati Rolls, Jason’s Deli, Jeannie’s Flan Inc., Jeni’s, Splendid Ice Creams, Josephine’s Cooking, Jus Sandwiches, Kitchen 17, Lao Sze Chuan, Luella’s Gospel Bird, Madame VanderKloot’s Weiner Emporium, Mr. Quiles Mexican Food, Ms. Tittle’s Cupcakes, Nourish Catering, Pink Flamingo (Flamingo Rum Club), Pink Taco, Seoul Taco, The Cookie Crate, The Slab Bar-B-Que, Three Legged Tacos, Whadda Jerk and Yvolina’s Tamales.

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