Local Flavor

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 26 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

"Local Flavor" by Jean Iverson is a culinary adventure through the various neighborhoods of Chicago that unveils the history of the local flavor and the eras and times that these iconic restaurants have endured. It was an interesting way to narrate the history of the Second City through its various restaurants, pubs and the like.

I believe Iverson's unique means for bringing the reader through Chicago's history makes it stand alone among other travel books or historical accounts.

I received this eBook free of charge from Northwestern University Press via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I did not receive any fiscal compensation from either company for this review and the opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.
Was this review helpful?
#LocalFlavor #NetGalley #Chigago #Summer2018

The book catalogs the most iconic and historical restaurant of Chicago. This is a very book to be inspired before visit for the first time or revisit Chicago. Wonderful pictures and amazing facts.
Was this review helpful?
I picked up Local Flavor imagining it was one of these books that lists a bunch of places to visit in the Chicago area. You’ve probably seen the type. On one page is a picture of a quirky landmark and on the facing page, a few paragraphs tell you why it’s worth a trip. A good example is 111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss. I like these books. They’re fun and they give you ideas on how to spend your weekends. But it turns out that isn’t the kind of book Local Flavor is meant to be.

Instead, Jean Iversen has written a Chicago history book, digging into the stories of eight ethnic neighborhoods and showing how a great restaurant can shape the blocks around it. It isn’t a travel guide. Some of the restaurants Iversen focuses on aren’t even open anymore. Her interviews and conversations with the owners, cooks, staff, and customers of these restaurant give a street level look at how communities develop through family, hard work, and the love of sharing a meal. And these folks are definitely not afraid to share; each chapter ends with a recipe or two, giving away the secrets of signature dishes.

Won Kow in Chinatown served American Chinese food since 1928 until it closed in February. Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap in Little Italy/University Village is still going strong after 89 years. Nuevo León and Cantón Regio in Pilsen continues on despite a devastating fire. The famous Parthenon, birthplace of flaming saganaki, unexpectedly closed in 2016. Another birthplace, this time of the Puerto Rican-inspired jibarito sandwich, Borinquen closed as well. Red Apple Buffet‘s locations are mainstays of Milwaukee Avenue’s Polish Corridor. Hema’s Kitchen, predicted to close after six months, instead kickstarted the development of the Little India area on Devon. Noon O Kabab offers a place in Albany Park for a small but loyal Persian population.
Was this review helpful?
Interesting read, and I definitely love to visit some of the restaurants mentioned in the book (especially the Italian one), as one of my favorite things to do when in Chicago is visit new restaurants.  However, I feel as though there were some nationalities and neighborhoods that should have been included but were not. As other reviewers mentioned, there were no African American restaurants mentioned, and the Swedish community was left out as well.
Was this review helpful?
Grade: B

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: I lived in Illinois for 15 years, 9 of which were in a Chicago suburb. I've been downtown more times than I can count. To hear more about the cuisines that have shaped the city was wonderful, particularly since it reminded me about the diversity of Chicago. 
Iversen gives the history of a restaurant for each section - Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Greek, Jamaican, Polish, Indian, and Persian. I was most looking forward to the Polish section, just because the Polish history of Chicago fascinates me. That section was one of my favorites, but the section on Hema's Kitchen (Indian food) and Borinquen (Jamaican) surprised me with how much I enjoyed them. 
There are many stories of endurance in this short book, and I loved seeing how much the various restaurant owners invested in their communities through their businesses. I could've done with a little less history about neighborhoods, but perhaps people from those areas will appreciate it.
I do think it would've been nice to hear about a restaurant run by African-Americans, since (as of 2010) Chicago's population was 32% black. I know Iversen's book focused on immigrants but to leave out Chicago's largest minority seemed odd to me.

The Verdict: How fun is that cover? Also, a great read for anyone who likes food, a variety of personal stories, and/or Chicago.
Was this review helpful?
If you're expecting to find delicious, traditional recipes that have shaped Chicago (maybe polish?)  to the culinary hub that it is today, this is not your book. I love Chicago, it's restaurant scene is booming and I eat my way every time I visit. I love going to new and traditional eateries... none of those were featured here. More like a handful of restaurants, Chinese, Greek, Puerto Rican and Indian featuring a great history/bakground on the neighborhood and owners with one recipe for each... Who needs a Spanokopita recipe? If it had been a lamb dish it would have been more interesting.... For the Chinese restaurant two tiki bar staples the Zombie and the scorpio.... Don't spend your money!
Was this review helpful?
Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The term restaurant lover is not necessarily synonymous with the term foodie. By that I mean you can love food without caring for restaurants. More than that you can love food without having reverence for restaurants. I know plenty of foodies, but rarely find a person that loves restaurants for more than the food they provide. Jean Iversen is one of those people. 

Iversen’s Local Flavor shows off her love of restaurants and Chicago. Chicago is one of those unique food cities that foodies dream of. There is so much food and so many restaurants that could be documented in a book like this. Iversen digs deeper than most to offer the most authentic local look at some of Chicago’s oldest restaurants. 

At this point, I should mention that while Local Flavor does hold a few recipes, it is not a cookbook. If you want a recipe for Spinach Pie or a Scorpion, you’ll find it here, but there is little else here in the way of recipes. More importantly you’ll find the history of these fabulous restaurants and the families that built them. 

One thing I particularly liked about Local Flavor was that Iversen attempted to give us the most complete picture of these restaurants. They were documented in a way that felt both casual and comforting. It was like talking with an old friend. Also, it shows us the fragility of even the best restaurants. Iversen made sure to add some stories of restaurants that closed during the writing process. Restaurants close. It’s a fact of life. Iversen chose to keep these restaurants in the book, as these stories still deserve to be told.

Local Flavor offers the history of families that immigrated to Chicago up to 100 years ago. If you’re looking for stories where the American dream is wrought with hard work, dedication, and love this is definitely the book you’re going to want to read. These are stories of people coming from nothing to build something that will pass through their family for generations to come. It is easy to immerse yourself in the content and that will make you want to visit these restaurants, even more. 

The recipes are nice, but really, they are just filler to the much more entertaining true-life stories of these restauranteurs. When I saw this, I thought it was a cookbook and I was already imagining what I would be able to make when I cracked it open. What I found did not equal anything that I could tangibly make, but it did remind me that hard work and sacrifice often equal reward. 

Is Local Flavor Recommended?
It is! If you want a cookbook you should definitely skip this. You won’t find a lot of recipes here to add to your repertoire. You will find an excellent non-fiction book about immigrants, families, and restaurants. It’s also a good choice if you love Chicago. I highly recommend giving it a read!
Was this review helpful?
I'll certainly get copies of this book for the store. That said, as someone in Chicago, it was really limited in its scope. Part of this is due to the fact that the history of the restaurant, the restaurants' impact on the neighborhood, and quite a bit of family history was put into the few restaurants in the book. The focus was on eight, but Chinatown was as far south as it bothered to go. I'm another 81 blocks south. That's a lot of territory. The book is very well researched, but the African American community was left (as far as I saw) unrepresented. With this much detail, of course the book couldn't hit every community, but it was an issue for me. I really did get caught up in some of the stories behind these restaurants.
Was this review helpful?
I received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  
From the publisher - 
The neighborhoods that make up Chicago’s rich cultural landscape have been defined by the restaurants that anchor them. In Local Flavor, the popular food writer Jean Iversen chronicles eight beloved local eateries, from Chinatown on the South Side to Rogers Park in the far North, tracing the story of how they became neighborhood institutions. Iversen has meticulously gathered the tales, recipes, and cultural traditions that define Chicago’s culinary past and present. Rich with firsthand accounts from local restaurateurs, their families, long-time customers, and staff, Local Flavor is a community-driven look at Chicago through a gastronomical lens. Including recipes for popular dishes from each restaurant that readers can try at home, Local Flavor weaves together ethnography, family, and food history into a story that will enthrall both food and Chicago history lovers.
Before reading this book all I knew about Chicago’s food scene was deep dish pizza and the addictive combination of cheese and caramel popcorn. I had no idea that Chinese Take Out Containers were a result of a Chicago company --- I only know them from TV as they have yet to come over to Canada! I really enjoyed reading about the different restaurants and their respective restaurants and the recipes look delicious! 
A great book for any traveler or foodie, it is an excellent addition to your bookshelf.
Was this review helpful?