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Archive for the ‘meat’ Category

by Ian Lopez

Polish and Mexican restaurants in the Logan Square Neighborhood reflect the cultural diversity of the community. While strolling down the flower-lined streets the fragrance of carne asada and perogies instantly consume the senses, leaving the walker with a temptation to duck into one of the traditional eateries.

However, are all the restaurants really safe to eat at?  Documents filed with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CPDH) by city health inspectors may make some residents who enjoy dining out question where they’re eating.

In 2008 Polish restaurant Czerwone Jabluszko on Milwaukee Ave. violated regulations for adequate food protection and proper temperatures. The citation stemmed from a customer’s complaint about feeling ill after eating there.

Czerwone Jablusko’s general manager Anna Czarnecka-Hebal didn’t believe the allegation was true.

“How could someone get sick if employees eat it here three times a day and never get sick any day?” Czarnecka-Hebal said.

Also mentioned in the reports about Czerwone Jablusko, which is also known by its English translation, the Red Apple, was a recurrence of dirty dishes and improper handling of them while being cleaned. For example, dish racks were too close to the floor and there were crusted and cruddy pots.

However, according to restaurant consultant Danny Bendas, keeping a restaurant perfectly clean is by no means an easy task.

Bendas, who works for Texas-based Synergy Restaurant Consultants, a company that specializes in helping dining establishments maintain health standards, offered some tips for what to look for when considering where to eat.  Key clues, he said, are individually wrapped silverware that is shiny, clean and devoid of water spots. Clean bathrooms are also good indicators.

“Restrooms are a very important part of the restaurant,” Bendas said. “A dirty bathroom could mean a dirty kitchen. If you are concerned about the cleanliness of the restaurant, take a look at the restroom.”

The Red Apple restaurant in the Logan Square neighborhood boasts numerous awards for its scrumptious Polish buffet spread, but health officials have cited this establishment and many others city-wide for code violations. Image courtesy of the Red Apple.

The Red Apple restaurant in the Logan Square Neighborhood boasts numerous awards for its scrumptious Polish buffet spread, but health officials have cited this establishment and many others city-wide for code violations. Image courtesy of the Red Apple.

Health code violations don’t necessarily affect popularity. The Red Apple is one of the most preferred restaurants in the area, and recently was crowned “the best buffet of 2009” by the Chicago Reader.

“We’re on the top,” Czarnecka-Hebal said. “There aren’t so many famous Polish restaurants on the market…lot’s don’t last as long as us.”

Fellow local eatery Zacatecas on Diversey Ave. is no stranger to CPDH citations either.  The restaurant serves what owner Michelle Medine describes as typical Mexican food.

“It is not easy to run a business like a restaurant,” Medine said.  “There are different codes and standards that need to be met. It is hard when (employees) don’t know what they do. But if you have the right people, it is not that hard.”

CPDH reports from 2006, 2007 and 2008 indicated that Zacatecas’ rules may not be up to the standards set by the city, citing the restaurant for having a dirty kitchen, not maintaining proper food storing temperatures and improperly storing dishes.  Also enclosed with the inspectors’ reports was a complaint filed in 2005 by a customer who claimed to have found a roach inside food, though no pests were found on the premises during an inspection.

“We have taken the necessary steps to ensure our systems are clean and sanitized,” Medine said about the improvements required of their kitchen.  “The health and safety of our guests is a priority.”

The health department’s reports stated that since the initial citations, improvements for Zacatecas’ hazardous conditions have been made.

The Zacatecas Restaurant in the Logan Square Neighborhood has lots of great food and reasonable prices, according to online reviews. Image courtesy of The Restaurant Place.

The Zacatecas Restaurant in the Logan Square Neighborhood has lots of great food and reasonable prices, according to online reviews. Image courtesy of The Restaurant Place.

The problems faced by the Red Apple and Zacatecas are common, both to the neighborhood and in general.  Nearby establishment Andrzej Grill, for example, was cited for problems very similar to the previous two restaurants, and was also cited for not having a pest control log.

Other notable problems with neighborhood restaurants were found at Armitage Shrimp House, which was cited for excessive grease build-up in their kitchen, an employee not wearing a hat while preparing food, and like Andrzej Grill, not having a pest control log.

When questioned about issues cited in reports from city health inspectors, Czarnecka-Hebal said, “Every restaurant has some kind of citation.”

“People are people,” Czarnecka-Hebal said. “Somebody put a biscuits (tray) near the floor for a minute and the inspector saw it.”

Copyright 2009

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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Community Media Workshop's annual conference, Making Media Connections 2009, teaches the first full day of workshops on June 10. Topics include social media, databases, story power, spin, video, blogging and raising your profile. CMW President Thom Clark officially unveiled their report on new media outlets in Chicago at the reception following the day's activities. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Community Media Workshop's annual conference, Making Media Connections 2009, teaches the first full day of workshops on June 10. Topics include social media, databases, story power, spin, video, blogging and raising your profile. CMW President Thom Clark officially unveiled their report on new media outlets in Chicago at the reception following the day's activities. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Chicago – New media gurus and industry experts descended on Columbia College today to meet with nonprofit communicators at Community Media Workshop’s annual conference today.

The mix included about 300 participants attending nine workshops with a reception at the end to round out the day. Two of the seminars were “Social Media Strategy: Listen, Learn, and Adapt” led by Beth Kanter and “Make a Video” led by Stacy Laiderman.

Kanter, a veritable social media battleship, spoke about the “secret sauce” of these new online tools. While keeping in mind your objective, audience, strategy, capacity, culture and tools, she said the key to achieving meaningful results over time was to listen, learn and adapt, a concept by David Armano.

She said the first step was to listen to the conversations on the web already taking place about issues relevant to your organization or cause. Then, slowly begin to thoughtfully engage those folks with participatory interaction instead of self-serving impulses. Listen to what other people are saying, and then ask yourself, what can I add to this discourse?

The resulting knowledge will come from your learning by listening, and then it will be time to learn by creating. Choose social media gadgets that lend themselves to your objectives to being involved in social media. In other words, begin creating words, sounds and pictures that advance your time investment to your specific goal.

The third part of Kanter’s social media “secret sauce,” adapt, has to do with what you learn as you go. It’s critical that you react to responses, or the lack thereof, you receive from your social media sausage.

Another one of the workshops, “Make a Video,” with Laiderman of See3 Communications sent their students out in small groups equipped with professional camera equipment for a hands-on lesson covering the Making Media Connections conference. In addition to learning how to set up the tools to capture multiple scenes and interviews from the event, they brought their harvest back to the classroom for a crash course in post-production techniques and resources.

The day’s events culminated in the official release of CMW’s “the NEW news” report, commissioned by The Chicago Community Trust. CMW President Thom Clark briefly interrupted the drinks and hor devours with a talk about the three sound bytes gleaned from the work.

Clark’s three points were community news coverage has increasingly reduced in the major media outlets, people still want vetted news with a high level of editorial scrutiny, and community organizations have found their own message channels online.

Copyright 2009

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Originally written in December, 2008.

by Christopher Brinckerhoff

searssnapshots

The Village of Palatine has its sights set on the retail space at the corner of Hicks Road and Baldwin Road for a new police station. They could decide to build a new village hall there too. Sears is suing the Village for breaking a contract which gives them tax incentives to fix up the property. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

If the Village of Palatine has its druthers, a large strip mall will be the site of a new police station and “other municipality purposes,” according to court documents filed by the Village.

But before the bulldozers chug and spit their way over the condemned property, the Village is going to have to resolve litigation brought to them by the largest tenant of the mall, Sears, Roebuck.

The retail giant is suing the Village for condemning their leased property. The Village evoked eminent domain in a complaint filed in 2007, about two and a half years after the Village and Sears signed an Economic Development Agreement together.

Sears also sued for breach of contract of the Economic Development Agreement. In the contract, Sears agreed to remodel the former K-Mart store space, and, if they did this, the Village would give the company sales tax rebates for 10 years.

The purpose of the Economic Development Agreement, according to Mayor Rita Mullins, was to avoid closing the store. The upside was to have the building converted into a Sears Essentials instead of closing the retail space.

At the time, K-Mart was shutting down some stores. They had just purchased Sears, Roebuck. Mullins said the hope was that the new store would increase sales tax revenue from what it was as a K-Mart store.

“We were very optimistic,” Mullins said. “We thought it might even double. But in the meantime, they did nothing to fix the parking lot, do a facade improvement, do anything there.”

Some residents are not in favor of the proposed changes to use the property for municipalities.

“One thing I’m not interested in having in my backyard is a police station,” said Bill Marley, a resident who lives behind the condemned property. “I just think in terms of number one, the activity. And number two, the people that they’ll be dragging in there, it doesn’t appeal to me at all.”

Resident Judie Baird lives adjacent to the property, and said she’s not opposed to the development plans being tied up in a possibly lengthy legal process.

“Tie it up,” Baird said. “I don’t want a police station there because of noise. They’re going to bring prisoners and stuff in there. Uh-uh.”

The police department currently shares a building with the Village’s offices, and is next to the Park District. The present space was the location of Palatine High School until the school moved in the late 1970s.

A new landowner purchased the strip mall with Sears in 2005. The original owners they bought it from, Palatine Associates, LLC, had owned it since the 1960s.

One expert on eminent domain cases said the condemnation would likely go through unimpeded.

Casey Piper, an attorney in Alabama who has worked on cases involving eminent domain, but who is not intimately familiar with this case, said “because the municipality played some role in encouraging the owner into making this investment, they’re going to look bad when they pull the rug out from under their feet. I don’t know that it’s an outright defense to the taking, though.”

The reason why is because the decision to condemn property is a governmental power, according to Piper.

“And the council cannot bind themselves, or certainly not any future administration to not exercise that legislative power,” Piper said. “It’s sort of like saying we won’t raise taxes. That just means that they didn’t raise taxes with that breath, but they still might raise taxes because it’s a legislative decision.”

Eminent domain basically says that the Village can take whatever property they want as long as they can prove it’s necessary.

The courts tend to broadly define what factors make an action necessary in these cases, according to Piper. That makes it extremely difficult to prove the action is not necessary. But that’s just what Sears’ attorneys are trying to do.

One of Sears’ attorneys representing their 537 North Hicks Road store, Natalie Spears, declined an interview, but emailed this statement.

“Sears has invested millions in that location and has loyal associates and customers who count on that store,” the statement reads. “We are working to prevent the village from condemning the site because we believe it’s unwarranted under the law and unnecessary for the public improvement.”

The Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London was significant for the legal use of eminent domain. Before Kelo eight states stopped eminent domain for economic development unless it was to eliminate blight. But the meaning of blight has been stretched to mean almost anything the governing bodies have decided it does.

While the condemnation action is difficult to stop, Piper said sometimes people are defrauded. If Sears proves the Village defrauded them by breaching their Economic Development Agreement, they may be awarded additional damages.

“There could be some recovery to the landowner,” Piper said.

Sears leases their part of the plaza. They do not own it.

“But their remedy wouldn’t be the outright defeat of the condemnation action,” Piper said. “The condemnation action will go forward, and that will cause some damages that might be actionable above and beyond what the normal damages that would be rewarded in an condemnation case.”

Baird said she would rather have them keep the renovated retail store, especially in these tough economic times.

“Mullins keeps saying the parking lot and everything looks terrible,” Baird said. “It doesn’t look any worse than any of the other places. She keeps saying the store looks run down, and it’s dirty. I think they’ve done a lot to improve it over there.”

Copyright 2008

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Originally written in December, 2008.

by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Chicago – As far as white suburbs go, Palatine is the routine run of the mill. But increasing indulgence in ethnic foods could be bending the white bread cookie cutter into a more interesting shape.

Median to above average income census numbers coupled with its comfortable one hour by Metra rail to the city in a garden characterize the typical burb. Out of Palatine’s approximately 65,000 residents about 15 percent are of Latino country origin, according to the 2000 census. The population is about 8 percent Asian and 2 percent black.

Within the Asian group the largest subgroup was Indian Asian, which makes up about half of the 8 percent. While Mexican food and Chinese food have been well established dining choices, Indian food has been increasing in popularity with many Americans, according to workers, owners and customers.

Palatine has six Asian Indian grocery stores and restaurants, and another one on the way, according to Zum Zum Sweets and Carry Out employee Hakeem Aslam. Zum Zum has been at its Rand Road address for about 35 years. The newest Indian food source, India Bistro on Dundee Road, opened Nov. 26.

Hakeem Aslam at Zum Zum Sweets on Rand Road in Palatine served a samosa. It was good. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Hakeem Aslam at Zum Zum Sweets on Rand Road in Palatine served a samosa. It was good. Photos and graphic by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Due to the constantly increasing Indian and Pakistani populations in the U.S. and because people are more open-minded these days, Indian food stands to give other popular ethnic foods a run for their money during the next five years, according to Aslam.

“I have a feeling that because Indian food is moving up, it’s going to be compared to Chinese or Mexican food because that’s the most popular and the most wanted [ethnic] food in the States right now,” Aslam said. “Indian food is going to be number three coming up on the list.”

Krishan Kumer from New India Carryout & Sweets, 773 N. Quentin Road, opened a restaurant in Milwaukee in 2003, and moved that restaurant to Palatine in 2007. Kumer was born in northern India and moved to the United States about 10 years ago. In India he owned a restaurant and sweets shop like the ones he has owned here.

Kumer said one difference between his restaurant in India and his restaurant in the United States is the clientele. In India he served a more homogenous community of customers looking for the same kinds of foods. Here his patrons are more diverse. Therefore he customizes his food more, varying the amount of spices for example, to appeal to a wider range of preferences.

Krishan Kumer of New India restaurant on Quentin Road in Palatine used to own another restaurant in Milwaukee before deciding to move to the northwestern suburb. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Krishan Kumer of New India restaurant on Quentin Road in Palatine used to own another restaurant in Milwaukee before deciding to move to the northwestern suburb. Photos and graphic by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Aslam said though his second largest customer demographic is Americans, many people still have misconceptions about Pakistani and Indian food.

“As soon as you say Indian food, they go, eshhee, it’s too spicy,” Aslam said. “Technically, there are only two spices that make the food hot to your tongue, but most of them cause flavor. And if you want to order it without spices, or if you want to cook it at home, you can just exclude those and make your food, and it tastes good without the spices.”

A regular customer of Asian Island, 1202 East Dundee Road, is taxi driver Noshad Nizi. He said in addition to the importance of stores and restaurants like Asian Island for the growing Muslim community in Palatine, the foods are also becoming more and more popular with Mexicans and Americans.

“It’s actually good for everybody around here because it’s a lot cheaper for the same food,” Nizi said. “If you go to the India House, it’s a big restaurant in Buffalo Grove, that’s not the same price. It’s the same thing, same recipes, same everything, but it is a different price.”

Mayor Rita Mullins said she remembers eating round pizza for the first time on a family road trip in the 1960s. At the time, pizza was a foreign food to most Americans. Now there is a pizza shop on almost every corner.

Mullins said she enjoyed some food from New India recently, and although she doesn’t care for hot spicy food, they are able to make it to appeal to your individual taste. According to Mullins, businesses like these encourage relationships among people.

“It is diversity of the people in the world, and we are a microcosm of the world,” Mullins said. “And the more that we can familiarize ourselves, the differences become so much smaller between people.”

Simi Grocers on Quentin Road in Palatine is located between the New India restaurant and Old Oak Pizza. If you want to do some Indian cooking, this is one good resource for you. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Simi Grocers on Quentin Road in Palatine is located between the New India restaurant and Old Oak Pizza. If you want to do some Indian cooking, this is one good resource for you. Photos and graphic by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Copyright 2008

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Closed school reports questioned

Chicago Teachers Union president Marilyn Stewart attended a police protest for new contracts earlier this month. We asked her about a report from Chicago Public Schools on the impact of school closings on students. Video by Albert Corvera and Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Chicago – A leader of a top parent advocacy group said that a long-awaited report released by the Chicago Public Schools last week is missing critical information on how school closings affect students, which was to be the main emphasis of the review.

Julie Woestehoff, director of Parents United for Responsible Education, had been lobbying for the release of the Closed Schools Impact Study – mandated by CPS policy – for several months. After a number of inquiries by Woestehoff and the press, the report was released last week.

But Woestehoff claims the report, which covers 1996 to 2006, is missing key elements including statistics from the last two years when more than a dozen schools were closed or had their statuses changed.

Woestehoff wrote on her blog on April 16 that the report did not focus on the impact of school closings on students as required by CPS policy.

“We thought the point of this report was to monitor any harm that might come to individual students as a result of school closings,” Woestehoff wrote.

She said some of the questions left unanswered by the report include the number of students who dropped out instead of attending a new school and the number of students who lost academic ground after moving to new schools.

In his letter to Woestehoff, CPS CEO Ron Huberman wrote, “I have been advised that CPS staff did not prepare a similar report for schools that closed at the end of the 2006-2007 school year. At the end of the current school year, CPS staff will be preparing a report on schools that closed in 2008. I have directed that the analysis also include any schools that closed in 2007.”

When asked about the recent reports two weeks ago CPS spokesman Malon Edwards said, “At this point they still are conducting the study, and hopefully sometime this year it will be released. They’re not quite sure exactly when. They don’t know exactly when it’s going to be done because remember they’re looking at a lot of data.”

The Chicago Teachers Union has also been critical of the way CPS has handled school closings, phase-outs, consolidations and turnarounds. They questioned the motives behind the choices of schools to close.

CTU president Marilyn Stewart said in a recent interview her organization has looked at research on school closings and concluded some schools CPS has closed were not underperforming.

“And the schools that they’re opening were not doing statistically significant better than the schools that they’re closing,” Stewart said. “In fact some schools are doing better. If there are other schools that are underperforming, why would you close schools that are not underperforming? Location, location, location.”

Copyright 2009

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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Video by Albert Corvera and Christopher Brinckerhoff. In order of appearance in the video: Officer James Lynch and Fraternal Order of Police President Ted Street.

Chicago – Police officers and union leaders shuffled around city hall today to demand a new contract. The protest happened on the same day the International Olympics Committee came to town to review the Windy City as a candidate for the 2016 games.

The need for the event arose when the financial package including a 16.1 percent pay increase over five years was taken off the bargaining table, according to the Chicago head of the Fraternal Order of Police Mark Donahue.

Donahue said the protest had nothing to do with the Olympics’ bid, and the protest message was directly for the mayor. The purpose was to draw attention to the solidarity of the police department, and to receive the same increases given to other city agencies, including a recent six percent pay increase given to city council members, according to Donahue.

Donahue said no one understands what it’s like to live through difficult economic times better than police officers.

“For the mayor to say we need to “get real” is an abomination,” Donahue said.

He was referring to a recent comment Mayor Richard M. Daley made regarding tightening our financial belt during the recession, “Let’s get real.”

Copyright 2009

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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Students, parents and teachers gather outside of Elizabeth Peabody Elementary, 1444 West Augusta Blvd., on Feb. 19 for a neighborhood march to protest shutting down their school. The school was taken off the list of closings four days later. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Students, parents and teachers gather outside of Elizabeth Peabody Elementary, 1444 West Augusta Blvd., on Feb. 19 for a neighborhood march to protest shutting down their school. The school was taken off the list of closings four days later. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Chicago – When Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman announced six schools would be taken off the list of school closings, he said it was because public hearing testimony and other evidence warranted the changes. But teachers, community activists and parents said Huberman’s decision had a lot more to do with politics.

Dr. Annie Camacho, assistant principal at one of the fortunate six, Elizabeth Peabody Elementary, said while it’s encouraging to hear that public hearing testimony was a factor in the decision, that does not take away from the reality that the school selection process needs to be re-evaluated.

“As part of the process these public hearings you have “independent” hearing officers that are in fact paid by the board to listen to testimony of schools,” Camacho said, “but with absolutely no board member present, the very people who made the decision to close you. You don’t know that any of the testimony that’s given in writing to them is seen by anybody else at all from the board. So the process itself is flawed. The hearings are flawed.”

Assistant director for parent advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Education, Wanda Hopkins, said the main factor in getting schools taken off the list was the same main factor that put them on the list in the first place – the will of Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Mayor Daley’s controversial Renaissance 2010  school creation plan calls for 100 new schools by next year, many of them without union representation. Though the plan does not include a requirement for schools to close, the new school quota is inherently tied to shutting down existing schools.

“The politics of the city of Chicago is just unbelievable,” Watkins said. “I’m still saying it’s just based on gentrification and busting unions. It has nothing to do with educating children.”

Camacho said Peabody was spared, in part, due to political pressure ignited by legislation that would put a one-year moratorium on actions taken by the school board to close, consolidate, turnaround or phase-out schools.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Soto (4th), also calls for a House committee and Senate committee to review and approve processes for identifying schools for status changes. The bill is currently making its way through readings in the House.

“It is nice to at least read that Huberman supposedly took the time to look at public testimony as part of the decision making, but I really do believe that it was the pressure from the politicians, in particular Soto, that really made them reconsider and rethink what they were doing,” Camacho said.

Not everyone thinks the bill persuaded Huberman. Alexander Russo, an education reporter who has blogged about Chicago education for more than four years, said the legislation proposed by Soto was not likely to be a significant cause for the six schools to be taken off the list.

“I don’t think anyone was really worried about that piece of legislation,” Russo said. “Pieces of legislation like that have been introduced several times before, and they at times have passed out of a committee, but they’ve never gotten very far.”

The “District 299” blogger doesn’t think the hearings were the impulse either.

“The hearings have been going on for a number of years now, and people have rallied their evidence and done very similar things to what Peabody did,” Russo said. “And they still had their school closed. I think that this has to do with a change in leadership at the board.”

Huberman’s recent appointment to the CPS CEO spot vacated by Arne Duncan was a significant factor in the action to save the six schools, according to Russo.

“My sense is that at a certain level all the decisions about closures and turnaround have a certain amount of subjectivity to them,” Russo said. “They’re not purely objective. I think that, quite understandably, the new CEO wanted to proceed with caution on a set of decisions and recommendations that had been made before he arrived.”

“If Duncan were still CEO of Chicago Public Schools, I can imagine one or two schools getting off the list, but I don’t think six would have,” Russo said.

While the action to save the fortunate six came from the cautiousness of a new CPS administration, they are still going to close 16 schools this year, more than anyone else in the country, according to Russo.

“They still can say every year we weed out or close down more than a dozen schools,” Russo said. “So they don’t lose momentum; they don’t even really lose face. They get to keep moving forward with their idea of what reform is.”

By making this change CPS also gives the people who oppose the reform a feeling of success, according to Russo. This could be more than enough to mute the opposition.

The list of school changes was released earlier this year than in years past because of the transition from Duncan to Huberman. Politically that put Huberman in a better position because instead of producing the list as his first act, he could take schools off the list.

Lillie Gonzales, a local school council member and grandmother of a student at Peabody, leads the protest after school on Feb. 19. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Lillie Gonzales, a local school council member and grandmother of a student at Peabody, leads the protest after school on Feb. 19. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Copyright 2009

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