There’s finally some good news on the eat beat in Chicago.
Steve Dolinsky, whose savvy restaurant reviews have been tantalizing viewers for more than 25 years, is about to become a weekly special on the menu of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.
The 13-time James Beard Award winner just signed on as food reporter at NBC 5. His new segment, titled “The Food Guy,” will air Thursdays on the 10 p.m. newscast, starting this week. His reports also will air on Friday afternoon newscasts and weekend morning newscasts.
“With his insider’s perspective on food and beverages, Dolinsky will explore the city and suburbs to discover the latest gastronomic trends, flavors and hidden gems,” according to the station.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back on the air and hoping to make NBC 5 number one at 10 p.m.,” Dolinsky told me.
Before he and WLS-Channel 7 parted company last February Dolinsky spent almost 18 years as “The Hungry Hound” food critic at the ABC-owned station. For eight years before that he hosted and produced the food show “Good Eating” on CLTV, the former CLTV cable channel.
A native of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Dolinsky, 53, worked for stations in Escanaba, Michigan, and Davenport, Iowa, before joining CLTV as a general assignment reporter in 1992.
“The stories will look a lot like my previous work,” he said of his new gig at NBC 5. “I’ll introduce a taped piece live on-set, then chat with the anchors afterward. I’ll be covering the same kinds of places I always have — a mix of high-end, newer restaurants along with the hidden gems found in the neighborhoods . . . all over the city and suburbs.
“NBC is leaving it up to me in terms of what I cover. It’s also important to note they have given me a budget to dine out on my own, so all meals are paid for by the station,” he said.
Since he left ABC 7 Dolinsky has kept busy with other ventures, including real estate consulting, teaching a food journalism class at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and curating private tours and experiences. The Ultimate Chicago Pizza Guide, a followup to his first book, Pizza City, USA: 101 Reasons Why Chicago Is America’s Greatest Pizza Town, will be published in October.
“I really wanted to create a ‘portfolio career’ of sorts, with multiple outlets,” Dolinsky said. So when Frank Whittaker, station manager and vice president of news at NBC 5, reached out, Dolinsky said, “I was ready to add this to my plate. I loved the idea of reporting just one story per week, but I insisted it air on Thursday nights at 10, when most people are planning their weekends.”
Mirroring the challenges to the restaurant industry brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been a tough year for Chicago’s food journalists. Along with the exile of “The Hungry Hound” from ABC 7, dining critic Phil Vettel retired from the Chicago Tribune, dining critic Jeff Ruby resigned from Chicago magazine, and Nexstar Media WGN-Channel 9 canceled the food show “Chicago’s Best” after more than a decade.
Bringing restaurant reviews back to the 10 o’clock news as “appointment viewing” has been on the agenda of Kevin Cross since he took over as president and general manager of NBCUniversal Local Chicago in May. As a lifelong Chicagoan, Cross remembered watching the inimitable James Ward (“Ciao Chow, for now!”) critique restaurants on ABC 7.
“Chicago is a food destination, and our viewers have an appetite for the best local eats and drinks,” Cross said. “No one covers our diverse culinary scene like ‘The Food Guy,’ Steve Dolinsky. He brings great experience and passion to the team.”
Friday’s comment of the day: Dan Palmer: I didn’t get used to the [Chicago Tribune] while it was getting smaller and smaller. I stayed the course to support it in hopes it could ride out the worst case scenario. It didn’t. I got used to the gutting of the paper real fast. When they sent all the columnists packing, I switched over to the Sun Times after 40 years. The Trib is pretty much a compilation of AP stories now. I can get that anywhere on the web. I don’t know how long we’ll all be able to read a newspaper as they seem destined to all disappear. But I’ll support what I can when the paper at least makes an attempt to be a complete news source.