Picture of the Chicago skyline.
Dec 1, 2021

Axios Chicago

Happy Wednesday. Tonight kicks off Chicago's overnight parking ban, rendering 107 miles of main streets off-limits overnight regardless of snow. Don't risk those hefty fines.

๐ŸŒค Today's weather: Partly cloudy with chance of showers and a high of 49.

Today's newsletter is 730 words โ€” a 2.5-minute read.

1 big thing: The state of Illinois college food

Two lunch plates from the Illinois Student Residence dining hall at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

๐Ÿ‘‹ Howdy, it's Monica.

  • Earlier this week I drove my daughter back to school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and checked out the massive new Illinois Street Residence (ISR) dining hall.

Why it matters: Eating in Illinois' biggest dining hall at the state's largest university serves up an illuminating taste of today's college food scene.

By the numbers: The full $77 million ISR dining hall renovation opened this year as the biggest non-military college cafeteria in the nation.

  • The sunny, airy facility feeds 4,000 people a day from 9 micro-restaurants, including stations catering to vegans and those with food allergies.
  • Visitors pay $9.90 at breakfast and $12.57 at lunch for all-access entry โ€” kind of like a younger version of Old Country Buffet.
The new ISR dining hall at UIUC can seat 1,385 at a time. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Breakfast notes: I loved the bold coffee, vegan sausage, well-seasoned tofu scramble and hash with caramelized onions and red peppers.

  • The bland scrambled eggs and zucchini, however, needed a lot of Sriracha, which is in abundant supply here.

Lunch notes: The avocado, spring greens, tzatziki, feta, roasted cauliflower and quinoa salad made me feel like I was dining at a fancy spa. And I actually liked the plant-based veatballs in marinara.

  • But the "Illinois-grown" brown rice and boiled northern beans had zero flavor.

Some neat things that UIUC dining halls do for sustainability:

  • Source local food and dairy.
  • Compost and use anaerobic digesters to turn food waste into energy.
  • Offer rentable takeout boxes to encourage re-use.

International observation du jour: My daughter's India-born roommate was shocked to hear that American college students often gain weight their freshman year, noting the trend is just the opposite in India.

2. Tips and Links: Quick Chicago news bites

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

๐Ÿ“ Today's the deadline for Chicago's city council to vote on a new ward map. (Chicago Tribune)

๐Ÿšจ Congressman Rodney Davis announced he is running for Congress in the redistricted 15th. He was rumored to be running for governor. Now, all eyes are on the rest of the candidates. (Capitol Fax)

๐Ÿงช American Science and Surplus has delayed its move to the suburbs until January. (Block Club Chicago)

๐Ÿˆ Now that Brian Kelly is leaving Notre Dame to coach at LSU, the list of possible replacements is forming and growing. (Sporting News)

3. Picture of the day

Morning view from Monroe and the lake. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

When you hit the road to Champaign-Urbana at 6:30 am., you can enjoy a stunning sunrise over the lake. I took this while stopped at a very long stoplight.

4. The rise and fall of Material Issue

Jim Ellison of Material Issue performing at a Tower Records release party in 1994. Photo: Philin Phlash, courtesy of Arvonia Films

It's been 30 years since Chicago's Material Issue released its first major-label album "International Pop Overthrow."

Why it matters: The Chicago pop trio was one of the first local bands to sign to a major label in the 1990s, starting a frenzy that saw the rise of Smashing Pumpkins, Urge Overkill and Liz Phair.

On film: "Out of Time: The Material Issue Story" features live performances and interviews with band members, producers, engineers and local luminaries like Metro owner Joe Shanahan.

What they're saying: "Few bands really impacted Chicago as Material Issue did," filmmaker Balin Schneider tells Axios.

  • "The 90's Chicago music scene was this gritty place with a family at the core of it. All these bands were highly competitive but at the end of the day all of them were trying to help each other out - Material Issue were the initiators for this."

How it ended: Material Issue followed up with three more LPs but never matched the success of that first album before frontman Jim Ellison died by suicide in 1996.

  • "Jim Ellison, to me, was one of the best songwriters of his generation," says Schneider. "He wrote three (four if you include the posthumous release) really tremendous albums."

What's next: Catch the film and a live concert by surviving band members Thursday night at Lincoln Hall.

  • More information about the film here.
5. Monica writes a song for you

From a framed copy of the "Chicago Songwriters Month" proclamation hanging at the Old Town School of Folk Music on Armitage Ave. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

๐Ÿ‘‹ Hey, it's Monica again.

Speaking of Chicago musicians, Mayor Richard J. Daley proclaimed December as "Chicago Songwriters Month" 50 years ago.

Why it matters: The proclamation stands as a testament to the city's rich and prolific songwriting scene at the time, embodied by folkies like Steve Goodman and John Prine.

To mark the month, I've written and recorded a Song for Axios Chicago Readers.

  • My dog really likes it, but Jeff Tweedy and Chance the Rapper have nothing to worry about.
  • Feel free to write more verses and send them to us if the inspiration strikes!

Our picks:

๐ŸŽฅ Monica is interested in checking out this Cicero/Mount Greenwood documentary.

๐Ÿ“บ Justin is back! I refreshed my batteries by watching all of season 2 of South Side. The ode to Ferris Bueller? Ridiculously good. The show is a love letter to Chicago.

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