The voters have eaten. And the eaters have voted.
Why did fans come out in force when Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed (named for an off-beat uncle and Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed) was in the running for Joy of Kosher’s Best Restaurant of 2013?
“I think it goes beyond the pulled brisket, or even our smoked ribs and Milt burgers,” said award-winning executive chef Bryan Gryka. The Chicago hotspot’s Facebook page and website confirm his modest assertion. Beyond foodie fever, many Milt’s customers seem ecstatic to be doing double mitzvahs. When every bite is kosher and every dollar of profit goes to tzedakah, it’s hard not to feel the joy.
Yes, 100% of Milt’s profits go to charity. The Community Gift of the Month supports nonprofit organizations that help people with special needs or lifelong diseases, work to eradicate abuse and sexual assault, fight poverty, and enhance educational opportunities. Recently Milt’s joined a customer loyalty program, through which it lets diners redeem points as donated “meals” to local food banks and soup kitchens rather than discounted drinks or free appetizers. The new Milt’s Night Out program seeks out spare sports or cultural tickets, pairs them with a free dinner, and creates a memorable evening for people who are going through trying times.
Locals may not care that Milt’s is kosher. They may happen in because it’s a trendy restaurant that has received top marks from reviewers and was named a New Restaurant of the Year by UrbanSpoon. They come back to satisfy their appetite for barbecue and to read more perplexities and brain teasers, conveniently placed on each table and hung on magnetized walls. They also may reserve a spot for an upcoming lecture on history, politics, spirituality humor, and other subjects by an expert from anywhere in the world. Milt’s acts, as described on its website, “as a community center without the pool.” With a fourteen-person Community Table, large booths, and regular tables, Milt’s is a hub of conversation.
All of Milt’s programs and charitable giving are facilitated by the Jeffrey F. Kahan Memorial Fund, a donor-advised fund at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, which receives and distributes Milt’s profits as well as gifts from other donors. Milt’s owner and founder Jeff Aeder established the JKMF in memory of a cherished member of the community. “Jeff Kahan loved Israel,” said Aeder, “and he had strong sense of Jewish identity. That, along with his passion for a good debate, continually inspires our programming.”
Under strict CRC kashrut supervision, Milt’s hosts Shabbat dinners for private groups and also for nonprofit groups that aim to bring together Jewish young adults and give them – quite literally – a taste of tradition. The JKMF makes these dinners possible through a donation that is worth part of the cost, thus enabling them to attract more participants.
Besides thousands of Facebook “likes” and shares, and the near-perfect customer ratings, Milt’s fans sometimes take the time to post adoring comments. One such comment came at the unveiling of the Milt’s Night Out program. “So glad you exist,” wrote Tammy Klein Bergman. “You are amazing!!!”
To learn more about Milt’s, sign up for emails, and stay abreast of developments such as the first-ever Chicago barbecue competition and festival, visit www.miltsbbq.com.
Bring a little bit of Milt's into your home with Executive Chef Bryan Gryka's cornbread recipe.
Main image from GreatKosherRestaurants.com
Other images supplied by Milt's.
Article contributed by Sari Steinberg.