Here is everything you need to know about Milt's: It's a kosher barbecue joint. It's nice enough to host a swanky event. It's dedicated to community service. And it's set up for both dialogues and monologues.
Well, maybe there is still more to know. Like that Milt was the uncle of the founder, Jeff Aeder. Uncle Milt, it seems, was a raconteur and a rascal—prone to ask questions and challenge the status quo. When he grew up, Aeder went into real estate. He opened Milt's just last December, but he built it—in the spirit of his uncle-to do more than serve up meals. He wanted it to, in his words, "stir the pot."
Because Milt's also serves the community. Each month, all proceeds go to a different local charity. And Milt's also has set up the Jeffrey F. Kahan Memorial Fund, a Donor Advised Fund, at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, in memory of a man Aeder says was "well-informed and opinionated, thoughtful and passionate, a friend who enriched our world. Although he lived with Multiple Sclerosis, Jeff Kahan lived a fuller life than most. He had a strong love of Israel and sense of Jewish identity. Jeff passed away in the summer of 2012 with far too much life yet to live." The fund will support Milt's community programming.
And while the fall-off-the bone ribs and melt-in-your-mouth brisket feed your body, Milt's also feeds your brain. It's not just the brain-ticklers on the wall, like "Is there another word for 'synonym?'" that do this. It's the range of speakers and scholars Milt has coming to teach, like Dennis Ross, the Middle East expert, who stopped by in March.
Which explains the "perplexed" part of the restaurant's name. It's taken from the title of one of the masterworks of Jewish philosophy, The Guide for the Perplexed, by Maimonides (a.k.a. The Rambam). According to Aeder, "Maimonides emphasizes giving credence to all perspectives. He drew from Jewish, Islamic, and ancient Greek philosophers to explain the Torah."
Accordingly, Milt's is kosher (under cRc supervision), and the only such place in Lakeview. They have a huge smoker and grill in the kitchen, which pours forth fried okra, beef "bacon," chili, soup, chicken, ribs, salmon, burgers, and traditional BBQ sides (except for mac and cheese!). There are plentiful veggie options, and a kids' menu, too.
And while critics from The Reader to Urban Spoon have given Milt's the thumbs-up, so has the local rabbinate. "Jeff Aeder, a member of multiple synagogues including our own, has done something truly exemplary," said Rabbi Michael Siegel, spiritual leader of Anshe Emet Synagogue, a neighbor of Milt's. "He has created a restaurant to serve and build the Jewish community and surrounding institutions. It is not every restaurant about which you can say that you are doing a mitzvah by eating there. There is no doubt that Maimonides would applaud the impact that Milt's will have on strengthening our Jewish community. In all of our conversations, I have never failed to be impressed with his enthusiasm, concern, and passion for inclusivity. Milt's has created a communal table."