Milt's BBQ and Extra Innings Dish Up Soul-Nourishing Kosher Meals
By Nicole Bruce
At CJE, we’re always looking for our next great meal, particularly go-to spots that can accommodate the dietary desires of multiple generations. Chicagoans who keep kosher are likely already acquainted with the Lakeview neighborhood hotspot Milt’s Barbeque for the Perplexed, a restaurant wholly committed to giving back to the community it serves. But fans of the pork-free BBQ will be delighted to know Milt’s BBQ owner Jeff Aeder recently opened up a second dining destination—a Jewish baseball-focused cRc certified kosher deli with a charitable mission—right next door.
Like Milt’s BBQ, Milt’s Extra Innings donates 100% of its profits to charity, and there’s exceptional counter service. Milt’s Extra Innings employs young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities through a partnership with Keshet, a partner of JUF dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities reach their full potential.
Aeder’s experiences with his own daughter and niece with special needs have helped shape the charitable vision for both the BBQ joint and the deli. The philanthropic eateries are now a dynamic force in the city’s food scene and greater Chicago and Jewish communities. “My sister and brother-in-law were trying to figure out the best opportunities for my niece, who has some intellectual disabilities. I learned that two-thirds of all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed. Yet I know they have so much to offer.”
By providing meaningful employment, Extra Innings hopes to build a more inclusive environment: “We have 10-15 employees with special needs who are absolutely loving the experience,” said Aeder, a real estate investor who loves to give back. The Sidney and Lisa Glenner Keshet GADOL program—a vocational program for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities—finds, hires, and trains young adults from their own programs as well as other organizations like the Anixter Center.
Alongside the soul-warming matzo ball soup, loaded pastrami sandwiches, and classic spaghetti with meatballs served up with a smile, you’ll find the deli—a stone’s throw away from Wrigley Field—decked out with quirky Jewish baseball memorabilia. Aeder, who’s also the Jewish Baseball Museum commissioner, wanted to celebrate the history of Jews in the sport—one that makes us feel a part of a community and something bigger than ourselves. “It combines my love for baseball, for the history of Jews in baseball and for finding opportunities for people who were not being given them,” said Aeder. “The best way to lead is by example. So for my kids, for the community and for everybody else, we’re showing by example.”
Before opening Milt’s BBQ in 2013, Aeder and his wife were involved in a number of large scale community projects. They founded the Wolcott School, Chicago’s first college-prep high school for students who learn differently, based on the needs of their oldest daughter, who “struggled in school with some learning differences.” Aeder adds, “Around the same time, I was interested in trying to help the Jewish community build a stronger presence in Lakeview. I thought a restaurant that also supported community-based organizations would be a great addition. Plus, I love barbeque.”
In the spirit of Aeder’s Uncle Milty, the “good-hearted and always perplexed” uncle who inspired the restaurant duo, the restaurants’ commitments extend beyond the tasty kosher meats smoked on-site. The beef spare ribs, chopped brisket sandwiches and potato latkes come with a hearty side of do-good. Their community work extends well beyond the crowds they serve in house. Since opening five years ago, Milt’s BBQ has donated 100% of all profits to 50 to 60 different charities around Chicago through the Jeffrey F. Kahan Memorial Fund, which facilitates the charitable giving and community programming for both eateries.
The Milt’s BBQ Community Gift of the Month showcases their commitment to the neighborhood. Causes they’ve supported range from local Jewish day camps and synagogues to youth arts programs and book drives to cancer and brain research foundations to food pantries and homeless shelters to schools and LGBTQ community centers. “We try to diversify the charities and we like to keep it local, so we talk to people in the community,” said Aeder.
If the hospitality industry is about the people you serve, then Milt’s BBQ and Extra Innings are hitting it out of the park. Baseball season is officially here!