An overhead photograph shows three tables of diners sitting down to eat in a lush backyard.
TXA TXA Club shies away from trends and instead celebrates specific regions and seasonal produce. Credit: Courtesy TXA TXA Club

Station Eleven, the impactful TV show based on Emily St. John Mandel’s novel of the same title, follows a motley crew of survivors around the Great Lakes region following a pandemic that killed all but .1 percent of the world’s population. As they renegotiate the human condition sans societal infrastructure, the nomadic band of protagonists form a Shakespearean performance troupe—bringing classical music and theater to establishing settlements. This group of artists, dubbed the Traveling Symphony, live by the motto “survival is insufficient”—perhaps also the thesis of the book. When I first read it in 2015 (with the beloved Empty Bottle Book Club), I was not buying what Mandel was selling. The premise seemed garishly utopian, hyperbolic at best: a silly fantasy about how art prevails over everything. Comeuppance for my haughtiness came in March of 2020.

Creative expression offered what little respite was possible during those bleak early months and subsequent years of uncertainty. To the degree that collective and personal malaise would allow, many artists experienced a grief-fueled renaissance of creative proliferation. Unstructured time, an invaluable resource to the visionary mind, was in abundance. As culture critic Zeba Blay writes, “Art suspends time and, in doing so, gives us space to think about the unthinkable.” Out of this vast abyss of time, despair, and possibility, the pop-up and supper club TXA TXA was born. Well, I suppose it started a little earlier than that. 

TXA TXA Club presents Shelf Life
Fri 6/23, 6 PM, Mana Contemporary, 2233 S. Throop, reserve a spot at, $230

To set the stage: this friendship turned love story turned experimental culinary collaboration started at Logan Square’s venerable Lula Cafe. Lula has long been a hub of creativity, serving as a place for up-and-coming musicians, performers, and visual artists to gather for a meal, exhibit their work, and/or earn a living. When asked if this avant-garde multi-purpose atmosphere was by design, chef/owner Jason Hammel shared, “Lula is a project by two artists who fell in love [referring to his wife and Lula co-founder, singer-songwriter Amalea Tshilds]. Nothing was by design because, in part, we didn’t really know what we were doing. There were many artists in the space long before we were, hanging out at a cafe called Logan Beach. We inherited this spirit and energy, brought to the space by makers and doers and dreamers in the neighborhood.” 

Lula is also a known incubator for aspiring culinary artists. Hammel, a culinary mentor and arguable kingmaker, gushes that he has “so much pride for all the alumni who have gone on to do cool stuff in food,” naming Lula expats Chef Yoshi Yamada of Superkhana International (who I sat next to at a TXA TXA event!); Jason Vincent of Giant/Chef’s Special/Pizza Matta, the Bungalow by Middlebrow crew, and of course, TXA TXA Club (pronounced cha cha).

Color photograph shows a table in a backyard elaborately set for a meal, with handmade menus, an orange oilcloth covering the table, glass bottles of water, candles, and fresh flowers.
At TXA TXA Club, first-timers, regulars, and old friends alike are warmly welcomed.
Credit: TXA TXA Club

Now to introduce our key players: Liz “the yes man” Bendure and Daniel “the bard” Parker. They met where all great modern love stories start—at brunch. Both have spent storied decades in the food service industry in various front-of-house roles, which is evident in the execution of TXA TXA. Many may remember Parker as the soft-spoken longtime Lula brunch bartender, as quick with a piquant beverage as he was with a joke or anecdote from his seemingly endless travels and scholarly pursuits. Parker is an adept writer and poet, a polyglot with a quick wit, and an obsessive researcher. He writes of his multihyphenate creative expression and the scope of his aspirations, “I did a lot of interdisciplinary work because everything seemed connected to me. I found that expression through a single medium was limiting.”

To call Bendure the hostess with the mostess is an egregious understatement. The charming presence with which she greeted you from Lula’s hostess stand remains palpable at TXA TXA Club, as first-timers, regulars, and old friends alike are warmly welcomed. I appreciate the care that goes into her pre-event guest info emails, covering everything from parking to COVID protocols and beverage options. (TXA TXA was traditionally BYOB, but lately some venues have offered an in-house bar.) Bendure is facile in many trades including sewing, woodworking, and drafting, with an extensive background in production design. She is a born project manager whose logistical savvy perfectly compliments Parker’s dreaminess. She says, “Hospitality is not about giving people things for free. It’s about giving them the thing they didn’t know they needed before they can ever anticipate they need it. It’s not what you give them, it’s how you give it. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

Color photograph shows Daniel Parker in the foreground in the act of plating food. He is in a kitchen with many plants and he is wearing an orange hat and glasses. Liz Bendure is seen behind also plating food.
Liz Bendure and Daniel Parker met at Lula Cafe in 2015.
Credit: TXA TXA Club

Act One: As You Like It

After meeting at Lula in 2016, Bendure and Parker established a relationship as friendly colleagues. (They were both otherwise romantically entangled at the time.) The stars aligned a few years later and they started dating. As their romantic trajectory synced up, so did their whimsical hospitality aspirations, and the duo started producing pop-up dinners. The first was at The Charleston in September of 2019. At the beginning of 2020, they spent six weeks in southeast Asia (primarily Thailand but also Cambodia and southern Vietnam). This trip (their first major one as a couple) would lay the foundation for what TXA TXA would evolve and formalize into. They write, “We found ourselves enamored with the ingredients and culinary/cultural heritage we were encountering. These ingredients are staples in our pantry and are often utilized in our Supper Club dishes, though not necessarily in any classic preparation.” Then, as reported in their February 2023 newsletter “Bangkok, a love letter . . . ,” “the world was turned inside out.” 

Act Two: COVID chrysalis 

Quarantine started mere days after their return to Chicago. The Logan Square apartment where they would host the first year’s worth of supper clubs became a culinary research lab. I followed their home cooking exploits with glee via Instagram. My level of intrigue around what they were cooking up was immeasurable, and when they announced they were opening their home for a private supper club, I was ecstatic. The first official backyard supper club was in July 2021, and I attended volume two in August. The service and hospitality were impeccable. (Perhaps here the influence of Hammel is most evident.) Comfort (despite sitting elbow to elbow and often sharing plates with total strangers–not normally my jam!) pervaded the ambiance and joy and defined the overall experience. The meal was transcendent, and I have since made it a priority to attend as often as I can.

Bendure and Parker share a fascination with and dedication to cultures and geographies including Thai, Basque, central Italian, classic French, Middle Eastern, and the southern and midwest regions of the U.S. They execute meals with the utmost respect and honor for the culture from which they are borrowing. For a primer on cultural appreciation over appropriation, peruse their last few newsletters, or simply attend an event and experience the reverence with which they share their inspirations. These food-centric gatherings feel more like a salon or Situationist happening than a stuffy formal dinner. Parker calls TXA TXA a third space: the sociological term for a communal space distinct from home or work—reserved, I daresay, for pleasure and leisure. 

TXA TXA’s future holds collaborations with an ever-expanding roster of artisans and organizations, including a project with artist Dee Clements called Shelf Life.
Credit: TXA TXA Club

TXA TXA shies away from trends and instead celebrates specific regions in addition to the seasonal abundance of produce available in Chicago. Bendure and Parker are frequently the first customers of the day at the Logan Square Farmers Market. At their gatherings, insufferable food photography is refreshingly limited. The camera does not eat first at TXA TXA! Anyway, their in-house photos (styled by Bendure) are more mouth-watering than anything a commoner could ever hold up their meal to take. Bendure and Parker share ideating and cooking responsibilities and have recently brought on servers and prep cooks to meet the rising demand. I hesitate to praise their work ethic, because TXA TXA is truly a labor of love, and I am loath to use the language of capitalism and commodification to describe it. Let’s stop the collective obsession with monetizing our joy, shall we?

Act Three: CHA CHA CHA (say it out loud)

TXA TXA’s vision statement reads: “TXA TXA Club is an invitation, an exploration, an ongoing act of discovery. It’s about food, too, sure, but it’s about much more than that. Our aim is to foster a sense of community through the sharing of food and creativity in both private and public spaces.” What started as an intimate and private relationship between two people and their third ensemble member (food) has grown into a genre-defying spectacle and one of Chicago’s hottest (and hardest to get) reservations. The grand finale backyard supper club was in June 2022; the scale of the undertaking had simply outgrown the cozy yard and home kitchen prep space. 

The pair resumed regular travel as soon as they were able with a return trip to Thailand and a visit to Castelsardo, Sardinia, where they got engaged last September. As with the most interesting iterations of art, evolution is the only constant for TXA TXA Club. Every experience is surprising, to me as a guest and to the purveyors themselves. This year has already seen expansion into cultural spaces, with a recent activation at Irving Park’s Color Club. I had a particularly memorable meal in January at A Very Serious Gallery. The evening featured live art and a persimmon-based menu celebrating the singular fruit. The future holds collaborations with an ever-expanding roster of artisans and organizations, including a project with artist Dee Clements called Shelf Life, where seven artists will make work exploring the various notions of assigned value and consumerism in food and art. The dinner and reception will be at Mana Contemporary on Friday, June 23. 

If I had to choose one word to describe TXA TXA Club, it would be romance: romance for the guest and for old-world hospitality; a romantic entanglement with food exploration and appreciation; the achingly hopeful romanticism of choosing to walk through life as partners in life, business, and art. Hammel writes of the essence that exists between the two and permeates their shared venture: “First and foremost they are beautiful, kind people . . . their energy is infectious, and their feelings for each other infuse the spaces they inhabit with love.” Reader, I hope to see you around the TXA TXA table soon, chewing the food of sweet and bitter fancy. 

Want to devour all things TXA TXA? Follow along on IG @txatxaclub for fermentation tips, waste reduction pointers, kitchen resources, and, of course, recipes.

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