I had dinner with Pat Bruno a couple of weeks ago.
Not at the same table, you understand. I was making a review visit to Quay, the new place inside the River East Arts Center, and spotted Pat (and he me) three tables away, dining with his wife.
We didn't acknowledge each others' presence, of course, but Pat, who finished first, gave me a subtle wave on the way out.
Though Pat and I covered the same beat for more than 20 years (Pat started in 1984; I got my gig five years later), our paths didn't cross all that often; until the Quay dinner, I hadn't seen him since May, when we visited Fogon on the same day. But when our paths did cross, Bruno was always gracious and professional, a class act even when we disagreed.
As Rob Feder first reported on his Time Out Chicago blog, Bruno was unceremoniously dumped by the Sun-Times Monday.
Bruno isn't bitter about losing the gig; he knows what's happening to newspaper budgets, and while Bruno worked on a freelance basis, comparatively speaking he was a pricey freelancer. What bothers Bruno is that the phone call that cut him loose, delivered by a mid-level editor, didn't come from someone higher up.
"I've known (publisher) John Barron for 28 years," Bruno said. "All he had to do is pick up the phone and tell me himself. He didn't have the balls to do that. I wasn't expecting roses at my feet, just a phone call from someone who appreciated what I did all these years."
So Bruno's out, and there's no word on what the Sun-Times will run in his place. This Friday, his last two reviews will appear — Telegraph and Prasino — along with a goodbye blurb that he wrote after getting the bad news.
Bruno won't disappear, I'm guessing. He'll land freelance work elsewhere, maybe start a blog ("I have to figure out how to do that," he joked), maybe show his face, peeking out from that wide-brimmed hat of his, on TV. I suspect I'll be bumping into him at another newly opened dining room sooner rather than later.
"At least now," he said, "I can go out to eat and not have to duck."
And at the end of the meal, we'll give each other a wave.