Please leave your suggestions for a "Chicago-Style" food, or item, in the yellow section at the end of this article.
ATOMIC CAKE; A CHICAGO ORIGINAL: The Atomic Cake has been the centerpiece of choice at birthday celebrations and other rites of passage, from first to last, for generations of Chicagoans on the South Side. Born in the optimistic Atomic Era for which it is named, and coupled with the baby boom, it's no wonder it became an iconic birthday cake. Yet, perhaps because of a geographic and generational divide, many Chicagoans have never heard of it.
"You start with, a layer of banana cake topped with a banana filling, with Bavarian cream custard and freshly sliced bananas," says Calumet Bakery owner Kerry Moore. "Then you put on a layer of yellow cake topped with a strawberry filling, with fresh sliced strawberries in glaze and strawberry cream. Then you put on a layer of chocolate cake with fudge on top. You ice it up, more times than not with whipped cream, but some people like buttercream, and that's it."
BREADED STEAK SANDWICH: This sandwich is an Italian feast on a roll. It originated on the South Side of Chicago and continues to be one of our city's favorite sandwiches. Slices of beef are simply breaded and deep-fried, dipped into a marinara sauce, then placed in a dinner roll. The steak is usually topped with mozzarella cheese, sweet peppers and/or hot or mild giardiniera. There is nothing refined about the Chicago-Style Breaded Steak Sandwich. This flavorful sandwich is gooey, messy, and filling.
CLICK FOR RECIPE ─► "The First-Ever Brownie was invented in Chicago by Bertha Palmer for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition." This is the ORIGINAL RECIPE which is included in the article. Stick to the recipe for your first batch, then come back here and tell us about your experience.
|The first famous Palmer House Fudge Brownie. 1893|
CHICAGO COCKTAIL; A FANCY BRANDY DRINK: Chicago Daily News Restaurant Critic John Drury included the recipe for this fine dessert cocktail in his 1931 guide Dining in Chicago, noting that it had been served at the American Bar in Nice and the Embassy Club in London. It also appeared in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. The Chicago Cocktail is also called a 'Fancy Brandy Cocktail.'
Two dashes of Angostura Biters are set off by three dashes of Curacao. A pinch of Brandy makes for a tipsy cocktail... but the final pour of champagne on the top make it an absolute, celebratory delight of a cocktail.
CHICKEN VESUVIO; A CHICAGO SPECIALITY: The origins of the Italian-American dish are unknown, but some suggest it might have been popularized by the Vesuvio Restaurant, which operated at 15 East Wacker Drive, Chicago, in the 1930s. Other food historians have suggested that variants of Chicken Vesuvio can be found among the chicken dishes of the traditional cuisines of southern Italy.
Chicken Vesuvio is a dish made from chicken on the bone and wedges of potato sauteed with garlic, oregano, white wine, and olive oil, then baked until the chicken's skin becomes crisp. The casserole is often garnished with a few green peas for color, although some more modern variations may omit some of these. In Chicago, one also often finds the technique applied to other foods, like "steak Vesuvio," "pork chops Vesuvio," or even just "Vesuvio potatoes."
ELOTES; MEXICAN CORN ON THE COB: Elotes are a popular snack for many Mexican people in Mexico and Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Vendors pushing carts to busy areas around Chicago has made elotes carts a common sight. Corn on the cob roasted over an open grill usually on a pushcart. When the corn is just right, it is coated with salt, chili powder, butter, cotija cheese, cilantro, lime juice, and mayonnaise or crema Fresca. Chicagoans know just where to find an Elotes cart — at any of the lakefront parks and beaches, spring, summer, and autumn, or anywhere you go in Mexico.
FRANCHEEZIE; A CHICAGO FAVORITE: The francheezie is an all-beef hot dog, split and filled with cheese (usually Cheddar, American or Velveeta Cheese), wrapped in bacon and deep-fried. It is served on a poppy seed bun, either "plain" or, add yellow mustard, chopped white onions, green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt making it a Chicago Francheezie.
|I order mine with 3 slices of bacon, mustard, raw onions, and tomatoes.|
FRANGO MINTS; A CHICAGO FAVORITE, BUT NOT A CHICAGO ORIGINAL:
I've included Frango Mints because, and this is my guess, that 75% or more of Chicagoans don't know that Frango Mints were actually created by Frederick & Nelson Co., department stores in Seattle, Washington, in 1927. Field's bought out Frederick & Nelson's Seattle stores in 1929.
The Marshall Field kitchen had modified the recipe a few times over the years. So the Frango Mints we all grew-up loving came from Field's which makes it a Chicago Food. Garrett Brands (Garrett's Popcorn), also a Chicago Company, acquired the Frango brand from Macy's Inc. in 2017.
CLICK TO READ ─► The Story and Myth of the Famous Marshall Field's Frango Mints in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™
FRIED MATZAH and MATZAH BREI; CHICAGO-STYLE: Most people never heard of this dish before. And, just to be clear, for you food snobs, don’t pronounce this “bree” as in brie cheese; it’s not nearly that sophisticated. It’s pronounced “bry” as in “bribe” or, more relevantly, “fry.” What makes this Chicago-Style is the type of jelly, jam, preserves used; any type of grape or grape mix, like grape-lemon jam.
My Fried Matzah article includes pictures, recipes, and of course, some history.
FRIED CHICKEN; CHICAGO-STYLE: Drizzle either a hot red sauce or a medium-hot red sauce all over the fried chicken and fries until the chicken skin softens.
THE CHICAGO; FRY SANDWICH: A common practice is to put BBQ sauce-soaked fries (or Ketchup, but only if you're under 10 years old) in between two slices of bread, which Chicagoans, in the know, call a "fry sandwich."
GIARDINIERA; AN ITALIAN-AMERICAN SPICY RELISH: Giardiniera ("jar-din-air-ah") wasn't invented in Chicago. It originated in Italy, where it means mixed pickles. This fiery mix contains some combination of pickled chiles, celery, cauliflower, carrots, and olives submerged in oil. Giardiniera adds instant heat, crunch, and acid to many of our city's iconic foods, including Italian beef and sausages, Italian subs and deep-dish pizza.
GYROS; CHICAGO'S VERY OWN: Gyros (pronounced YEE-ros, Greek for "circle" or "turn") is a Greek dish made from meat, traditionally a mixture of beef and lamb, cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Gyros are served as sandwiches or deconstructed as a plate, and made with thinly-sliced meat and placed on a pita. Traditional gyros are topped with onions and tomatoes and Tzatziki, the white creamy sauce that is usually added to gyros, is made with strained yogurt, cucumbers, salt, pepper, garlic and sometimes dill. Feta cheese is added at some restaurants or by request.
George "Papa George" Apostolou is the "father" of today's gyros. Apostolou reportedly served the first U.S. gyro at Chicago's Parkview Restaurant in 1965. He opened a gyros manufacturing plant called Central Gyros Wholesale nine years later.
Kronos Foods, which is now the world's largest gyro manufacturer, reports that they developed and marketed the Gyrokones -- uncooked masses of gyro meat. Along with the Kronomatic broiler, a vertical meat broiler also invented by founder Chris Tomaras, the Gyrokones helped standardize gyro production and spread the sandwich to restaurants across the country.
HOT DOG; THE CHICAGO DOG: On a poppy seed bun, place an all-beef hot dog (aka; red hot, frankfurter, wiener, sausage), top with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, sport peppers (see below) and a dash of celery salt.
If you order a "Chicago Style" hot dog in any hot dog joint, and it doesn't have ALL the above ingredients, it is NOT a Chicago dog. You, of course, can order your hot dog any way you want to — just no Ketchup unless you're under 10 years old — seriously! I'm almost sure there is a Chicago municipal code about the ketchup regulation statute.LITTLE KNOWN FACT: David Berg & Co., opened a Chicago sausage shop in 1860. They catered to the Chicago Republican National Convention, held at the Wigwam, between May 16 and 18, 1860. Abraham Lincoln may have eaten a David Berg hot dog or two because they were served at the convention where Abraham Lincoln was nominated as the Republican's Presidential Candidate.
|Typical Chicago-Style hot dog.|
|Superdawg is my personal favorite Chicagoland hot dog.|
SECRET: You'll get more fries and they'll stay crunchier if you ask for them on the side.
ITALIAN BEEF; SERVED THE CHICAGO WAY: The Italian beef sandwich that originated in Chicago is composed of thin slices of seasoned roast beef, simmered and served au jus (known by locals as 'gravy') on a long Italian-style crusty roll. The sandwich's history dates back at least to the 1930s. The bread itself is, at the diner's preference, often dipped (or double-dipped) into the jus the meat is cooked in, and the sandwich is typically topped off with Chicago-style giardiniera (called "hot") or sauteed, green Italian sweet peppers (called "sweet").
JEPPSON'S MALÖRT LIQUEUR; CHICAGO'S VERY OWN: In the 1930s Carl Jeppson, a Scanian immigrant to Chicago, began marketing his home-made brew. He sold it door-to-door for medicinal and other purposes, and one legend says he preferred the strong taste after years of smoking had dulled his taste-buds. Attorney George Brode purchased the original recipe from Carl Jeppson and created the famous Jeppson's Malört testimonial that once appeared on every bottle. Patricia Gabelick was hired by Brode as his secretary in 1966 and took over the business after Brode's death in 1999, running it out of her Lakeview apartment.
It was made in Chicago until the mid-'70s when the Mar-Salle distillery that produced it for the Carl Jeppson Company closed. It was made in Kentucky briefly, after which it was produced in Florida for many years. In 2018, Jeppson's Malört was acquired by Chicago-based CH Distillery, and in 2019 production was moved back to Chicago in the Pilsen neighborhood.
For many years the label on the back of the bottle said:
Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malört reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malört. During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, 'My Malört is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.' It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts – seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! Persevere. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours... forever.
The label was changed and now it says:
Jeppson Malört has the aroma and full-bodied flavor of an unusual botanical. Its bitter taste is savored by two-fisted drinkers.
The label contains a shield with a version of Chicago's flag. Although Chicago's flag has had four red stars since 1939.
JIBARITO SANDWICH: Chicago restaurateur Juan "Peter" Figueroa introduced the Jibarito (pronounced hee-bah-REE-toh) at Borinquen Restaurant, a Puerto Rican restaurant in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, in 1996, after reading about a Puerto Rican sandwich created in Plátano Loco in 1991 substituting plantains for bread. The name is a diminutive of Jíbaro and means "little yokel." The sandwich's popularity soon spread to other Latin-American restaurants around Chicago, including Mexican, Cuban and Argentinian establishments, and jibaritos now can be found in some mainstream eateries as well.
The jibarito is a sandwich made with flattened, fried green plantains instead of bread, garlic-flavored mayonnaise, and a filling that typically includes meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. The original jibarito had a steak filling, and that remains the usual variety, but other ingredients, such as chicken and pork, are common.
LORETTA'S SANDWICH: Named after the original owner of the Sarkis Cafe in Evanston since 1965. On a small soft french bread loaf Loretta put on mayonnaise, then it's your choice of meat (bacon, ham or turkey), two scrambled eggs are added, then raw onion, green bell pepper, and chopped tomatoes. To finish the sandwich “white cheese" is added on top. Add a few liberal shakes of Frank’s red hot sauce to spice it up.
MAXWELL STREET POLISH; IS CHICAGO: The legend of "Jim's Original" started in 1939 when a young European immigrant named "Jimmy" Stefanovic arrived in America. Once in Chicago, Jimmy began working at his aunt's hot dog stand on the busy corners of Maxwell and Halsted Streets. Jimmy bought the stand from his aunt.
Jimmy created the first Maxwell Street Polish Sausage sandwich in 1943. The sandwich starts off on a flat grill with a one-third pound specially prepared smoked pork and beef polish sausage links, their secret recipe for over 75 years. It's grilled until the casing achieves a light crunchy texture. On the bun goes the polish sausage, mustard, and slow-cooked sweet onions.
MOTHER-IN-LAW SANDWICH: It's a meal that hovers right on the edge of Chicago's famous food history. Begin with a TomTom beef tamale on a hot dog bun and top it with chili, then, if you'd like, add tomato, pickle, diced onions, relish, and sport peppers, just like a hot dog.
PEPPER & EGG SANDWICH: A Chicago tradition that few outsiders know about. It's a springtime treat, especially during Lent. The pepper and egg sandwich begins with a chewy Italian roll. Lots of fluffy scrambled eggs with sautéed red and green peppers are mounded up on the sandwich. A seasonal favorite.
PIZZA; DEEP DISH & PAN PIZZA; CHICAGO'S VERY OWN: First, let's examine the difference between a pan pizza and a deep-dish pizza.
Pan pizza refers to a thick crust pizza baked in a pan.
Deep-dish pizza (or “pizza-pie”) is a thin-medium to a heavy-medium crust thickness. The dough is brought up high on the side of the pan, waiting to hold the cheese and toppings you select.
|At Pequod's, the chef adds a little cheese between the side of the deep-dish pizza crust and the hot pan, then places the pie back into the oven to finish. This is what gives the crust its burnt look and its awesomely delicious taste. Pequod's is my all-time personal favorite deep-dish pizza, ever.|
|If you want more dough than a Deep-Dish pizza, look for a Pan Pizza Restaurant.|
PIZZA; EASTERN-STYLE: Yep, I'm talking about true New York street pizza, whole or by-the-slice, but in Chicago? Be sure to fold it or you'll wear it.
PIZZA; NEAPOLITAN, MARGHERITA, AND MARINARA; A TASTE OF OLD ITALY:
Yes, there are many wood fire ovens all over Chicago and suburbs.
Regarding the Pizza Dough: According to the rules proposed by the "Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana" (the pizza police), the genuine Neapolitan pizza dough consists of wheat flour, natural Neapolitan yeast or brewer's yeast, salt, and water. For proper results, strong flour with high protein content (as used for bread-making rather than cakes) must be used. The dough must be kneaded by hand or with a low-speed mixer. After the rising process, the dough must be formed by hand without the help of a rolling pin or another machine and maybe no more than 0.12 inch thick. The pizza must be baked for 60–90 seconds in a 905°F wood fire oven. When cooked, it should be soft, elastic, tender and fragrant.
|Neapolitan and Margherita Pizzas follow the essential ingredients rule, tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil, sometimes with a sprinkle of Parmesan Cheese on top.|
|The Marinara Pizza: It's simply tomatoes, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. Skip the cheese.|
PIZZA; STUFFED: Stuffed pizzas are often deeper than deep-dish pizzas are, but otherwise, it can be hard to see the difference until it is cut into. A stuffed pizza generally has much deeper topping density than any other type of pizza. As with deep-dish pizza, a deep layer of dough forms a bowl in a high-sided pan and the toppings and cheese are added. Then, an additional layer of thin dough goes on top and is pressed to the sides of the crust. Pizza sauce is ladled over the top layer of dough and a small hole is poked in the top to allow steam to escape while baking.
PIZZA; TAVERN-STYLE: is a fancy name for a thin-crust pizza, cut into squares. It's also known as the "party-cut."
PIZZA PUFF; INDIGENOUS TO CHICAGO: A pizza puff is a deep-fried dough pocket filled with cheese, tomato sauce, and other pizza ingredients such as sausage or pepperoni. Pizza puffs can be found at some casual dining restaurants. Most hot dog stands in the Chicago area serve Iltaco company pizza puffs that are frozen. The still-frozen pizza puff is thrown in the deep-fryer, then served hot. The dough wrapper of these pizza puffs is similar to a flour tortilla.
Iltaco was founded in 1927 and was originally called the Illinois Tamale Company. It's said that Iltaco invented the pizza puff. Iltaco pizza puffs are sold in the frozen food section of some local area grocery stores.SAGANAKI; CHICAGO-STYLE: Saganaki is an old Greek dish. In many Greek restaurants, after being fried, the saganaki cheese is flambéed at the table (sometimes with a shout of "OPA"), and the flames then extinguished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. This is called "flaming saganaki" and apparently originated in 1968 at The Parthenon Restaurant in Chicago's Greektown, making this dish Chicago style.
SHRIMP DEJONGHE; A CHICAGO MASTERPIECE: Shrimp DeJonghe has the oldest pedigree of Chicagoan cuisine, having originated in the late 19th or early 20th century at "DeJonghes Hotel and Restaurant Company" at 14 East Monroe Street (1899–1923). The recipe has been attributed to the owners, brothers Henri, Pierre, and Charles DeJonghe, Belgian immigrants who came to Chicago to run a food concession at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Shrimp DeJonghe was created possibly by their chef, Emil Zehr at the Hotel. Shrimp DeJonghe, a specialty of Chicago, is a casserole of whole peeled shrimp blanketed in soft, garlicky, sherry-laced bread crumbs. It can be served as an appetizer or a main course.
SPORT PEPPERS: They are thin chilies that form to a point, near bite-sized, one to one and a half inches in length. The sport pepper resembles a tabasco pepper, but smaller. While these chilies mature from green to red, sport peppers are pickled when green. There’s a wide range of medium heat in these pickled peppers. The sport pepper's heat range of 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville heat units. Shop at Vienna for Sport Peppers and more.
ST. PAUL SANDWICH: Also called "Egg Foo Young on Bun" on the west coast, can be found in many Chinese restaurants in St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Metro East in Illinois and over time, the sandwich migrated north into the Chicago area and is still served in many local Chinese restaurants. It makes this list because there were/are very few cities or towns that were even offered the St. Paul Sandwich.
The origin of the St. Paul sandwich seems to date back to the early 1940s, when an unknown Chinese restaurant created the sandwich which consists of an egg foo young patty between two slices of white bread. Next, we add dill pickle slices, white onion, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. The egg foo young comes in varieties such as chicken, pork, shrimp, beef, tofu, vegetable, and in combinations. This unique dish is an excellent example of early fusion cuisine. The St. Paul sandwich appealed to the working class as a cheap, quick, and easy to eat, lunch.
According to local legend, the St. Paul sandwich was invented by Steven Yuen at Park Chop Suey in Lafayette Square, a neighborhood near downtown St. Louis; Yuen named the sandwich after his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Food writers James Beard and Evan Jones believed that the Denver or Western sandwich was created by "the many Chinese chefs who cooked for logging camps and railroad gangs in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries" and was probably derived from egg foo young. They believed that the early Denver sandwiches were actually St. Paul sandwiches.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.