Sunday, December 1, 2019

Chicago-Style foods explained with pictures.

Please leave your suggestions for a "Chicago-Style" food, dish,
or item, in the yellow section at the bottom 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. It'll become your favorite too.

Brownies, a Chicago invention: Credit goes to Bertha Honore Palmer, wife of the Palmer House’s original owner, Potter Palmer. The organizers of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition asked Mrs. Palmer to concoct a delicious and transportable dessert, and this classic was born.

CLICK TO READ ─► "The First-Ever Brownie was invented in Chicago by Bertha Palmer for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition." The real, ORIGINAL RECIPE is included in the article.
The Famous 1893 Palmer House Fudge Brownie.

Chicken Vesuvio, a specialty of Chicago: 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. 

The Francheezie was born in Chicago: 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 4 slices of bacon, mustard, raw onions, and tomatoes.

Fried Matzah or Matzah Brei, the Chicago way: 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 peel 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 the sauce-soaked fries in between the two slices of bread, which Chicagoans call a "fry sandwich."

Giardiniera, an Italian-American 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.

Gym Shoe Sandwich: No one quite knows the origin of this delicacy, other than that it came from Chicago's Southside. The Gym Shoe sandwich is made up of corned beef, roast beef, and gyro meat (a Greek beef & lamb delicacy), onions, cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber sauce) and giardiniera (hot pickled vegetables) from a jar. The ‘from a jar’ part is very important. When everything is assembled, it’s a mess of amazing flavors that will leave you wanting more.

Hot Dogs, Chicago-Style: On a poppy seed bun, place an all-beef hot dog, yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt.

David Berg opened a sausage shop in 1860. They catered to the Republican National Convention in Chicago between May 16 and 18, 1860. Abraham Lincoln may have actually eaten a David Berg hot dog because they were served at this convention where Lincoln was nominated for the Republican Presidential Candidate.

Italian Beef the Chicago Way: An Italian beef sandwich, 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").

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.

Lorettas 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 Tom Tom 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 and 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 and Pan: 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 cheese between the deep-dish pizza crust and the hot pan when placing the pie back into the oven to finish. This is what gives the crust its burnt look and its awesomely delicious taste.
If you want more dough than a Deep-Dish pizza, look for a Pan Pizza Restaurant.
Pizza; Double Decker Pizza: One style of pizza in Chicago that goes relatively unnoticed and unheralded by pizza lovers is the double-decker. A double-decker pizza is a layer of dough, layered with sauce, ingredients of your choosing, then cheese is added, and another layer of dough on top. The edges of the two layers of crust are rolled together to make a pie-like edging. Topped with either more cheese and sauce or just sauce.

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; 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 pizza: is a fancy name for a thin-crust pizza, cut into squares. It's also known as the "party-cut."

Pizza Puff; is 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, OPA: 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 original: Shrimp DeJonghe has the oldest pedigree of Chicagoan cuisine, having originated in the late 19th or early 20th century at DeJonghe's Hotel and Restaurant, 43-45 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 restaurant at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition for chef Emil Zehr. Shrimp DeJonghe 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.

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.


  1. Poppy seed hot dog buns are not available nation wide. Must be a Chicago style bun.

  2. Having lived in Chicago til I was 21, was good to see the difference between pan, deep dish and stuffed pizza. Hard to find in New York State!

  3. Oh what goodness. I miss these foods. Unless you have eaten them all you haven't lived.

  4. It is so appropriate that you listed the breaded steak sandwich first. Went to Ricobene's on 26th Street every couple of weeks for one of these. Amazing!

  5. I am confused by this article - is this about food that originated in Chicago, evolved into a particular style or are just popular? While they may be popular in Chicago elotes most definitely did not originate in Chicago. Elotes are a street food/snack food from Mexico. Is there a particular way of preparing them that makes them uniquely Chicago style? Also too regarding saganaki - it did not originate in Chicago. The flambeing part at the table seems to have originated in Chicago but to say Saganaki originated in Chicago is not true.

  6. Hey, how about atomic cake? I can't find anyone anywhere outside of the area (especially south side/NW IN) that has heard of that delicious beast of a dessert!


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