Friday, December 13, 2019

Chicago's 19th & 20th Centuries Food History.

Chicago has always been a food city. After all, how many cities are named after food, even if it means a garlic plant and a wild onion plant, depending on which Indian Tribe interprets the word Chicagou.

The Potowatomi called it Chicagou. Chicago's existence and its wealth were founded on food. From its incorporation, the city was the collection and shipment center for the Midwest's agricultural bounty. And Chicago grew to become the heart of America's new food processing industries.

With industry came immigrants who brought their cuisines, making Chicago a great ethnic food town. With money from the industry came refinement, the arts and the art of dining in famed restaurants.

1796. French-speaking Jean Baptiste Point de Sable (the "du" of Point du Sable is a misnomer. It is an American corruption of "de" as pronounced in French. "Jean Baptiste Point du Sable" first appears long after his death) builds a simple cabin at what will become Dearborn and Wacker near the Chicago River (affectionately dubbed Garlic Creek).
Point du Sable 1780s establishment is recognized as the first settlement that continued on and ultimately grew to become the city of Chicago.
1803. Britisher John Kinzie takes command of the trading post and builds Fort Dearborn. His family intermarried with the Potowatomi and likely ate venison, succotash and salt pork.

1812. A Southern branch of the Kinzie's arrive. They set up a still, making Kentucky-style whiskey to sell.

1820s. The Clybourne and Hall families, kin to the Kinzies set up a cattle yard in "Rolling Meadows." They move cattle, meat and hides down what would become Clybourn Avenue.

1827. John Kinzie and Archibald Caldwell build the first real tavern at Wolf Point. Most of the beverages served were hard and homemade.

1830. George W. Dole, later called "Father of the Provisions, Shipping and Elevator Business," opens Chicago's first grocery store (as we call it today) at Dearborn and South Water Streets. The area will become the city's wholesale market.

Dole begins slaughtering and packing beef at his store. He processes 150 head a day, and the Chicago meatpacking industry is born.

1831. New Englanders settle in Chicago, bringing with them a taste for oysters [1]. Oysters from the East Coast will become a staple in Chicago for almost a century. By 1857, there are seven "Oyster Depots" and four "Oyster Saloons" in the city.

1833. Mark Beaubien operates the storied Sauganash Tavern. Only 16 by 44 feet, the tavern served meals in shifts and sold floods of whiskey. As the merry, fiddle-playing Beaubien put it: "I eats 50 people to dinner, by gar."

1835. Lake House [Hotel] on the corners of Michigan, Kinzie, and Rush, where the Wrigley building now stands, was the first great eating place. It was also the first dining room to use menu cards, napkins, toothpicks, and the first fresh oysters in Chicago were served in 1837 at the Lake House Hotel.
The Lake House Hotel & Restaurant, on the corners of Michigan, Kinzie, and Rush, Chicago. (1860)
1836. Irish cuisine comes to Chicago with the first large influx of Irish, mainly around Bridgeport. Boiled potatoes and cabbage are staples, but their traditional pickled pork becomes corned beef in cattle-rich America.

1837. Willard F. Myrick's stockyard opened in 1839 on 28th Street. It's an ancestor of Union Stock Yards. His boarding house/saloon serves cattle drovers food, drink, and shadier entertainments. All will flourish in the rapidly growing city, often to the dismay of respectable citizens. The city's first census shows 398 dwellings, grocery and provisions stores, and 29 (green) groceries. Taverns outnumber churches but not lawyers.

1838. The steamer Great Western carries 75 bushels of wheat as incidental cargo from Chicago. Within a generation, Chicago will become the greatest grain depot in the world.

1839. Chicago has seven hotels but no independent restaurants. Eating out means hotel dining rooms or less reputable taverns. Women did not eat at restaurants without a male chaperone. 

1847. Cyrus McCormick moves to Chicago in 1847 to manufacture his mechanical reaper. He sells 450 in the first year at more than $100 per machine. McCormick will make a great fortune, part of which will pass to grandnephew Robert R. McCormick who will run the Chicago Tribune starting in 1914.

The Illinois and Michigan Canal opens. Midwestern farmers discover Chicago's market, and corn exports to the East rise eightfold. Capt. Robert C. Bristol builds the first large steam-powered grain elevator. Within the decade elevator capacity is more than 4 million bushels. Chicago is on its way to becoming grocer to the world.

Chicago becomes a major hog butcher, shipping 683,600 pounds. The city quadruples that figure in 1849, but Cincinnati retains the title "Porkopolis." Unable to claim the pork title, Chicagoans declare their town "The Great Bovine City of the World."

The Chicago Board of Trade is founded. By 1856 it establishes uniform categories and grades of wheat and other grains that are now used the world over.

1850s. Beer and brats come to Chicago. Large numbers of German immigrants bring a knack for making sausages, bread, beer, fine pastry and confections to the city. Peter Rinderer will open perhaps the first beer garden, the Ogden Grove, in 1865.

1853. The earliest existing hotel menu, from the St. Nicholas, dates to 1853--just when the New York-Chicago rail connection is completed.

1854. By 1854 Chicago is the heart to which new railroad arteries connect. Some 83 million bushels of grain are pumped in and out via rail and canal. During the Civil War demand for food at home and abroad will make the city the country's food supplier and shipment center. A third of all rail lines lead to Chicago.

General Stores of the period advertise: "Goods Delivered to any part of the City free of Charge." The Age of Delivery Boys dawns. And one William Winter, a cook, appears in the Chicago city directory of 1853-54. He's the first and only person so named. Chefs are not yet chefs.

1855. Always an ethnic city, Chicago's population numbers 25,677 American and 35,879 foreign-born inhabitants. Germans and Irish account for many of the latter. In 1856 Chicago has 10 brewers and 37 confectioners. Lill and Diversy at the corner of Pine Street and Cicero Avenue became Chicago's first commercial brewery. They brewed "Brown, Amber, and Pale Ales" and made "Rectified (alcohol) Malt Vinegar."
1858. The year the first exclusive restaurant listings appear in the Chicago city directory, 13 of them along with 12 "Eating Houses."

Refrigeration in food processing takes hold when Chicago meatpackers use stored winter ice to keep pork during summer. Cutting and storing large blocks of ice on Lake Michigan and area lakes become big business.

1859. 1859 sees 46 confectioners, 9 vinegar-makers, 4 "Pickle Warehouses" (all in the Water Street market area) and a Mr. B. Hyde at 195 Sherman Street, who manufactures "Vermicelli and Maccaroni." Macaroni often appears on Chicago menus, but pasta awaits the 20th Century.

1860. David Berg opened a meat market under his name on South Wells Street. David Berg hot dogs were served at the Chicago Republican National Convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln as the Republican Presidential Candidate in 1860. By the end of the century, he will be one of Chicago's most famous hot dog makers.

Chicago has 27 restaurants in 1860. Restaurateurs include Solomon Thompson and the celebrated John Wright. Wright, also a confectioner, will serve every major celebrity to visit Chicago for the next 30 years.

1865. Chicago becomes the slaughterhouse to the world with the founding of the Union Stock Yards.

Chicago Board of Trade establishes formal rules for futures trading. It becomes a significant part of the American food industry.

The first cookbook published in Chicago is called "Household Treasures," by R.R. Landon. Then in 1867 comes "The Cake Baker; a book of practical recipes for making cakes."

1868. Haute cuisine ("high-level" establishments, gourmet restaurants and luxury hotel dining) appears at the County Ball in Crosby's Opera House. Catered by John Wright, it was an "architectural-gastronomic" extravaganza. It features a pastry chateau, charlotte russe a la Reine, pyramid d'Espagnol, a spun-sugar pagoda temple, and two nougat temples. These are surrounded by delectables such as prairie chicken patties, boned turkey, boned hams, patties of quail and many others, and de rigueur: a whole boar's head.

1870s. Social decorum rules high-class restaurants. Mr. Whyland, proprietor of Chicago's great game restaurant, St. Elmo's at 145 Dearborn St., refuses to dine with Mrs. Salisbury on the grounds that she works in a bordello. As a result of this "insult," he's shot by her "good friend," Faro (card game) dealer, Hank Davis. No record on whether Mrs. Salisbury stayed to finish her meal.

1870. Mrs. Francis MacBeth Glessner begins a household journal. Focusing on her Prairie Avenue home, it is an unparalleled 50-year window on foodways in an upper-class family. The Glessner House is Chicago's very own "Upstairs-Downstairs." After a vacation in Mexico, they eat tamales. Seafood also is popular, including lobster Newburg, trout in aspic and crab.

1871. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 leaves only 5 restaurants in the city directory.

1872. Aaron Montgomery Ward begins a mail-order business with a one-page, 167-item sheet. Cookware is among the items sold. By 1900 the catalog incorporates many dozens of kitchen and food items, such as "Chicago Honey Cured Hams" and "Giant Acme Gasoline Stoves."

1873. Chicago's taste for oysters is not burned out. Col. John E. Wilson establishes Wilson's Oyster House at Clark and Madison Streets in 1873. In the 1890s it will turn into the famed Boston Oyster House and there the great oyster maven, Charles E. Rector will be trained.

1875. Chicago quickly recovers from the Great Fire. By 1875 there are 176 restaurants. Twenty of them have Italian names, including Bona Caesar at 92½ Madison Street. Only 550 Italians lived in Chicago at this time.

1877. Italianate but Frenchified cuisine appears on more and more menus. The 1877 New Year's Day dinner at the Gardner House Hotel includes among the usual vast list of meats "Macaroni en Tembole, a la Parisienne," and "Quail en Salmi, Sauce Pericode." But the Palmer House menu in November 1877 is a pioneer in simpler dining. After appetizers of spiced oysters, smoked tongue, and corned beef, a patron could choose from venison steak with currant jelly, breaded turkey wings with green peas, or macaroni with cheese. Side dishes included stewed tomatoes, boiled potatoes, boiled rice, and fried parsnips.

1879. Schlogl's saloon and restaurant opened on Wells Street. Near the Chicago Daily News building, it will become a bohemian watering hole after the turn of the century. Famous newspapermen, writers and artists such as John T. McCutcheon, Ben Hecht and Carl Sandburg get free meals there on Fridays if their work appeared in print that day.

1880s. Chapin and Gore at 73-75 Monroe St. is the "in" cafe for the sporting crowd; its motto perfectly suited the armchair athlete: "Good wine is an appetizer and stimulant. It lashes lazy blood and creeps within, irrigates the liver and kidneys, and compels them to take exercise. It is a living thing and adds years to the life of man." The 1880s sees rise of cheap eats. Hamburger Steak first appears as "Steak Hambourgeoise" at the Tremont Hotel in 1877.

1880s-1920s. Swedish immigration turns parts of Chicago into Swedish villages. Smorgasbord restaurants become popular all over the city. Andersonville had so many that it's called "Herring Alley." In the 1890s, John Kruger would take a cue from these restaurants, but he found the name smorgen bord unappetizing. He adopted a Cuban word, "cafiteria." By 1895 he had five downtown locations but eventually gambles away all his money on horse racing.

1884. Chicago access to beet sugar, milk, and corn syrup makes it a confectionery center. In 1884 the National Confectioners Association is founded here by 69 manufacturers. As Chicago caters to America's sweet tooth, it also becomes home to the American Dental Association in 1918 (founded in 1859 in Buffalo) and the American Dietetic Association in 1917.

H.H. Kohlsaat opens first "dairy lunch room" for a Jewish clientele. It features swivel stools (but not yet a horseshoe-shaped counter). He specializes in quick service at reasonable prices.

1885. Charles C. Creator invents a steam-driven combination peanut roaster and popcorn popper. Set on wheels, it makes mass vending of these ball-park and fair staples possible. F.W. and Louis Rueckheim use Creator's peanut-popcorn machine at their Chicago popcorn stand. In 1890 they decide to pep up their product with sweeteners. Experimentation leads to popcorn mixed with peanuts covered in molasses. Upon tasting it one of their salesmen cries out, "That's a cracker jack!"

1886. Richard Sears begins selling watches. Joining with Alvah C.Roebuck, they form a new catalog sales company in Chicago. Like Montgomery Ward, it will become one of the country's retail leaders in the kitchen and cooking gear. By 1900 Sears surpasses Montgomery Ward in sales. Home appliances become an important part of the business with cookstoves selling for $11.96 and guaranteed for life. Electric appliances become important when Sears begins selling electric refrigerators in 1922 (the first in America was the Kelvinator in 1918).

1887. Star and Crescent Milling Co. is founded. It will become part of Crosby and Washburn, to be renamed General Mills in 1928.

In the same year, the New York Kitchen restaurant at 201-203 Clark St. is a model of middle-class dining, catering to businessmen. Its slogans hint at shortcomings in other establishments: "Cleanliness, Good Cooking, and Quick Service" and "No Scraps Taken Back into the Kitchen and Cooked over again at this Restaurant."

1888. Edward Katzinger found a commercial baking pan company. It becomes the Ekco Housewares Co., the country's largest non-electric housewares manufacturer. Ekco builds a huge plant at Cicero and Armitage Avenues in 1923.

1889. President and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison attend the opening of the Auditorium Theatre. The president's breakfast is simple, including parsley omelet, porterhouse steak, mutton chops, bacon. "No frills, but good eating," the newspaper reports.

1890s. The 1891 Standard Guide to Chicago lists 600 restaurants in the city. Rector's Oyster House opens. Of Rector, one of the most celebrated restaurateurs in Chicago history, a commentator says: "If there's any fish you want, go to (Charles) Rector, and he'll get it." Rector's chef, Charles Ranshoffer, will become one of America's early culinary stars. Top-shelf cocktails at Rector's cost 15¢.

1892. Aluminum, a new material, is adapted to cooking pans. The Illinois Pure Aluminum Co. is founded in Lemont to manufacture cookware.

1893. The World's Columbian Exposition opens in Chicago. The great event attracts more than 1 million visitors to its amusements, restaurants, and displays of manufactures and agriculture. Many products introduced at the fair become staples of the American food scene. Among them: Cracker Jack, Cream of Wheat, Shredded Wheat, Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Gum.

A small sausage company in Chicago is acquired by the Ladanyi and Reichl families (supposedly won on a bet at the World's Columbian Exposition). With a plant at 470 S. Halsted St., they're successful by 1896. Not long after, they move to 1213-1217 S. Halsted St. and do business as the Vienna Sausage Co.

Chicago Flexible Shaft Co. is formed to make a mechanical horse clipper. In 1910 it manufactures an electric iron, and in 1924 the first combination flat toaster-table grill. Becoming a major producer of home appliances, the company changes its name to Sunbeam Corp. in 1946.

1897. The electric appliance business begins. The Chicago Electric Manufacturing Co. is one producer. It will make juicers, mixers and ice-cream makers under the name "Handyhot." In 1953 the company is bought by Silex and becomes part of Procter-Silex.

1900-1930. Greek immigrants begin to arrive in Chicago. By 1910 their numbers reach 15,000. Many become peddlers selling fruit, vegetables, "red hots" and "hot tamales." By the 1920s many have become amazingly successful. Of 18,000 Greeks in Chicago, 10,000 own their businesses, including the many restaurants along Halsted Street.

Between 1900 and 1910 roughly 170,000 Polish immigrants arrived, and their food becomes a landmark in Chicago's culinary landscape. Slotkowsky Sausage Co., founded in 1918, sells what will become the most widely known Polish sausage.

By 1930, the Jewish population of Chicago rises to 275,000. Most come from Eastern Europe and settle around Halsted and Maxwell Streets, and Jewish food is a hallmark of the Maxwell Street market. In 1994 the city closes the by-then mostly Hispanic market and opens a "Nuevo Mercado" on Canal Street.

1906. Upton Sinclair publishes "The Jungle." The public uproar about foul conditions in meatpacking plants leads to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act. Oscar Mayer is one of the first meatpackers to receive a Federal Meat Inspection stamp that year.

1908. The African-American Frinch family begins Frinches Pantry on Evanston Avenue (now Broadway). It is the first integrated restaurant in Chicago.

The first law requiring pasteurization of milk passes in Chicago.

1910s. Chinese restaurants become ever more popular in the early part of the century. The 1910 city directory names 64. One is the celebrated Joy Lo King at 100 W. Randolph St. Seating several hundred people, its waiters wear formal dress with tails while an orchestra entertains diners. Other classic Chinese restaurants in the Loop include Joy Hing Lo on North Clark Street and Joy Yen Lo on North State Street. But downtown Chinese restaurants are most famous for their steaks!

World War I cuts off European immigration and sets the stage for the Great Migration of African-Americans to the north. They bring their foodways with them, including barbecue stands. By 1940 barbecue restaurants and chicken shacks are so numerous that they rate a separate listing in the Negro Business Association Blue Book.

1917. Armour and Company publish a household primer, "The Business of Being a Housewife." Not surprisingly, the booklet promotes Armour's "Veribest" products with beautiful color illustrations. In it are some of the first recipes based on canned foods. "Luncheon Beef Stew" is made from sliced onions, potatoes, a can of Veribest Tomato Soup, a can of Veribest Luncheon Meat, a can of Veribest Peas and a Veribest seasoning sauce.

1918. January sees the "Great Patriotic Food Show" in Chicago, given by the State Council of Defense. A book giving all the recipes bears the legend, "It is the patriotic duty of every woman to follow the advice and recipes contained in this book." Among the dishes are creamed rabbit, head cheese, tamale pie, potted pigeon on toast, goose rice timbales and "possum" (marinate it overnight in vinegar and lemon juice).

1919. The U.S. Constitution is amended for the 18th time, this time to prohibit the sale of alcohol. A godsend to gangsters, Prohibition sees the end of free lunch at saloons. Lunch counters and soda fountains appear everywhere... as do speakeasies.

1920s. Dario Toffanetti, an Italian immigrant from Trent, buys a small restaurant at the corner of Sheridan Road, Broadway and Montrose Avenue and calls it the Triangle. Moving to the Loop, he built up his business by standing in the restaurant's window wearing chef's whites and carving sugar-cured hams. A brilliant marketer, Toffanetti builds a 1,200-employee restaurant chain.

1910-1920s. Shrimp de Jonghe is born at the celebrated De Jonghe Hotel and Restaurant owned by Belgian restaurateur Henri de Jonghe. The restaurant will be closed in 1930 for violating Prohibition rules.

H. Teller Archibald opens his Fannie May candy store at 10 S. LaSalle St. It grows to a large chain with a plant at 1137 W. Jackson Blvd. Who is Fannie May? The origin of the name remains a mystery.

1925. Creamed dishes become staples of the American diet for 50 years. In 1925, Plow's Restaurant menu contains chicken a la king (75¢), crab meat a la Newburg ($1.50), plain creamed chicken (90¢), chicken au gratin (75¢) and creamed shrimps and rice (75¢).

1927. MacLeod Manufacturing Co. of Chicago makes a new electric "household beater" for the Dormeyer Co. They become popular by 1931 when Chicago Flexible Shaft (later Sunbeam) produces the Mixmaster.

Leonard Japp opened a South Side snack-foods distributor. By the 1930s, he's making potato chips under the name Mrs. Japp's Potato Chips. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the name was suddenly changed to Jay's Potato Chips.

1929. Black Friday, the stock market crashed in October of 1929, ushers in the Great Depression. By 1933 family income drops by 40%, with 30 percent unemployment. Bread lines appear in every city, and even Al Capone opens one.

1930. Antoinette and Francois Pope, cookbook authors and teachers, open the Antoinette Pope School of Fancy Cookery. In 1951, Francois and their sons Frank and Robert made their TV debut on the "Creative Cookery Television Show," a first for males in an area dominated by female home economists.

1933. Prohibition ends in 1933 with the repeal of the 18th Amendment. The Berghoff Restaurant is the first in Chicago to receive a liquor license.

The Century of Progress World's Fair opened in Chicago. It introduced many products, including Kraft's Miracle Whip.

Among the restaurants were John R. Thompson's Cafeteria Restaurants (still going strong), a B&G cafeteria in the Sears Building next to the Shedd Aquarium, and the Hall of Religion Tea Room, where visitors could get a hot roast beef sandwich for 25¢.

Swift's Century Grill served a table d'hote dinner consisting of baked ham and Champagne sauce, with mashed or fried potatoes, vegetables, iceberg salad, rolls and butter, and a dessert of gelatin, ice cream or pie, with coffee, tea or milk, all for 75¢.

The Italian building at the World's Fair was spectacular, shaped like an aircraft wing. It was matched by the arrival of Italo Balbo's air squadron. To honor Italians, the San Carlo Ristorante Italian Village served spaghetti "Napolitan" for 75¢ ($1 with meatballs or mushrooms), prime rib, tenderloin, and other "authentic" Italian dishes.

1934. After a visit by English food expert Andre Simon, a Chicago chapter of the Food and Wine Society is formed. Arnold Shircliffe, "The Escoffier of Chicago," presides over this dining society. Among the rules are no cocktails before dinner (because they dull the taste buds), no smoking during dinner (for the same reason), no condiments or bread and butter on the table (they mask the chef's artistry), and no drinking water during meals (because when taken with rich foods, water causes fat to congeal).

1930s-1950s. Henry Davis, ace salesman and production man at Vienna Sausage Co., encourages and even helps build many of Chicago's hot dog stands. When friend Ray Kroc invites him to visit his new hamburger stand in Des Plaines, Davis is reported to have said: "It will never be a success in Chicago without hot dogs." Somehow, McDonald's survived.

The Pump Room opened inside the Ambassador East hotel on October 1, 1938, by Ernie Byfield. He offered famous people a true VIP experience. At the restaurant, the biggest stars of the day had the ultimate social-status symbol waiting for them  Booth Number One, with a private number rotary telephone at the booth. Even if the wait for the restaurant was long, Booth One would remain vacant until a VIP worthy of it — such as Sammy Davis Jr. or Marlene Dietrich — arrived. The last iteration of the Pump Room, a nostalgic restaurant that once drew celebrities, closed in 2017. 

1943. Ike Sewell, a Texan, and his partner, restaurateur Ric Riccardo, find a way to make thin-crust pizza into a full meal. They invent (or so they claim) the Chicago deep-dish pizza and opened Pizzeria Uno to serve it. Pizzerias Uno and Due retain the original pizza recipe and the original one-hour plus wait-time for it.

1947. After World War II, a second great black migration to Chicago began. The West Side sees the appearance of celebrated soul food restaurants such as Edna's on Madison Street and many rib joints.

1950s. Chicago's dining scene is an eclectic mix. Steakhouses such as Charles Foley's at 71 E. Adams St. compete with Don Roth's Blackhawk at 139 N. Wabash Ave. Jewish delicatessens abound in the Loop and in the Northside, among them Gibby's at 192 N. Clark St. near the new Greyhound Terminal. 

Ashkenaz Restaurant and Deli on Morse Avenue in the Rogers Park community was hoping after 10 years at that location. Drawing customers from miles around happened by word-of-mouth. People could order their favorite Jewish (Kosher-Style) dishes like homemade chicken soup with kreplach, chopped chicken liver (to die for), gefilte fish, cheese blintzes, kishkes with brown sauce (Oy), southern fried chicken, charcoal-broiled steaks, and lots of other dishes you'd happily serve to your picky Jewish mother, either way, dine-in or carry-out, it's all delicious.
1432 West Morse Avenue in the Rogers Park community of Chicago, Illinois.
1951. George Stephen, an employee at Weber Brothers Metal Works in Chicago, fashions two unrelated metal shapes into a kettle-shape grill and begins selling them as George's Barbecue Kettle. In 1965 a division of Weber Brothers became Weber-Stephen Products Co. Back-yard grilling took off.

1953. Jacques French Restaurant at 900 North Michigan Avenue may have been Chicago's top French restaurant. One can dine alfresco here during the city's rare spells of pleasant weather.

1960s. In the late '60s, Chicago's Mexican population increases dramatically. Mexican foods and products change Chicago's culinary tastes. The salsa revolution, proliferation of Mexican products, begins in earnest.

1962. Gordon Segal opens a small housewares store in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood. He calls it Crate & Barrel. Segal's empire grows to include 70 stores from coast to coast.

1963. Louis Szathmary opens The Bakery in November. It's a pioneer in bringing a modern Continental menu to Chicago. Chef Louis becomes a national celebrity and famous bibliophile.

1966. A New York import everyone welcomes is Tootsie Roll Industries. A 70-year-old American confectionery icon comes to Chicago with a new plant in the Ford City Industrial Park.

1968. Peter Lo inaugurates Mandarin-Szechwan-Hunan cookery in Chicago at the Chinese Tea House on North Avenue. By the early '70s, Mandarin-Szechwan becomes the rage with restaurants such as Austin Koo's House of Hunan, the Peking Duckling House on Howard Street, and later Tang Dynasty and Szechwan House (now Szechwan East).

1971. Restaurateur Rich Melman opens R.J. Grunt's in Lincoln Park West in June, sowing the seeds of a culinary empire called Lettuce Entertain You.

1978. The first ChicagoFest was held at Navy Pier from 1978 until 1982, and in 1983 ChicagoFest was held at Soldier Field its last year. There were plenty of 4-5 star restaurants serving their signature foods. Unlink the future Taste of Chicago, ChicagoFest food vendors didn't catch on to serving smaller sized plates until 1981. In 1982, a grassroots group led by Rev. Jesse Jackson boycotted ChicagoFest during the tenure of Mayor Jane Byrne, who had drawn the ire of activists and black city officials. The dispute involved many issues, including the failure to appoint blacks to key positions on the Chicago school board and the Chicago Housing Authority.

1979. The French rule Chicago dining. In Chicago Magazine's readers' survey, five of the best seven restaurants are French. Of the 14 in the second tier, eight are French or French-inspired. (The top restaurants in 1979; The best: Berghoff, Cape Cod Room, L'Escargot, La Fontaine, Le Francais, Jovan, Tango.)

Two farmers markets, the first in Chicago since the 19th Century, open in Lincoln Square and the Back of the Yards. Over the next 20 years, the number will grow as city dwellers discover that tomatoes really can be red and tasty.

1980. The first Taste of Chicago takes place on Michigan Avenue, was held for only a single day on the Fourth of July, 1980, with a turnout of about 250,000. The 39th Annual Taste of Chicago (2019) sure gave more than just a taste, featuring more than 300 menu items from 80 eateries, including 36 newcomers. According to the City of Chicago, over one million people attended the Taste, which wrapped up after a five-day run in Grant Park.
More than 250,000 people came to Michigan Avenue for the first annual Taste of Chicago, on July 4, 1980.
1997. The International Housewares Show in January marks its 100th appearance in Chicago. Its debut was on January 8, 1939, at the Palmer House. Among the products showcased over the years: Birds Eye precooked frozen foods (1939); Corning Ware (1958); Popeil Brothers' Veg-O-Matic (1963); Hutzler's Cook 'N Serve melamine tools (winner of the show's Design Award in 1968) and Rival's Crock-Pot (1971).

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] Chicago had been a huge oyster town, with big multilevel oyster houses. They would have a dance hall, lunchroom, formal dining, and taprooms in one huge building. Delivered by sleigh from New Haven, the first fresh oysters in Chicago were served in 1837 at the Lake House Hotel, where the Wrigley Building now stands. This white-tablecloth establishment was our city’s first foray into fine dining and offered these East Coast imports to their well-heeled clientele, which spurred Chicago’s earliest love affair with the oyster. Peaking in the Gilded Age of the 1890s and waning with Prohibition, oyster consumption was plentiful in old Chicago. They also served oysters in ice cream parlors because they had all that ice.


  1. This was interesting all the way through. about the last entry, the other day I told my 87 year old mother that my favorite tool in her kitchen is one she’s had for years and years. As I read the last paragraph about the International Housewares, I flew to the kitchen to pull it out and sure enough, the ladle spoon, flattened at top so you can scoop the sauces from the pan to get every drop it has Hutzler’s imprinted on the handle. It’s such a winner that mentions it’s excellence is still being made 30 years later. It has no defects or stains. Yay melamine!

  2. Probably because I enjoy dining out so much, I smiled through most of this article. I really smiled when thinking of the fine restaurants I had dined at beginning in about 1970 which no longer exist. Still, Chicago's tradition of fine dining continues.

  3. How on Earth are they getting oysters to Chicago in 1831? Or 1857, for that matter? Railroads and ice, I suppose in '57, maybe. Freshwater pearl mussels?

    1. Chicago had been a huge oyster town, with big multilevel oyster houses. They would have a dance hall, lunch room, formal dining, and tap rooms in one huge building. Delivered by sleigh from New Haven, the first fresh oysters in Chicago were served in 1837 at the Lake House Hotel, where the Wrigley Building now stands. This white tablecloth establishment was our city’s first foray into fine dining and offered these East Coast imports to their well-heeled clientele, which spurred Chicago’s earliest love affair with the oyster. Peaking in the Gilded Age of the 1890s and waning with Prohibition, oyster consumption was plentiful in old Chicago. They also served oysters in ice cream parlors because they had all that ice.


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