What to eat in Chicago? There are two things: Italian beef and deep pan pizza.
If you ever watched the Chicago episode of Man vs Food, you'll know about Italian beef, thin shavings of beef in bread that's dunked in meat juices before serving. It's a dish that's said to have originated from Italian immigrants who worked in Chicago's meat packing district, who worked out a way to make use of the tougher cheaper cuts from work. Today it's still a specialty of Chicago, and rarely found outside of north-east Illinois, north-west Indiana and Indianapolis.
Al's #1 Italian Beef
There are debates about who first started selling the Italian beef sandwich, but Al's No. 1 Italian Beef was one of the earliest, opening in 1938. Just like Adam Richman, we head to Al's where they slow roast 4.5kg sirloins for four hours, chill overnight and then slice super thinly and soak in the meat juices until serving.
Al's Big Beef US$7.70
with sweet peppers
If you're new here - like we were - placing an order here comes with a barrage of bewildering options. "Peppers? Yes or no? Did you want them sweet, hot or both?" And here's the kicker. "Do you want it juicy, wet or soaked?"
What we're talking about here is the signature of an Italian beef sandwich. It's not enough that the sliced beef has been soaking in meat juices, they also dunk your assembled sandwich in the meat juices too. How long you want it dipped - quick dunk (juicy), double dunk (wet) or dripping (soaked) - is up to you.
Italian beef US$7.70
with hot and sweet peppers
Eating one of these juice-dripping bread rolls crammed with meat and peppers is no easy affair. In the Man vs Food episode, the owner teaches Adam the correct eating stance - that's leaning right into the counter with your legs at an angle so if you drop anything, there's a clear path to either the table or the floor. Happily, we score one of the few tables outside for more dignified eating.
But the big question. Does it taste like soggy bread? Yeah, kinda. Wet bread with meat juices. And a load of beef. I had the combo with sausage - a tasty addition.
Beef and sausage combo sandwich US$6.60
with sweet peppers
Housemade spinach and artichoke dip US$7.95
On our first night in Chicago we headed to Gino's East for deep dish pizza only to be told there'd be at least a sixty minute wait for a table. Hellooooooo entrees at nearby sports bar Jake Melnick's.
Spicy buffalo wings US$10.95
We kick back with beers and plough through a creamy spinach and artichoke dip scooped up with thick and crunchy tortilla chips. There's a basket of spicy buffalo wings too, deliciously saucy, served with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks.
Gino's East Pizzeria
We finally get a table at Gino's East Pizzeria, one of the better known providers of Chicago-style pizzas and hugely popular with tourists. It's a cavernous two-level space with casual wooden furniture and walls that are covered in graffiti - they even provide you with Sharpies so you can add your own message.
Cheese and our famous sausage deep dish pizza US$17.70 small
It's a 45 minute wait for the deep dish pizza, arriving in a cast iron fry pan that's cut and served at the table.
Cheesy sausage goodness
We keep things simple, ordering the cheese and sausage deep dish pizza. The crust is thick but buttery like a biscuit, and it really is more like eating a pie or a tart than a pizza. The pork sausage comes in fat peppery chunks, hidden beneath a lake of tomato sauce and stretchy globules of melted cheese.
You couldn't eat many wedges of these but hey, you probably shouldn't either!
Gino's East fresh house salad US$5.50
And a token salad on the side keeps everything balanced. It's one of the healthiest ones we encounter on this trip too - free from an avalanche of mayonnaise, cheese or bacon.
The Cheesecake Factory
If you're the type who battles with menu indecision, you'd best steer well clear of The Cheesecake Factory. There's a ludicrous number of options here, including 26 appetisers, 12 types of burgers and do I need to mention the 34 different cheesecakes they have for dessert?!
Blue cheese BLT burger US$11.95
It's sad but true. There's no affiliation between The Cheesecake Factory mentioned on The Big Bang Theory and the actual US chain of The Cheesecake Factory. But they do have insane portions for ridiculously cheap prices.
Cuban sandwich US$12.50
with sweet potato fries US$1 extra
Suze's blue cheese BLT burger boasts a hefty patty and although I manage to make it through my Cuban sandwich (slow roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and mayonnaise), we still can't finish the tower of sweet potato fries between the three of us.
Fried chicken salad US$13.95
Lex's fried chicken salad is surely a misnomer, but if you like fried chicken smothered in grilled corn, glazed pecans and honey mustard then this one's for you. One the side is a mixed greens salad drenched in buttermilk black pepper dressing.
Ultimate red velvet cheesecake US$7.95
But really we'd come here primarily for dessert, and these photos don't really do justice to their size. They're skyscraper tall, adorned with extra squiggles of whipped cream. The white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake has a thick chocolatey base that tastes like Oreos, but our favourite is the ultimate red velvet cheesecake with layers of fluffy red velvet cake.
White chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake US$7.50
Logan Square Farmers Market
On a gorgeous Sunday morning we hit the Logan Square Farmers Market, filled with all the organic, gluten-free, nut-free and vegan goodies you could hope for. There are locals with shopping baskets, couples with dogs and plenty of people lying on the grass just soaking up the sun.
Fresh picked Michigan asparagus
Hakurei turnips - these are Japanese turnips that can be eaten raw
Greenhouse grown raspberries
Sausages on the barbecue
Walnut and almond nut tartlets
Certified organic vegetables from Iron Creek Farm, Indiana
I was more than a little excited to see snow cones. They use a Japanese hand crank ice shaver too, creating fine particles of ice that compact to a dense mound that's drizzled with flavoured syrup.
Snow cones with Jo Snow Syrups using organic cane sugar
Snow cone with ginger passionfruit
I went with the ginger passionfruit snow cone that was just the refreshment needed on a 33C day!
Chicago's iconic Cloud Gate aka The Bean in Millennium Park
We also stopped by the Millennium Park. The Cloud Gate sculpture by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor is such an amazing installation, inviting people to interact with it, as well as view their surroundings in a completely different perspective.
More food! Our visit coincided with Sausagefest Chicago, an annual event now in its third year.
Sausages on the grill from Genoa Italian Concessions
We'd only just eaten breakfast so there wasn't much room for sausages, but I was almost tempted to get The Heart Attack. Probably best that I didn't!
"The Heart Attack" - homemade chips with cheese and bacon
Sausages, peppers and onions
Bloody Mary US$8 with Chemex coffee US$10
Breakfast had been at Nightwood, a farm-to-table restaurant with touches of kitsch 70s-style decor. We turn up at 9am as they open for brunch and by 10am the restaurant is full.
The Bloody Mary they serve here is eyewateringly spicy but we do appreciate that they offer Chemex pourover coffees in addition to the usual filter coffee.
Mushroom and goat cheese scramble with roasted garlic US$13
with The Butcher and Larder maple bourbon sausage US$4.50
Fry-ups come with what they call tots but are actually golf balls of roesti, deep-fried to a dark brown crunch. The Butcher and Larder maple bourbon sausage is impressive in flavour and texture.
Two Slagel Farm eggs, tots and toast US$10
with house-smoked bacon US$4.50
Suze opts for a side of house-smoked bacon with her eggs, country-style thick slices that are sweet and crisp.
Housemade maple cinnamon granola with almonds, yoghurt and pears US$8
After two weeks of fried chicken and barbecue meat, I go for the lighter option of housemade maple cinnamon granola. It's delicious enough to eat on its own, but I dutifully eat the yoghurt and fresh pear too.
Vanilla custard donut with strawberry rhubarb glaze and shortbread crumble US$5
But here's the real reason we came to Nightwood. Their donuts. The vanilla custard donut with strawberry rhubarb glaze comes with three adorable donut babies.
Vanilla custard inside the donut
Inside the donut is an oozing core of vanilla custard. A smattering of shortbread crumbs on the glaze gives a great textural crunch too.
Bacon butterscotch donut US$5
And hello, you know I saved the best for last! The bacon butterscotch donut looks like it descended from the heavens above.
Bacon and donuts, oh yeah
There's a mass of candied bacon, a puddle of sticky butterscotch sauce, and more than a few sighs around the table.
Al's #1 Italian Beef (multiple locations around Illinois)
1079 West Taylor Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Tel: +1 (312) 226 4017
Monday to Thursday 9am - 11pm
Friday 9am - 12 midnight
Saturday 10am - 12 midnight
Gino's East Pizzeria
162 East Superior Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Tel: +1 (312) 266 3337
Monday to Thursday 11am - 10pm,
Friday and Saturday 11am - 11.30pm
Sunday 12pm - 9pm
Jake Melnick's Corner Tap
41 E Superior Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Tel: +1 (312) 266 0400
Lunch Monday to Saturday 11.30am - 3.30pm, Sunday 11am - 3pm
Dinner Monday to Sunday 11am - 3pm
Logan Square Farmers Market
Every Sunday 10am - 3pm, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Outdoor Market June to October
Logan Boulevard between Milwaukee Avenue and North Whipple Street
Indoor Market November to March
2755 North Milwaukee Avenue
2119 South Halsted Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Tel: +1 (312) 526 3385
Monday to Thursday 5.30pm - 10pm
Friday and Saturday 5.30pm - 11pm
Sunday 9am - 2.30pm
Held every year in June
Sheffield Avenue (next to Wrigley Field Stadium), Chicago, Illinois, USA
The Cheesecake Factory (multiple locations around the USA)
301 East Woodfield Road, Schaumburg, Illinois, USA
Tel: +1 (847) 619 1090
Monday to Thursday 11am - 11pm
Friday and Saturday 11am - 12.30am
Sunday 10am - 10pm
>> Read the next USA 2013 post: Kansas City BBQ
<< Read the first USA 2013 post: Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Austin - BBQ tour - Franklin, Ruby's, Green Mesquite, Salt Lick & La Barbecue
Austin - Gourdough's bacon donut, Hoover's, Whole Foods and Biscuits + Groovy
Chicago - Deep pan pizza, Al's #1 Italian beef & Cheesecake Factory
Kansas City - BBQ: Gates, Oklahoma Joes & Arthur Bryant's
LA - Animal Restaurant
LA - Boiling Crab
LA - Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery
LA - Donut tour of LA's best: Randy's Donuts, Bob's Doughnuts & The Donut Man
LA - In-N-Out, Roscoe's Fried Chicken & Waffles, Kogi food truck & Pink's Hot Dogs
LA - Mexican: Loteria Grill, Tamales Liliana's & El Flamin Taco
New Orleans - Willy Mae's fried chicken, Felix's Oyster Bar & beignet
NYC - Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery
NYC - Doughnut Plant, Carlo's Bakery, Baohaus, Lobster Joint & Clinton St Bakery
NYC - Jewish food tour: Katz's Deli, Russ & Daughters, knish and bagels
NYC - Momofuku Noodle Bar fried chicken, Ssam Bar & Milk Bar
NYC - Motorino brussels sprout pizza, Best Pizza and Big Gay Ice Cream
NYC - Shake Shack, Tom Colicchio's Craftbar and Union Square Greenmarket
22 comments - Add some comment love
10/28/2013 12:10:00 am