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The food of Chicago!

December 26th, 2009

When I was a young boy, my grandma came to San Diego. It was December and she was delighted that in the middle of winter she was wearing a sundress. She thought it was amazing! Why would anyone want to live in Illinois in winter when they could come to California?

Then there was an earthquake. Grandma was on the next plane home.

“Peter, in Chicago we have tornados. One kicks up, they announce it on the radio, and you hide in the basement. But you see the damn thing coming. This earthquake hit and I didn’t see the damn thing coming!”

Six months later, my grandma was supposedly fading fast. If only she could spend her last moments on earth with her grandchildren. My dad said to my mom, “Katie, take the kids and go see your mom. I’ll be here when you get back.” Soon my mom, brother and I were on a plane and moving to Chicago.

Four years later we moved back to San Diego, realizing that my grandma was going to outlive us all.

I loved my grandma, and I enjoyed my time in Chicago. And not surprisingly, one thing I fell madly in love with was the food.

My first love has to be the Vienna Hot Dog.

During the great depression, Chicago perfected the hot dog. For a nickel you could get a kosher, all beef hot dog in a poppyseed bun, filled with a veritable salad of toppings. Slices of tomato, a pickle spear, two types of relish, mustard, onions, and if you’re manly, two spicy “sport” peppers.

We were only in Chicago for a few years, but my love of Vienna Hot Dogs was deep and pure. I spend my allowance at a place in Skokie called Irvings, who made what they affectionately call an “Irving’s double-red hot with cheese”.

Yeah, it may not be kosher, but it sure was good.

It was just like a normal Vienna Hot Dog, but with two dogs and cheese!

My parents were creatures of habit, and every day they watched reruns of M*A*S*H at dinnertime. My favorite episode was the one where Hawkeye was so desperate for good food that he arranged to ship his favorite baby back ribs from Chicago. (Although mysteriously, he forgot the coleslaw…)

Inspired by my favorite television character, I was determined to enjoy an Irving’s double red-hot in San Diego. A new company called “FedEx” had just come to town, claiming one-day delivery, anywhere across the country.

I called my Uncle Eddie in Chicago, and asked him to wrap up an Irving’s double red-hot, (with cheese!) and send it to me via FedEx.

One day and $17 later, I had my hot dog! A small price to pay for the best hot dog in the world.

The Vienna Hot Dog wasn’t my only Chicago food love. Like Hawkeye, I also loved Chicago-style baby back ribs. Oh, and have I mentioned Deep Dish Pizza?

Let’s go with the ribs first. Nowadays, you go to a good BBQ place and you order four “bones”, maybe eight if you’re feeling saucy. Back then your choices were half rack or full rack. A full rack being sixteen ribs!

At twelve I was knocking back a full rack. And coleslaw. And cornbread. Ah, to have the metabolism of a teenager, once again.

Of course, I leave the best for last. Many people have never experienced a Vienna Hot Dog or Chicago-style baby back ribs, but just about everyone knows what a deep dish pizza is like.

For those of you who haven’t had the good fortune of having authentic, Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza, let me attempt to describe it to you.

Deep-dish pizza can be as thick as three inches, and physically resembles a quiche. It’s filled with cheese, chunks of tomato, and unlike other pizzas, the sauce is poured over the top!

One other thing. It’s almost impossible to each deep-dish pizza without a knife and fork!

Almost two pages and I haven’t even gotten to the Chicago of Carl Sandburg fame. The hog butcher for the world, the city of the big shoulders. I promise I’ll revisit the topic of Chicago again soon, with fond memories of The Berghoff, baklava, and custom built sandwiches in Water Tower Place.

Chicago, my memories of you are fond. And most involve food. Coincidence? I think not.

One Response to “The food of Chicago!”

  1. foodieMatty Says:

    Deep dish pizza is a rare luxury that is not well-executed outside of Chicago. We do have one place (3 locations) in the Bay Area however, that do a very good rendition,and if you are up for it, we should go to Zachary’s. Berkeley, Oakland and San Ramon. But the best thing is that they sell a half-baked pizza, that you can “finish” in the oven at home. No need for FedEx!
    Enjoying reading the blog. See you soon.

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