When traveling, it is always important to sample local fare. I don't mean locally grown produce in it's full terrior. I mean - where Joe Schmo likes to go on Friday night with the guys. This is Calvin Trillin's credo. During a recent road trip to visit my bestest friend and her newly expanded family (my new Godson!) in Chicago, The Baldy and I got our eat on. Visiting 4 restaurants and a bar in 2 days is a good way to start.
The first stop, Portillo's , for a classic Chicago Dog. Donning relish, raw onion, mustard, dill pickle, celery salt and hot sport peppers (everyone knows I always opt out of raw tomato) this is a busy dog. Served on a steamed poppy seed bun, this dog combo is another Chicago staple born at the World's Fair in 1893. This is a product I think Philadelphia and it's love of messy, high grease content, hand held food would thoroughly embrace. The bustling scene of the self seating restaurant which also features a pasta joint for good measure is similar to that of our Reading Terminal Market. On the line I had a never before ordering experience that worked - someone took our order while waiting on a long line, wrote in on a bag that you hand to the cashier. Your food is presented in the same bag the order was on. Smart, progressive - I like it. Imagine that at Jim's Steaks?
The Maxwell Street Polish was an exciting find also at Portillo's. The enchanting crunch of this all beef sausage with mustard and grilled onions could be an everyday food for me.
After the first course of our lunch, it was time for deep dish pizza. Pizano's is always included in the hotly debated "Best Pizza" category. Chicago had a pizza schism similar to Lombardi's and Tottono's in New York. Ike Sewell founded Pizzeria Uno, and Rick Malnati, founder of Pizano's, claims to be the inventor of the deep dish while working at Pizzeria Uno. Strife always tastes good. Here we experienced another first in restaurant service. Due to the long wait for a table and long pizza cooking time (20+ minutes) you can place your order while waiting for a table. This way the pizza arrives shortly after being seated. Kudos also to the hostess, who remembered and used my name when I ordered our pizza after examining the menu on the sidewalk.
The pizza was incredible. This is coming from an occasional member of the Pizza Club of Philadelphia, who led members on a pizza tour of Brooklyn, and considers pizza a food group. Normally I only hold court with thin crust pizzas. I also subscribe to the "don't trust a round pizza" philosophy of Todd English. Pizano's deep dish pizza goes against all my beliefs and yet my taste buds were enthralled. Even their butter crust is against my principles. A healthy, not obscene layer of sliced mozzarella, topped with house made sausage, onions and mushrooms, with a suggestion of tomato on top. We ordered a small thinking it would be just a few bites, enough to give us a good sampling - ample after just having dogs. That turned out to only refer to the first piece of pizza. The second piece was eaten solely on the basis of "could not resist". We got over our objection to having to eat pizza with a knife and fork. The faux pas was worth it.
After eating for almost 3 hours, we waddled over to Lake Shore Drive and enjoyed ocean-sized Lake Michigan where we sat, contemplating a nap as our stomachs were filled to capacity. Our other visits warrant their own post, stay tuned.