Chicagoland: An AbbreviatedGastronomical Tour

Live from New England is temporarily posting from the greater Chicagoland area, where I am heavily engaged in the crash course gastronomical tour while I briefly visiting family and friends.

First, it is nice to be back on the soil of my youth. As much as I enjoy New England, I will always have a strong connection to Chicago. Many of my family and friends still reside in the area and I have always had a fascination with the city itself. That being said, I have been hitting all the haunts and eating my way through the local geography. As I have said, the “hog butcher to the world” is the place to get all kinds of food that will kill you. I heard Jim Belushi, another native whom I have met a couple of times, say something very close to this, “Food in Chicago shouldn’t even be served at a table. You should just be allowed to eat over the sink. Everything that’s good is messy with juice that runs all over the place, on your hands, down your arms toward your elbows. And you have to twist your head sideways to get it in. You should just be given a big napkin and a sink, so you can clean up afterwards.” This is a very fair assessment. In a recent phone call with Ali, she characterized the places similarly. “I don’t know where all the places are. You just put me in the car and drive all over the place. All I know is that whatever we eat is going to have meat and some kind of sauce involved.”

Immediately off the plane, my amigo Vince picked me up from the newly renovated Midway airport and we headed to Carm’s, in Westchester, for some of the best Italian beefs known to man. Either Johnnie’s, in Elmwood Park, or Carm’s are the places to go when you are in search of the beef. And you have to order them wet and hot, loaded with giardiniera. It’s the only way to go and I was not disappointed. I even got a jar of giardiniera to bring back to Boston.

I have been able to pack in a couple of Portillo’s hot dogs, with everything on ‘em. Portillo’s is a local chain that also serves up a decent beef, but their specialty is the dog and it is absolutely one of the best. Gene and Jude’s might be the top dog in town, but you can never go wrong with a Dick Portillo creation.

When it comes to cuisine of a more kosher quality, I made a stop at Siegelman’s Deli, in Arlington Heights, for a corned beef and pastrami sandwich, complete with potato pancakes. While Manny’s is a famous Chicago institution, now with a location in Midway Airport, Siegelman’s is a quiet place with a supremely better setting. If I were forced to pick, I would even venture that Siegelman’s is better food as well.

I also made a stop at the Harlo Grill, in Melrose Park, where I have eaten many a breakfast. Two eggs, over-easy, three strips of swine, golden hash browns, and a cup of joe, all for under $5.00, complete with the cast of regular characters that genuinely lurk about a twenty-four hour establishment. It remains my favorite basic breakfast place to date.

My hope was to knock down the double-decker cheeseburger from Hamburger Heaven, in Elmhurst, but alas I was thwarted by renovations. They will not be open until May. So, when I am back for my brother’s graduation next month, a must stop will be made for the all-American meal of cheeseburger, cheese fries, and root beer. This is a place that simply cannot be beat.

Next on the hit-list is some barbecue from the infamous Uncle Bub’s, in Westmont. Vince and I stumbled upon Bub’s some time ago and it has been a favorite dining establishment ever since. Beef or pork, even turkey, Bub serves up the BBQ with their own specialty sauces and all the extras, like cornbread, corn, potatoes, etc. Plus, on the weekend’s they even offer up musical entertainment at the family style restaurant.

All of these places I have been able to hit and I am not even heading back until Sunday. It may not be seafood, but hits the spot. The good thing is that living with Ali is extending my life, because I definitely eat healthier and not living in the Chicago area anymore eliminates a whole lot of temptation.

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