Jim’s Original—purveyors of Chicago-style Polish sausage sandwiches since 1939—was another Bannos pick. These days it’s no longer located on Maxwell and Halsted Streets, but adjacent to the Dan Ryan Expressway, Bannos told us by way of history. “Get the pork chop sandwich,” our new friend advised.
We took Bannos’ advice and managed to ignore all the signs for Polish sausage sandwiches and ordered the pork chop sandwich ($3.95). As advertised it came with a bag of fries. Just in case a pork chop the size of your face isn’t enough food. We ate off the hood of the rental as traffic whooshed by on the nearby expressway. Topped with grilled onions and yellow mustard, it was good , but not mind-blowing. It would have been better with a liberal application of sport peppers.
About a week before we flew to the Windy City I caught Kevin Pang, a Chicago Tribune food writer, on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. The place that stood out most to me in the episode was Uncle John’s Barbecue, with its glass-encased aquarium smoker and crazy looking rib tips. Pang agreed to meet us New Yorkers at the cue joint on Chicago’s South Side and introduce us to Uncle John’s Pitmaster Mack Sevier.
Uncle John’s sits on the corner of South Calumet Avenue and East 69 Street. The cue is served from behind bullet-proof glass. Pang ushered us into the sanctum sanctorium so we could chat with pitmaster Mack Sevier and check out his aquarium smoker. The smoker is so named because it is also encased in glass, presumably not of the bullet-proof variety. “There’s no Uncle John, I just like the name,” Mack said with a chuckle when asked.
I’ve eaten more than my share of ‘’cue, but I’ve never been much of a rib tip man. I’ve always thought that bigger meant better when it came to pork ribs. Mack’s meaty nuggets—smokey with a mahogany bark—changed my mind. I wish had a half pound of them right now.
I’ve never been much for hot links either, but Mack made me a convert. Snappy of skin and seasoned with sage and hot pepper his links are a smoky revelation. As Pang once wrote, “Add a fried egg and this hot link could start religions.”
As I recall there are two Chinatown’s in Chi-town, both sparse compared to those in New York City. In one we found Tank Noodle, a Vietnamese joint whose logo features a tank and where the waiters are clad in camo t-shirts.
The pho was pretty good. Even better though was a pig innard sausage banh mi ($4.50). It was filled with all manner of squidgy bits. Chef Bruce and I also had a prix fixe at Arun’s Thai, which to put it very kindly lacked the requisite funk and fire. I’ll stick to Thai food in Queens.
So with the exception of Thai and Chinatown, Chicago is most definitely my kind of food town. Jimmy and Alex, if you’re reading this my offer to show you around New York City still stands.