01/03/13 12:12pm
Jim’s Orginal in all its mustard yellow glory.

Jim’s Orginal in all its mustard yellow glory.

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.

Jim’s outsized pork chop sandwich is just $3.95.

Jim’s outsized pork chop sandwich is just $3.95.

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.

Uncle John’s Pitmaster Mack Sevier and friend.

Uncle John’s Pitmaster Mack Sevier and friend.

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.

Mack tends the aquarium smoker. Note the hose for misting the meat.

Mack tends the aquarium smoker. Note the hose for misting the meat.

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.

A mess of rib tips, freshly chopped.

A mess of rib tips, freshly chopped.

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.

Uncle John’s hot links are revelatory.

Uncle John’s hot links are revelatory.

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.”

Try Tank Noodle for good pho and a pig innards sausage sandwich.

Try Tank Noodle for good pho and a pig innards sausage sandwich.

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.

In Chicago the pho fixins include jagged culantro.

In Chicago the pho fixins include jagged culantro.

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.

 

 

01/02/13 12:20pm
CHI-HOTDOUGLINE

The line for Hot Doug’s, snakes around the corner.

For a long while my thoughts on the Chicago food scene were limited to deep-dish pizza, the SNL sketch about the Billy Goat Tavern, steakhouses, and gussied up hot dogs. When I became more of a gourmand these ideas were supplanted by a strong desire to sample Grant Achatz’s modernist culinary wizardry. In the spring of 2011 I took a weeklong trip to the Windy City with the aim of trying as much of the city’s food as possible. My traveling companion Chef Bruce had chosen quite an itinerary, including everything from Jimmy Bannos’ Cajun spot, Heaven on Seven and his newer joint, The Purple Pig, to a Thai banquet. As much as I wanted to try Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza, my staunch eating buddy forbade it. We did however both agree that we should try to snag same-day cancellations for M. Achatz’s restaurant Next, which had just made its debut with a menu devoted to Paris in 1906. Unfortunately we did not get a seating. For almost a year afterward I continued to receive text alerts on my phone. It was torture to receive alerts about the restaurant’s second iteration, a tribute to Thai cuisine.

Hot Doug's foie gras and truffle topped duck sausage.

Hot Doug’s foie gras and truffle topped duck sausage.

To this day the only traditional Chicago style hot dog I’ve eaten—dragged through the garden with sport peppers, tomatoes, and onions among other things—has been at the original location of the Shake Shack in New York City. Chef Bruce and I were after wieners of a somewhat loftier pedigree, haute dogs. Our first stop Hot Doug’s, offers dozens of decidedly gourmet dogs. I had been reading about Doug’s foie gras topped number for years. The snappy foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage was lashed with truffle sauce and gilded with five slices of rich and creamy foie gras mousse. Stupendously delicious, and a bargain at $10.  Lately they have been offering turducken sausage ($8), with pumpkin cream and cranberry-infused Brillat Savarin cheese. I am planning my next trip already.

Dragged through the garden, Asian style at Belly Shack.

Dragged through the garden, Asian style at Belly Shack.

Our next stop was Belly Shack, Bill Kim’s Asian street food spot in the hip hood of Wicker Park. There we had the Belly Dog ($9), an Asian spin on the classic Chicago dog. The tubesteak was slathered with chili sauce and curry mayo and topped with papaya salad, crunchy noodles,and fried shallots. With toppings like these who needs sport peppers?

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