Friday, August 22, 2008


As many of you already know, we spent a few days enjoying the sites and attractions of The Windy City. We visited the Sears Tower and Hancock Building, caught a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and walked along Navy Pier. But, like most of our vacations, the true agenda of our visit to Chicago was FOOD. And while Chicago is known for some extraordinary, fancy cuisine (more on that in the next post), we'll begin by sharing our experiences with some classic (but not necessarily simple) Chicago eats:

Some might say it was blasphemous for us to come to Chicago and have no intention of trying a Chicago-style hot dog. But I (Andrea) don’t like mustard and ordering ketchup on a hot dog in Chicago will undoubtedly result in laughs, glares, and would probably get us kicked out of the joint. Plus, Suni doesn’t want a pickle near anything he intends to eat. So, instead we decided to venture outside the city to partake in another local favorite, which is rapidly becoming a Chicago institution in its own right.

Hot Doug’s, “The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium”, features about 25 different kinds of hot dogs and sausage. Most locals come for the daily specials and “game of the week” sausages, which include venison, duck, even alligator. It has become so popular that there’s always a line, sometimes around the block. The line becomes even longer on Friday and Saturday, when they feature their infamous duck fat fries.

Beginning on the left is the special of the day, Blue Cheese Pork Sausage with Pear Puree and Smoked Almonds. The richness of the sausage was amazing, and the crunch of the almonds made this the clear favorite for Suni. In the middle you'll find the Bacon and Jalapeno Duck Sausage with Blood Orange Mustard and St. Pete's Blue Cheese drizzled with Honey. The duck sausage alone would have made a fantastic choice, but the sweet/savory combination with the cheese and honey added powerful flavor (a little too powerful for Suni). We both agreed that the sausage on the right was incredible. With the Catalonian Pork Sausage with Bacon-Garlic Mayonnaise and 12-month Montelarreina Cheese, the meat itself was more a vessel for overwhelming flavors of the sauce and the rich, nutty, aged cheese. Finally, perched above our trio of sausages is a basket of Hot Doug's Duck Fat Fries, which are every bit as good as it sounds! 

For more on Hot Doug's operation, check out the video below:

The majority of research conducted for our trip centered around where to go for Chicago Pizza. Every local has their own favorite pizzeria, which often results in conflicting opinions - one person’s favorite is another’s least. This is further complicated by the fact that there are 4 styles of Pizza served in Chicago – deep dish, stuffed, pan, and thin. After getting recommendations from multiple sources, we settled on Pizano’s, owned by the son of the original Rudy Malnati who arguably invented Chicago deep dish. But after trying deep dish, we felt that our trip to Chicago would be incomplete without sampling the stuffed pizza, which is just as famous. We managed to squeeze in another meal at Giordano’s, a Chicago classic known for their stuffed pizza. Which did we like better? Keep reading for our expert analysis.

Chicago Deep Dish is characterized by its thick layer of cornmeal dough, which is pulled up the sides of the pan and baked until crunchy. The crust is covered with (in order) cheese, toppings, chunky tomato sauce, and grated cheese. Stuffed Pizza is similar to deep dish, except that there is an extra layer of cornmeal crust between the toppings and the sauce. In the spirit of conducting a controlled study, we ordered a classic Chicago version at both places: sausage, onions, mushrooms, and bell peppers.

Locals judge Chicago pizza on 3 main factors – crunchiness and flavor of the crust, quality of the toppings, and the sauce. Pizano’s crust was crunchier than Giordano’s, although Giordano’s had a nice buttery flavor that makes it famous. The sausage at both places was excellent, as was the flavor of the sauce. In the end, Pizano’s deep dish edged out Giordano’s stuffed due to the crunchier crust, and also because the stuffed pizza was heavier with the extra layer of crust and massive amounts of cheese. It was a close one though.

Although everyone thinks of pizza as the quintessential Chicago food, the Italian beef sandwich became a Chicago favorite even before deep dish pizza was introduced to the city. An Italian beef is seasoned roast beef, dripping with meat juices, on a dense, long Italian-style roll. It comes with either hot giardiniera or sweet green peppers, and you can order it wet/dipped for extra juiciness.

We chose Al's No. 1 Italian Beef, which opened its first stand in 1938. Not being able to decide if we wanted it hot or sweet, the cashier suggested we order it with both. Of course, we asked for an extra cup of juice on the side so we could dip ourselves.

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