Think about your experiences in cities you’ve traveled to visit. What sense helps you retain it in your mind? Of course, the eyes have it, seeing the sights is why you go and what you do when traveling. But next up: I would vote for the tastebuds. I can recall great meals in most of the places I’ve visited. When I am at a restaurant in my hometown, I’ll often flash back to a similar meal I had in Italy or the Caribbean. Domestically, there’s one city above all that gets my stomach growling to go back: Chicago.
Although known as “The City of the Big Shoulders”, I found Chicago would be better named “The City of the Big Belly” because it’s food can stretch even the best toned one to new proportions. Greek, Asian, Mexican, are all here, but there’s one that is is known beyond its borders: Chicago-style pizza.
Deep dish pizza is just what it sounds like: baked in a deep cast iron pan, it has a thick crust that can carry as many ingredients as you can think of. There’s also a thick ribbon of crust, which some aficionados do consider the best part of any pizza. Most of the pizza found here is this style, with two or three places considered the very best. Uno’s and Lou Malnati’s are often sought out by first time visitors for an authentic taste – in an authentic ambiance. Nothing fancy in decor, just checkered tablecloths.
At Gino’s East, the deep dish includes a hidden layer in its “Stuffed Pizza”. This calls for belt-loosening of epic proportions. Knife and fork are mandatory (as they are with the regular deep-dish styles). If fact, I’d say these pan pizzas are as opposite to”New York Style” as can possibly be…Tony Manero couldn’t possibly stack two of these slices on top of each other and walk to the beat of “Staying Alive” in Brooklyn.
Yet pizza isn’t the only creation that comes Chicago Style here – behold the Hot Dog. With a very specific list of parts, Chicago has made the hot dog a melange of magic for the taste buds. Pickles, onions, tomatoes, on top of a Vienna sausage ( that’s the hot dog variety here), squeezed into a seeded bun with mustard and celery salt. Portillo’s has a chain of eateries that specialize in this treat, and has become so sought after, they are opening stores in other cities, including my current home Orlando.
Chicago has so many other wonderful restaurants including every ethnic variety. Its many sights, including museums, sporting venues, architecture, and all the others form a spectacular skyline on the shores of Lake Michigan. There’s so much to enjoy, I found it tough to leave after living there for five years! Especially tough to leave were the people: midwesterners are the friendliest people I ever knew. Maybe it’s the need to band together in cold weather or tough economic times!
Anyplace you go, seek out some local favorites. Perhaps ask a local where the best of those local dishes might be. When you are back home, and hunger strikes, you’ll rewind back to those special experiences at those special restaurants. You will savor every day a little bit more because of those moments. Then, when someone says what was the best part of your last trip, the answer will be right on the tip of your tongue.