Thursday, February 26, 2009
Where the locals eat.
Here in Chicago we are very fortunate that we have so many options for a quick lunch scattered throughout the city that aren't chains. Hound Dog's is on the 2200 block of Grand ave right off Western ave. What puts this place on the map is that its a little different then most of your hot dog stands around town. Just like Budacki's Drive In they added some Asian flair to the menu.
Another fusion style hot dog stand
Hound Dog's is a popular spot with the working man. Its hours are from 6a to 3p Monday thru Saturday and they are open for breakfast and lunch. On the inside its a cozy little spot with a few booths and some tables in the middle and seats at the counter with copies of the days paper scattered about. Odds are there will be people in there eating at all hours they are open. Its very popular with the blue collar streets & sans types for lunch due to the bang for your buck they provide and the fact its more than just burgers and hot dogs. The popular menu items at Hound Dog's are from the Asian menu. Were not talking about anything Authentic but just good old greasy Asian-American foods like beef and chicken teriyaki, spicy chicken and veggies smothered over rice, fried rice and a favorite of mine- bi bim bop.
Beef teriyaki Sandwich
Chicken Teriyaki served over fried rice
I would say that the customers go with food off the Asian menu 65% of the time and food off the Chicago style the other 35% of the time. Its a great option for breakfast and lunch if your in the area. Most of the items off the Asian menu are typical American-Asian grease dishes but are very satisfying and sure to fill up so your not hungry again in an hour. I would recommend the teriyaki chicken with fried rice or the bi bim bop and the spicy chicken with veggies. I wasn't a big fan of the beef teriyaki sandwich, I liked the fact they loaded it with giardinara but the beef wasn't to appealing. This place is not anything fancy and doesn't try and be that, they are here to serve the people that are transporting your beverages, packages, mail and garbage around town and keeping fuel in their belly so they can get the job done.
The Hot Dogs at Hound Dogs are passable with Chicago's rich selection
bowl of Bi Bim Bop
2257 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60612
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
If you don't like legit Mexican churros than you might be bulimic and should talk to your doctor immediately. I'm sorry but there's no other reasonable explanation for not liking the Spanish doughnut unless you just don't like food. Although they originated in Spain churros have a huge presence in Latin America and specifically Mexico. They are made by piping dough from a churrera (a star shaped tube hence the name) and it is then fried until crispy on the outside and a little doughy inside and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Think of a tube shaped doughnut that's basically what they are. In some places they fill them with chocolate and jelly and other good stuff and they are usually enjoyed for breakfast dipped in hot chocolate. As someone who's not big at all on desserts or doughnuts, cakes and sweets in general this might be my favorite fried pastry on the face of the earth and I could easily eat them all day and be a happy man.
a Mexican churro from Chicago
Although Wikipedia states the following they're dead wrong "Until recently, churros could be difficult to find in the United States and other non-Latin countries outside of Latin American street stands and eating establishments. However, with the increased popularity of Latin American food, today there are a growing number of franchise restaurants that sell fresh churros, both traditional and filled." Whoever wrote that must be from Bayfield, Wisconsin because here in Chicago churros are as available as doughnuts in many of our neighborhoods. You can find them in the suburb of Highwood all the way up to the concessions stands at the White Sox home of U.S Cellular Field and everywhere in between. Its impossible to to try all of them because so many of these churros are sold by vendors who set up at different spots on different days in parks and outside grocery stores offering them as a snack anytime of the day. Not to mention the panaderias and the same grocery stores the vendors are outside of offering them as well. Churros are so special that the people who create the magical ones even have their own name, churreros are the ones who make the divine churro. The Picasso's of the fried dough movement. Every Mexican town and heavily populated Hispanic area in the states has a Don Churrero.
Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood is deep with Mexican eats
Churros are enjoyed with hot chocolate/coffee
Here in Chicago we have a few places that have storefronts that specialize in just churros and that's it. Don Churros aka El Moro de Letran is located in Pilsen on Blue Island just off 18th St. Its a small storefront with a counter, no seats and on that counter is a display case of churros and sopapillas along with coffee and hot chocolate and that's it. Behind the counter is a group of ladies who are watching TV and pumping out amazing churros from open to close. I'll eat a churro 24/7/365 but for some reason I really enjoy them in the winter. They are made fresh several times a day at Don Churros and served hot and crispy just the way they should be and are offered with filling which is typically a Mexican practice. You tell the lady behind the counter what flavors you want and she uses a piece of wax paper to grab it and cover it in sugar. There's nothing like eating a hot churro with the warm chocolate or jelly in the middle on a cold winter day. They offer the churros plain and with strawberry jelly, real chocolate, Bavarian creme and just recently started selling caramel ones too.
Display case upon entering
At a buck a piece the prices have gone up and are more than street vendors but still way cheaper than the sporting venues. I have no problem paying $1 per and that includes tax. If you get 10 churros then its $10. If you asked me whats the best dollar you could spend on food, that's it one buck and not any change I would answer with a piping hot strawberry churro from my ladies at Don Churros. When you see a food spot that specializes in one specific food item than odds are its going to be real good. How can you have one thing on the menu and have it not be one of the best in its category?
going clockwise from top: Strawberry, Bavarian creme, chocolate, plain
1626 S Blue Island Ave
Chicago, IL 60608
Sunday, February 22, 2009
After watching the long overdue Chicago episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No reservations" show I feel rejuvenated and ready for a brand new beef post. There is no doubt that Tony's show is the best food show and travel show for that matter on TV. For those of you that follow Smokin' Chokin' & Chowing With the King you can probably see how me and Mr. Bourdain are very alike (except when I do my Jamaica special this March there will be NO reservations) I love your style Tony and I'm a big fan of the show but you really fucked up by not getting an Italian Beef. Just because you see the mosquito bite that is Rachel Ray nibbling on a beef at Portillo's or the ultra corny Jay Leno praising Mr. Beef didn't mean you had to take a pass. The Italian Beef is king of all regional sandwiches and for the locals its Chicago's signature fast food item, even ahead of the hot dog and pizza. Go figure what a shock that Rachel Ray and Jay Leno dont have no clue on where to get a real Italian Beef.
Jay's Beef in Harwood Heights
Every Chicago resident has a favorite place to get an Italian Beef be it the local place in the neighborhood where they grew up or a place they found later in life that made them ask "What the fuck was I eating at Mr. Beef for all these years for" For me that place is Jay's Beef. The story goes that the property that Jay's original location sits on used to be owned by Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo and was opened up in 1976 under the original owner Justin Fortuna. Originally in the dry cleaning business he decided to start his own beef joint with the help of his family. Jay’s Beef was originally a small building that was torn down and rebuilt in 1994 and has been serving the residents of the area with one of Chicago's best beef's since the day they opened.
One of the questions that I often get asked is how did I come to love the Italian beef sandwich and everything it is. Aside from the obvious answers of my ethnic background and city that I was born and raised in comes the fact that my whole family loves beef. My grandpa, dad and uncles have been regular customers of Jay's since they terrorized the neighborhood and it was the first beef that made me really love beef and understand that not all beef are created equal. Jay's has been using the same family recipe that my dad and uncles ate as kids and that I enjoyed so much as a kid and that's what makes it so good. I still remember my first sandwich from Jay's when my uncle drove me up there around the age of seven to show me "what a real beef is" Despite the fact they now have multiple FAMILY owned locations they still make their own beef, gravy and hot peppers on site and still get the same bread supplied they did back in the day. There is no doubt that one of Jay's Beef's piled high like a New York deli sandwich with thin sliced seasoned beef is on my all Chicago beef first team and one of the best in the city.
beef with hot from Jay's
Rating Scale 5/5
hot peppers: 4
4418 N Narragansett Ave
Harwood Heights, IL 60706
Originally posted at: What's Your Beef?
Friday, February 20, 2009
It was a pretty exciting episode of Top Chef NY this past Wednesday. By the looks and complements of all of the judges including Emeril it seemed that the final four and Jeff did a nice job representing New Orleans Creole/Cajun cooking. In the end it was one half of team Europe getting the boot as Fabio was made to pack his knives and go. Sorry Fabio but you just couldn't leave the Italian aspect out of it. Truth be told it should of been Stefan to go based on that sole performance but I guess his past performances are what got him to the final plate. One of the most pleasant smells in your kitchen can be shrimp creole. It fills the air with a heavenly scent when you put your soul and love into making a real creole. This is a dish that would of had the judges out of their seat. Today there are so many bastard forms of shrimp creole that if you want a real one you got make it yourself and this especially holds true for those of us living outside Louisiana. I found this recipe over at NOLAcuisine.com where they have nothing but fantastic recipes for any upcoming Mardi Gras parties you might be having. I highly recommend browsing this site for some ideas. I documented the making of the shrimp creole and it was my favorite dish I found on the web this year.
"There are a lot of good and bad recipes for Shrimp Creole out there, hopefully you will enjoy this one as much as I do. The defining factor that I think makes this dish great, instead of just good, in addition to the use of the highest quality Louisiana or Gulf Shrimp, is using homemade Shrimp Stock in place of water during the preparation of your Creole Sauce. " NOLA Cuisine
My Homemade Shrimp Stock
"All that aside, on to the dish…
As I see it, Shrimp Creole and Shrimp Sauce Piquant are pretty much the same dish, with a few differences.
First, Shrimp Creole, or as it was once known, Shrimp a la Creole, is a New Orleans dish. Shrimp Sauce Piquant is Acadian, much spicier (hence the name) and usually, but not always containing a roux. But as I said, they’re pretty darned similar, and like most dishes in New Orleans these days the two cuisines have kind of merged in a lot of different areas. Like any dish that there are a trillion recipes for, it’s all a matter of your personal taste." Nola CuisineShrimp Creole (Recipe: Nola Cuisine)
2 lbs. Peeled and Deveined Shrimp, save shells to make Shrimp Stock
2 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 Large Onion, finely chopped
2 Ribs Celery, finely chopped
1 small Green Pepper, finely Chopped
2 Tbsp Creole Seasoning
2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
2-1/2 Cups Very Ripe Fresh Tomatoes, Diced
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
2 Cups Shrimp Stock
2 Tbsp Garlic, minced
2 Bay leaves
Cayenne to taste
Kosher Salt to taste
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp White Pepper
1 bunch Fresh Thyme
2 Tbsp Tabasco
1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 Cup Green Onions, green tops thinly sliced, white part sliced into 1/4″ thickness
1/8 Cup Flat Leaf Parsley, minced
1 Recipe Creole Boiled Rice
Melt the butter in a large sauce pan with the vegetable oil over medium high heat. When the butter begins to froth add 1/2 cup of the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown. Add the remaining onions, celery, and bell pepper, reduce the heat to medium and season with 1 Tbsp Creole Seasoning and a healthy pinch of salt. Sweat the vegetables until soft.
Add the tomato paste mixing well, and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste begins to brown, then add the fresh tomatoes and another healthy pinch of Kosher salt, this will help the tomatoes break down. Stir well.
When the tomatoes start to break down into liquid add the white wine, and turn the heat to high until most of the alcohol burns off. Add the Shrimp Stock, remaining Creole seasoning, garlic, bay leaves, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne (to taste), and Thyme. Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. Simmer for 30-45 minutes.
(If necessary at this point thicken the sauce with 1 Tbsp Cornstarch/ 2Tbsp water. Bring to a boil to maximize the thickening power of the cornstarch.)
Add the hot sauce, Worcestershire, and season to taste with Kosher salt. Last chance to re-season your sauce, remember that good cooking is all about proper seasoning. Make your Boiled Rice, and season your shrimp with 1 Tbsp Kosher salt and a pinch of Cayenne.
Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low and add the shrimp. The key is to not overcook your shrimp. Let them slowly simmer in the sauce until just cooked through.
Serve with boiled rice and garnish with the remaining green onions and parsley.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Where the locals eat.
I got an email last month from an avid reader from the South Side who asked me why I hadn't been to any of the citys Polish bar's for some food and booze. Then coincidentally I was driving by his local watering hole a couple weeks later. The Karolinka Club on Central ave. just across the street from the private jet entrance at Midway airport. In case you not from here and haven't been able to figure it out thru this site...Chicago is a very diverse city. We have more Polish people than any city in the world with the exception of Warsaw in Poland. The city's Polish community is concentrated on the Northwest and Southwest sides along Archer ave and Milwaukee ave. There is an extensive amount of Polish bakeries and sausage shops and one of the city's signature food items is the Maxwell Street Polish. The Karolinka club sits where the once famous Baby Doll Polka club used to sit. Imagine if your Polish mom and dad decided they wanted to open up a bar like back home with a little bit of Chicago thrown in. That's the Karolinka Club. Its got decorations up for every holiday and they pour a strong drink and have Okocim beer on tap with the large pint glasses.
Across from the Private Jet entrance at Midway
Since the Polish community is so dominant in Chicago compared to elsewhere you will find different regional variations of Polish cuisine around the city. Along with the usual offerings of potato pancakes, both meat and potato pierogis, Polish kielbasa sausage and pork tenderloin sandwiches they are said to have the best Silesian food in America. ts different than other styles of cooking around Poland in that its more fatty and has alot more calories. Its still enjoyed around Poland and Chicago despite the advise of modern day dietitians. Karolinka club offers a variety of homestyle Silesian dishes on the weekends as well as was what was described by the hot Polish bartender as the "best Silesian club in the world"
Meat Pierogi with bacon bits
Based on the above average pancakes and pierogis I will no doubt be back to try some more of the Silesian eating. The problem with it is that after eating a plate of food that would make Bill Swerski scream mercy its hard to start drinking big glasses full of good beer and partying the night away with some pretty Polski ladies. All while the men all stare in envy pissed off wondering why they wore their best jumpsuit to the club with the chain they paid to borrow from the local pawn dealer and brought out the Michael Jordan cologne for the occasion. I keed, I keed in all seriousness though it is a locals working class bar that seems to cater to the usual crowd on the weekdays and a younger crowd on the weekends. I'll be back to scope out the scene on the weekends this summer and eat some more
Karolinka Polka Club
6102 S Central Ave
Chicago, IL 60638
Sunday, February 15, 2009
The Burgers of Chi
The East Side of Chicago has to be the section of Chicago most stuck in time and thats a good thing. Located on the south side of the city between the Calumet river and the Illinois-Indiana state line not much has changed thru the years over there. Its the best neighborhood to get a feel of what Chicago was like way back in the day before redevelopment. Until recently the area was economically dominated by the river and the once thriving Port of Chicago. Most of the houses are the unique to Chicago bungalow style and most buildings were built pre-1920 and many of the businesses have been around for quite a while as well.
After the great Chicago fire of 1871, Joseph Schlitz donated thousands of barrels of beer to the city and decided to open a national distribution point in the city that would begin the Schlitz brewery expansion. The German immigrant who came to Milwaukee Wisconsin at 20 years old in 1820 built dozens of tied-houses in Chicago after the fire in 1871 and all had a concrete relief of the company logo embedded in the brickwork. Several of these Tied-House buildings survive today and there are a few located on the East Side giving you that old school feel as you drive by. Many of the neighborhoods settlers were people of Croatian and Serbian descent who had emigrated from Europe to take jobs in the steel mills and related work. After the unionization, the neighborhood became a stronghold for the Chicago democratic party machine of mayor Richard J. Daley. Today the area is still heavily populated by Hispanic, Serbian, Croatian and Polish people.
Schlitz' stamp on the old tied-houses around the city can be...
...found around Chicago and Wisconsin (Southport lanes in Lincoln Park)
Eastside Tied-House in Chicago (Photo: forgottenchicago.com)
Along 106th St. in the East Side neighborhood there are still several old business that have been family owned for a long time but none have been under the same ownership for a longer running period than Harmony Hamburgers. Its your basic old school Chicago style grease grill thats been doing it the same way since they first opened doors in the early 1950's. Owned by a lady who's son has a law practice around the corner its a restaurant thats truly all in the family. There is very little information on this fascinating old school burger shop on the internet but over at LTHforum.com there is a small mention of it in a thread about another place. The post is from 2005 and reads "BTW, was reading some paper while there waiting for my tacos the last time, and it mentioned "Harmony Hamburgers" on 106th, apparently been in existence since 1953 or some such, 79 year old woman running it and currently being helped (over summer) by 10-12 yr old grandkids etc. Ever tried it? Any good?"
106th streets oldest business in the East side neighborhood
One member of the food board who is the Columbus of south side food exploration had stopped in for the first time in years circa 2005 and said "Nothing has changed, in fact I doubt much has changed in 50 years." The family has a longstanding history in the neighborhood and the walls are covered with photos of family members with people ranging from Hillary Clinton to Mayor Daley to Digger Phelps with a definite Notre Dame presence. I think the owners son went to college or law school at ND. There are a few game machines with prizes for the kids to play as well as an original Donkey Kong arcade game to the right as you enter. On my first visit this past weekend I got the same feeling that was felt above, the place hadn't changed in years it looked and felt like a classic Chicago fast food neighborhood joint. I visited on a Saturday and the description above of it being all in the family was spot on to this day. The mother/grandma was there keeping up shop with her son the lawyer and his daughter (her granddaughter) a young girl, maybe 7 or 8, who was taking care of the tables and delivered us our tasty burgers with a cute little smile on her face. There were also a few neighborhood kids who rode their bikes over for lunch, some regulars as well as the employees who all seem to have been there a substantial amount of time as well. Everyone was enjoying their Saturday afternoon and everyone knew each other it felt like real Chicago.
View upon entering with the kids games to the right
When I first caught eye of this place a few weeks back I knew I was going to have to stop in and try a burger in the near future. I imagined that by the looks from the outside that they made a good old fashioned burger the same fashion since the day they opened and like usual I was right. It was a basic fresh thin patty griddle cooked and topped with potent grilled onions and perfectly melted cheese on a sesame seed bun. I went with a double cheese with my preferred toppings of mustard, onions and pickles (I don't do ketchup on anything) that included fries and at $3.49 it was everything you could expect it to be. It was a perfect rendition of an old school cafeteria style burger but done right. Although I wasn't hungover I could tell that this place was a popular stop for locals who had been out late enjoying the previous night. As far as the taste goes I bet it hasn't changed since the day they opened and thats why its such a satisfying burger. It reminded of a place thats long gone that I ate at growing up in Lincoln Park called Glenn's Hamburgers on Fullerton just east of Ashland. Nothing fancy about this place just a good greasy burger that taste like burgers used to back in the 1950's or so I'm told. I'm only 27 years old but I can taste the history and harmony put into these babies. They were very pleasing on the taste palate. I'm glad to have this place on my radar and you should put it on yours. Its a great stop for lunch on a trip up to the Michigan City/Michigan area during summertime fun for us FIB's.
Double cheese with mustard, onions and pickles from Harmony
Overall Grade: B+
Strengths: The Chicago history behind the burger stand and the people that run it in the historic neighborhood is enough to make it destination dining alone. The fact that the burger tastes like its stuck in time is a huge plus. Brings back memories of the burgers you ate growing up, the places that are becoming more and more a rare breed in the days of McDonald's and other bad burger franchises that are popping up everywhere.
Weakness': I cant find a single bad thing to say about this landmark burger establishment. The only way you wont like it is if you prefer to go to a squeaky clean place that was built post 2000 like Culvers or Steak & Shake. Not to take away from the burger spots that somewhat try to do it right but Harmony hamburgers is what the original Culver's and Steak & Shakes were like. They just haven't changed since day one. The Great Burgerelli is getting beat down in reviews of burgers in this town. Keep trying though.
3643 E 106th St
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Regional food specialties
-Route 66, Corn Dogs, Horseshoes & Chili in Springfield, IL
Its only fitting that on the 200th birthday week of one of Americas greatest presidents, Abe Lincoln, we take a look at whats to eat in his old stomping grounds, Springfield Illinois, the capitol of my home state. I got to take a food journey down route 66 and into Springfield last week for some hardcore eating. As far as politics go, other than D.C there isn't a more powerful place than Springfield in the game. It has been at the root of the political world the past year starting with President Obama and then there was former Governor Blagojevich and his auction. The former Mayor Richard J. Daley used to roam the streets of Springfield to gather thoughts as a legislature. Stretching all the way back to when Abraham Lincoln called it home this town has housed some powerful people. Not only did Honest Abe study law here but it was your current 44th president who used to roam these parts when in office as a U.S senator and being the foodie that he is I'm sure he is very familiar with some of Springfield's most famous eateries. First up is a sight tour through the Land of Lincoln.
Happy 200th Birthday President Lincoln
2/12/1809 - 4/15/1865
Route 66 starts in Chicago and rides into Springfield all the way to Cali
Riding into Springfield Pre-Route 66
Palm's Cafe Mural along Route 66 (Atlanta, IL)
The Popular Muffler Men Statues that were found along Route 66
Site of the Once Famous Pig Hip Restaurant in Broadwell, IL
The Pig Hip was a Route 66 staple during the roads heyday
Click the picture to see what it looked like back in the day
The State Capitol building
I bet Rod wishes he could be staying in the Gov. mansion these days
Abe helped mold these parts
Abe Lincolns home in Springfield in the rightly named Lincoln Neighborhood
Neighbors of Abe's houses are still intact and used as Senators offices: President Obamas old office
If you grew up in Illinois then odds are you took a class trip here one day in grade school so I'm not going to give you a history lesson on Lincoln and the rest of Springfield's settlers and how they helped mold the country and make it what it is today. This folks is a field trip for food and Springfield has plenty of attractions that need to be eaten. Did you know that Springfield, IL is the birthplace of the corn dog? thats right it was first put on a stick by a man named Ed Waldmire who began experimenting with the idea of a hot dog on a stick during his time on duty. As time passed Ed and his wife opened up The Cozy Drive In which still sits in Springfield along Route 66. The corn dog became the signature food item at the Illinois state fair which is held in Springfield every August and has now become a symbol of Middle America State Fair food and Carnival treats everywhere.
Illinois Tourism Poster
Still going strong
Get your kicks and corn dogs on a stick on Route 66
Cozy is littered with Route 66 and Cozy Dog memorabilia
along with corn dogs, cozy dog makes a good 30's style burger
The original dog on a stick
The History (click to enlarge)
Cozy Dogs have a tasty homemade batter that surrounds Oscar Meyer style wieners
Like every other place in the country that takes eating seriously, Springfield is the home to a certain fast food item that is loved by gluttons. The Horseshoe sandwich is the definition of food gluttony. The sandwich originated in Springfield, IL at the Leland Hotel in 1928. The open faced sandwich consists of a large piece of Texas style toast that is topped with a meat of choice, popular toppings around town include a buffalo chicken breast, ham, turkey or hamburger patties, which is then covered in French fries and smothered with the secret cheese sauce that makes these atrocity's so unique to Central Illinois. Virtually every bar around town serves Horseshoes but only one goes thru them like the others go thru Coors lights.
Springfield's most popular bar isn't Moe's
D'Arcy's Pint opens at 11am Monday-Saturday and if your not there by 11:15 its a guarantee you'll be waiting to be seated. Despite the fact that the restaurant/bar is huge and can accommodate a ton of people there is always a wait during lunch and dinner hours. Exactly how many Horseshoes this place goes thru a week I have no idea but it has to be in the 1000's. There might be a little weight problem down there because of these things. When you ask any of the locals or any politician where the best Horseshoe in the area is they will all answer, D'Arcy's Pint. If your not feeling up to the level of Kobayashi you can order a pony horseshoe which is half the size of a regular but as George Ryan used to say "Ponies are for Pussy's" Its hard to imagine just how many scams were discussed over a brew and a Horseshoe but if you eat at D'Arcy's and keep your ears open I'm sure you'll hear something being schemed up. This is not food for the lactose intolerant, I would guesstimate that there are at least 2 cups of D'Arcy's signature cheese slop on each sandwich, you would think you were in Wisconsin. This is a sandwich that only Homer Simpson could concoct and further proof that the Simpson's home is in Springfield Illinois.
The most popular Horseshoe is the Buffalo Chix
Hidden underneath the cheese slop and fries is a buffalo chicken breast
The cheese on a Horseshoe is as abundant and gooey and slimy as the politicians who eat them yet still very tasty
Most people associate chili with the state of Texas and rightfully so. However Texas is not the only spot on the U.S map that features an obsession with chili. It was in 1909 when a man named Dew Brockman decided to open up a chili parlor in Springfield. When Dew quibbled with the man painting his sign over the spelling of the word chili and won after noting that the dictionary spelled it both ways, chili would forever be spelled chilli around Springfield. That was in 1909 and by 1968, Springfield was pumping out 4 million cans of the spicy beef treat usually associated with Texas annually. Both Chilli Man Chilli and Ray’s Chilli, locally produced, were sold in grocery stores around the country. Springfield has its own unique type of chili that they have branded "Tavern chili" Its a mixture of ground beef, beef suet, lots of grease and spices and can usually be offered with or without beans as well as with or without grease and comes in five different heat levels with firebrand being the real deal when it comes to heat.
Dew Chilli Parlor Circa the 1950's (Photo: springfieldrewind.com)
Just like in the big city to the north (Chicago) there is a definite presence of Delta style tamales around Springfield and most chili parlors offer tamales to go with your chili as well as plenty of oyster crackers. During its peak there were numerous chili parlors located throughout Springfield keeping the residents warm in the winter months. As time has passed many of the old time favorites are long gone but a few remain and they are as popular as ever with the locals and politicians who flood them regularly. One of the newer chili spots is also one of the very best. Fred and Donna Cook opened Cook's Spice Rack and Chilli Parlor in June of '99. It was a labor of love that took two years and showed their dedication to the fine craft. They have a full menu featuring not just chilli but also a full line of spices and hot sauces. The menu features five different chillis and allowing new customers to sample each one, Donna, with a little nudge, will bring a tray featuring two ounce sample cups of each for the customer's tasting pleasure. The Cook's Tavern style chili served three way was some of the best restaurant chili I have consumed. Big thumbs up to them for mastering the art.
One of Springfield's newer chili spots
Spice Rack's Terlingua Red is passable...
...but the Springfield "Tavern" style is some of the best I have had
Tavern Style served Three Way with no beans (Cheese, onions and Pasta)
One of Springfield's most popular and longest standing chili parlors goes by the name The Den Chili Parlor and its been around since 1954 when Joe Roger's started offering his chili with five levels spiciness: mild, medium, medium-hot, hot and firebrand. To this day any customer that is able to finish a bowl of firebrand gets their signature on the wall. As time passed Joe Roger's chili became known as the firebrand chili. There have been many locations of Joe Rogers chili parlors that have come and gone in Springfield including one that still sits at 820 S. 9th St. When I rolled into The Den for some chili they had a steady flow of dine-in and take-out with some folks in overalls and others in suits, everyone was there for some chili. I opted for the hot with beans and a tamale. Most other days I would have gone ahead and tried the firebrand but I had already ate a horseshoe and bowl of chili and it was only 2:00 and we had to drive home. I'm glad I didn't get the firebrand. Its a misconception that Springfield chili is a sweeter brew like Cincinnati style, this stuff was hot.
A favorite amongst anyone who's been
Joe Rogers bowl of Red
Tamale covered in chili
People were ordering cups of grease...no meat or beans.
I had no idea of Springfield's obsession with chili until I learned about in a magazine article back in high school. As time passed I kind of forgot about it and was pleasantly surprised by how good both spots were. If anyone has ever been to Chili Mac's in Lakeview and had their spicy red, Springfield Tavern style is exactly what they are trying to be. They don't do a good at succeeding at it so I suggest you take a trip down to Springfield one day to see just how good the chili really is. It's not Cincinnati folks this is real deal chili and they've been doing it the same way since the first parlor opened in 1909. The Senate Joint Resolution No. 89 in the Illinois General Assembly was passed in 1993. This resolution, which was passed unanimously by both houses of the Legislature, proclaimed Illinois as the Chilli Capital of the Civilized World and recognized that the spelling of the delicious comestible is C-H-I-L-L-I. The Governor was further "authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of Illinois to commemorate this designation with appropriate celebrations." Of course this pissed off some Texans but they could care less. If they want I'm sure they can pass a much worse bill that would really piss off the chili loving Texans. Springfield is also the state gateway to Terlingua Texas. If you win the Springfield regional you can participate in the chili super bowl which I plan to do one day.
From the Illinois Times: "Sometimes food, like life, should follow this motto: The simpler, the better. And in the summertime, a grilled hamburger, milkshake, and seat at an outdoor picnic table may be all that's required for a perfect meal. When you can enjoy this simple pleasure for less than $5, so much the better."
There is something abut Springfield foodwise that is just stuck in time. Most of the popular food destinations have been serving the people for decades with food thats been popular for decades and never lost its appeal. Same family's, same signs, same menu, same recipes. Krekel's Burgers & Custard fits the description of a popular Springfield eatery perfectly. Krekel's is carrying on a old school burger joint tradition of grilled burgers and handmade milkshakes. William Krekel opened his first hamburger and custard stand in the 1950s in Decatur IL. Today there are six family-owned locations in central Illinois: four in Decatur and one in both Mount Zion and Springfield. Suzie Sperry, Krekel's granddaughter, and her husband, Dan, own and operate the Springfield location. If your a fan of the 30's style burger than you will love Krekel's. They take balls of beef and flatten them on a griddle when ordered and they are cooked until the edges are crispy and top them with minimalist toppings. If a place is serving a 30's style burger I will always go double with mustard, pickles and onions. One of the best representations of this style of burger in the state.
The famous Illinois burger and custard stand
a locals lunchtime favorite year round
Krekel's 30s style double cheese is an oldie but goodie
I mentioned how Springfield is stuck in time with all of its old school eateries and the two local donut shops are proof of it. In todays day its rare to see a town with two different old school donut shops that the locals pick up breakfast at. Most of them are long gone due to the Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts invasion. Not in Springfield which is exactly how I like it. I didn't get a chance to eat any of the donuts because I was eating Horseshoes and chili for breakfast. I'll be making it back down this way for the state fair and to find more chili and food that hasn't changed a bit over time.
The Popular Mel-O-Cream Donuts have locations throughout
Sunrise Donuts along route 66 is now out of business I have learned
Cozy Dog Drive In
2935 S 6th St
Springfield, IL 62703
661 W Stanford Ave
Springfield, IL 62704
Cook's Spice Rack & Chili Company
910 N Grand Ave W
Springfield, IL 62702
Joe Rogers Original Recipe Chili Parlor
820 S 9th St
Springfield, IL 62703
2121 N Grand Ave E
Springfield, IL 62702