Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Legacy of Lincoln's Sandwiches

-Exploring NW Indiana

Hello readers, spring is in the air and summer is around the corner and its going to be a busy one here at chibbqking. The next chapter in the NW Indiana saga is a fabulous look into part of the food culture of this rusted yet fascinating area that shares a border with Chicago. I've mentioned it on here before about how interesting it is to explore Gary, Hammond and the rest of the Northwest Indiana region that's just 20 minutes from downtown Chicago yet a whole different world from it. The internet is good for many things and exploration is one of them. During some discussion on dining in NW Indiana over at LTH, I learned of an old school sandwich shop out there called Lincoln's O. One of the resident food experts who goes by the name Cogito at LTHforum shared with us a little history lesson on this locals favorite eating stop.


A framed picture on the wall from opening day at Lincoln O's in Highland, IN

Cogito told readers of the thread that "If you want to eat on the cheap, I'm going to hook you up with the best damn sandwiches you'll probably ever find! (I know, that's a dangerous claim to make). Anyway, a bit south of I-80 off the Kennedy Ave. exit you will find "Lincoln's O". As in original. This place had a cult following in Gary (Indiana) in the 70's that would rival Gene & Jude's or Hot Doug's up here in Chicago." So as anyone who reads my site and knows me would know I was immediately enamored and making plans to get to Lincoln's for a sandwich or four. When the topic of Lincoln's O was first brought up by Cogito it brought about more conversation from some interested readers including a question of whether or not the Lincoln's he was praising had any relationship to the abandoned location of Lincoln's in Gary seen in the picture below.


an abandoned Lincoln's sandwich shop in Gary, Indiana (Pic by Rene G)

So as the discussion got going Cogito shared with all of us his expert knowledge of the situation, without the internet and great chat sites like LTH, stories like these would be forgotten. Cogito replied as to whether or not they were related with this answer. "In name only. Lincoln's O is the legitimate descendant of the original shop that started the "Lincoln" craze in NWI." Cogito would go on to explain "I grew up in NWI during the period when Gary went from being an upscale, prosperous, attractive, safe place to live, to a slum-ridden, crime-infested ghetto where safety was a pipedream and something that existed only outside the city limits. But for a while, there were quite a few good restaurants to be found, and a small number have managed to survive (for another example of this see: Koney King). One of the phenomena that occurred when Gary started deteriorating, and the successful old-standby places with great food died off and disappeared like the buffalo herds in the late 19th century, was what might be called the concept of "If it worked, copy it."


Lincoln's once grew to 6+ locations before the copy cats came out

The thread for Lincoln's O, which was recently nominated for a LTH GNR can be found HERE and if you go down to a post by a user who goes by KMAC you can get quite the history lesson from it. But anyway's as I followed this thread and the stories were told I really wanted to try Lincoln's O and would eventually get to do so but not before I randomly passed other places with the Lincoln name that are no longer associated with the original. As Cogito told the people "Unfortunately, none of these copy-cat venues can hold a candle to the original. Besides the abandoned one in your photo and the one on 4th Ave., there are to my knowledge, at least 6 other sandwich joints with similar names, leeching off the Lincoln legacy, in Gary, Hobart, Merrillville, Crown Point, Cal City, and Valparaiso. This does not include others that have since tanked out. "
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Lincoln Carry Outs (Hobart, IN)

It was my original goal to try the original from the get go but fate didn't have it going that way. It's actually been a couple years since I made these visits to the first two places featured here in this article. One day a while back I was taking a ride thru NW Indiana and I remember talking with my buddy about good food places around where we were at that time. It was right around when the Lincoln sandwich legacy chat was going on over at the food forum and before we knew it, Poof! One of them popped up as we were riding by. So we stopped on in to check it out.


Lincoln Carry Out's in Hobart, IN

According to the story of Lincoln's as told by KMAC on LTH there came the time when the original family who started the sandwich shop wanted to sell and along came Robert Underwood who bought the name and everything else that came with it. With that he decided he wanted to expand and saw the chance for growth and they did so opening shops in Glen Park and Pine Island as well as other outlets around the area including Hobart. KMAC got a chance to work for the LCO (Lincoln Carry Out's) corporation and he described how he once managed the Hobart location and was passionate about his job but got the chance to go back to School and get his degree from Perdue and he did so leaving Lincoln's behind. This Hobart location was the first of the Lincoln spin off's I ever visited and I was actually impressed to a degree, at least at the time I was. As it turns out the walls loaded with their sandwich offerings seen at the store in the pictures below was a trademark of the original location. The sandwich selection at all of the Lincoln's outlets both the original and not is massive and they have something for everyone.


Signature wall menus of Lincoln's sandwich shops


The steelworkers special & the Bunny Girl are two of the favorites

KMAC would go onto to explain "I tried my best to keep up with Bob (then the owner) on my semi-annual visits, but things do happen and we lost touch. I would hear that locations sold/closed and his son Buzz took over the Hobart location...I generally go with the Steelworker w/pepper cheese. The Lincoln Pepper Burger on the sub roll still has a taste that has not been duplicated. Must be the special sauce (of which I know the recipe)." He admitted that when the son took over quality may have gone down but still very much loved the place. So on my visit we went with a steelworker's special and the Bunny Girl which is named after one of the original founders daughters and includes ham & melted Swiss served on French bread with mayo lettuce and tomato. Both of these are signature Lincoln sandwiches and I thought both were pretty dang good when we tried them that day. I particularly enjoyed the Steelworkers special which was grilled roast beef, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion on grilled beefsteak rye.


Bunny Girl Special from Lincoln's Carry Out's


Steelworkers Special from Lincoln's Carry Out's in Hobart


Two of the more popular sandwiches on the menu at Lincoln's in Hobart
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Lincoln's Tasty Sandwiches (Calumet City, IL closed)

So then a funny thing happened to me and my buddy's on the way back from the Hobart, In Lincoln's location. We would end up passing a place called Lincoln's Tasty Sandwiches located on Sibley Blvd just across the border in Calumet City, IL. I guess from recent knowledge from those at LTH this location has recently closed. My visit was a couple years back.


Another Lincoln's, this one in Calumet City, IL

Well as it turns out as KMAC would explain "When the Stasinos' family (Original Lincoln's owners) sold in the late 70's, they couldn't retire. They opened a location just across the state line (due to contractual reasons) in Calumet City, Illinois near the Ford plant. My details are a little weak as I never visited that location." So this location was once owned by the family who started Lincoln's only to sell it but then decide to get back into the sandwich business. Try and keep up as this sandwich story is a storied one to say the least. Now according to the sign at this now defunct location they were around since 1945 which doesn't make too much sense due to the fact the Original Lincoln's sandwich shop that created all the spawns was born in 1967 in Gary, IN.


Just like at the others the menu's are printed on paper plastered on the walls

This location as I remember was very similar to the Hobart franchise and when my buddy asked if they had any relation to the one in Hobart we got a "arrggh no". It's also no longer run by the original founding family of Lincoln's. But as you can see this one is not much different than the Hobart location down to having the same sandwiches. We decided to just split the chicken teriyaki which was chopped marinated chicken pieces thrown onto a bun with teriyaki sauce and sauteed onions and peppers. At $2.99 this wasn't a bad sandwich but you could tell that the shop had fallen to lesser quality due to the area around it falling on harder times. This location was alot less taken care of and way more grimy than the one in Hobart, IN.


Chicken teriyaki sub sandwich from Lincoln's in Cal City, IL
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Lincoln's O (Highland, IN)

So after a few failed attempts at visiting the original my chance finally came a while back. They are closed on Sunday's and as it turns out this Lincoln's O was re-bought by the original founding family and is run by Helen and her mother Catherine. Sad news that Catherine just recently passed away but her legacy will always live on. Nowadays a trip to the original in Highland is like taking a trip back into time. When I shared my experiences on the board with the other Lincoln's seen above over at LTH, Lincoln's expert Cogito shared with me this info on how I needed to check out the location in Highland "This is the only real 'Lincoln's'. The places you went to are pale comparisons that do not hold a candle to the real McCoy."


Lincoln's O in Highland, IN

So I ended up listening and I sure was glad I did. Cogito was not lying that's for sure, not that I thought he was. I have now been to three different Lincoln's and to quote Cogito one more time "The places you went to are pale comparisons that do not hold a candle to the real McCoy" This picture up above from across the street kind of sums up how nondescript Lincolns is, if you were a passerby you would never think that this is a sandwich place. When you look at it from the outside it looks as though it is either a wedding banquet hall or a tailor or maybe a flower shop or something of that nature. Then when you step in the first thing that came to my mind was that I felt like I was at a hospital cafeteria. Its a large pink dining room with old school tables and chairs with fake flowers on each table and then the ordering station in the very back. There are entrances on both sides and if you enter thru the backway you are taken down the hallway with a bunch of photos dating back to the places glory days.


The founding family started making sandwiches in PA


At one time the Cal City Lincoln's was one of the real ones

When visiting this place it really is a trip, quite an experience. Just like the previous two Lincoln's I visited, they had all the sandwiches described on some printed paper banners plastered onto the wall. Its really sad how excited I was when I finally found this place, I had been looking around for it every time I was in the area and never had the address and Google text didn't have its number. On my inaugural visit, even with the address, Google directions text didn't recognize it so I had to find it on my own. I was oh so glad when I finally did. The menu is massive and it would take months to go thru the large amounts of sandwiches served along with homemade soups and pies too. It didn't just feel like a hospital cafeteria by the looks of the place but by clientele too. You could tell everyone in there was an old timer and friends with the old ladies running the show. The ordering station in back has all the sandwiches listed on the walls and a fresh baked pie display case for when your ordering.


The pie is as good as you'd expect it to be when its a few old ladies running the show

When we made our first visit to Lincoln's we went a little overboard with our order but this wasn't anything crazy because the portions for the price are almost unreal at the Real Lincoln's. Many of the sandwiches have special names like the aforementioned Steelworkers special and the Bunny Girl. Other sandwiches famous with the locals include the Toledo sandwich, Chester hoagie, Cal City special, Dagwood and many others including regular sandwiches like a fish and cheesesteaks. I have now been to Lincoln's a few times and still have to say that the 'Sibley Special' is my favorite one on the menu. It's a massive sandwich loaded with high quality ingredients which in the Sibley's case is turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, hard boiled egg and oil. I think this is the best turkey sandwich I have had and cant wait for another on my next visit.


The Sibley Special sandwich from Lincoln's O

Another one of the highly rated sammy's over there is the "Crisper". Another true thing of beauty this is Lincoln's version of an Italian sub and it's piled with Italian deli meats and cheese along with the usual suspects for veggies with oil and hot peppers too. Notice how big these sandwiches are? They are just $3.95 each and at the time I had thought we were getting sandwiches with the portions of the other Lincolns...no sir. This is the real McCoy. Now Lincoln's O expert Cogito did inform us that he thinks the Original might of switched up breads. There was a time when they used French bread that was sourced from a local baker and he said they switched over to Gonnella brand French rolls and that it was unacceptable. As you can see the bread on the sandwiches above is of a very high quality. I can only hope this hasn't changed.


The Crisper aka Italian sub from Lincoln's O


Notice how big these sandwiches are?

I've tried my best to make my way thru the menu and it's most popular sandwiches and another one of those is the Steelworkers Special. This is the same recipe (and name) for the sandwich served at the other Lincoln's but that's about where it ends. The Steelworker's special has high quality beefy tasting grilled roast beef with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion on grilled beefsteak rye bread. It's a great combo of flavors, simple and succulent. The price for these things just cant be beat.


The Steelworkers Special sandwich from Lincoln's O


a chibbqking favorite

I also tried the Toledo special which comes with split Italian sausage links served with sauteed bell peppers and onions and topped with tomatoes and melted mozzarella cheese, served on a garlic bread bun. This sandwich is another one that tasted great when everything was added together. Maybe not my favorite but I thought it was good and at something like $2.95 also a bargain.


Toledo Sandwich special from Lincoln's O

Chicago food exploring pioneer Peter Engler shared with LTH his experience at Lincoln's O. Some might remember Peter from Anthony Bourdain's 'No Reservations' as he was on the Chicago episode showing Tony the "Mother in Law". Peter goes by "Rene G" on LTHforum and he is an amateur food historian as described by some but to me he's the pioneer of food exploration. The man is one of the very best at finding classic almost forgotten American food traditions. His posts and wealth of knowledge over on LTH are one of the sites best assets. I still have never tried the Michigan Red Hot but really want too thanks to Peter's (aka Rene G) description and pictures of the sandwich. Rene G said of them "This startling assemblage of dual hot dogs, chili with beans, tomato, onion, relish, pickles and mustard had me wary but I have to admit it wasn't bad. I don't think I've enjoyed crappy frankfurters so much since I was a kid." Haha, great stuff and as you can see from his picture below, something else.


Michigan Red Hot Sandwich from Lincoln's O (Pic by Rene G)

Another sandwich I quite enjoyed from the Original is the Bunny Girl special. It was at some point that this sandwich named after a daughter from the founding family who's name was Bunny made it onto the menu. The sandwich is described on the wall as "the world's greatest ham with melted Swiss cheese and lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on a French bread bun." Compared to the Bunny girl special I got in Hobart that can be seen upthread, this one was the real deal. The meats are triple the amount and what I thought to be better quality and the price is also lower. This is another great sandwich, simple yet made with quality and care making it taste truly great. They need to make sure they keep the original French bread buns.


Bunny Girl Special from Lincoln's O

Now I said upthread the Sibley Special was my favorite but I also really love the Lincoln burger. All you gotta do is take a look at my tags down at the end of the chibbqking site to see how many sandwiches and burgers I eat thru every year. So as you can imagine, when I first saw the Lincoln burger I was getting myself one right then and there. Let me state this again. Portions for the price are almost unreal at the Real Lincoln's. Seen below is half of a Lincoln burger which is two all beef patty's with Lincoln's special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles onions on a French bread bun. Now wait a second and stop right there, this was so much better than a Big Mac. When did Lincoln's come up with this burger? If it was before 1968, McDonald's ripped them off.


Half of a world famous Lincoln Burger from Lincoln's O

So just in case you got lost in the shuffle of what is the legacy of Lincoln's let me help you out by offering up this shortened summary. George and Catherine Stasinos along with their three high school daughters, Carol, Helen, and Bunny originally started Lincoln's when in the summer of '66, it grew out of sandwich shop in the garage into a retrofitted gas station sub sandwich shop on the southwest corner of 4th and Filmore in Gary, Indiana. During Gary's heyday it grew into a powerful force in the eating world of NW Indiana and was eventually sold and then more Lincoln's started popping up when the man who bought it expanded. The Stasinos' then decided to open back up across state lines and then eventually mother Catherine and her daughter Helen would regain Lincoln's O now in Highland, IN when the Lincoln's Carry Out corporation died off. Catherine the mother recently passed away and she will be missed but no doubt never forgotten. She will be remembered along the walls of the hallway that tell the pictured story of Lincoln's and also thru her homemade pie and soup recipes. I thought the pie was excellent and just like everything else a real bargain for something with such homemade goodness. I love me some Lincoln's O.


a slice of homemade pie from Lincoln's
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Lincoln's Carry-Out's
1002 Lincoln Street
Hobart, IN 46342
(219) 942-2113

Lincolns Carry Out on Urbanspoon

Lincoln's Tasty Sandwiches (Closed)
1458 Sibley Blvd
Calumet City, IL 60409
(708) 891-3240

Lincoln's O
2813 Highway Ave
Highland, IN 46322
(219) 923-4144

Lincoln's O on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

Dave Yaros said...

I remember the Lincoln sandwich shop on 4th Av in Gary, and remember it fondly. Great sandwiches!

Then there were the Coney Island #1, #2 & #3. Best coney dogs ever!

For more on what made Gary a good place to live see my web site:
Gary, the Steel City

AnnMarie said...

The Lincoln's in Hobart is, by far, my favorite! Buzz has done exceptionally well with Lincolns carry outs and continues to be the driving force there! The entire staff is incredible! Their subs, without a doubt, are the BEST around! (& let's not forget the Wisconsin cheese soup!) yummmm!

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