Monday, November 9, 2015

Eating / Drinking Tour of Hegewisch

-Grubbing in Chicago 
Down on the Southeast side...

Today's report is a few years in the making. I've always enjoyed exploring places that aren't normal to me. Thus the relatively unknown Chicago neighborhood that goes by Hegewisch has always interested me. Pronounced HEG-wish by locals the neighborhood is tucked into the far Southeast corner of the city near the border of Northwest Indiana. In many ways the neighborhood stays stuck in time. I'd venture to guess that maybe one of three people living in Chicago have never heard of Hegewisch. Started in 1883 by Adolph Hegewisch, President of the United States Rolling Stock Company, Hegewisch has always been industrial and it's seen a few different waves of people settle in. In the 1920's the area was over 50% Polish. During the 1960's the area boomed with many blue collar workers moving their families there. Police and Fireman also made it their home. Come the middle 90's the population dropped due to less jobs in the steel factories and second generations of families moving elsewhere. Today the population is about 44% White and 49% Hispanic.

Exploring Hegewisch
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Cruising or walking around Hegwisch is the best way to see it. The area was once a marshland and some of that can still be seen. Wolf Lake is a favorite of locals who like to fish. Some of the streets in Hegewisch go by letters (Avenue O etc) while others go by numbers. With the exception of a few newly built mansions, most of the houses are bungalow style and many of them overlook Mann Park which is where the kids play. It's a Chicago neighborhood that feels like a small town.

Bungalow Housing in Hegewisch

If one wanted they could go on a very interesting Bar Crawl of Hegewisch and some people have done just that. Don't quote me on it but theres at least 10 bars in the 'hood. Each one of them stuck in a different time period. Some in the 1940's others in the 1970's, all of them the old school shot and beer type. While most are White Sox bars at least a couple cater to Cubs fans. Pricing is more reflective of Northwest Indiana than it is the heart of Chicago and the same goes for the clientele.

Taverns of Hegewisch
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South Shore Inn

If you don't have time for a pub crawl but want a beer and a shot then I suggest South Shore Inn. It sits right across the street from the Hegewisch Metra stop that serves the South Shore line. As far as old school taverns go this is one of the best in Chicago. I'm not exactly sure when this style of bar became popular but not much has changed since it was first installed. For the most part the people in Hegewisch are friendly but some are a bit standoffish at first. I remember a couple years ago when I took the picture up above before stopping in and the bartender told me he was taking pictures of me as he had reason to believe I was scouting the place for a heist. We both laughed when I said c'mon you know there's Northside neighborhoods with much better target options than here.

a peek inside
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Steve's Lounge 

Another great place to grab a beer is Steve's Lounge at the corner of 132nd and Baltimore. As soon as you step inside you're greeted by a bunch of figurines that line the walls. There's also a big ass deer head looking down on you and some Cubs stuff to greet the local White Sox fans.

a peek inside

They double as a catering company and sell fresh homemade Polish Sausage as well. On Friday's they serve food. A Fish-Fry in the style of neighboring NW Indiana. I wrote all about Steve's Lounge for the now defunct Serious Eats Chicago (RIP). Read HERE.

Friday Fish Fry with Blue Gills
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Club 81 Too 

Located amongst houses on Avenue M here's another popular bar sometimes serving food (Lunch Mon.- Fri. / 11:00 am to 2:00 pm | Dinner Wed. and Fri. 4-8p). Club 81 Too has been around since 1945. Its dark inside but the bartenders are very lighthearted. As far as food there's a few things that people really like from here. One of them is the Friday Fish Fry served in the same manner as Steve's and another is the fried chicken which this neighborhood eats lots of. Also of note is the steak sandwich which comes with a stacked pile of thinly sliced steak meat thats flash grilled and goes into a bun with lots of onions. Its a good one. You're easily able to bite right thru the tender steak.

Steak Sandwich at Club 81 Too
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Baltimore Liquor Store - No food round-up of Hegewisch is legit without a shoutout to the famous Hegewisch Shish-Kebob which can be bought at this neighborhood liquor store. Sold in the bag by 3, 5, and 10 pounds they provide you with the specially marinated cubed pork which you need to skewer yourself and grill on your own. The marinade is pretty damn original with it's own flavor profile. Sometimes I'll stop and buy a bag when headed to a lake house in Indiana or Michigan.
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Chicago Pita Kitchen

The Chicago Pita Kitchen is a lunchtime favorite of those still working the blue collar jobs that haven't been shipped overseas. It's here where an untold Chicago food story has some history. I'll need a reader or someone to ask over on Reddit what the exact story is but there either is or used to be a store/company that sold what they called the famous Drago Shish-Ke-Bob aka the Dragobob. There's a facebook page with not much info but I think I remember reading that the people behind these claim it to be the original recipe for the famous Hegewisch Shish Kebob mentioned above. Or maybe its the other way around. All I know is you can eat a famous Dragobob at CPK. They come in pork, chicken or beef and can be had on a skewer or off of it inside a pita. Count me a fan.

Pork Drago-Bob on Pita

If you're near Chicago Pita Kitchen on a Saturday or Sunday you can try Gianna's famous lamb sandwich. In the picture below it doesn't look all at that sexy but thats because I had yet to dump the cup of lamb au jus over it. While there is a better lamb sandwich nearby at Small World Inn this one was still chow worthy. Also on the menu is all of the Chicago style fast food classics. 

Gianna's Lamb Sandwich Special at Chicago Pita Kitchen
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Los Cantaritos

As mentioned the neighborhood is now almost half Hispanic people which are the majority of the population on the city's 'Eastside'. I'd always wondered about this cute little Mexican restaurant on the neighborhoods main strip. From the outside I pictured a much bigger inside with lost of tables and maybe a stage etc but it turned out to be pretty bare bones with maybe 6 tables to eat in at. I wanted to try their tacos for the Chicago Taco Tour and did so not long ago. I ordered a steak which reviews praised and then because it was on the menu a crispy taco which in many cases around these parts can be a real deal fried taco aka a Taco Dorado. The latter would not be a fully fried taco but the shell was fried fresh and the ground beef had some actual texture and wasn't just mush so it was enjoyed as a snack. The steak was equally delicious with tiny bits of well crisped meat joining a hot corn tortilla with a very nice red salsa that just  barely tingled the tongue. I'm glad I finally tried them.

Steak Taco in front and Crispy Taco in back
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Gina's Chicken

As I mentioned earlier fried chicken is big around these parts. While technically not in Hegewisch both Loncar's and Hienie's are popular spots for the entire region. Within the neighborhood Gina's Chicken is where it's at. The fried chicken in these parts can be described as it's own style as all of these spots use what's called Hienie's Hot Sauce. It's a bright orange sauce that on the label goes by Quality Brand Hot Sauce sporting a dominant mustard flavor. It was originally made as a dip for Vitner's pork rinds some 60 years ago as Kevin Pang of the Tribune uncovered. Back to Gina's they're basically a takeout only joint and fried chicken is their forte. The product comes piping hot, no waiting trays here, with a minimally seasoned crust which is fine because it's all about that sauce.

Fried Chicken Plate from Gina's Chicken
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Pudgy's Pizza 

Last but certainly not least is some pizza. There are a few pizza places in Hegewisch though I think one recently shut down and is for sale. I'd always heard good things about Pudgy's which sits down near the end of Baltimore street. They don't open until 4p but it was mostly stomach space that had prevented me up until recently. Steve Dolinsky just did his Chicago pizza Quest Rankings where he went and ate a sh!t ton of pizza and ranked them by category at the end. As readers know I'm all about the tavern thin and before the Quest even began I predicted four spots that would for sure finish in the Top 5. Indeed they all did but I then wondered what would be fifth and final place to go into my starting five. Well after my first bite of this small sausage cooked well done I had an idea.

Sausage Pizza from Pudgy's

This is what I was looking for when I set out to find the fifth in my book. It has all the characteristics of my other favorite spots. It's damn thin like that at Pat's, it's got a little bit of cornmeal on the bottom like Barnaby's (Northbrook), the sauce is spread out just right and has very little sweet in it reminding me of Vito and Nick's and the atmosphere matches that of Villa Nova. In a very important part each and every slice includes some fennel loaded sausage just like all the others.

Booty Shot

While my Top 5 Pizza, Beefs, Burgers etc are always liable to change I think Pudgy's will stay in the mentions of where to get the best tavern thin pizza in Chicago and most certainly on the Southeast side. Even though this was my first trip in everything I was told to be the case was so from the quality of pie to the owners being there overlooking the operation making sure all is going well. And so concludes the tour featuring the booze and food options of Hegewisch. See ya next time.

Excellent Tavern Thin Pizza in Hegewisch
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South Shore Inn
13611 S Brainard Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-0350

Steve's Lounge
13200 S Baltimore Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-1071

Club 81 Too
13157 S Avenue M
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-4292

Baltimore Food and Liquors
13322 S Baltimore Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-5520

Chicago Pita Kitchen
13227 S Brainard Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-2000

Los Cantaritos
13343 S Baltimore Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-4015

Gina's Chicken
3415 E 106th St
Chicago, IL 60617
(773) 375-5580

Pudgy's Pizza
13460 S Baltimore Ave
Chicago, IL 60633
(773) 646-4199

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Awesome tour of my neighborhood! Thank you for the thorough and insightful, well thought out blog about Hegewisch!

Andrew
Mgr, Chicago Pita...

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