Not being from Chicago, it took me a long time to understand all of the nuances of my beloved city. I’m from a small city (Lincoln, Nebraska) where things were really simple…meat and potatoes. Moving to Chicago I learned quickly that, yes!, we’re still Midwestern, and YES!, we LOVE our meat and potatoes, but man do we take all kinds of other things insanely serious.
If you don’t know… I’ll help ya:
- Italian Beef – (uniquely Chicago) is thinly sliced beef on an Italian roll and it’s best when it’s dipped. Eating it is a life altering experience, both with or without peppers. It’s messy deliciousness on a plate, and napkins are DEFINITELY required! *side note, I’m ‘wild’ and love both sweet and hot peppers. It’s reason enough to visit Chicago. Visitors will go to the more known spots famous for them, but really my favorite is from a small restaurant in the Edgewater neighborhood, Tedino’s. Trust me, it’s completely worth the trip to the far north side.
- Deep Dish Pizza – again, VERY uniquely Chicago. If you’re not familiar, Deep Dish Pizza is a traditional pizza’s very Midwestern cousin. It’s big, it’s buttery, it’s insanely cheesy, and if you’re from Chicago it’s often super meaty. I’ve seen people wait hours for this stuff. I’ll admit that it’s very yummy (I can just imagine the melty cheese right now), but it’s likely the one thing my students and I differ on because I don’t love it loyally like I do the other uniquely Chicago dishes.
- Garrett Popcorn – And I say that with a seriousness that you can only understand if you’ve ever had it. It’s also something you can only understand if you’ve had it in Chicago- Garrett is known for its ‘Chicago Mix’. Again, that’s something I didn’t understand. I’d heard of it for years during my very newbie days in Chicago, but like Biggie says ‘If you don’t know, now you know!’ And boy did I ever figure it out! Cheese and Caramel popcorn mixed, best when hot, but still worthy of licking your fingers when it’s not. Like our Deep Dish Pizza, on an average Chicago weekend you’ll find that Garrett Popcorn has a line around the corner; it’s that serious for some. I was late to the party, but man, now I’m a believer!
- Fried Chicken – Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a very deep and very devoted LOVE for fried chicken. Like most of my students, I grew up with this ‘religious’ idea that my grandmother’s was the BEST fried chicken I’ve ever had. To this day, I can’t make it like her and that’s okay, because sometimes there are places that do it (dare I say) better?! My students for years had told me about this ‘mythical’ place that sold fried chicken- fresh and hot. I scoffed at them because, why would I trust them? What did they know about good fried chicken? LOL Wacky Teenagers trying to educate me in what I loved most…. Piff!
We do a yearly week-long overnight camp at the University of Chicago including 30 C-CAP students, me and my amazing C-CAP chef mentor team. One night, after we’d had a very ‘proper vegan’ dinner out, we got back to the dorms, and I found myself surrounded by a group of hungry teens! I should’ve expected it, and I’m sure that my stomach would’ve rebelled at some point as well… but then in the heat of hunger, the kids suggested that we have Harold’s Fried Chicken. Again, I was very snotty about my fried chicken, so I was skeptical, but I’d heard that Harold’s was the best. I just refused to believe it- until that day. From then on, when my kids said that something was ‘Fiyah’ (pronounced Fire LOL) I learned to listen. If you ever make it to Chicago and want some of the BEST fried chicken ever, head to Harold’s! Everyone here has their favorite location, but everyone knows how to order it— ‘fried, seasoned with salt & pepper with mild sauce (I do mine on the side)’. It will change your life and make you happier for seeking it out.
My love of Chicago grew through food, and it continues to grow through shared dining experiences with our students. It’s been life changing for us all of us.
**for now you must excuse me, I’ve made myself hungry HAHAHA!
By Guest Blogger, Nicola Copeland, C-CAP Chicago Program Coordinator