Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



BOOKS/SAVOR 'Made in Chicago' authors dish on stories behind local treats
by Andrew Davis

This article shared 2811 times since Sun Sep 10, 2023
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

When it comes to culinary scenes, Chicago is second to none, but do people really know the origins of local dishes—or even which ones have origins in this city?

Revered food journalists Monica Eng and David Hammond have joined forces to write Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites (already in its third printing). In doing so, they have written a book that deeply delves into the histories of various dishes—some that are well-known (the Chicago hot dog) and some that may mystify others (akutagawa and taffy grapes). In addition, there are recipes (in many cases) and even lists of spots that serve the selections.

Recently, they chatted with WCT/SAVOR with Andrew about the genesis of the book and, of course, some of the selected culinary items.

Note: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.

Windy City Times: Tell me how this collaboration came about.

Monica Eng: I've been covering food for a while and I've been doing these origin stories. I was having lunch with a friend named Bruce Craig and he said, "Your stories are fascinating. Why don't you collect them in a book?" I said, "I really don't have time to do that. I'm trying to be a mom and a journalist." Then I saw David at a party and told him about my plight and he said…

David Hammond: "Absolutely. That sounds fun." I had investigated some of these foods—but not to the extent that Monica has. But I've been living in Chicago all my life but even for me (and I think this may apply to Monica as well), I discovered some new things along the way, like taffy grapes, to use a key example. But there were others, like the sweet steak [supreme sandwich]—which [food writer] Louisa Chu did an article on that I really liked—that I was vaguely aware of but had never really tasted.

So the book compelled me—just as I hope it inspires readers—to go out and explore foods they've never heard of in neighborhoods they've never been to. I think it's a wonderful way to explore Chicago, leading with your stomach.

WCT: And how did you narrow the dishes down to 30?

Eng: Well, we had certain parameters. They had to have been invented in Chicago with a credible story that proves it. They have to be served in more than one place and they have to had stood the test of time—being at least a decade old.

Hammond: We probably could've done 32 but 30 seemed like a good number. And we didn't want to push it too hard. There are some that might be slight pushes, like the pepper-and-egg sandwich. You'll see it's called the Chicago pepper-and-egg sandwich more frequently than not. It was probably served in some other cities, too, but was it served in Chicago first? Well, it certainly was a contender but it's not conclusive, like a mother-in-law ["a Chicago corn-roll tamale with chili and traditional Chicago hot-dog condiments," according to Made in Chicago].

Then, there's what used to be called "Chicago mix" but is now called [Garrett] mix. Candyland in St. Paul, Minnesota bought the name right out from under them, which was extraordinarily careless of Garrett to have this winning product and neglect the trademark.

WCT: I know the dishes are listed alphabetically, but I thought I was already in trouble because I hadn't of the first item, akutagawa, at all. [Akutagawa is "hamburger meat with chopped onions and green peppers, bean sprouts and scrambled egg, served with a side of rice and gravy," per the book.] I asked several people and no one had heard of this dish.

Hammond: Great! [Interviewer laughs.]

Eng: We're glad to introduce people to new things.

I live near Rice'N Bread [which serves it], which used to be Hamburger King. But if you haven't been to this place or any of the places where fellow workers cook, you probably wouldn't have heard of it. It's in at least three places: Susie's, Rice'N Bread and Fullerton Restaurant. And I thought it was a fascinating story about the little-known Japanese population in Wrigleyville that was so strong in the middle of the 20th century—and their quiet attempt to assert their culture during a time when they were told not to.

Hammond: The immigrant angle on this is probably something that, in retrospect, I should've emphasized more. A lot of these foods are the results of people from other cultures coming to Chicago, bringing their recipes with them and possibly adapting them to Chicago.

I actually had something quite similar to akutagawa my first time on Oahu, and many of the customers at Rice'N Bread [came from] Hawaii, where the dish is called loco moco. I love it—it's just so comforting and easy to make.

WCT: And with Monica having written about akutagawa, I wanted to ask you, David, about one you wrote about: the mother-in-law, which I had heard of but have never tried.

Hammond: Well, that's good. I was kind of surprised by how many people have heard about it. I know Geoffrey Baer did a food program in which he tried it, and Anthony Bourdain got one the first time he was in Chicago. He described it as "disturbing, yet strangely compelling"—and it kinda is.

It's not that awesome. It's a big fistful of carbs and, if you put enough chili and onions on it, it becomes more tolerable. No one knows quite where it began—probably with push-cart vendors. Are you going to ask me how it got the name?

WCT: I was just about to, actually.

Hammond: Monica usually answers that one. Wanna do it again, Monica?

Eng: Because it also gives you indigestion.

Hammond: Boom! [Interviewer laughs.] I actually had a great mother-in-law, but the answer is: Who knows?

WCT: There are some obvious dishes, like Chicago deep-dish pizza—but isn't it considered kind of controversial now?

Hammond: Yes, in the sense that the inventor has, with the passage of time, become uncertain. It's either Ike Sewell or Ric Riccardo. A lot of people, like historian Tim Samuelson, think it was Ric Riccardo. The restaurant now called Uno's [Pizzeria Uno] was called Riccardo's Pizzeria—but you won't see Riccardo's name anywhere on Uno's website, although you'll see Ike Sewell's. I kinda agree with Studs Terkel that "Riccardo invented the fucking thing, for chrissakes!" [Note: Terkel talks about it—and many other topics—at .] And Studs was around when the first deep-dish was served, and he probably had insight into its invention that we who came later do not have.

Eng: And it's probably true that it had a few inventors and that Ric Riccardo probably came up with the first prototype. Ike Sewell was a good showman and he lived [longer than] Riccardo so he could say whatever he wanted. But also Alice Mae Redmond was one of the early cooks at Uno's; she was a Southern cook who was purported to say, "I got in there."

The deep-dish pizza was not a hit in its first few years. The place was not doing well and people did not like that pizza. [Redmond] came in there and said she lightened up the crust with her Southern know-now with biscuits. So I think she really contributed to the popularity of it. And then Rudy Malnati [Sr.] was a good marketer who ended up taking that recipe and moving on. So it may have had four major contributors to the success of it.

Hammond: Success has many fathers and a mother.

WCT: And there also seems to be this backlash against deep-dish pizza, as they opt for thin-crust. There seems to be some controversy there, too.

Hammond: Well, it's a matter of taste, of course. Steve Dolinsky—who's facing some controversy of his own right now—once said on a panel, "Go down the line at Uno's on any given night and you'll find that most of the folks there are tourists," which I think is somewhat true. Now, when I was a teenager, we would go to Uno's all the time but I think if you're a tourist, when you go to another city you want to try what it's [known for]—like Cincinnati's [Skyline] chili. So I think people want to try it because they've heard about it. I think a lot of Chicagoans feel that deep-dish pizza is for tourists, but that might just be a stereotype.

Eng: This is anecdotal, but I was taping for five hours with Geoffrey Baer and Tim Samuelson recently [at Uno] and people at all the other tables around us were speaking different languages.

WCT: What was one surprising thing each of you discovered while researching? I'm sure you discovered lots of things, of course.

Eng: The origin of the pizza puff surprised me. It originated with hot-dog push carts and corn-roll tamales and the need to compete with pizzerias in your deep fryer. I tell the story of an Assyrian Christian immigrant who came here from Iran and started renting push carts. One of his clients couldn't pay his bill and died, and his widow gave the [seller] a tamale recipe. He used that to build an empire, Iltaco; then, his son—while delivering hot-dog supplies to a stand—was told, "Hey! I need something that can compete with pizzerias." He then made something that could go into a deep fryer.

Hammond: [Monica] and I kept thinking, "How do these dishes represent immigrants?" A pizza puff was originally made from a flour tortilla—so it clearly has a Mexican connection, although you may not think it does. I thought I had eaten pizza puffs, but I had mistaken pizza rolls for them. But pizza puffs are much more delicious, and Monica has had them with a salad and a glass of wine for a pleasant European-style lunch. And they come in 15 flavors now.

WCT: What?

Eng: Reuben, corned beef, ham and cheese, gyros…

Hammond: What can you stuff in a tortilla?

And [of all the dishes in the book], my favorite would undoubtedly be taffy grapes, which I had not had before. I went to Baba's Famous Steak & Lemonade and got a little plastic clamshell container of these taffy grapes. Again, they're stunningly simple to make—grapes swirled in white or dark chocolate, sprinkled with nuts. They're a really nice way to end a meal with spicy or fried food.

WCT: So Monica, David revealed his favorite item. What's yours?

Eng: I like the jibarito best. It reflects my Puerto Rican heritage and my departed grandmother is the one who told me about it first. It includes a lot of my favorite foods. You can get the steak version, but I like the roast-pork one. It's got my favorite childhood food: a tostone, which is deep-fried green plantain that is smashed. So instead of bread, the jibarito is served on two tostones.

WCT: Is this anything else you wanted to stay about this book, like who you hope it reaches?

Eng: I just hope that it gets Chicagoans to not be so culturally segregated—that it gets North Siders to try South Side dishes, and vice versa. Maybe if we try each other's food, we'll understand each other better and have a more peaceful city—but that may be the Pollyanna in me.

Hammond: But I agree, and that's a very noble goal.

My goal is probably a little simpler. The places on the North Side get all the attention: Michelin stars, awards, fancy chefs and expensive stuff. But I think the mom-and-pop places on the North and South sides deserve attention. Twenty years ago, some friends and I started LTH Forum ( ) to focus on the little mom-and-pop places that were serving great food at [reasonable] prices; they deserve to get more attention.

Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites is available at all major retailers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

This article shared 2811 times since Sun Sep 10, 2023
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Out and Aging
Presented By


Gay News

SAVOR Nobody's Darling, pastry chef, The Albert and more
Congrats go to Daisies and Thattu. These two spots—in Logan Square and Avondale, respectively—were among the restaurants on a New York Times list of the publication's "50 places in the country [it's] most excited about right ...

Gay News

SAVOR REVIEW Wake 'n Bacon brings its enticing global style to dinnertime
When a spot is named Wake 'n Bacon (420 W. Belmont Ave.;, you can pretty much expect that brunch is quite the specialty. (I haven't had the pleasure of trying that meal there, but I ...

Gay News

Jann Wenner comments on women and Black musicians, later apologizes
Openly gay Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner apologized for telling The New York Times that, for his book The Masters, he chose interviews with white male musicians who he called the "philosophers of rock" because ...

Gay News

SAVOR Negroni Week, Equality Illinois brunch, new bakery and more
Negroni Week (Sept. 18-24) is returning. Restaurants and bars around the world are joining forces to celebrate Negroni Week—a global charity initiative in support of Slow Food, with Campari at its heart, that has raised more ...

Gay News

Lesbian chef Susan Feniger coming to Chicago for Reeling
Susan Feniger. FORKED—a verite-style documentary by award-winning filmmaker Liz Lachman that captures moments and the impactful career of her life partner: culinarian, author, entrepreneur and James Beard Award winner Susan ...

Gay News

SAVOR Upcoming events, including a wine dinner and a paella fest
The upscale Mexican restaurant Tzuco, 720 N. State St., will mark its fourth anniversary and celebrate Mexican Independence Day on Friday, Sept. 15. The event, "4 Anos, 4 Manos," will spotlight dishes by Tzuco Chef Carlos ...

Gay News

Theater Review: A Taste of Soul brings music and food center stage
By Brian Kirst - We all know the sluggish quagmire of weekday work mornings. Often the only thing that gets us moving and able to face the day is our favorite songs. While all of the Black Ensemble Theater productions ...

Gay News

SAVOR Crumbl franchise co-owner talks about the sweet business of cookies
When it comes to success stories in the world of sweets, few companies and brands can compare to Crumbl and its signature pink box. Started by Jason McGowan (CEO) & Sawyer Hemsley (COO) in 2017 in ...

Gay News

Gilbert Baker Foundation reacts to death of shop owner who flew the rainbow flag
--From a press release - In response to the murder of Laura Ann Carleton over flying the Rainbow flag in her shop in California, the Gilbert Baker Foundation released the statement below. Facebook refused to post the statement as it did not " their standards." ...

Gay News

SAVOR Japanese-inspired brunch, Jose Andres, cake decorating and more
Itoko, a Japanese restaurant courtesy of Chef Gene Kato and BOKA Restaurant Group that's at 3325 N. Southport Ave., is debuting its weekend brunch at 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Brunch is centered around Japanese-inspired dishes such as ...

Gay News

Musician Carlos Santana deletes apology after anti-trans rant
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Carlos Santana took down an apology he posted on his Facebook page after a viral video emerged showing him saying transgender people should stay "in the closet" while performing ...

Gay News

SAVOR Hawaii fundraiser, National Dog Day events, Chicago Gourmet and more
Remember when I said last week that August is National Sandwich Month? Well, here are a couple other items to keep in mind. Sunda New Asian, 110 W. Illinois St., is offering steamed bun sliders (scallion ...

Gay News

SAVOR LGBTQ+-owned Sfera co-owner talks menu, activism and more
Sfera Sicilian Street Food (5759 N. Broadway; is the type of place where you can't help but get good vibes. This cozy Edgewater restaurant—owned by Chef Steven Jarczyk and Daniela Vitale, who are both member ...

Gay News

THEATER Goodman to run 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' in 2024
Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Susan Booth announced that Chicago will be first to experience the new musical Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil—based on John Berendt's iconic non-fiction book—next summer. With a book by ...

Gay News

SAVOR Fulton Market taqueria Tacombi; upcoming events
The Fulton Market district of Chicago (just west of the Loop) has changed significantly over the past several years—and is altering more every day, with sleek and new office towers, condos and businesses populating the area. ...


Copyright © 2023 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.