Gourmandiary, October 2004
|Chicago and Back Again...A Road Food Journal
|old friends with new babies. It offered us a great opportunity to eat our way This
Columbus Day the Gastromancer and his brave companions, Lady across the
mid-west. We found some old favorites along the way, made a company of few
outside Gary, Indiana. Many thanks to Jane and Micheal Stern whose road-food
columns in Gourmet magazine have always whetted my appetite and whose book
"Roadfood" is an incomparable traveling companion.
Why drive all that way across the country
without stopping to see some of the sights?
awesome wonder of nature. Everyone was But
not so deafening that we couldn't hear the
rumble of our stomachs. Man had we been on
the road for a while. Should we get Buffalo
wings? Whoa, wait, what about that other
indigenous Buffalo-based food, Beef-on-Weck?
What, you've never heard of Beef-on-Weck?
Well, then, you're in for a treat...
This is a great beef sandwich, and Schwabl's is a
great place to eat it. The 'Weck' is the roll, a
Kummelweck or Kaiser roll, that has been dipped
in egg-white and baked with a layer of pretzel
salt on the top. The beef is medium-well, but
still tender for all that, and each sandwich is
doused in au jus. When paired up with a few of
Schwabl's German sides, like coleslaw and hot German potato salad, well, you've
got an incredible feast for eight bucks! The saltiness of the sandwich, the vinegar
of the potato salad, the sweet of the slaw- we were well-sated for the afternoon
leg of day one's drive.
The Trip Out: Hammond, IN
unbearable. A quick look in the
Roadfood book revealed a gem just off
the Chicago Skyway in Hammond
Indiana; Phil Smidt and Son. What
makes this place remarkable? The
fresh Perch that is served there. What
makes it one of the oddest places I've
ever eaten in? Its surroundings
resemble a derelict factory hell, a fact
that gave Mrs. Gastromancer much
pause, yet the inside of the restaurant
is defiantly fancy!
is defiantly fancy!
The first thing that happens when you
order food is that four bowls of 'relish'
appear on the table (yet not on the
bill!). These salads are very, VERY
sweet! Everything, that is, except the
All of which we picked at while waiting for our main meal. Oh yeah, about that.
Once we had a look at the menu we realized that Perch was not the only thing we
HAD to try. What else is Phil Smidt famous for? Frog legs...
that I was so accepting of frog legs in this
factory setting. Exactly where were those
frogs coming from anyhow? Hopefully not
the puddle across the street!
Photos were required as documentation of
the food that would surely have me visiting a
physician within the hour.
Do frog legs really taste like chicken? Sure,
just like a chicken that has been swimming
instead of walking its whole life.
Truthfully, I had the choice to eat the Frogs
legs fried of sauteed. I chose the later, and
found that the garlic butter that smothered
these little jumpers was the predominant
Hey, guess what? For a buck, I got the kids to each eat one too! And they say
even said they weren't really disgusting. Now there's an endorsement!
By the way, the buttered-and-boned Perch was indeed FANTASTIC!
Our Columbus Day weekend weather was fantastic! Sunny, highs in the mid-70's.
We got out and about with our old friends and really enjoyed the downtown area,
especially Navy Pier which is Chicago's answer to Boston's Quincy Market. There
are two foods that people in Chicago will tell you define the native cuisine. The
first is their own take on the Hot Dog. The second is a sandwich called the 'Italian
Beef'. I started sampling these babies on the pier that sunny Saturday, then
restaurants around the Chicago area that make great versions of Chicago's
On your right, let me introduce you to a Chicago Hot Dog. Claiming that ketchup
is only for kids, the typical dog with 'the works' sports the more 'adult' tastes of
pepper relish. The roll is covered in poppy seeds. Portillo's wraps it all up with a
spear of pickle to boot. Hey! Where's the dog!? It's down there somewhere.
Whereas a New York style dog is all about the snap of the sausage casing and
the ooze of fresh grease, in Chicago Hot Dogs are pretty much a salad. Hey, I'm
not knocking it, I'm only trying to explain that you're not gonna taste the dog
when you eat one of these...
To the left of the 'South Beach' Hot Dog let me introduce you to a meal Dr Atkins
would be proud of. No, no you say, Atkins would demure, after all there's a roll
right? Well yes there is, but the smile is back on Dr A's face when he hears what
they do to it...
An Italian beef sandwich is basically shaved steak that has been braised in a
brine with Italian Herbs then put into a bun. There's no 'whiz' topping, no onion
or green pepper here, but you can get the sandwich in three varying degrees of
humidity. If you order it 'dry' you get beef and bread, that's it. If you order it with
gravy, they take a ladle full of the brine the beef simmered in and put it on the
meat for you. But if you want the real-deal in Italian Beef, the version of the
sandwich that makes Dr Atkins proud, you'll order your sandwich 'dipped'. After
they make the sandwich, they dunk the whole thing in the greasy brine that the
meat simmered in. This damp sandwich is almost impossible to pick up, but then
almost as impossible to stop eating long enough to put down.
Needless to say I became enamoured of these grease-bombs. What a find!
One the ride home we stopped in
Pennsylvania for a few old treats. Mr
& Mrs Gastromancer met in PA while
memories of the foods we found there.
find a store that sold Herr's brand Salt
& Vinegar Potato Chips. She bought
out their stock! What makes them her
favorite? These are seriously salty
chips! She likes the burn! I can get
through about a handful before my lips
are burning so badly that volunteer
firemen start giving me mouth to
mouth. (Hmmmm...her favorite huh?)
My sinful indulgence? ...scrapple.
cornmeal, liver, and well, parts of a
pig I shouldn't mention in polite
company. Fried to a crisp, this brick
This is an Amish originated loaf of of
goo is a great addition to any
breakfast. So I ate it for lunch...hey,
I'd eat it for dinner too! If your a fan
of Irish breakfast pudding, you
should certainly give scrapple a try.
Well, there you have it. The roadfood of the mid-west Gastromancer-style. If
you're ever of I-90 or I-80 look up some of the places listed below. You won't be
|Eat thoughtfully for full pleasure!
789 Center Road
West Seneca, NY
Phil Smidt & Sons
1205 Calumet Avenue
1500 Butterfield Road
Downer's Grove, IL
The Family Diner
302 Main Street
White Haven, PA