Where to Eat the Chicago Dishes You’ve Never Heard Of

The Gym Shoe. The Mother-In-Law. Gravy Bread. Strange interpretations of deep dish pizza. Have you tried these signature dishes? Did you even know they exist?

Photo: courtesy borinquen

The jibarito at Humboldt Park’s Borinquen, where the sandwich was invented. 

Chicago is home to a number of notorious gut busters—the loaded Chicago dog, pizza so thick it’s practically a casserole. These famous foods are so popular, in fact, that they overshadow a lot of other unique dishes born in our city.

Thankfully, Nick Kindelsperger over at Serious Eats has compiled a list of gastro oddities that first emerged from a Chicago kitchen.

The Chicago Food Glossary includes everything from Uno’s signature masterpiece to gravy bread, which is basically just a baguette dipped in the juices from an Italian beef sandwich.

Many items are only served at a handful of restaurants. But just because it’s hard to find a place with a barbecue rib tip and hot link combo on the menu (Serious Eats recommends Uncle John’s), doesn’t mean it’s any less delicious. If anything, the thrill of the hunt makes the mouth water even more.

See if you can spot these four foods from Nick’s list next time you’re out in the city:
 

1. Gym Shoe/Jim Shoe

“This fascinating hybrid sandwich is a combination of an Italian beef and a gyros sandwich, with some corned beef thrown in for good measure. Basically, it’s the kind of sandwich that could have only been created at stand that served both gyros and Italian beefs. It’s meaty and salty, yet I find it peculiarly satisfying.”
 

2. The Mother-in-Law

“Steamed cornmeal tamales weren’t invented here (they were brought up from the South), but stands in Chicago have found some ingenious ways to use them. My favorite is the mother-in-law, which is a steamed cornmeal tamale on a hot dog bun that is smothered with chili and topped with mustard, relish, chopped onions, tomato slices, cucumber, and celery salt. Like many people, I first heard about this quirky South Side dish on the Chicago episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. But it’s been around for a long time. Though you can find a few versions around, my favorite is still at Fat Johnnie’s.
 

3. Jibarito

“A sandwich with fried plantains used in the place of bread. It’s often stuffed with roast pork or thinly sliced beef, though there are loads of variations. The sandwich was invented by Puerto Rican immigrants at Borinquen in Humboldt Park. While great, the one at La Bomba might be better. This is one of Chicago’s most unique and delicious original creations.”
 

4. Pan Pizza with Caramelized Crust

“Pan pizza is another thick-crusted Chicago pizza with sauce on top and cheese underneath, and it’s also often confused for deep dish. But this fascinating variation differs in a couple important ways. First, while the crust is thicker than the base of deep dish, there’s some actual development in the dough, making it taste like a piece of focaccia bread. Second, the outside edges of the crusts are sprinkled with cheese before baking, where they caramelize to form a gloriously crisp ring that is nearly jet black. Just remember: it’s not burnt; it’s delicious.

The most famous practitioner of this style is Burt Katz, and it’s completely worth the pilgrimage to watch him man the ovens at Burt’s Place in suburban Morton Grove. He also helped opened Pequod’s, and though he’s no longer involved, the restaurant’s outlet in Lincoln Park is still your best shot at sampling pan pizza in the city.”
 

Take a look at the rest of Nick’s list. It’s a really well researched—a sometimes delicious, sometimes appalling menu that honestly could only come from Chicago.

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