The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Chicago and Wisconsin Eats

Pies from Hoosier Mama = DESTROOOYED.

I spent a dishearteningly long time trying to write a short intro to this post—deleting a sentence, staring at my monitor, writing another sentence, staring at my monitor, deleting those sentences, making a sad face at my monitor because I didn't like any of those changes I had just done, staring at my monitor, then repeating all of that two more times—but ultimately this is all that matters:

I ate a lot during my trip to Chicago and Wisconsin. A lot lot. ...A...craaaap...ton...lot.

Okay, more info. I went to Chicago for four days with Ed and Carey, which involved one day in Madison and Milwaukee. With the help of Nick Kindelsperger and Daniel Zemans, among other Serious Eats friends, we hit 40 places—or an average of 10 places a day. It sounds like a lot, but it's just keeping the pace we set with my previous trips. However, this trip being the longest one also made it the most moan-ful by the time the fourth day rolled around. Or by the time we were...rolling around on the fourth day. Either way. There's a good reason to only take one to three day trips for the purposes of book research: Four days is just one too many when you're stuffing yourself constantly, with nary a fresh vegetable or fruit in sight.

But we got plenty of fried things! Oh yeah! You will see. I'll write little descriptions of what we ate, and what was particularly awesome.

Many thanks to Dan and Nick for driving us around in Chicago, and Ed's friend Holly for driving us around in Madison. Also, thanks to Rose for letting me stay in her apartment all weekend. YAY FRIENDS (HIGH FIVE)!

Day 1: Chicago

  • Ina's: Breakfast. Their "Heavenly Hots" pancakes are among the best pancake-y substances I've ever dissolved in my mouth.
  • JP Graziano: Italian subs.
  • Xoco: Sandwiches, churros, soft serve. Rick Bayless knows how to make awesome sandwiches. Wish we could get this sandwich magic in NYC.
  • Franks 'n' Dawgs: Gourmet hot dogs.
  • Cemitas Puebla: Lots of sandwiches.
  • Kuma's: Burgers, mac and cheese. They're famous for their burgers, but they weren't book-worthy.
  • Red Hot Ranch: Hot dogs, fried, fried shrimp. This place knows their way around the deep fryer. MY KIND OF PLACE.
  • Borinquen: Jibaritos.
  • Hot Chocolate: Hot chocolate, desserts. Really glad I got to end the night on sugar.

Day 2: More Chicago

  • Ann Sather: Carey popped in here for a min to grab a cinnamon bun and pecan roll.
  • M. Henry: Breakfast. More awesome pancakes!
  • Tre Kroner: More breakfast. Sausages were particularly good.
  • Susie's Drive Thru: Shakes, corn dog, hot dogs.
  • Honey 1: Ribs, rib tips, fries. Ribs = yay.
  • Old Fashioned Donuts: Apple fritter, glazed doughnuts. Apple fritter = crispy fat bomb = yay.
  • Top Notch Beefburgers: Burgers, shakes. Shakes weren't so great, but the burgers lived up to the name. The Patty Melt tasted like it was dunked in butter. In a good way.
  • Harold's Chicken Shack: Fried chicken. The location we went to wasn't so great.
  • Calumet Fisheries: Fried smelts, fried shrimp, smoked shrimp, some sort of smoked fish. The smoked shrimp was the best, although I really liked the fried smelts too because...I like fried things. This place is on the edge of Chicago, close to the border of Indiana and right by the Calumet River. We got to see the bridge raised over the river, a somewhat surreal sight.
  • Lem's Bar B Q: Ribs, rib tips. A bit tough, not as good as Honey 1.
  • Brown Sugar Bakery: We spotted this down the street from Lem's so we popped in and bought a few slices of cake. GINORMOUS SLICES.
  • Izola's: Fried chicken. Some of the best we've ever had.
  • Uncle John's Barbecue: Ribs, ribs tips.

Day 3, Morning: Madison

  • Batch Bakehouse: Bread, pastries, cookies, etc. Adorable bakery.
  • Madison Farmers Market: It's pretty huge. Like whoaaa. Aside from the tons of produce and cheese, you must check out the cheese bread stand. Soft smooshy bread embedded with chunks of gooey salty cheese. Want. More. Forever.
  • The Old Fashioned: Burger, fried cheese curds. OH BOY DO I LOVE CHEESE CURDS.
  • Graze: Burger, fries. Both good.
  • Michael's Frozen Custard: Frozen custard, pumpkin shake.

Day 3, Afternoon/Night: Milwaukee

  • Jake's Deli: Pastrami sandwich, corned beef sandwich. OH MY GOD, CORNED BEEF, I LOVE YOU. I want that sandwich forever.
  • Solly's: Butter burger, shakes. The butter burger is...well, a burger topped with butter. A rather obscene amount. You think it'd be delicious—and it is, for the first three bites or so—and then you realize you're eating a burger sitting in a pool of melted butter and you're not sure if it's delicious anymore.
  • Kopps: Frozen custard. Thick. Creamy. Cold. Wish we had something like Kopp's in NYC.
  • Northpoint: Burger, frozen custard, fried cheese curds. Sort of Shake Shack-y—it's a stand by the Lake—but they have FRIED CHEESE CURDS!!! OH MY GOD, crunchy gooey cheese nubs bursting with salty juicy cheese...juice. Now one of my most favorite fried substances in the world.
  • Maria's Pizza: Pizza. Super thin cracker-like crust pizza topped with tomato sauce, cheese, and fat sausage nubs. If I hadn't been so full I would've enjoyed it more. The environment is...unmatched by any other restaurant I've ever eaten at.
  • Leon's Frozen Custard: Fun old school frozen custard stand.

Day 4: Chicago Again

  • Hoosier Mama: PIES. GLORIOUS PIES. 13 pies in all. My favorite was actually a savory pie filled with corn and creamy something and tomato. Oh my. But the sweet pies were all awesome, of course.
  • Johnnie's Beef: Italian beef sandwich. Not as good as it usually is, it seems. A bit on the dry side. We also tried some Supreme Tamales that tasted like a mushy, fake taco. ...Yeah, I don't really know what that means. Don't order it.
  • Gene & Jude's: Hot dogs, fries. We asked for the fries well done and they were fantastic. Super crispy and salty.
  • Wiener and Still Champion: Fried bacon, corn dog, fries, fried gyro, burger...yeah. This place is really into their fried stuff.
  • Edzo's: Burgers, fries, shakes. A whole lot of burgers. Thumbs up for everything.
  • Al's Italian Beef: Italian beef sandwich. Better than Johnnie's.
  • Black Dog Gelato: This wasn't part of any itinerary; we had just gone by the Publican to try their pork rinds, but they were closed for a private event. Not wanting to end the day with beef, Dan suggested we go to Black Dog for gelato. The pistachio tasted like almond (aka, thumbs down), but the more creative flavors were good.


Howard / September 27, 2010 1:54 AM

the deep fried cheese curds at the old fashioned were one of the highlights of my visit to wisconsin. which dipping sauce did you get?

Matty Jacobs / September 27, 2010 2:05 AM

Man, I wish I had known you guys were doing Madison. Those are muh stompin' grounds! Anyway, this trip sounds awesome. I am sad that Johnny's wasn't great for you because that shit is delicious.

roboppy / September 28, 2010 12:21 AM

Belinda: It was easy to destroy them! Also, first meal of the day..empty stomachs. Pie breakfast is a very good breakfast.

Howard: We didn't get a sauce! I didn't know we could. D'oh. Maybe cos we ordered it to go (we were in a rush).

Matty: Yeah, I had heard good things about Johnnie's! I hope it was just an off day.


Amy: Seems to be a Midwestern thing! I need to be in the Midwest more often. Yesss. I love gooey salty cheese.

Yuzuman83: I would have never thought of ordering all those pies if not for Ed. Yaaay for having a boss who wants to eat everything!

Nicholas: Nope, we didn't eat any pizza in Chicago; Ed and Adam had already done plenty of that, so it wasn't part of the itinerary. I had deep dish the last time I was in Chicago, but it was quite underwhelming. :(

Amy / September 28, 2010 12:25 AM

who doesn't love gooey salty cheese ('cept lactose intolerant people)?

One of my fears is that I'll eat so my cheese over time, that I'll grow lactose intolerant.

Cheryl / September 28, 2010 12:31 PM

I salute you on the Kuma's take. It's seriously over-rated.

I'm also glad you ignored the deep dish. I hate that's what everyone knows about Chicago, since no one who lives here eats it (except when forced to by out-of-town guests).

webdiva / September 28, 2010 3:25 PM

Well!! Congrats for doing a much better job than the jerk who recently did 36 hours in Chicago for the NY Times: he made so many mistakes that the corrections are more worth reading than the article itself. Sounds like you'll have to make another trip to metro Chicago soon to catch some of the places you missed. But in the meantime, some remarks from a gal born and bred here who's lived here better than four decades and knows where the bodies of overeaters are buried ...

Glad to see you hit Calumet Fisheries. Smoked fish and shrimp: yum! Enough said.

You're right about Kuma's being overrated. At least you made it to Top Notch, which if anything is underrated. I reward myself with a burger there once a month to remember what a real one tastes like, then avoid all the fast-food chains the rest of the time.

Al's Italian Beef on Taylor Street has seen better days, but it's still the best of the bunch, better than Mr. Beef if you ask me. And Mario's Italian Lemonade across the street is a must companion.

For excellent ribs and many things Mexican, you don't have to try to squeeze into Rick Bayless's places -- just run out to 79th Street in Burbank and go to Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe and Voodoo Lounge. Owner Chuck Pine worked for Bayless for years and travels a lot to keep his knowledge of all things Mexican current. Besides, he's got a huge smoker grill in the kitchen, and all his smoked meats (including a wonderful smoked corned beef, BTW) have that necessary smoke ring. I like Honey 1, but I'll put up Chuck's against it any day. And Chuck's stuffed Bananas Foster French toast for breakfast is to die for, but don't die, just save yourself for the excellent hot berry cobbler.

I could go on ... but you should just come back and see/eat for yourself.

webdiva / September 28, 2010 3:29 PM

BTW, @Cheryl -- I wouldn't say that NObody eats deep-dish pizza in Chicago (I've always liked Gino's East myself), but only a couple of places make it really well, and the rest of the city is overwhelmed by excellent neighborhood thin-crust pizzerias, Anthony Bourdain's opinion notwithstanding. So by default, thin crust is what most of us Chicagoans and Chicago suburbanites eat. Now we can argue about who makes the best thin crust, but that's a different conversation ...

toasterstoasttoast / September 28, 2010 8:18 PM

Cheese curds were probably the best thing about moving here. Just sayin'.

jesi / September 29, 2010 2:21 AM

oh man, i live in minnesota but i wouldve totally driven to minnesota to see you!
mmm the wonder that is the cheese curd. the best ones are hot, fresh and greasy from a stand at the fair [county fair, MN state fair, whatever]. so salty, its killer. good with ranch.
you can get the unfried kind of cheese curds in bags all over MN and WI. i had some great ones while in green bay WI. however its a great way to eat like a pound of cheese without thinking.

roboppy / September 30, 2010 12:24 PM

Amy: Or maybe you will never be lactose intolerant because your body will always be dairy-filled!

Cheryl: Yeah, I don't really get the Kuma's thing...I went last year and also though it was just alright. But we had to try try it again so we could tell people why it's not in the book, haha.

webdiva: We actually went to an Al's in..the..touristy part of town, but that was after we went to the one on Taylor Street and saw it was closed on Sunday. And Mario's was closed too. :( The food gods were telling us something: "It's time for you to stop eating so much." Next time!

Thanks for the recs!

toasterstoasttoast: Aw man if I lived there I'd want to eat fried cheese curds every day. That would be bad. ...But it seems like a nice place to live. :)

jesi: Aw, thanks! Our sched in Wisconsin was pretty hectic. Wish we could've spent more time there. Partially so I could eat more cheese curds.

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