Iconic Chicago Dishes, Drinks and Desserts

Iconic Chicago Dishes, Drinks and Desserts

by Amy Bizzarri


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The food that fuels hardworking Chicagoans needs to be hearty, portable and inexpensive. Enterprising locals transform standard fare into Chicago classics, including Spinning Salad, Flaming Saganaki, Jumpballs, Jim Shoes, Pizza Puffs and Pullman Bread. The restaurants, bakeries, taverns and pushcarts cherished from one generation to the next offer satisfying warmth in winter and sweet refreshment in summer. This timeless balancing act produced icons like the Cape Cod Room's Bookbinder Soup and the Original Rainbow Cone, as well as Andersonville Coffee Cake and Taylor Street's Italian Lemonade. Featuring select stories and recipes, author Amy Bizzarri surveys the delectable landscape of Chicago's homegrown culinary hits.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781467135511
Publisher: History Press, The
Publication date: 12/05/2016
Series: American Palate
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 1,148,252
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Amy Bizzarri is an extreme Chicago history buff and freelance writer. She lives with her two children in a vintage 1910 home in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. When she's not writing, you'll most likely find her swimming laps at Holstein Park pool, riding her bicycle around Humboldt Park or sharing an Atomic Sundae at Margie's Candies. Amy blogs at DiscoveringVintageChicago.com

Read an Excerpt



If Chicago had royalty, Bertha Palmer would be considered one of the most generous queens in city history. Intelligent, inventive and beautiful, she bestowed her charm and grace on a gritty city on the move. Born in 1849 in Louisville, Kentucky, with a silver spoon in her mouth, she was so striking that Chicago retail and real estate magnate Potter Palmer, rendered instantly dumbstruck the first time he met her, waited until she came of age, in 1870, to marry her. Historian Ernest Poole described her best when he said, "She was beautiful, dashing, quick, and smart; and more than that, she was sure of herself."

But Bertha Palmer was not a mere socialite, content with living the gilded life in a rapidly growing Chicago. When Potter Palmer's Palmer House Hotel — a wedding gift to Bertha — burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, she supported her husband as he rebuilt his fortune from the ashes. She played a key role in the city's social and cultural development and was an early member of the politically active Chicago Woman's Club. Bertha Palmer voiced her support of universal kindergarten as an integral part of the Chicago school system. She campaigned for basic women's rights, including subsidized milk for impoverished children and better care for the children of imprisoned mothers. As president of the board of lady managers for the World's Columbian Exposition, she worked to ensure that women were well represented in both the Women's Building and beyond; her first step was her insistence that a competition — open to women only — be held to select the architect of the Woman's Building. She was a savvy patron of the arts, collecting a number of French impressionist works, now the central masterpieces of the Art Institute of Chicago's collection. At the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 dedication ceremony, Bertha remarked, "Even more important than the discovery of Columbus, which we are gathered together to celebrate, is the fact that the general government has just discovered women."

Many people don't know that this grand dame invented one of America's tastiest treats: the brownie. During the 1893 exposition, Bertha Palmer worked with the Palmer House pastry chef to create a delicious dessert that would be compact enough to fit into a boxed lunch for attending ladies. Smart, stylish ladies need not worry about crumbs landing in their laps. The result was the rich, chocolaty, yet petite and less crumbly brownie, a small square that was big on taste yet offered a more elegant eating experience for ladies on the move.

The Palmer House still sticks to the original, rich and chocolaty brownie recipe, which calls for more than a pound of melted, top-quality chocolate; a pound of melted butter; and an apricot jelly glaze. The best place to enjoy Bertha's brownie is in the ever-sublime Lobby Bar in the Palmer House Hilton, which remains one of the most historic and stunning hotel lobbies in the world.

Bertha Palmer's Brownies

14 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 pound butter
12 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces flour
8 eggs Vanilla extract
12 ounces crushed walnuts

Preheat oven to 300º Fahrenheit. Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Mix sugar and flour together in a bowl. Combine chocolate and flour mixtures. Stir 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla extract and continue mixing.

Pour mixture into a 9 x 12 baking sheet. Sprinkle walnuts on top, pressing down slightly into the mixture with your hand. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Brownies are done when the edges begin to crisp and have risen about ¼ of an inch.

Note: when brownie is properly baked, it will remain "gooey" with a toothpick in the middle due to the richness of the mixture.


1 cup water
1 cup apricot preserves
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

Mix together water, preserves and unflavored gelatin in a saucepan. Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Brush hot glaze on brownies while still warm.

Recipe courtesy of the Palmer House Hilton Hotel, Chicago



Giardiniera is Chicago's most celebrated condiment. Tangy, spicy and sweet, it cuts the richness of its best friend, the Italian beef sandwich, adding an extra element of crunch. Though it should be pronounced "Jar-Din-Air-Ah," true Chicagoans cut off that last "Ah" syllable.

While sottoaceti, pickled and canned veggies, are common in Italy, Chicago was the first to concoct a sottoaceti recipe of its very own. "Here in Chicago, we up the ante, adding more chilies and skipping a few of the ingredients found in a traditional Italian sottoaceti," shares Chicago-based foodie John Amici.

The result is more condiment than antipasto, and it's a staple of most "reputable" sandwich shops. In fact, in some circles, it's almost sacrilege to order an Italian beef sandwich without a healthy scoop of giardiniera to top it off. Good giardiniera also makes a great topping for any sandwich, as well as for burgers, hot dogs and brats, while a healthy sprinkling of it can elevate even the most lackluster of pizzas.

"In reality, the hardest part of this recipe is to determine an acceptable level of heat," notes Amici.

After all, one person's idea of mildly spicy is another's five-alarm fire. I've learned through experimentation that four whole jalapeños, along with four that have been seeded and "de-ribbed," deliver just the right amount of heat for my palate. You, however, may prefer it hotter, so, follow the recipe and use eight whole jalapeños. If that still doesn't do it for you, switch out some or all of the jalapeños for serranos. On the other side of the coin, some may want their giardiniera mild, with very little heat, if any. By removing the jalapenos' ribs and seeds, you'll get a mild giardiniera that includes the flavor of jalapeños but none of the heat. And if that's not mild enough, drop the red pepper flakes. The point is, you can make the giardiniera as hot, or mild, as you like. With a little experimentation, you'll discover the right combination of chilies and pepper flakes to create the perfect giardiniera.

Chicago-Style Giardiniera

8 jalapeños, chopped (for more heat, serranos may be substituted)
½ large cauliflower, cut into florets
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 sweet banana peppers, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
½ cup kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
2½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon celery seeds Black pepper, to taste
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup white vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup vegetable/canola oil

Combine vegetables and salt. Add enough water to cover, stir, cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Strain vegetables from brine, rinse well and set aside.

In a large glass bowl, add garlic and seasonings. Add the vinegars and oils and stir until well combined. Add the reserved, brined vegetables.

At this point, the giardiniera may be left, covered, in the bowl or transferred to clean jars. Either way, it must be refrigerated for 48 hours before serving. Because this giardiniera isn't canned, it must be stored in the refrigerator, where it will keep for two weeks.

Recipe courtesy of John Amici, fromthebartolinikitchens.com



From 1952 until closing day in 1984, waiters at the Blackhawk in Chicago were required to elegantly twirl an aluminum salad bowl over a bed of crushed ice, tableside. As they tossed the greens and added the dressing to the iconic Spinning Salad, they delivered a memorized spiel:

This is our famous Blackhawk spinning salad bowl consisting of twenty-one ingredients, including a variety of fresh pulled greens. First we spin the bowl and apply the basic dressing. Next we add a bit of special seasoning, and then some chopped egg. We mix the salad a total of six times only, very gently, three now and three times later, in order not to bruise the tender greens. Next we add some freshly ground pepper and our special blue cheese dressing. We now mix the salad three more times. And serve — topped with anchovies or shrimp.

The Blackhawk, which opened its doors at 139 North Wabash in 1920, wasn't your everyday restaurant: it was a place to see, be seen and swing to the big band beat. An orchestra, Carlton Coon-Joe Sanders and their Kansas City Nighthawks, the first Kansas City jazz band to achieve national recognition, kept the crowds on their dancin' toes. Anyone who couldn't make it to the Blackhawk that evening could tune in at home: music from the Blackhawk was broadcast nationally as Live! From the Blackhawk! and locally on WGN Radio. Jazz great Mel Torme performed his first paying gig onstage at the Blackhawk in 1929. In 1938, Bob Haggart, one of the finest rhythm bassists of the swing era, composed "Big Noise from Winnetka" with drummer Ray Bauduc at the Blackhawk. Doris Day, who began her career as a big band singer, made her debut at the Blackhawk. Even the waiters attained celebrity status. The live Blackhawk broadcasts were so popular that a telegraph machine took in requests from afar.

As times and tastes changed, owner Don Roth stopped featuring orchestras in 1952, removing both the bandstand and the dance floor, and changed the restaurant's mission statement to "The Food's the Show." Prime rib, served tableside, and the spinning salad bowl became the Blackhawk's latest showstoppers.

The Blackhawk closed in 1984, and the only way to enjoy a Spinning Salad today is from the comfort of home. Though Roth likely copied the spinning salad bowl concept from the original Lawry's in Beverly Hills, he is credited with creating a recipe exclusive to the Blackhawk. Place the salad in an aluminum bowl set over a larger bowl filled halfway with crushed ice and dazzle your guests as you simultaneously spin the bowl and drizzle on the dressing.

Blackhawk Spinning Salad

Salad Dressing

1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
¼ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
1 cup vegetable oil, divided
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 drops Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons chives, chopped


1 small head iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 small head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 small head endive, chopped
12 cherry tomatoes
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and crumbled
8 anchovy fillets Black pepper to taste

Add the dressing ingredients — excluding the chives — to a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the chives and pulse 3 times.

In a salad bowl, mix the chopped iceberg, romaine, endive and tomatoes. Place the salad in an aluminum bowl set over a larger bowl filled halfway with crushed ice and dazzle your guests as you simultaneously spin the bowl and drizzle on the dressing.

Garnish with chopped egg, anchovies and freshly ground black pepper to taste.



As with many Chicago innovations, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 played a key role in the founding of the Berghoff. Herman Berghoff, an immigrant to America from Dortmund, Germany, sold his family-brewed beer from a tent just outside the fairgrounds. Herman liked bustling Chicago, and since his Berghoff Beer was a hit at the exposition, he decided to open up a men's only saloon where he continued to offer his winning world's fair deal. A glass of Dortmunder-style beer cost just a nickel and came with a free sandwich — corned beef, boiled ham or frankfurter — with a hard-boiled egg and a pickle on the side. A small note in the 1898 end-of-the-year Chicago Daily Tribune reported that Herman Berghoff's brewing company of Fort Wayne, Indiana, paid $175,000 to rent a building at the corner of State and Adams Streets for five years.

By 1914, the Berghoff had morphed from a saloon to a full-service restaurant at 17 West Adams. The hearty, German-inspired cuisine — including kassler rippchen (smoked Thüringer and bratwurst in sauerkraut topped with a smoked pork chop), creamed herring, Lyonnais potatoes, Wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten (marinated then roasted sirloin of beef topped with a sweet and sour gravy), apple strudel and creamed spinach — soon drew patrons just as much as the excellent draft beer. All of the original favorites are still on the menu today, along with a more contemporary twist on the old German classics. You'll still find Berghoff's original draft lager on tap — available today in amber, dark or seasonal varieties — as well as Berghoff Hefe Weizen, a smooth, Bavarian-style wheat beer; the light, copper-colored, medium-bodied Berghoff Pale Ale; the deep mahogany Berghoff Dark; and Berghoff Amber Stein, a reddish-copper pale ale. Berghoff's crusty and hearty rye bread is still served in every bread basket.

When the iconic Berghoff threatened to close its doors forever in 2005, Chicago legend Studs Terkel summed up its importance: "The Berghoff seems to be one of the connecting links to the early Chicago that's still healthy, good and meant what it said — good food and service." The establishment managed not only to survive but also now thrives in the hands of a fourth-generation daughter, Carolyn Berghoff, making the Berghoff one of the oldest family-run businesses in the nation. Creamed spinach remains the Berghoff's single most popular side dish since it was introduced by executive chef Karl Hertenstein in 1945. Many have tried to re-create the secret recipe, but here's the real deal, shared by Carolyn Berghoff herself.

Berghoff Creamed Spinach

2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
1½ teaspoons chicken base, or 1 cube chicken bouillon
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon granulated garlic
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
(2½ cups)
Salt and ground white pepper, if desired Ground nutmeg, for garnish Crisp, cooked, crumbled bacon, for garnish

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the half-and-half, milk, chicken base, Tabasco, and seasonings to a simmer. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

In another medium-sized saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk well to combine. Cook this mixture for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Slowly whisk the heated milk mixture into the butter mixture, a little at a time, whisking constantly until smooth. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until it thickens. The sauce will be very thick.

Stir in the spinach and simmer for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings. Serve while hot.

To serve: Place the hot creamed spinach in a bowl, sprinkled with an extra touch of ground nutmeg on top. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of crisp, cooked, crumbled bacon, if desired.

Note: Granulated garlic is dried granular garlic, not the same as dried minced, dried chopped or garlic powder. It has the best flavor of all the dried garlic products, in our opinion. Some supermarkets carry it in the gourmet spice section, and it's available from spice shops.


To make the recipe with fresh spinach, you will need 4 10-ounce bags of trimmed, washed spinach (not baby spinach).

Working in four batches, wash one bagful of spinach at a time in a basin of cold water. Drain in a colander. Place the batch in a 6-quart pot over high heat, cover and steam. While the spinach is steaming, repeat the process for the other three bags, putting each on top of the spinach in the pot (it will shrink down considerably). Cover and steam until the spinach is wilted and cooked. Drain in a large colander. Press down on the spinach with a spatula to extract as much water as possible. Transfer the spinach to a cutting board and chop finely.

Line the colander with a lint-free, clean kitchen towel. Put in the chopped spinach, bring up the ends of the towel and, as soon as it's cool enough to handle, twist the towel to form a sack and squeeze dry. You should have 2½ cups of cooked, chopped, squeezed spinach.

Stir the spinach into the cream mixture and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to mix. Adjust the seasonings. Serve hot.


Excerpted from "Iconic Chicago Dishes, Drinks and Desserts"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Amy Bizzarri.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 5

Bertha Palmer's Brownies 7

Chicago-Style Giardiniera 10

Blackhawk Spinning Salad 14

Berghoff Creamed Spinach 17

Andersonville Coffee Cake 20

Margie's Atomic Sundae 23

Fannie May Pixies 26

Maurice Lenell Pinwheels 28

Flaming Saganaki 31

Bookbinder Reel Snapper Soup 35

Mrs. Herring's Chicken Pot Pie 38

Taylor Street Italian Lemonade 41

Stuffed Melrose Peppers 44

Italian Beef Sandwich 46

Cracker Jack 50

The Jibarito 52

Chicago-Style Hot Dog 55

Chicken Vesuvio 59

Chicago-Style Hot Tamales 63

Ann Sather's Cinnamon Rolls with Powdered Sugar Glaze 67

Mother-in-Laws, Jumpballs, Jim Shoes and the Maxwell Street Polish 70

Subgum 75

The Rainbow Cone and Palmer House Ice Cream 78

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza 81

Shrimp De Jonghe 86

Chicago-Born Cocktails: Chicago Fizz, Chicago Cocktail, Cohasset Punch 88

Chicago Cocktail 92

Cohasset Punch 94

Mickey Finn 96

Eli's Cheesecake 98

Chicago-Style Pizza Puffs 101

Chicago-Style Oysters 103

Chicago-Style Paczki 106

Roeser's German Chocolate Cake 109

Frango Mint Chocolate Cheesecake 113

Henrici's Coffee Cake 116

Pullman Bread 120

Chicago-Style Rib Tips 123

Green River Soda 127

Twinkies 131

Portillo's Chocolate Cake 134

Morton's Baked Five-Onion Soup 136

Akutagawa 138

Recommended Reading and Eating 141

About the Author 143

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