Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

Graceland Cemetery
4001 N Clark St, Chicago
https://www.gracelandcemetery.org

I could tell you how Chicago’s Lincoln Park used to be the city’s premier burial ground until Chicago’s City Council banned burials there. Or that it was decided to move the city cemetery to what’s now Graceland. I could tell you that the cemetery spans 121 acres, and holds the remains of the city’s most eminent residents, including architects, sportsmen and politicians. I could harp on about how beautiful a garden cemetery it is, how it feels like you’re taking the most magnificent nature walk when you’re in the middle of it, which Chicagoans have been doing since it’s establishment in 1961.

Instead, I’m just going to show you how absolutely stunning Graceland is through some pictures I took when I visited late last year…

Cemeteries get a bad wrap for being creepy places. They generally don’t rank very highly on the traveler’s list of things to see and do. But Graceland felt much more like a museum crossed with a park than a burial ground. Visiting in autumn was magic, with all the leaves turning gold and red. The map you collect when you arrive is also particularly helpful, and adding to the museum vibe is the list of the important citizens buried there and a little biography of them all. And the only remotely creepy thing was the Eternal Silence statue below, and that’s only because Atlas Obscura told me that “looking into its eyes a person could see the nature of their own death…”

City of Chicago: 2017 Year of Public Art

Arriving back into Chicago again was exciting, and a big contributor to that excitement was a small billboard I saw on the train from the airport into the city; it was letting me know that 2017 was the Year of Public Art in Chicago = a whooole lot of street art to be found around the city!

I checked out the City of Chicago website for a little more information…

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) have designated 2017 the “Year of Public Art” with a new 50×50 Neighborhood Arts Project, the creation of a Public Art Youth Corps, a new Public Art Festival, exhibitions, performances, tours and more — representing a $1.5 million investment in artist-led community projects.

There were some incredible pieces scattered around, and I’ve added a few of my favourites below, but they’re helpfully created a few hashtags for you to follow if you’d like to see some more – follow #2017isYOPA or #ChiPublicArt for all of the art work!

 

My favourite Chicago eats

I had fun mentally re-eating all the good stuff I had in New York… let’s do it again!

This week, I’m going back to Chicago. Initially, I only agreed to add it to the itinerary because husband wanted to go; I really didn’t know much anything about the city, other than it’s home to the Chicago Bulls, and as children of the 90s/the Jordan era who both grew up playing basketball, that’s obviously our NBA team of choice. Other than that, it was a bit of a blank city for me.

After spending almost a week there over Christmas, though, my opinion changed completely; I loved that city. I can’t tell you why, either – it was just one of those places that felt good to be in. Beautiful buildings, the gorgeous river than runs through it, friendly people, and amazing food. The food scene reminded me a lot of Melbourne, actually, which may be one of the big reasons I loved it so much! We ate a lot in that week, and it was hard to narrow it down to the favourites, but here they are….

 

1. Do-Rite Donuts (donuts)
The food: A traditional buttermilk glaze
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The memory: Ohh I loved this place! Our first day in Chicago, it was cold like I couldn’t believe, and it was Christmas Eve! We were on our way to the Christkindl Christmas Market, and noticed a giant donut pointing the way to a cute little store. We grabbed a donut and some hot tea, pulled up our hoods and sat out the front in the cold to take it all in… a kindly old man sitting on the table next to us struck up a friendly conversation, and it was the most wonderful welcome to any city we’ve ever had!
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2. Au Cheval (diner, burgers)
The food: The Au Cheval cheeseburger with a fried egg; same thing everyone else was ordering!
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The memory: The wind was like little frosty daggers this day, and after a morning of sight-seeing, we couldn’t have been happier to get into Au Cheval and escape the cold! After much pre-trip Googling, Au Cheval’s fried egg cheeseburger seemed to be the must-try burger for Chicago, and it didn’t disappoint. We were lucky enough to get a seat at the counter where we watched the most well-oiled machine out together the most spectacular looking (and smelling) food for the Saturday lunch crowd; it was mesmerising, and really made us think of Chicago as a proper food city.
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3. Portillo’s (hot dogs)
The food: A Chicago dog. Obviously.
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The memory: Another day of walking and walking and more walking, we finally found ourselves in the neighourhood of a Portillo’s, and it was finally Chicago Dog time. I remember sitting on the second level of the restaurant watching over all of the happy people and families with their tables of dogs and fries, and thinking how lucky we were to have made it all the way across the world to enjoy something as simple as a hot dog, which so many people would completely take for granted!
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4. Billy Goat Tavern (burgers)
The food: Double cheezborger. No fries, CHEEPS! No Pepsi, COKE!
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The memory: This was another exciting one – we love watching travel shows, especially the ones that are food heavy. And on all of the travel shows about Chicago and food, the Billy Goat Tavern shows itself. We sat there in the crowded sub-street level diner with our burgers re-hashing the Bulls game we’d been to the night before, and talking about how long ago it felt that we were sitting on the couch watching this place on TV wondering if we’d ever actually get there…
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5. Lou Malnati’s (deep dish pizza)
The food: The Malnati Chicago Classic – sausage, cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce. Simple.
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The memory: I know that “real” Chicagoans don’t do deep dish pizza, but to enjoy it, you just need to not think of it as pizza. It’s a quiche pizza hybrid. A quizza, if you will. This was one of the deep thoughts that was discussed over dinner, sitting at a high bench table, finally out of the -15°C cold. Sometimes we just act like kids…
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6. Rubi’s Tacos (street food – tacos)
The food: Pork tacos – amazing!!!
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The memory: Market and street food are two of my favourite things, and when we came across Rubi’s with a massive line, we figured we should probably join it – I remembered reading somewhere they did the best tacos. When we realised no one in the line was speaking English and there was no real menu, we figured a) we were definitely in the right place for breakfast and b) it was lucky I knew how to order pork tacos in Spanish. Sitting among the crowd, we stood out like green elephants, and really enjoyed feeling so out of place – that’s what travel is all about!
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7. Doughnut Vault (donuts)
The food: A vanilla glazed raised and a buttermilk old fashioned
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The memory: A tiny little place with the delicious smell of fried dough in the air and nowhere to sit – it felt just like being back in Melbourne! Another freezing day, we got there nice and early, grabbed our donuts and enjoyed them outside – I remember my butt being freezing against the cold concrete sidewalk we were sitting on, my fingers being sticky as all hell, and the two of us giggling like we were two kids who’d stolen a piece of birthday cake. Good times in Chicago! 🙂
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From my travel journal: Chicago 2014

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“Went for a little walk around the city in the afternoon, got something to eat and walked a little more. The city is surprisingly beautiful, unexpectedly so. I’d heard that it was an impressive city architecturally, but it is just really aesthetically pleasing to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it; the mix of beautifully old brick buildings and the super modern, the lake that the city centres around, the trees scattered about… I don’t know, it’s not traditionally beautiful like a Paris, but it has my attention and I’m a little bit in love with this city.”

Tis the season… Chicago’s Christkindl Christmas Market

Christkindlmarket Chicago
http://www.christkindlmarket.com/

Christmas season is in full swing, people! Tis the season! Deck the halls! Eat the pretzels and drink the mulled wine! Unless you’re in Australia, in which case eat the BBQ’s prawns and drink the beer! And pine trees aren’t really cool here – we’re all about giant lego trees instead.  But seriously, how amazing is this?!

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Last year’s Christmas saw us in a very different climate to the one we’re used to at this time of year – icy cold Chicago. And I loved it! If I had it my way, I’d have frosty Christmases a lot more often, and I’m particularly keen for a Euro-Christmas soon (the first and last one I had was back in 2002… holy crap I’m so old!), which is actually on the cards… Anyway, reading Becky’s post late last week on Berlin’s Christmas markets reminded me of the Christmas market we got to experience in Chicago, which is a city with a surprisingly high European population. While we were researching things to do over Christmas in Chicago, we couldn’t have been more excited to have found out they had their own little German-style Christkindl Christmas Market!

The market in Chicago first ran in 1996, and has become more and more popular every year since. The history of the Christkind originates in Germany, and she is a fairy-like creature, resplendent in gold robes, a sparkling crown perched on her equally golden hair. Think of her as the prettier version of Santa Claus, being the official gift bearer to German children.

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We arrived into Chicago the night of December 23rd, and decided to spend the afternoon of Christmas Eve at the market, along with a few hundred others. It was appropriately cold and a little rainy, the smell of mulled wine and pretzels in the air, beautifully decorated stalls selling intricately handmade Christmas tree decorations, beautifully decorated Christmas cookies, warm hats, scarves and gloves, and quaint little wooden handicrafts. I picked up a gorgeous little glass Christmas ornament, and made it my mission to get it home in one piece. God only knows how, but I actually did!

It might not be something you’d automatically think of doing in Chicago, but if you’re there in the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s the most fantastic way to get into the holiday spirit, and it’s only made me even more determined to get to Germany to check out the markets that inspired this one!

My Burger Manifesto – what makes a great burger and my (current) top 10

There was a lot of chatter among the world’s burger aficionados when Momofuku mastermind Dave Change released his burger manifesto last week. I absolutely love this adorably dimpled evil genius and all he does, and if his crack pie didn’t win me over, his inappropriate banter with other insane favourite Anthony Bourdain during their trip to Crif Dogs and his adventures on the first season of The Mind of a Chef certainly did. The man knows his shit, he’s got a brilliant food mind, and he just seems like the kind of dude I’d want to hang out with over a few drinks.

All that said, back to his burger manifesto; it really got me thinking about my own burger manifesto, were I to write one. It’s something that I’ve thought about time and time again, and discussed ad nauseam with my favourite and most trusted burger buddy, the husband (though it must be said that we don’t always agree on what makes a perfect burger).

Chang’s manifesto can be summed up as follows (though I do recommend taking 5 minutes to read the lot):
“My ideal burger is bun, cheese, burger. Sometimes bacon. Ketchup on the side, so I can control it. Pickles—yes! Obviously. And the cheese thing has to be very clear: American cheese only.”
1. I do not like a burger with a bunch of shit on it.
2. I’m not a fan of salad on my burger (he refers to lettuce, tomato and onion here, stating the only acceptable lettuce is iceberg)
3. Another thing that’s a no-no on a hamburger is mustard – ketchup only
4. No pita bread or brioche as a bun
5. Grass-fed beef does not make burgers, in my opinion (he says that it’s too lean and fat content isn’t evenly distributed. Wagyu also a no-no because fat content is too high, around 70%
6. Australians fuck up burgers by putting fried eggs and tinned beetroot on them
7. A  medium-rare burger made with really good meat that has been properly ground up is a very wonderful thing

His final disclaimer being:
Do as I say, not as I do. When you catch me eating one of these kinds of burgers that I have spoken against, please know that I am the ultimate hypocrite and that I am probably enjoying the shit out of it. Hamburgers are pretty much all good.

 

Honestly, I agree with most of that. I especially agree with the fried egg and beetroot thing being a scourge on society. Syrupy, sticky tinned beetroot and a dry, overdone fried egg. It ain’t right. Other things I disagree with. Mustard on a burger is a fine thing (providing you use the right type of mustard, obviously). Anyway, time to compare; this is what my burger manifesto looks like comparatively…

 

My Burger Manifesto

1. Bun: I don’t care what anyone says, I like a brioche bun. Not the super sugary ones you find in the Bread Top bakeries (they do have their place, but it’s not holding my burger), just a regular, standard brioche. As long as it’s been toasted a little first on the cut sides – fresh brioche buns fall to mushy piles of crap when they’re holding a solid, juicy, greasy burger and they haven’t been toasted first. And if it’s a regular burger bun, that’s fine too, providing it’s actually fresh, fluffy and lightly toasted.

2. Beef: I’m not going to pretend to know the finer points of butchery and beef – I just want really good quality beef (and you CAN taste the difference between good quality and freshly ground versus frozen and defrosted supermarket quality crap), I want it to be a good thickness, and I want it cooked medium-rare. It needs to be a little juicy and pink when it’s bitten into. My only real exception to this rule is a smash patty a la Rockwell and Sons – I absolutely love the charred bits on the outside of the patty. If I’m going with the thinner smash patties though, my burger then needs to be a double instead of a regular single thick patty. Best case scenario is a single thick patty that’s a little charred from the grill and STILL pink and juicy on the inside. And just a bit of salt and pepper to season it, thanks.

3. Meat-to-bun ratio: This is an important point of contention to me, and it’s an absolute must to get right. I don’t want all this extra bread at the end, nor do I want my burger innards flailing about all naked with not enough cover half way through.

4. Condiments: I like the trinity of ketchup, American mustard and mayo, in relatively equal proportion, and not too much (ie. not dripping all over the place and pooling in the plate half way through). And if I can get Kewpie mayo instead of regular mayo, I’m a really happy girl.

5. Salads: Lettuce – not a necessity, but if you are going to use it, make it crispy cos or iceberg, or just don’t bother. No one likes warm, limp, wilted lettuce. Tomato – one of two slice, but not too thick. Onion – I like a few thin slices of raw red onion, but a nice pile of caramelised onion certainly has it’s place as well. If you are using caramelised onion, though, don’t use the lettuce or tomato.

6. Cheese: Make it sturdy but melty. American cheese, pepperjack, Kraft singles, that’s all good. Don’t get all fancy and use blue cheese, Havarti, fior di latte or anything like that. Just no. And for the love of all things good, make sure it is melted all over that patty – there is nothing more disappointing than getting a burger with unmelted cheese!!!

7. Additions: Bacon and pickles. That bacon had better be browned off and a little crispy (read: not still soft and pink, not burnt to a blackened crisp), and the pickles need to be sliced thinly enough so as not to make the burger any harder to eat than necessary (no little cute whole pickles, just sliced ones, like your tomato). I wholeheartedly agree that the beetroot and fried egg is completely shit. The only burger I’ve ever eaten with an egg was at Au Cheval, and it was gently cooked so that the yolk spilt out and acted as a sauce. That was magical perfection, but if it’s not like that, don’t add the egg. Especially if it’s one of those backyard BBQ, chalky overcooked yolk, overly oily from sitting on the grill for an hour eggs. That’s nasty.

8. Burger VS Sandwich: If it’s fried chicken (it’s very delicious, but) it’s not a burger. If it’s pulled pork (as much as I love this stuff), it’s not a burger. If it’s made from tofu or mushroom or lentils, it’s not a burger. Those are sandwiches, and lots of them are perfectly lovely. But if it’s not centered around a beef patty, it is absolutely and unequivocally NOT A BURGER!

9. General feel: This may sound strange, but to have that certain je ne sais quoi, it’s gotta just be a bit of a hot dirty, greasy, juicy mess. When I’m holding onto that lightly toasted bun with a big juicy meat patty, nestled between crispy bacon and melted cheese and all the rest of it, I don’t want it to be nice and clean. It should be a little messy. It should be oily and greasy. It should give me reason to lick my fingers as I go. It should cause the paper holding it to turn a little translucent. I’m not saying I want the thing dipped in grease and deep fried but I also don’t want it all neat and tidy; it’s hard to explain, but if you get what I mean, you’ll probably get why it’s a big deciding factor on what, to me, constitutes a really great burger. If I want clean eating, I’ll get the salad.

So I guess that’s it. That’s my burger manifesto. And much like David Chang, you’ll almost certainly find me eating other burgers that don’t entirely fit that bill, and I’ll do so happily with greasy cheese smeared over my freckled face and bright yellow mustard staining my sleeves. Because burgers, for the most part, are good.

But some are better than others. And I’d know; I’ve eaten a disturbing amount in my time. Allow me to now take a moment to pay homage to what I currently rate as my top 10, in order of favouritism, as of July 2015 (review excepts below, click the link to go to the full review) …

 

1. The 1090 with bacon from 1090, Melbourne

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With beautiful looking burgers come high expectations, and I’ve lost count of the amount of pretty burgers I’ve eaten that have tasted like crap, so I tried not to get my hopes up. Totally unnecessarily so. This was the burger of my dreams. It was all the best parts of my favourite burgers combined. The holy trinity of mustard, mayo and ketchup was perfectly proportioned, and didn’t lead to soggy buns (thankfully, because the burger bun was perfectly soft with just enough crispness to hold it together). Flavour of the beef was just about perfect, cheese was melted magnificently and the bacon was crisp and so very good. Just the right amount of lettuce and tomato, and I know it seems like a random point, but best onion I’ve had in any burger. I don’t know what it was or where it came from, I just know it was several types of delicious.

 

2. The Manly burger from Umami, Los Angeles

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The Manly was another level of burger, and any time we discuss our top 5 burgers ever, The Manly is ALWAYS up there. Just think about it – perfectly booked pattie. Brioche bun. Crispy, golden onion rings. Chunky bacon cooked in fat to bring out a bacon flavour I didn’t know existed. And melted cheese. Seriously. Nothing more needs to be said about this burger; it’s as close to the perfect burger as I think I’ve ever had. Those bacon lardons… omg…

 

3. The double patty smash burger from Rockwell & Sons, Melbourne

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Bun – perfect, buttery, toasty enough to hold it all it sans sog, soft enough to melt on your mouth.
Special sauce – really f#^$@ng special. Really.
Kraft cheese – historically my cheese of choice on home made burgers. Couldn’t have been happier!
Patties – this smashed patty business is something else (google it – I had to!). Crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside, perfectly seasoned for my liking.

 

4. The Raph from Beatbox, Melbourne

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They’re plain, simple, and the flavour of the patties are flawless.

 

5. Double cheeseburger with egg from Au Cheval, Chicago

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A perfectly toasted bun help the double pattie and cheese business on one end, and a creamy aioli-like sauce, chopped raw red onion, pickles and a perfectly fried and soft-yolked, chive-sprinkled egg on the other. Meat was perfectly cooked and seasoned with a little crust happening and a still-pink centre. Good bun-to-pattie ratio, great cheese, and the egg yolk was the best sauce you never knew you needed with it.

 

6. The Original from 5 Napkin Burger, New York City

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I’m stoked I ordered it medium rare; cooked to absolute perfection and made all the difference in taking it from a good burger to a great one. The gruyere and caramelised onion were perfect accompaniments, and just the right amount of aioli. Couldn’t fault this one bit; it was a surprisingly amazing burger.

 

7. Bad Boy Burger from Bad Boys, Melbourne

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I was absolutely stoked to discover the promise of “crispy” bacon was not actually an empty one, like so many burgers I’ve had before. Crispy bacon usually ends up being half-cooked, barely browned bacon. This bacon was genuine crispy, and it was GOOD! The burger pattie itself was fantastic, one of the best I’ve had, actually! The outside of the patties were crispy and had a great charred flavour, the insides were still pink and a perfect medium-rare.

 

8. Double Laurie Dee with bacon from Laurie Dees, Melbourne

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The double smash patties were perfect, they had the best charred crust, and were all sorts of greasy delicious. The addition of the bacon was the best decision of the night, it was actually crispy, and the Special D sauce was similar to the Big Mac special sauce, but a whole lot better!

 

9. The Chew from Chew Burgers, Melbourne

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My burger was bloody fantastic, but did require several (5 in total) napkins for the extreme juice factor. The patty was soft enough to crumble when you bit it, but held together really well, and had a simple but really nice flavour. Great burger patty-to-bun ratio, and the bun was really nicely toasted, so it really didn’t go soggy (amazing feat considering the juiciness!!). Simple but delicious and noticeably fresh accompaniments of lettuce and tomato, and the aioli was unreal.

 

10. The Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy’s, San Bruno (San Francisco)

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Finally, this one I actually never blogged, and it was completely unexpected, but dear God this abomination was DELICIOUS and I still think of it oh so fondly…

 

Special mentions to Burger Boys, Huxtaburger, Grand Trailer Park Taverna, Le Bon Ton (cheeseburger not included in this review),  Nieuw Amsterdam (cheeseburger not included in this review), and Shake Shack, all of which are absolutely fantastic burgers. I think next time I do this it’ll have to be a top 20… it’s like choosing between children..

Inclusions on my current “to eat” list include Mr Scruffs, 8bit, Lazerpig off the top of my head – more suggestions are invited!! Anyone else care to share their burger manifesto and/or top 10?!

Eat here: Al’s #1 Italian Beef & Portillo’s Hot Dogs, Chicago, USA

I think my husband caught something off me. A bug of sorts, if you will. No, not like that, get your mind out of the gutter. I think he’s caught the travel bug. Like, a proper case. He’s into travel too, always has been; in fact, he was even studying travel and tourism before he ditched that for his sports science degree (where he ironically met me, the girl who later gave up as career in the health industry to start working in travel – I know, its completely demented). Travel has been a common interest for us right from the start, its just that I’ve been a bit lot more determined aggressive in chasing creating opportunities to get some passport action. So when, a few months ago, he announced that he was looking into the feasibility of flying to America to watch a few baseball games, I was stoked!

I know that a lot of wives might be a bit apprehensive about their husbands flying to the other side of the world with a mate for 10 days of sports bars and sports games and sports whatever, but this is the same guy who’s backed my trips with other friends to Thailand, Vietnam and Japan later this year – we’ve made it this far together because we still have our own lives and dreams. I wanted to learn to cook banh xeo with my sister in Hoi An, he wants to watch dudes in tights hit balls. We don’t judge!

Anyway, he’s most keen to get back to Chicago and see a Cubs game, with Wrigley Field in all its restored glory – it was mid-facelift when we were there over Christmas. He’s also keen on the food; Chicago knows how to eat! I re-visited classics Lou Malnati’s and the Billy Goat Tavern a few weeks ago, so today allow me to introduce you to another two foods Chicago is really well known for – the Italian beef at Al’s #1 and the Chicago dog at Portillo’s.

 

 

Al’s #1 Italian Beef
http://www.alsbeef.com/

Now with more than a few restaurants in the chain, Al’s was started as a family business (as most Italian eateries are) back in 1938, to cater for the masses suffering during the Great Depression. In the true Italian fashion of using everything and wasting nothing, thinly sliced beef was sandwiched in freshly baked rolls. These days, you’re also getting a bit of their delicious home made sweet pepper mix on top, as well as the gravy – either a light pour or absolutely drenched, as you please. You can read more about the gravy which is so distinct to Al’s, but here’s the sandwich we demolished:

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It more than lived up to the hype; it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, and considering my extreme aversion to soggy bread, that’s really saying something! Don’t bother checking out the menu, just order the Al’s original and join the club of faithful followers.

 

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Portillo’s
http://www.portillos.com/

Like Al’s, Portillo’s is all around, which is good news for lovers of the Chicago Dog. You can get dogs all over the city, what makes a chain store so special? I can’t tell you. I don’t know the secret recipe. I just know that this was the best Chicago Dog I ate over there. They’re on the small side, so order two, but everything is just in perfect proportion and tastes amazing together! Except that spicy green chili – I don’t do chili, I donated mine to the husband, who was much obliged. Mental.

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Anyway, still try the other dogs you come across in Chicago – just make sure you end with a Portillo dog so you can walk away very very happy! Damn, now I want to tag along with the guys…

 

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