Illinois. Some call it a fly over state, but I call it a fly in state, because it’s my home. Not only is it a great place to live, it’s a great place to eat. Every cuisine you could possibly imagine was accessible to me growing up. In the late 19th century, there was an influx of Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, Serbian and Czech immigrants to Chicago, creating a strong home base for building American culture in Illinois.
Not only is the food that comes out of Illinois life-changing, let’s not forget about the amazing films that you can totally eat all of these foods while watching.
*side note: you will definitely wish you attended the World’s Fair after reading this article
This glorious Illinois staple came from not so glorious beginnings. It was invented by Italian immigrants during the Great Depression. Al Ferreri and co. (it’s so close to Guy Fieri, I know) opened up Al’s Beef in 1938, adding on to the legacy of Italian beef in Illinois. People love this stuff so much that you can order it to be shipped anywhere in the US.
#SpoonTip: Top your Italian Beef with hot peppers for a little kick and more juiciness to get soaked up in that bread.
This is what it feels like when you eat Italian beef:
At the 1893 World’s Fair, Frederick Rueckheim and his brother introduced their poppin’ creation, Cracker Jacks. When “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” made its way into baseball parks, this crunchy delight got even more popular (duh). It was only then that they started putting prizes in the boxes.
Yes, you can thank the great Land of Lincoln for your favorite chocolate dessert. Specifically, you can thank Bertha Palmer, wife of the owner of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago. She asked her pastry chef to create a small dessert for the World’s Fair that could be packed in a lunch box. Not a cake, but something different. The pastry chef came up with the Palmer House Brownie with walnuts and an apricot glaze. If you want to amp up the regular brownie, Spoon’s UCLA chapter has the a recipe for your favorite contemporary recipe, slutty brownies.
Two Austrian immigrants, Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany, set up shop at the annual World’s Fair in 1893 seeling their beef hot dogs. In a years time, they had a storefront in Chicago named after, you guessed it, their hometown of Vienna. And the country has never been the same. Paired with the OG dog combo of chopped onions, green relish, tomato wedges, a dill pickle spear, sport peppers, celery salt and mustard, it’s no wonder Chicago style hot dogs are the best in the country (yeah, I said it). Oh and btw, if you’re even thinking about putting ketchup on that Vienna Beef, knock it off. It’s not ok.
James Dewar, a baker out of Schiller Park, invented this junk food staple in 1930. He originally started it with a banana cream filling, but switched it over to the vanilla we’re all familiar with. Thank goodness these things are back on the shelves again (#tbt to when our lives were almost destroyed by bankruptcy), because we obviously couldn’t have lived our lives without these Despicable Me Minion Twinkies.
It’s impossible not to love fried cheese, and we all know that. But it’s Chris Liakouras at the Parthenon in Chicago’s Greek Town that we can thank for the table side innovation. Liakouras had the genius idea to flambée a mixture of Greek cheeses by pouring on some brandy and squeezing fresh lemon on top. And don’t forget about the classic “Opa!”
This dish apparently doesn’t exist too much outside of the Illinois area (?), but it was created after WWII by Chef Nick Gionnotti. Chicken-on-the-bone with herbs, garlic, sweet peas and white wine are ritually served beside chunks of potatoes.
Chicago Style Popcorn
Cheese and caramel. Caramel and cheese. These two breeds of popcorn come together beautifully in the same tin, thanks to our good friends at Garrett popcorn. And this stuff is truly addicting. So much that they sell this stuff in O’Hare airport. The soft crunch of the powder cheese combined with the candied caramel that sticks to your teeth is a treat that can be enjoyed around the country.
Deep Dish Pizza
As an Illinois native, deep dish pizza is always one of my first meals when I’m back from college. It hurts my soul when people say, “It’s not pizza,” or “I don’t want to try it,” or “New York does it better.” They are wrong. Deep dish is where it’s at. Sinking your teeth into the spiced sausage, chunks of tomatoes, smooth cheese, and thick crust is unlike anything else.
Moral of the story, if you don’t eat these foods, you’ll probably regret it. So listen to Ferris:
So who’s thankful for all the food wonders Illinois has brought to this great nation?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.