Ellyn hosted and selected the theme: Sweet Home Chicago. Perhaps feeling homesick after an extended bit of globe-trotting?
Whatever the reason, this theme resonated with us all, inspiring a menu of tantalizing dishes drawn not only from our cookbooks but the history books as well.
Each course was accompanied by a tidbit of knowledge about the food’s relationship to Chicago. An academic amuse bouche, if you will.
Interestingly, everyone chose to prepare something familiar but not obvious – read: no Chicago-style hot dogs or pizza, no Green River soda. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m a big fan of Chicago’s street food! But it was cool to see the group dig a little deeper into Chicago’s rich culinary history as a foodie town long before foodies were a thing.
- Drinks (Karen & Kathleen) – Shikaakwa Bloody Marys; Al Capone cocktails; Assorted Chicagoland craft beer; Various wines including Ditka Cabernet Sauvignon and Monsanto Chianti
- Appetizers (Greg & Dan) – Shrimp de Jonghe; Don Roth’s Blackhawk Spinning Salad Bowl
- Main course (Ellyn) – Chicken Vesuvio a la Harry Caray; Grilled Asparagus with Green Onions; Green Salad with Strawberries and Poppyseed Dressing
- Desserts (Ilise & Ann) – Milk Dud Cheesecake; Caramel-Dipped Pretzel Rods with Candy Toppings
Far more than a culinary rallying cry, “Sweet Home Chicago” is a blues standard, first recorded by the influential blues master Robert Johnson in 1936 and subsequently covered by everyone and their brother. With good reason, it’s an awesome song!
Today the song provides a perfect jumpstart to our Chicago Blues playlist featuring musicians who make Chicago their home sweet home base. (Robert was a Mississippi Delta man, so he’ll have to sit this one out.)
Hit Play, turn it up, and enjoy!
#1 - Al Capone (modified by substituting Aperol for the traditional Campari)
- 3 oz. Koval (a Chicago distillery) rye
- 1 1/2 oz. red vermouth
- 1/2 oz Aperol
- Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir
- Strain into a rocks glass
- Garnish with a wide zest of orange
#2 - Shikaakwa
The Miami word for “stinking onion” – and the alleged origin of our fair city’s name – was the name given to our second drink, a version of the Bloody Mary that uses vodka infused with caramelized red onions.
Caramelize the onions very slowly. When they’re ready and cooled, add vodka and let sit for 2 or 3 days. Strain with a coffee filter. For the drink, you can more or less follow this recipe.
Our group enjoyed both cocktails very much. Full of flavor, each with its own brand of zing, yet both beverages went down quite easily. My favorite was the Shikaakwa Bloody Mary with clear-your-sinuses levels of horseradish and tabasco. Yum!
The Ks also brought an assortment of craft beers from the Chicagoland area:
Off Color Brewery: Troublesome - A Gose-style beer
Spiteful Brewing: Spiteful IPA – “Smells great--orange peel, grapefruit with some sweetness.”
Metropolitan Brewing: Flywheel Bright Lager - spicy hop flavors and Pilsner-like bitterness with amped up malt for balance and mouth-feel
Two Brothers: Cane and Ebel Red Rye Ale - Dry, but with a creamy touch of Thai palm sugar and the spicy tang of rye
Revolution Brewing: Revved Up Brown Ale - Has a deep brown hue, smooth mouthfeel and layers of complex caramel flavors and a faint hint of baker’s chocolate. During the final stage, the beer sits on bags of whole bean coffee that infuses it with deep, rich aromas.
Revolution Brewing: Eugene Porter - Dark chocolate malt makes this porter black as night and infuses it with its distinct intense, chocolate essence.
Assorted non-Chicago wines were served: a Chianti classico reserve, a Gavi, an Orvieto, and a Ditka wine from California.
Click on the photos to enlarge them and read the captions.
Restaurateur Henri de Jonghe got his start at the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition, then moved downtown to the heart of the Loop soon afterwards. His hotel and restaurant was the spot to see and be seen – until it was closed in a Prohibition raid when the headwaiter offered to sell $10 pints of whiskey to an undercover cop. Read the full story here, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune in 1985.
Recipe Source: Articles.chicagotribune.com
Preparation time: 30 minutes ∙ Cooking time: 15 minutes ∙ Makes Four servings ∙
- 1 1/2 quarts water
- 1/2 small onion, sliced
- 1 celery stalk
- 3 black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 pounds large raw shrimp in the shell
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry or white wine
- 1 1/2 cup French breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon imported paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
- Put water, onion, celery, peppercorns, bay leaf, and salt into large saucepan. Heat to boil. Add shrimp; cover and return to boil. Drain immediately.
- Peel shrimp and put into large bowl. Add half of the melted butter and sherry. Toss to mix.
- Heat oven to 400℉ degrees. Mix remaining melted butter and breadcrumbs in small bowl. Stir in parsley, shallot, garlic, paprika, and cayenne.
- Spoon half of the shrimp mixture into a buttered 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Top with half of the breadcrumbs. Top with remaining shrimp mixture. Top with remaining breadcrumbs. Bake until crumbs are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
What it is: The spinning-bowl salad is a signature of Don Roth’s Blackhawk in Wheeling, which closed Dec. 31, 2009. The original Blackhawk on Wabash Avenue - known as much for its Big Band music as its food - was opened by Otto Roth, Don’s father, in 1920, and run by the family until 1984. By 1952, the Big Band era was on the wane, so Roth declared, “the food’s the show,” introducing rolling roast-beef carts and the enduring signature spinning-bowl salad.
Servers spin a big bowl of fresh lettuces at each table, pouring on the Blackhawk Dressing with its “21 Secret Ingredients,” gently tossing just six times so as not to bruise the tender greens, and topping each serving with anchovies or shrimp.
Read the whole story and get the recipe here.
Click on the photos to enlarge them and read the captions.
What’s your favorite classic Chicago dish? Tell all in the comments.
All photos © Ann Johnson or Ilise Goldberg unless otherwise noted