As many of you know, Chicago is my kind of town. When I think of Chicago, I long for Midwestern people and Midwestern food! Growing up, I thought the four major food groups were pizza (Lou Malnati's), hamburgers (Michael's!), hot dogs (Michael's too!!), and chicken fingers (Michael's three!!!) I have introduced my kids to this same meal plan. However, I find myself looking for places that are in New York, will satisfy my kids, and more importantly, me! In this week's Find, we venture to some new and some old to recreate the four major food groups for my adult self. Of critical importance is that they are not chains (though they should be!), that my kids will appreciate (teen instagram pic worthy), and they fill the void I left in Chicago!
Whenever my son is asked what he wants to eat, whether we are at an Italian, Chinese, or Greek restaurant, he instinctively asks for Chicken Fingers. Usually there is chicken on the menu, but rarely in a format (fried strips) that he can identify with and appreciate. Therefore, what if there was a restaurant that provided organic, gourmet chicken fingers with a variety of inspired flavors? That is what Sticky's is doing with farm raised, antibiotic and hormone-free chicken, using locally sourced ingredients to produce a variety of amazing flavors and styles of classic chicken fingers. They include General Tso's, Buffalo, Salted Caramel, the Bada Bing and much, much more. They even have a very creative french fry menu including Bacon Mac Fries, S'mores, Pot Pie fries, Truffle Parm Fries and of course classic fries! Named after the Stones triple platinum album Sticky Fingers, this joint has a lot to live up to ... especially when they claim, perhaps the greatest chicken finger you have ever had.
This is not new, but it is a phenomenal burger joint that transports me back to my Chicago youth. The original is located in the Parker Meridien Hotel, hidden behind a floor to ceiling curtain in the lobby (super secret but follow the smell) where the space has been transformed from lobby chic to a bare bones, no frills burger joint! There is graffiti on the wall, tons of posters of icons from bygone eras, and a simple menu of burgers or cheeseburgers (the works or less), fries, and milkshakes ... that's it. Oh, and order a pitcher of beer --- it's the simple pleasures in life!
Nathan's? Papaya King? Gray's Papaya? Yes, these are all NY institutions, but the one that reminds me the most of Chicago hot dogs is Crif Dogs as the dogs are charred, not boiled. This place serves up classic dogs, as well as a few twists including the Chihuahua (avocado and sour cream) and the Spicy Redneck (bacon wrapped with chili, cole slaw, and jalapeños). It is a great place to have a few dogs, but there is also a secret (East Village location) ... through the telephone booth there is a speakeasy, one of the very first I can remember. Just pick up the phone, tell them the number of your party, and wait around until there is room. The speakeasy seats about 20, so you may want to stop by the phone booth before you order dogs. Once inside there are no hot dogs, only a great bar with creative cocktails.
The final food group is pizza and everyone knows Chicago Pizza is served in a deep dish. So go down to Emmett's for great deep dish pizza in the heart of the Village. I think the reason deep dish pizza is hard to come by in New York is that you are required to wait 30+ minutes for the deep dish pizza, an eternity by New York standards. Then, deep dish is meant to be a full meal, eaten with utensils (oh my!) and savored. In fact, the main difference between New York and Chicagoans is encapsulated in this cuisine ... portion size and speed! Have to admit, the new found (22 years) NY'er in me fights with my inner Chi-town roots when I have to wait for the pizza to arrive. But, it's worth it --- a true Windy City native knows midwestern civility and the value of patience.