Living in Chicago was amazing. The food scene is always evolving and changing. Something that never did, thankfully, is the classic Chicago hotdog. Over time the same toppings and the actual hotdog have remained, like some statue in the middle of a city square reminding us all of times past. Living in Iowa now, I find myself in a quandary. Whereas in Chicago everyone honors the tradition of using only Vienna beef dogs, bright green dill flavored relish, mustard, onion, dill pickle spear, sport peppers, tomato slices and the lightest dusting of celery salt on a (most times) poppyseed bun. In Iowa that's not the case. I've run into a few adherants to tradition but then a couple of wildly agregious examples, using such tyranny as cheap tubemeats (a vienna beef dog costs so little already!) and the worst offenders tend to be the $8 hotdog joints. What's even worse about that is in O'hare airport where a bottle of water costs $3, a proper dog for $4.50.
Rants aside, http://theflyingwienie.com/ is an oasis in Cedar Rapids, harkening to times past. With the same bright red aesthetic as many of the classic chicago fast food spots, complete with wood panels and an airplane on top of the building but most importantly the FOOD IS GOOD. In Chicago even the diviest of mom and pop spots will nail what they're doing. There's no room for bad food in cities like that. You'll get laughed out of a business. Recently Rebecca and myself went to feed a craving for the ubiqutous tube meat and were totally blown away but it's perfection.
Amidst the new wave of restaurants we see day in and day out, don't forget the classics. Eventually our favorite new spots will hopefully last into the decades and if everyone gave up on them we'd be missing out on tradition. Some things need no innovation in food, or rather should remain as they always have to provide needed contrast to the new ideas as a sort of standard for which the new is measured against. An almost reference like quality that's needed with an ever more fast moving culture.
That brings me also to a new business in Cedar Rapids that has Chicago fast food as it's centerpiece, http://giannasbeef.com/. Having lived in Chicago as well the owners as well as many of the workers lean on experience to bring some pretty authentic italian beef, dogs and other classics to the downtown area. When they first opened up we gave it a shot (we need to come back more often admittedly) and were pleasantly suprised by the food.
Getting italian beef right is an art, and takes patience. The meat is cooked until it becomes insanely tender, normally around 30+ hours and topped with gardinera and the delicious liquid that results from that amount of cooking time. The decor may not be classic and is updated for a more modern aesthetic but the food sure is. It's great to see new places staying true to classics and carrying on the traditions in American food. The United States carries a tradition of immigrants coming to it's shores and making new foods. Some of these foods are our heritage and the Italian beef sandwich is one of them. Much like BBQ there are new ideas mixed in but the attention to detail and patience present in much of european cooking, there's a real center to this food. Briny, spicy relish on a deeply flavored meat on a soft roll. While you'd never find this in Italy, you can see how this would come from the same minds when presented with a different set of ingredients and audience. Food comes from culture, and recognising our past helps us celebrate that past with context and nuance.
The owner pictured above, Adam Hadjis, comes from a family of restaurant owners. His parents ran the Greek Vernon Inn for decades. It was where I first had Greek food on prom night in high school and was part of my early obsession with trying new foods so I'm glad to see the torch carried on by their son who named his new place after his daughter who passed in a tragic accident. The history is rich there and I hope that if you're here you give them a shot or if you're visiting and are craving some Chicago style fast food. You won't be let down.