The Cubs aren't completely out of it yet, King Richard II continues to rule city hall, and hog jowl prices are holding steady at the Board of Trade. So life is good and spirits are high in Chicago -- at least, in the stubborn little reminder of Chicago that has been transported to West Colfax Avenue. The place is called (what else?) Chicago, and the menu is replete with the kind of food that has brought comfort to the hardworking, no-nonsense strivers of the Windy City for generations.
You got your Vienna beef hot dog on a poppyseed bun ($1.95), piled with yellow mustard, relish, chopped onions, tomatoes, pickles and sport peppers, then dusted with a little celery salt. You got your pizza puff ($1.95) stuffed with cheese and sausage. You got your double pastrami on Rosen's rye ($6.50). Best of all, you got your Chicago Style Combo ($5.25) -- about a pound of marinated, juice-dripping Italian beef crammed inside a length of hefty Gonnella Bakery bread, along with a grilled Italian sausage the size of a baseball bat, sweet peppers and an indispensable sprinkling of spicy giardiniera.
Hey. You don't know what giardiniera is, get the hell out.
Proprietors Luanne and Joe Margotte are displaced Chicagoans in thought, word and deed. The public space of their two-year-old sandwich shop may be smaller than an El car -- a high counter for orders and pickups, four little tables inside and a few more outside -- but every square inch of the place shouts City of Big Shoulders. The red, white and blue flag with four stars and four stripes? Muncipal flag of Chicago. That Lucite frame on the table? Cubs schedule. Those are recent copies of the Chicago Tribune in the reading rack, right next to a stack of dog-eared Chicago phone books. Bears, Bulls and Northwestern Wildcat stickers abound, along with photos of people wearing assorted Chicago jerseys and caps. The tattered guest registers by the front door contain the names and ex-addresses of hundreds of Coloradans who used to call Chicagoland home.
By the way, think that's KOA you're listening to? Not a chance. It's WGN radio, pal, straight from Chicago with da Sox game, live. How is that possible? "Tell ya that, I gotta kill ya," the woman behind the counter explains. "Yer in Chicago."
Well, sort of. If measured by a pride of place bordering on hostility, this is Chicago, all right. The miniature Second City the Margottes have plunked down in Lakewood is not just an outpost of nostalgia, it's a kind of rebuke to everyplace and everything un-Chicago. Joe Margotte explains, in no uncertain terms, that only former Chicagoans buy the boxes of Salerno Original Butter Cookies and the Fannie May candy assortments he keeps in stock -- because no one else understands these cherished reminders of life on the shores of Lake Michigan. He worries that Rocky Mountain folk will balk at paying $1.95 (not exactly a king's ransom) for his splendid hot dog because they don't know what they're getting. And so about 85 percent of his business comes from fellow Chicagoland natives. "Used to be more," he laments, making it clear that if Coloradans, most of whom he judges to be under-cultured and improperly fed, stopped coming to his place altogether, that would probably be just fine with Joe. He's originally from Chicago's West Side -- the 28th Ward, he tells us -- and he knows what's what.
So before the Margottes start checking passports, drop by and sample Chicago's splendid fare -- even if you've never sat with the Bleacher Bums, read a Nelson Algren story or bribed an alderman. Don't miss the pork chop Maxwell Street style ($4.25), topped with brown mustard, grilled onion and sport peppers. Or the Usinger bratwurst (imported from Milwaukee, of all places). Hey. You might even work up the courage to try the meatball sandwich -- even if the sum of your Chicago experience was a two-hour layover at O'Hare.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.