Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tube Steak Mistakes

One of the first foods Chuck introduced me to when I moved to the Chicago area, right after Giordano's pizza, was Chicago-style hot dogs from Portillos. 

I'm assuming the thing that makes the hot dogs "Chicago-style" is the absence of ketchup, and an abundance of everything else. Portillos loads their hot dogs with relish, kosher pickle, onions, sport peppers, mustard...and sliced red ripe tomatoes. The tomatoes are an unusual addition, if you ask me. I suppose tomatoes are like raw ketchup.

It's bad form here to ask for ketchup for anything other than fries, and even with French fries, everyone seems to prefer dipping theirs in melted cheese. I'll stick to ketchup or fry sauce. (Fry sauce is a Utah thing: mayo mixed with ketchup. Sounds disgusting, until you put it in your mouth, and then it's hard to go back to plain old ketchup.)

One time Chuck's folks took me to Portillos for lunch. (Did I tell you their names are Dick and Jane? Isn't that the cutest? This school teacher loves that little fact!) ANYWAY... I was surprised when Dick said he was going to get a red hot. Red hots? Those are the little red cinnamon candies, right?

Um, no. That was my first mistake regarding the many meats sold in casings in Illinois. A red hot is a hot dog. (Well, why didn't he just say so!) Dick was dumbfounded that I didn't already know this important piece of information. They take their hot dogs red hots seriously here. 

Portillos with some of our favorite people. 
One of Chuck's favorite foods is bratwursts, which he calls brats, for short. Whenever I see the word spelled out, I pronounce it brat, like a naughty child, in my head. Brat rhymes with brought. So weird. I never knew how little I knew about food until I moved to Illinois. I could try a new food everyday for the rest of my life, I think.

"Do you want me to pick up some of those hotdogs when I go shopping?" I would ask my husband as I worked on my grocery list. His face always fell. "What? I thought you liked hotdogs."

"Hotdogs are okay," Chuck would explain, "but what I really like is brats."

I'd never eaten brats before we got married, and much to Chuck's dismay, I kept calling them hotdogs. I now know, after a year and a half of living in Chicagoland, there is a difference between brats and hotdogs, but I'm still hazy about the difference between Italian sausages and brats. They both look the same to me. I'd be hard-pressed to identify either correctly in a police lineup, if there were such a thing.  

All of these popular meats are encased in a tube, but in Chicago, they are very particular about calling them by their correct names. The lowly "tube steak" is revered here, in all its forms. My mistakes in identifying the local cuisine are decreasing, and hopefully my tube steak cred will keep increasing. 


  1. I learned about brats when we got married and moved to Minnesota. They are serious about their brats, too. Being from Missouri and not German, I had no idea what they were. They are now, fifty some years later, a staple in our house. Enjoy your food adventure.

    1. Thanks, Stella. There are so many cultures and countries represented in the Chicago area. I hope to try many new things!


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