Welcome, dear reader, to the first installment of "The Healthy Humorist®'s Guide to Unhealthy Eating Across America." First, some background. My name's Brad Nieder. I'm The Healthy Humorist. I'm a doctor, comedian and keynote speaker. I travel the country delivering my "Laughter is the Best Medicine" program at conventions and corporate events. Sure, travel these days can be a pain, but I make the most of it. I visit friends and relatives if they're nearby. I take in the sights. And I eat the regional delicacies. Usually that means junk food. Yes, I'm a doctor. Yes, I call myself The "Healthy" Humorist. And generally I try to eat healthy. But when I'm on the road and there's a special gastronomic delight available, all bets are off!
I recently traveled to Chicago, which, in terms of culinary options, means ? well, a lot! Italian beef sandwiches. Chicago style hot dogs. Deep dish pizza. And my travel files revealed numerous places to sample each. Most establishments were downtown, though, and I was with my relatives in the northern suburbs. Still, they assured me they had great options nearby. It had been a while since I had had a good Italian beef sandwich, so I made that my first request. They didn't hesitate. Portillo's was the spot. Sure, it was a chain, they said, but it was authentic and consistently high quality. So we went, I indulged ? and I loved it! Tasty beef. Great hot peppers (giardiniera for those in the know). Just right on the gravy (more like au jus for you neophytes). Delicious! And here's the thing: maybe I'm rationalizing here, but it wasn't that big. And the meat seemed pretty lean. Not too deadly, I thought. Not too big an indulgence. I could eat more, I realized. Reading the magazine articles on the wall praising Portillo's hot dogs, I decided to kill two birds with one stone. So I got a dog, too. Again, delicious! And done properly: steamed poppy seed bun, mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickle, sport peppers and celery salt (no ketchup of course). And (definitely rationalizing now) it wasn't that big, either. But I was done ?
? at least 'til dinner, when I completed the Chicago trifecta with some deep-dish pizza. Again, I took my relatives' word for it: in the northern suburbs, Lou Malnati's is tops. No true carnivores in my dinner crowd, so we got a mushroom and spinach pizza. I've always preferred an authentic slice of thin New York pizza to Chicago style, but, hey, on a cold windy night (of which there are many in the Windy City), it's tough to beat that deep dish of cheesy, tomatoey goodness.
On my final day, before flying out of O'Hare, I just had to hit one of the spots from my files. I entered Mr. Beef's address in my Garmin, battled traffic on the interstate and (behold!) found a spot to park right in the adjacent lot. The place is an institution. It's an experience. The accents are thick in there. And ordering an Italian beef sandwich is like ordering a cheesesteak in Philly (with "sweet" or "hot" (as in peppers) and "wet" or "dry" (as in gravy) replacing "Whiz wit" (as in cheese and onions).) I stood at the counter facing the wall of autographed celebrity photos, Purelled thoroughly and grabbed my sandwich. Again, delicious (though I think I preferred the Portillo's sandwich for its bread and spicier giardiniera)! And again, it wasn't too big! Not too deadly, right? Long flight ahead, I thought. I should really fill my belly before the airport. I consulted my trusty Garmin and saw top dog spot Hot Doug's was more or less right on the way to O'Hare. A final dog to cap the trip! I'd go for it! I got off the highway, took my little detour and again found a parking space right in front! I marched up to the door ? and found they were closed for vacation! Maybe it was a sign from above: "Stop you glutton!" I had had enough already ? at least until the next town. Southern barbecue maybe? Crab cakes? New Mexican? Stay tuned! And in the mean time, let me know your Chicago favorites for my next visit! Thanks for reading!