Sweet (and Savory) Home Chicago

Sometimes, when I listen to the food-themed episodes of The Retro Network Podcast, food items come to mind that are just out of reach for regional reasons and make me a little homesick for the city of my birth. 

I’ve lived in a suburb outside Atlanta, Georgia for most of my life at this point, but I’m originally from a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. There are some foods we can’t get here in Georgia that we would get from the grocery stores in Chicago when we would drive (or fly, in some cases) to visit our relatives. 

There were other times when our relatives would come to visit and they would bring us some of the foods we missed. 

I’m going to go ahead and put a “content warning” here because 2020 is what it is. Some of these products contain meat, gluten, salt, sugar or alcohol (I turned twenty-one in the late 1990’s). 

Dixie Rye bread (Butternut) 

My entire family loved this bread. It was the size of (and sliced like) white bread and it was seedless. It made wonderful corned beef sandwiches and the best rye toast because it would toast evenly. (One of these days, I am going to get a toaster oven so I can have evenly toasted rye bread.) 

My favorite use of this bread was a cream cheese and jelly or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

Minced Ham 

This doesn’t travel well, so I haven’t had it in well over a decade. I had to do a search for a description. I came up with “a thin-sliced seasoned sausage made of a combination of pork and beef”. 

Old Style Beer 

I’m not much of a beer drinker. I tend to prefer sweeter beverages like wines, hard ciders, and liqueurs, but this was the brand of beer my grandfathers and uncles on both sides of the family drank. 

When an aunt and cousin came down from Chicago for my brother’s wedding, they brought him a case of this beer. I had one bottle to see what the fuss was about while we were watching a Cubs game. It was okay, but again, I’m not much of a beer person, so this memory is tied mostly to my family. 

Maurice Lenell cookies 

Maurice Lenell had a number of delicious cookies, but the particular one I’m thinking of is a spritz style cookie with a dollop of raspberry jam in the center. There was another chocolate cookie usually in pink or green that looked like a leaf. I called those “leaf cookies”. 

When I was working as a receptionist during my temping days, one of the sales reps was from Chicago and one Christmas she gave me a whole box of these cookies. 

The closest I can find to these now that the Lenell brand has unfortunately been discontinued are the Knotts’s Berry Farm Raspberry cookies. 

Salerno Butter Cookies 

These were really good for babies as teething cookies. A baby could put their  tiny finger through the hole and nibble at the “petals” on the flower shaped cookie while sitting in their swing. 

Sometimes I wonder if these cookies were the inspiration for the creation of the Strawberryland infant friend, Butter Cookie

Jay’s Potato Chips 

The white box with the blue trees was as iconic to Chicago residents as the beige Charles Chips can was in other parts of the country.  

Charles Chips and Cape Cod are the probably the closest I’ve found taste-wise to their chips. 

Italian Beef Sandwich 

Done right, this is one of the most delicious things a meat eater can consume. The idea is similar to Roast Beef Au Jus, but there’s a special Italian seasoning to the gravy in which the meat is marinated. 

Anisi (Honey) Wafers 

This memory is specifically tied to my maternal grandmother because when she and my grandfather would came down to Georgia to visit, she would always bring me a package of these. It’s two thin wafers with honey between them. 

This is not to be confused with the thick “stroopwaffels” Amazon keeps trying to sell me. Nothing against stroopwafels, because they are also very tasty, but they just don’t quite match from a texture standpoint. 

Fannie May

Fannie May is beloved by any Chicagoan with a sweet tooth, but in a pinch, Mrs. See’s in California is a more than acceptable alternative. We usually receive Mrs. See’s assortments from the relatives in California, but there have been kiosks for them in malls in the past. I really like the coconut exterior with the fudge in the middle, which Fannie May calls “Trinidads”. 

Frango Mints 

Department store Marshall Fields has chocolate mint candies. There was actually a pie made with the chocolates that you could get in the restaurant, but I think those days have ended. 

This is actually something I’m able to get in Georgia now that Federated bought Marshall Field’s and made it Macy’s. Last year they had an assortment of  liqueur (but non-alcohol) flavors. 

Deep Dish Pizza 

I love bread, so this is my favorite kind of pizza. I just cannot deal with thin crust pizza. I like a nice thick crust on my pizza. It’s probably why I loved Pizza Hut’s Personal Pan Pizza so much. 

When I was in college, our student union had a Pizza Hut where I could buy a Personal Pan size pizza. I’ve developed a fondness for sausage and mushroom, but I’ll take pepperoni or plain cheese in a pinch. 

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About Karen Flieger 42 Articles
I was born in the late 1970’s, spent my childhood in the 1980’s, and my pre-teen and teen years in the 1990’s. I graduated from Kennesaw State University in 2001 with a B.A. in English. I collect various forms of media (books, music, movies, and television shows) as well as plush toys, dolls, and Funko figures.