Chicago is known for its gut-busting, stick to your ribs takes on classic sandwiches. In honor of August, National Sandwich Month, here are three unique, Chicago-born sandwiches that promise to both fill your belly and lift your spirits.
Fat Johnnie's Famous Red Hots, one of Chicago's most beloved hot dog institutions located at 7242 South Western Avenue, claims on its charming retro sign that its foodstuffs are "Fit for a King." It also lays claim to inventing the mother-in-law, an overloaded sandwich that can wipe out hangovers and get you going for either a long afternoon on the job or a long afternoon nap. Fat Johnnie's owner John Pawlikowski remembered buying a tamale stuffed in a hot dog bun for a nickel from a Lithuanian-American push-cart vendor when he was a child. The vendor referred to the mouthwatering sandwich as a mother-in-law, and it made such and impression on Pawikowski that he added it to the menu of Fat Johnnie's when he opened it in 1972.
Indeed Fat Johnnie's mother-in-law sandwich is certainly the stuff of royalty: a Chicago-style hot tamale topped with chili rests comfortably in a steamed hot dog bun. While most places leave the mother-in-law alone, Fat Johnnie's loads her up with the usual Chicago-style hot dog condiments.
Tip: The best way to get there is by car, and it makes a great stop option en route to Midway Airport
Also on Western Avenue, at 16 South, Moon's Sandwich is the home of yet another over-the-top Chicago-invented sandwich, the Jumpball. Step up to the old-school diner countertop and watch as three eggs are scrambled before your eyes on the griddle with onions, potatoes and savory Italian sausage. American cheese is added to fuse the ingredients together before they're cradled between two slices of toast. It's the quintessential breakfast sandwich, though it's perfect for any time of day. Moon's has been serving its Jumpball since it opened in 1933. Word has it that they also served up a side of moonshine during prohibition, hence the name Moon's!
Tip: Hours are limited, with most days closing at 3pm
The Maxwell Street Polish
A Maxwell Street Polish calls for a Polish sausage — made with both pork and beef, nestled in a bun and topped with grilled onions and a stripe of yellow mustard. is a Chicago-specific variation of kielbasa distinguished by it being typically more seasoned and made from a combination of both beef and pork.
Though you can find Maxwell Street Polish citywide today, the best place to find the sandwich today is at Jim's Original (1250 S. Union Ave), an iconic hot dog stand that opened in 1939 when Jimmy Stefanovic, an immigrant from Macedonia, took over his aunt and uncle's hot dog stand and named it after none other than himself. Though Jim's Original lays claim to having created the sandwich, it was likely the first brick and mortar stand to sell the sandwich, which was likely push-cart peddled years before on the streets of Chicago's Maxwell Street Market, an extant flea market where you could find just about anything your heart desired, that spread out from Maxwell and Halsted Streets.
Tip: Jim's is open 24 hours a day — for late night cravings they have you covered!
Mark you calendar: Maxwell Street Market (800 S. Desplaines Street) lives on and takes place around the corner every Sunday year-round
Though you can easily assemble your own mother-in-law, jumpball or Maxwell Street Polish at home, your best bet is to head to one of these three beloved Chicago institutions. After a hard day's work, after a long night of partying, there is nothing quite like the smells and flavors of the classic Chicago greasy diner or stand cooking up a sandwich that you know will fill your tummy, heart and soul.