If one thing defines Chicago's tastes, it's meat. "Our food is hearty and fatty and greasy and doesn't leave you hungry after eating it," says local food blogger Marcee Manglardi
. Steve Dolinsky, the ABC 7 reporter dubbed the Hungry Hound, agrees. "This is not a vegetarian town at all – they're the sad step sister here." It's all thanks to the city's history: the south side of Chicago hummed with meat processing and packaging plants, the Union Stock Yard known as the Yards, from the 1860s until the 1970s. For much of that time, it processed more meat than any other place in the world; the only perk for the immigrant workers in those often-grueling conditions was the cheap offcuts they could take home – leading to the city's obsession with hot dogs and beef sandwiches.
The reason Chicago became such a meatpacking mecca was simple: it was the nexus of the country's railway system during the industrial boom years of the 19th century. Hogs and cattle could be brought in cheaply and easily for processing – and that wasn't the only thing. "People joke about flyover country, but Chicago was never that – it was fly-through country. Because we were a hub, every good product came through here: you can read menus from the 1940s, and there were oysters on there," notes Dolinsky, "Chicago was always a must-stop if you were going across the country – every celebrity on their way between New York and LA dined at the Pump Room."
That historic openness and access to ingredients is the reason, he believes, that Chicago today is synonymous in America with Rube Goldberg-like molecular gastronomy. The love children of Einstein and Julia Child, Grant Achatz at Alinea
and Homaro Cantu at Moto
break rules by turning shrimp cocktail into an atomizer that's squirted into your mouth, or goat cheese turned into 'snow' using a paint sprayer. Of course, since it's Chicago, they don't skimp on meat in their menus either: only here, it's welded together with a 'meat glue' or flash-frozen on a contraption Achatz himself invented known as the Anti-Griddle.
Read on about Chicago's meaty offerings and more, after the jump...