#823: Taste of Chicago

July 31st, 2017

Chicago tastes like kimchi and sausage. It takes like bulgogi beef and a side of fries.

Chicago looks like a Saturday night in Bridgeport as the sun dips down into the suburbs and the strings of bulbs flip on over a restaurant’s walled but open-air seating area.

It sounds like parties. It sounds like laughter of friends, the cheers of a tattooed crowd’s surprise birthday and the flirting of the various couples sprinkled throughout Maria’s Community Bar and associated Kimski restaurant touching and eyefucking their way through first, second, third, 85th dates.

Maria’s and Kimski have been feted and cheered by better writers than I. Half-Korean, half-Polish brothers Ed and Mike Marszewski have been hailed as the new faces of a neighborhood known more for racism and Irish mayors than for anything that could be described as “craft,” “artisanal” or any of the other adjectives food writers toss the family’s way.

In 2010, they took the reins of the family bar, an old slashie-style beer and shots joint and made it into a community center, an arts hub, a place for events and youth and culture but always steeped in Chicago.

The brothers later added Kimski, another Korean/Polish mashup, to provide counter service street food. Chef Won Kim whips up poutine with kimchi gravy, sausage platters with banchan sides, scallion potato pancakes drizzled in a Tamari sour cream sauce tasting somewhere between Seoul and Lodz for the new crop of foodies and drunks coming to, of all places, Bridgeport.

Maria still greets people walking through the packaged goods section to make their way to the bar. The crowd blends the young and beautiful seamlessly with the old timer crowd in Sox gear and beer bellies.

Is this what Chicago looks like? Is this how it tastes?

Chicago prides itself on being frozen in time. The “77 community areas” map on shirts and posters is a perfect replica of what ethnic groups lived where when the University of Chicago’s Social Science Research Committee decide to codify the town as a lark in the late ‘20s.

The neighborhoods Chicagoans pride themselves on are just a snapshot of where people lived when the committee did its thing in the Coolidge era.

I like the maps, even divvy the site by a drop-down menu of what I wrote where. But identity can stultify. Traditions of sausage platters, deep dish pizza and heaps of kraut on a Maxwell Street Polish don’t let you taste bulgogi beef sandwiches or pierogis flavored ever so lightly of the Insadong.

I worry about our love for Chicagoana. I’m worried endless rehashes of the exact ingredients and ratios for Chicago dogs, Polish sausages and Italian beef will kill the spirit of innovation that made them. There won’t be a new “Chicago-style _____” if we keep replicating the old recipes with the pontifical devotion civic pride engenders.

Maybe this scene of soy and sauerkraut is the new Chicago, a new flavor made not from slicing a city 77 ways, but by bringing things together you never thought would work.

Of course, there’s something to be said for Bridgeport dogs

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You are currently reading #823: Taste of Chicago by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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