Polish Pizza and Other Foods I Ate

Nothing beats pizza

For Posterity’s Sake

Getting nostalgic about some of the foods I ate when I was growing up. So I thought to myself, “For Posterity’s sake, I need to list and describe food I ate that I consider super-delicious.

I am going to break down the foods into two sections. Section One is carryout food we bought and ate. Department Two is food we made home and ate on a regular basis.

Before I delve into Section. One, I want you to know that as a kid we ate the same thing each week according to day. For example, on Mondays we always ate hot dogs – usually Oscar Mayer. Tuesdays we ate pigs-in-a-blanket (beef with bacon wrapped around it) and Rice-a-roni. Wednesdays varied but late at night for a snack we ate John’s frozen baby pizzas.

Then Thursday was always hamburger (homemade) with a different side. Friday was always pizza night – usually Polish pizza (which I’ll discuss in Dept. Two). The nice thing about having pizza on Friday was that when Lent began we switched from meat to cheese pizza. Not much of a sacrifice, of course, so we still had to come up with something to give up on Fridays and something good to do.

The week ends varied as my mom and dad decided to go out or we visited relatives, but it was a good bet that on Saturday we would have Polish chili or gawumpke; and on Sundays either breaded pork chop tenderloins or smoked butt. We also learned to eat food differently than the rest of the known world: we ate fried bologna sandwiches, salted apples, peanut butter and celery, peanut butter and syrup sandwiches, mustard sandwiches, and boiled pork ribs. My mom made oxtail soup which I hated and my dad ate a bowl of cooked chicken hearts (yuk) and also turkey necks. But we also always ate cottage cheese, hominy grits, Lima beans, and wax beans. Our mashed potatoes (which I still do not like) either had corn in them or sweet peas in them. Does anybody eat this stuff anymore?

The Crave

Oh Henry!

Don't Be So Goofy

A Shake To Die For

Pound That Burger!

Food Places (Section One)

The Chains That Were and Those Still Here

  • WhiteCastle Hamburgers. OMGosh they were delicious and have been a staple in our family for decades. I haven’t been to WC for a few years as the hick town I live in now doesn’t have or even know what White Castles is. These little square burgers on steamed buns with fried chopped onions have a unique taste. And believe me, you can eat 10 of them after having a few beers. White Castle is still good and every now and then their fish sandwiches taste even better. They had offered cheese sticks which are good, too. In recent years they added jalapeno burgers which are great. White Castles puts the onions and a pickle on each burger – I hated those pickles so I tossed them. I made the mistake of ordering some “sliders”, as they are affectionately called, in Detroit and they put mustard and ketchup on them – YUK! That ruined the flavor me. As a kid, going to White Castle with my dad and baby brother was a big treat.
  • PrinceCastle. Similar to White Castle was Prince Castle. The actual restaurant buildings were designed after a medieval castle! Prince Castle was primarily a malt shop that sold hamburgers and French fries as a side. Te burgers would taste good if you washed them down with a vanilla shake or malt. BTW, this is when they made real malts with malt ingredients. They are out of business now, but I’m sure some people from Oak Lawn may remember it. I think there were 3 locations. One was destroyed by the Tornado of 69.
  • Henry’s Hamburgers. This was a small hamburger chain before “Mickie D” became popular. Nothing spectacular about the food, although they later started offered popcorn shrimp before they went under. Once the golden arches moved in, we stopped going to Henry’s.
  • Franksville. Here was the home of the foot long hotdog. These were bigger hotdogs than usual and we occasional had them.
  • McDonalds. How can I not list the Golden Arches? It’s part of my past and I have great memories of it. When we first started eating there the fries were out of this world! They didn’t use vegetable oil then – they used either lard or Crisco. That flavor is sadly gone. They used to sell real hot apple pies – these were deep fried. Then someone got burned and sued Ronald and now we have the baked version. When they first introduced the Big Mac we thought we found the best thing in the world to eat. They used to promote it with special mention of their “secret sauce”. Obviously that’s a marketing ploy Colonel Sanders used. Alas, the Big Mac of yesteryear and the Big Mac of the 21st Century are two different animals. The original actually had a sizable amount of burger on it. Today’s is paper thin – that’s why I now prefer the double cheese burger over the Big Mac.
  • Burger King. For a while it was great but some local establishments made boo-boos and people got sick. Today the food smells great and for a while they were selling Southwest breakfast burritos. Another mistake when they stopped it.
  • Cock Robin. Here was a place similar to Tastee Freeze and PrinceCastle. Same as PrinceCastle – the shakes make the burger taste good. The exception, if I remember correctly, was that in its last run, Cock robin was also selling chili.
  • Dog N Suds. Similar to the now Sonic Drive Ins, there was a place called Dog N Suds. Their mascot was a dog similar to Goofy (of Disney fame). The “suds” referred to root beer. Here you pull up to a space and someone would come out to your car, sometimes on roller skates, and take your order. After you paid you also left a tip! The car hop would place the food tray on your window (rolled down). It was fun and at one particular location I had my first grilled cheese and I’ve never looked back. Always love to get a corn dog, too. Similar to Dog N Suds was A & W. You should be familiar with them and their root beer! Well, they had a drive-in too and they were known more for their foamy root beer than the food. Ah, the good old days.
  • Church’s Chicken. I never cared for the original Kentucky Fried Chicken and used to like Browns but discovered Church’s Chicken. Two pieces of chicken with crinkle cut fries, corn on the cob and a roll – food heaven! Yeah, until they pulled out of my neighborhood. Years later, I found the dream fast food place – a White Castle-Church’s Chicken combo restaurant. Thank you Detroit!
  • Cal’s Roast Beef. My favorite Cal’s was in Worth. This was when I was older, yet much younger than I am today! L Cal’s was like Arby’s on steroids. My mom always loved their roast beef. Me – no way. I was a burger and hot dog boy. Here’s how they made their burgers: The cook would take out a 2” X 2” SQUARE of corn-fed beef (yes, they marketed their great food as corn-fed). He’d slap it on the grill and pound it flat with a wooden mallet while it was cooking! OMG! No one cooks that way! Every burger was irregular in shape but tasted outta this world. You could eat it plain on a bun and thought you died and gone to heaven. Then when I was older and went back to eating fish, we would order their fish planks. These were superb compared to Long John’s at the time. Not greasy, yet the right crunch-factor and the fish was cooked just right. I never understood why they went belly up.

Good Ole Hot Dog Man (or Woman)

Me Need Pizza - NOW!

Chicago Tradition

The Local Eateries

The Guy Standing On The Corner and the Mom and Pop’s

Hot Dog Stands. When we lived on the West Side, we used to get our hot dogs from street vendors. This was Chicago style all the way – with the steamed poppy seed buns! In the hot dog cart was the steamer, the dogs, and the condiments, as well as the dark green, sweet relish, chopped onions, celery salt, and sport peppers. As a side, we had steamed Tom Tom Tamales. Tom Toms are still in business and make great tamales. We now buy them frozen and cook them at home. Growing up in a Mexican-Polish neighborhood, you would smell different aromas at supper time (we also call dinner time). The smell of Mexican food always drove us to the stand to get tamales. We didn’t start on tacos until one year we had them in KCMO. Tamales and chili were bigger than tacos and burritos back then.

Fried fish by Canal St. (There was a fried fish fast food place just off Canal St near the bridge by Ashland Ave – Chicago). We would eat lunch bags of greasy deep fried fish balls. These are pieces of minced whitefish rolled into a meatball size ball, breaded and deep fried. Not healthy, but at the time they were tasty!

The local variety. There were many great local eateries for fast food that I enjoyed as a kid or teen. We didn’t always go out, but when we did, many times we chose the locals. Kojak’s, Mickey’s, Nicky’s, Portillos, Markella’s and others sold great Chicago style hot dogs. Yes – Vienna Beef dogs with NO ketchup. Chopped onions and jalapeno or sport peppers, with or without chili. Sprinkled with celery salt on poppy seed buns. Better than Nathan’s or David Berg. Superior to Coney Dogs in Detroit (sorry MotorCity friends!).

Beyond hot dogs. Yes these establishments sold other great foods and do till this day. Pizza puffs, “Chzborger, Chzborger, Chzborger” (Greek owners popularized by John Belushi on SNL), Italian Beef (can’t get this special beef anywhere but Chicago). The cheeseburgers were different as they were cooked with a stake of onion rings. Also many of them sold Italian (sausage) and Polish (sausage), tamales, and chili. The fries are either sold in a paper bag or wrapped with the dogs or beef sandwiches. And there’s also the gyros – make sure you pronounce it correctly (yi-roz).

Chicago Pizza Places. Chicago has the best pizza parlors and carry outs in the world. My favorites are Beggars and Foxes, there’s also many others. But growing up, most pizza places did only carry out. We used to order thin crust exclusively. Places like Connie’s and Geneo’s and Capri’s and Phil’s had the thickest topping pizzas. (Whatever happened to Aurelio's or Angies?) Hand tossed crusts but not cooked to be as hard as cardboard like many chains do now. The crusts were semi-firm and had bread crumb coating on the bottom. The sauce tended to be sweet with whole fennel seed besides other Italian spices. These pizzas tasted good fresh, tasted better cold, and even better when re-heated as a left-over. We used to get pizzas delivered in a pizza bag, not the common box they use these days. The pizza was slipped into a white bag with a logo of an Italian chef who had a curly mustache, and the bag was stapled shut with the receipt. The bag on top did not touch the pizza but was puffed up so the heat could rise and not soak the pizza with steam. Many of the old pizza places also sold beef sandwiches, shrimp and broasted chicken. If you drove past a pizza place, your heart would stop from the wonderful aroma and your stomach would moan “I’m hungry. I want pizza!

I am sure I have missed some fast food places so if you want to mention them in the combox be my guest. I never cared for Jack In The Box, btw. Arthur Treacher’s Fish N Chips was around but I don’t remember much about them except they wrapped their food in newspaper. I didn’t delve too much into ice cream places such as Rainbo Cones on Western Avenue, Tastee Freeze or Dairy Queen. Maybe I’ll talk about them next along with the Good Humor man. Maybe I’ll also cover eating at department stores, such as Woolworth’s and Weibolt’s. Maybe not.

Tommy Tamale

Chili Willie

Real Italian Beef Sandwich

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At Home (Section Two)

But we didn’t eat out all the time. My mom would cook, and my grandma as well. And I want to share those memories of the foods we made.

Stay At Home . . And Eat

  • Bean With Bacon Soup. Actually, my dad got me started on this as a kid and most of you are pretty familiar with this soup. The difference was that I would have half a bowl of soup and then crush in a full package of crackers into it and mix it up until it was mush. That was the only way I ate it. Today, I make it with reduced sodium, no bacon, plenty of Great White Northern beans and zero crackers. I usually add some chopped garlic or crushed red pepper.
  • Chopped Steak. We used to buy ground chopped steak patties from Dominic’s. They used to sell good lean meat, but topped each patty with a square pad of butter. In my teens, I would chop up a yellow onion (half) and throw it in a fry pan which was coated with vegetable oil. Then I would micro-thaw about 3 cups of Ore Ida tator tots, throw them in the frying pan with onions. Then I’d smash the tots until they looked like big crumbs and mix them up with the onions. I’d cook this for about 4 minutes then spread the center of the pan to make room for the chopped steak. Then I cover the pan for a while. Then, after much flipping and stirring, and verifying the meat was well-done – Voila! Then I’d get a piece of white bread, put some tot-onion on it and cover with the patty. Then I’d put a slice of yellow cheese on top and cover with another slice of bread which was coated with mayonnaise (Hellman’s of course). Then I cut it in half and serve with the rest of the tot-onions on the side. After gaining 40 lbs, and with Dominic’s no longer selling the patties, I stopped eating meat and went vegetarian for a while. Inside note: going strictly vegetarian does not help you lose weight. You have to cut out the breads, noodles and rice as well.
  • French Fry Fiesta. My mom had a deep fryer and used it for so many great things. She stopped using bacon grease for cooking, and stopped using Crisco (the white grease in a can). She got hooked on vegetable oil and deep fried a pastry called Rosettes (similar to Elephant Ears) and fried apple turnovers. We had deep fried Pizza Puffs and onion rings. But early on she would fry up two bags of shoestring potatoes. After deep frying she would dry them up on a paper towel and put them all in a large popcorn bowl and salt them. We’d have to wait about 6 minutes for them to cool and we all just dug in and put a handful on our plates and ate them like candy.
  • Polish Chili. My mom had 5 food specialties that I loved: Apple Cinnamon Cake, homemade bread, and kolacky’s and Polish Chili and Polish Pizza. I miss her and her food, but one food I miss, which I now make is Polish Chili. My grandmother was Polish and taught my mom how to cook certain things, although she a learned a lot from recipes she received from other family members. I don’t know when she started to eat chili or experiment with it but I wouldn’t be surprised she got some ideas from my Grandfather as well. He worked for Swift which I think is now called ConAgra and he bought ground beef from them on Friday’s. Well, my mom would pay for some meat and use it in her chili. Now she didn’t make the Tex-Mex chili that is most commonly sold. Although she loved Lindy’s Chili, that’s not how she made it. Her chili had a sweet ingredient added to the chili powder. She used ground beef, and sometimes macaroni noodles (Chili-Mac). She also chopped onions and celery into tiny tiny little pieces, mixing in stewed tomatoes, tomato paste to thicken it just a bit and plenty of dark red kidney beans. No, she did not use chili beans. No she did not shred any cheese into either. As a matter of fact, if you compared her chili to commercial chili, hers was red, not brownish like most chilis. Obviously, I ate my chili with a bag of crackers and was full for the day. Her chili was not thick like a stew, nor was it liquidly like chicken soup. It was just right. It had a sweet taste to it, great texture from the beans and beef and a little spicy. She used certain Italian spices in her chili that I suggested she call it Italian chili. She said it was Polish chili because she was Polish (half) and that’s the way her Polish mom made chili. I make the same chili, except that as I got older I wanted spices and spices and more spices. Actually I like chopped pieces of chili peppers and ground fresh garlic in mine. I use kidney beans and chili beans. Not as Polish as hers, but just as good.
  • Polish Pizza. My mom made a lot of authentic Polish foods, especially gawumpky, but her Polish version of pizza was heaven sent. It was so good even kids on the block wanted a piece every time they come by and smell our oven baking the pizzas. She made pizza from scratch. And I mean scratch. That means she made the dough that became the crust. She did the whole flour and yeast thing and put it in a pot in the oven to rise. We were instructed NOT to slam any doors so the dough can rise. When the dough was ready, she used a roller to flatten it out and spread it onto a SQUARE baking pan. Any excess dough hanging over the edge was rolled back into the pan edge, forming “handles”. (When the pizza was done these handles puffed up quite large and were tasty by themselves.)
  • I forgot to mention that before she placed the dough on the pan, she’d sprinkle bread crumbs on it. After the dough was spread and cut, she’d apply some olive oil and then Pastorelli pizza sauce. Then she’d spoon in some tomato paste and sprinkle it with oregano and crushed fennel seed. She would buy mozzarella and Scarmoza cheese and shred it by hand. Then she would sprinkle that on so thick that you couldn’t see any pizza sauce at all. Years later, she stopped using Scarmoza and topped the mozzarella with shredded cheddar. She would make two squares of pizza. She didn’t like eating meat pizza that much so she eventually only made cheese pizzas. But there were many times, through my begging, that she would make meat pizza using Italian sausage.

One of my best friends had some pizza she made and he asked her what kind of pizza this was. She told him that it was Polish Pizza. And I guess it was. Who else made square pizza? The crust was soft so she would cut the pizza in little squares. I always wanted the end pieces because they had the “handles”. One day I asked her to make a real Polish meat pizza, being a smart aleck. So she made one that used Polish sausage instead of Italian. She liked it, but I didn’t. I have tried to imitate her Polish Pizza but just can’t even come close. Well, for now, if I’m anywhere near Chicago, I will order a Chicago style pizza, and reminisce about my mom’s Polish Pizza.

So, one final thought: if I can eat all of these foods now, would I? In a heartbeat! No - I was just kidding, for health reasons. If I go out, for a treat, I can buy a Pizza Puff at Wal Mart. I can buy tamales from Jewel’s or I can drive many hours back to Chicago and pig out at The Patio eating hot dogs and corn bread and chili or order a family size pizza from Beggar’s (“We lay it on thick”). But, you know, I lost that 40 lbs years ago and don’t intend on bringing it back.

The Author Says

All text is copy right (C) MMXIV Robert Lattin.

Great Music To Eat To

© 2014 Rob Lattin

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