I still remember the stench, the flare of my nostrils as they caught the tang of spoiled beer wafting from floors of the L.
Moving to Chicago on a normal day can be a shock, but do it on St. Patrick’sdDay and you’re pretty sure you’ve entered the eye of madness. That day 12 years ago, I saw things: a white-collared Catholic priest jigging on a tabletop in Lincoln Park; folks doing keg stands on fire escapes, rivulets of green beer dripping from their chins; things a good Polish boy most recently from Cleveland, and originally from Detroit, had never seen. Though I was jolted, the spirit moved me. Like a cold can of Old Style, a Daley in office, or Pulaski Day, nothing was more Chicago. And if only by proximity, I was now a Chicagoan.
In those days I also was a good drinker. Still am. And whether it was St. Patrick’s Day or a late Friday evening after a show at the Metro, every good drinker knows a good binge deserves a little hangover helper.
Some people take two aspirin. I prefer two cheeseburgers — and two sunny side eggs over a plate of hash browns smothered in grilled onions, and a ladle or two of chili served with a couple pieces of toast for good sopping measure. If you don’t know, they call that the Slinger. It’s served at Lake View’s Diner Grill (1635 W. Irving Park, 773-248-2030) along with the motto “Don’t ask, just Eat.” The slinger is not only a hangover helper. It’s a self-esteem booster. If you finish it, you get a certificate celebrating the accomplishment.
The Slinger is not the only alcohol sponge around, and so with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner I’m bestowing upon my fellow imbibers a list of the greatest gut-busting hangover cures in Chicago. It should be noted, some of these places are open for brunch on March 18 and others late into the evening on the 17th, so plan your drinking and eating accordingly.
If the Slinger had a child, an unruly teenager at that, it would be Brand BBQ’s (2824 W. Armitage, 773-687-8148) Brandeurysm, a foot and a half of French bread loaded with gooey mac and cheese, a pile of smoked brisket burnt ends, a shower of Gouda cheese, and served with fries and a side of slaw. If you are drunk, and of course you are, you throw the fries and slaw on top for good measure.
I understand some of my readers may be on a diet. For those who have switched to Michelob Ultra light beer, or for the vegetarian drinkers in my life, I suggest a stop at Lillie’s Q in Bucktown (1856 W. North, 773-772-5500) for the relatively light (by Slinger standards) tempura fried pickles. Crisp outside, fluffy inside with a hot burst of tangy pickle juice, these beauties are so good, add a side of peanut butter and Elvis might rise from the grave for a taste.
Speaking of fried food, every drinker needs some french fries in their lives. For a traditional take, there may be not better spuds than the pork and beef fat fried ones at the Publican (837 W. Fulton, 312-733-9555). If you have a hard time choosing between McDonald’s and Taco Bell, you no longer have to make the “fourth meal” culinary “Sophie’s Choice.” Instead, head over to Susie’s Drive-In (4126 W. Montrose, 773-283-6544) in Irving Park where they marry a deep-fried taco shell with double-fried french fries coated in a sweet BBQ potato chip-like spice and top the whole thing with chili and oozy nuclear yellow hot liquid cheese. If you like to keep your taters international, however, do not miss Del Seoul’s (2568 N. Clark, 773-248-4227) Korean-influenced fizzy fermented cabbage, pork belly, scallion, sour cream, cheddar and jack cheese-topped Kimchi fries.
If you want to keep your belly bender global, might I also suggest Isla Pilipina’s (2501 W. Lawrence, 773-271-2988) tocino — fried-cured pork glazed in what tastes like a sauce of honeyed foie gras fat. There’s also Saigon Sister s’ (567 W. Lake, 312-496-0090) Op La plate featuring farm fresh eggs, Chinese sausage, Benton’s country ham, Vietnamese pork, pork belly, caramelized onions and a dose of Maggi sauce (a soy sauce-like dash of savory essence). The dish features basically every bit of pig except the squeal (you provide that after a delighted first bite).
Leave Asia for Mexico and head over to Big Star (or maybe as one of Chicago’s finest taverns, you’re already there celebrating the Irish holiday) for the Sonoran hot dog, a Vienna Beef sausage wrapped in bacon, nestled in a flaky bolillo bun and topped with pinto beans, salsa verde, lime mayo, mustard and onion. Like a slice of Chicago deep dish pizza, this dog is knife and fork territory.
Speaking of Mexico, Rick Bayless serves up a mighty fine chilaquiles breakfast treat over at Xoco (449 N. Clark, 312-334-3688) in River North. Corn chips are soaked in fiery tomato-serrano chili sauce and topped with clouds of fluffy scrambled eggs and a gratineed crust of melted cheese showered with a hail of onion and cilantro. Since Xoco is closed on Sunday, you might eat this the morning of St. Patrick’s Day just to lay a base for the debauchery to come.
One breakfast spot, maybe the best in the city, that’s definitely open on Sunday is Meli Cafe (301 S. Halsted, 312-454-0748). From the Eggs Benedict topped with Hollandaise made fresh throughout the morning to the mountains of fruit topped pancakes, there is no lack of carb-loaded fare here. However, the Mana Mou (translates from Greek as “my mother” — which is what you’ll exclaim when the indigestion hits), a sizzling skillet stuffed with Black Angus steak, fat portobello mushrooms, onions, peppers and a blanket of Provolone is king. Order two and definitely don’t call me in the morning. I plan to be sleeping off my own St. Patrick’s Day food and drink coma.
This article first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times in a different form.