THE FOOD ISSUE: Ancient Methods, Modern Cuisine

1836 Lake House Hotel opens on Kinzie Street, on the present site of the Wrigley Building. Its dining room is Chicago’s first fancy restaurant.

1858 First lunch counter opens at the Rock Island Railroad Station.

Christmas Day, 1865 Union Stock Yard opens at Exchange and Halsted. (It closes on August 1, 1971.)

1880 H.H. Kohlsaat’s dairy lunch room opens, first of the great “cheap eats” restaurants. Eventually there will be so many around Madison and Clark that the area becomes known as Toothpick Alley.

1893 Brownies are invented in the kitchen of the Palmer House hotel.

ALSO 1893 Vienna hot dogs are introduced at the World’s Fair, along with Juicy Fruit gum, Cream of Wheat, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, Cracker Jacks, PBR, and maybe tamales.

1906 The Jungle is published, causing huge changes in food legislation.

1907 Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s opens—the first restaurant in a department store.

1908 Ferrara Candy Company is founded to manufacture “confetti,” candy-covered almonds served at Italian weddings for good luck. Nello Ferrara, son of the original owner, will go on to invent the Atomic Fireball in 1954 and the Lemonhead in 1962.

1912 Maxwell Street Market opens.

1923 Fred Mann opens a maritime-themed seafood restaurant with waitresses dressed as sailors—and so begins a disturbing national trend.

1929 Fluky’s Hot Dogs opens at Maxwell and Halsted and begins selling the Depression Sandwich, a hot dog served on a bun with whatever random vegetables are available. It eventually spawns the Chicago-style dog, standardized by Vienna Beef in the 60s or 70s. (According to legend, Vienna’s longtime sign painter only painted dogs with mustard, onions, and relish, but when he retired, Vienna switched to a standard design that added the pickles and tomato. Another story is that Vienna purchased a pickle factory and wanted to sell more pickles.)

Credit: Amanda Areias

1934 Nation of Islam arrives in Chicago and begins selling bean pies.

ALSO 1934 Mayflower Doughnut Shop, produced by the Doughnut Machine Corp. to show off its automatic doughnut-making machine, is a huge hit at the Century of Progress World’s Fair. (The machine itself was invented by Adolph Levitt in New York in 1920—no relation, alas.)

1938 Al Pacelli opens Al’s Italian Beef on Harrison and Laflin, the first Italian beef joint. His father, Tony, discovered a few years earlier, at the height of the Depression, that roast beef can feed many more wedding guests if it’s sliced very thin and served on bread. Some claim that Pasquale Scala made the same discovery first.

1943 Ike Sewell invents deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno. (Lou Malnati is the restaurant manager.)

1945 William Sianis, owner of Billy Goat Tavern, attempts to bring his goat Sonovia into Wrigley Field to watch the World Series, is denied admission as long as he still has the goat, and in retaliation places a curse upon the Cubs that lingers until this day.

Credit: Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

1949 Garrett’s Popcorn opens! (It appears the Chicago Mix originated not in Chicago but in Saint Paul, Minnesota. WTF?)

1965 George Apostolou serves the first gyro in America at the Parkview Restaurant.

1971 Rich Melman opens RJ Grunts, the first Lettuce Entertain You restaurant. An empire is born.

1978 The “Cheezborger, Cheezborger” sketch, a tribute to Billy Goat’s, airs on Saturday Night Live.

1980 First Taste of Chicago festival opens in Grant Park, inaugurating our annual civic nightmare of insanely crowded free concerts, overpriced food samples, and enormous turkey legs.


1987 Charlie Trotter’s opens, introducing Chicago to the concept of the $250 five-hour tasting menu. It’s true love. (Trotter’s closes in 2012.)

1996 Juan C. Figueroa invents the jibarito and begins selling it at the Borinquen Restaurant in Humboldt Park.

1998 The Green City Market opens in Lincoln Park. Chicagoans discover the pleasure of eating fruits and vegetables from farms without actually having to leave the city.

2001 The original Hot Doug’s on Roscoe (it later will burn down and be relocated to Avondale) opens fully formed, with Doug Sohn taking orders and Game of the Week sausages. In that strange and distant time, it’s possible to get in without waiting an hour in line, even on Duck Fat Fry-days. (Hot Doug’s closes October 3, 2014, a day Chicagoans will mourn forevermore.)

2005 Alinea opens. Chicago discovers molecular gastronomy. Also true love.

AUGUST 2006 Chicago becomes the first city to institute a ban on foie gras. Two years later, it becomes the first city to repeal its ban on foie gras.

2009 Paul Kahan takes a break from fine dining to open Big Star, a taco joint.

2014 The first Olive Garden opens within Chicago city limits.