On Saturday afternoon, the winner of the 2020 presidential election was announced, and in Logan Square, the hillocky park was overflowing with youngs, dancing around the central statue, making music and applauding whenever circling cars leaned on their horns to salute the election (and themselves).
It was a beautiful November day, with temps in the mid-seventies, blue sky and bright autumn sunlight rendering everyone and everything gleaming golden. The trees contributed their crisp yellows and reds to the celebration, and it seemed we’d gained a brief reprieve from winter’s descent. Not sure anyone in the park was singing, but everyone seemed like they could be; there was joy in the air.
What could make this beautiful day any better?
Why, a beautiful bologna sandwich, of course!
We got our bologna sandwich across the street from the park at Big Kids, operating out of the former Young Americans space, where we enjoyed the first CBD-spiked food and cocktails in the city. The chefs behind Big Kids are Ryan Pfeiffer, formerly of now-closed Blackbird, and Mason Hereford of Turkey & Wolf in New Orleans. We expected greatness.
We started our picnic in the park with ‘sketti egg rolls, made of fried spaghetti, mozzarella and banana peppers (undetectable) in a fried egg-roll wrapper, which is weird and fun but at base, no more than the sum of its parts. Amy n’ Nettie 2.0 is a sandwich of fried chicken cutlets, chicken salad, tomato, chimichurri and provolone, and I have to say, it didn’t hold together, physically or conceptually: fried chicken with chicken salad ladled on top was redundant and lacking in dimension. But then… the bologna sandwich, which is described as “good bologna, chips, Duke’s Mayo, shreddy letty, American cheese.” This was sandwich love at first bite.
I have an inexplicable affection for the bologna sandwich, a simple, proletarian fistful that I brought for lunch almost every day when I did time in a Bensenville factory earning money to get through graduate school. Traditionally, the meat is cheap, but with mustard, not bad. I’ve also trained at the feet of the masters of the fried bologna sandwich at Siciliano’s stand at the annual Taste of Melrose Park (canceled this year), where I was tutored to put a small cut in the bologna slice to keep it from curling while it was griddled. There’s no chance of the slices curling on the sandwiches from Big Kids, because they’re so thick, almost like bologna steaks or maybe minute steaks.
The traditional fried bologna sandwich, as served by the Sicilianos, uses the cheapest bologna—“we tried using better bologna,” I was told, “but it didn’t work. People prefer the cheap stuff.” This could be true, because when your aim is to trigger childhood memories, you have to hit the right level of crappiness. Consider comfort-food favorite Kraft Macaroni and Cheese; there may be lovelier versions of this dish, but none of them hit the nostalgic chords as Kraft does. At Siciliano’s, which is always crowded, the sandwich is just white bread, the fried bologna, mustard and griddled onions. The version served at Siciliano’s compares to Big Kids’ version in the same way as the Depression hot dog, as served at Gene & Jude’s in River Grove, compares to the dragged-through-the-garden Chicago hot dog.
What is it about the Big Kids’ bologna sandwich that makes it so beautiful? Well, the bologna is not Oscar Mayer (not that there’s anything wrong with that); it comes from the highly regarded Paulina Meat Market, and it’s substantial enough to stand up to additional ingredients. The extra-rich, slightly tangy Duke’s Mayo adds the right amount of moisture—to combat dryness, the great enemy of all sandwiches. Lettuce ups the crispness ante, and that crispness is exponentially enhanced by potato chips, which could be bothersome, but instead add to the texture and the taste, managing to stay crunchy amid the moist lusciousness. American cheese, usually the last cheese I’d want to eat, has the virtue of being maximally melty, and the bread is griddled in butter until it’s golden and crisp. This was a situation where I kept eating, even after I was full, until there was no more. It was so good.
To pair with the bologna sandwich: the BK Negroni, a masterful blend of gin, Hawaiian punch and “bitter liqueur,” you know, just like we had when we were kids.
Having this retro-grub in Logan Square while inaugurating the beginning of a new period in American life gave a pleasant push-pull feeling, a sense that may become common in the months to come as we build on the past and work to create a new America.
Dining and Drinking Editor for Newcity, David also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday Journal in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel pieces to the Chicago Tribune, Plate Magazine and other publications. David has also contributed chapters to several books, including Street Food Around the World, Street Food, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org