FOOD: Chicago’s Maxwell Street Grill

On a recent late night in Chicago – too late to sit & dine anywhere, and definitely too late to endure whatever frozen entrees or packs of snacks were hoarded away in my cousin’s fridge – I asked some friends what we could pick up to eat.  When they started to rattle off names and proximities of ubiquitous national chains, I realized then that perhaps the most under-appreciated big-city luxury might be the late-night dining options.  So I quickly clarified what recommendations I sought: “No, I mean what can I only get in Chicago?”  “Oh!” they replied, and immediately offered up Maxwell’s.

Maxwell Street Grill is a local chain of 24-hour walk-up restaurants really named after the Maxwell Street Polish: a style of kielbasa & bun created nearly 80 years ago in the city’s old market district.  Other street-food specialties like hot dogs & the “pork chop w/ bone” highlight the concise menu, but I had to have the eponymous classic with everything: grilled onions, mustard & sport peppers.  The sausage itself is an absolutely delicious combo of beef, pork and spices, and apparently is sold all around Chicago (probably why my friends didn’t tell me about this place straightaway).  A nice heat can be added in the form of the sport peppers, which are tiny, unripe, pickled serranos.  As I am an onion connoisseur however, my favorite topping was the excellent grilled onions, which were of the caramelized-alongside-the-meat variety.

Most menu items come with a literal side of fries – so well-hidden inside your bag that except for the fun-sized paper container they come in, you’d think they dropped them in there just to be nice.  The fries were cooked perfectly, already seasoned, and maybe too hot.  In other words, perfect; and yes, we got more.  I was directed to round out the meal with strawberry pop (that’s soda for those not from the Midwest), a sweet, refreshing match for the Chicago street food staple.

Maxwell Street Grill
1320 Sibley Blvd., Dolton, IL
(& various locations in & around Chicago)