Chicago's Pork Chop Sandwich Is A Unique Street Food Staple

Chicago is a city of extreme foods. There's a braised beef sandwich that is literally dunked in a warm bath of beefy broth, pizza that is inches thick and laden with gobs of cheese and toppings, and hot dogs that are "dragged through the garden." But these seem tame in comparison to a relatively obscure sandwich that is nonetheless a Windy City staple — a sandwich that is so altogether gnarly that it has a bone still in it when served. Yes, the Chicago pork chop sandwich isn't trying to win any beauty contests. Its aim isn't Instagram fame, but rather superior satisfaction, a job it ably accomplishes.

The first thing you have to understand is that like many other Chicago foodstuffs, the pork chop sandwich is decidedly unfussy. There isn't a magic rub, secret sauce, or laborious technique that the whole affair hinges upon. Rather, it is a humble, thinly sliced pork chop still clinging to the rib that is brined before being seared on the griddle, a space it shares with mountains of reducing, caramelizing onions. Once the meat is nicely seared, it hops onto a steamed bun along with those sweet brown onions, a lashing of standard yellow mustard, and a few pickled sport peppers. The yielding bun barely contains the medley of savory, sweet, tangy, spicy flavors inside. And if the bone worries you, don't fret; it's off to one side. Toss it or chew the remaining meat from it when you're done — the choice is yours.

Pork chop and a Polish, please

If you're in the market for a pork chop sandwich, head to Chicago's Near South Side to Jim's Original. There are, of course, imitators, but Jim's is where the pork chop sandwich first took form over 50 years ago. The why is subject to some speculation, but Jim's, which was once located on Maxwell Street in a working-class neighborhood and has since been relocated a few times, is a no-nonsense stand offering hearty food for the hoi polloi. Pork chops — being a relatively cheap cut of meat — are an obvious choice for a filling, affordable sandwich. As for the bone, it might have been left on for flavor, but it was more likely just easier than taking the time to chop it off. Either way, the inedible component has made the sandwich a classic.

Jim's is also the birthplace of the lesser-known of Chicago's famous sausage styles. Few are unaware of the treatment a Chicago-style hot dog gets, but ask the average non-Chicagoan what a Maxwell Street Polish is, and you may get a blank stare. The garlicky, plump griddled sausage comes on a sturdy bun with sauteed onions, sport peppers, and a thick line of yellow mustard — sounds familiar, and it's likely what gave rise to the toppings of the pork chop sandwich. It's easy to maintain a menu of beloved street food staples when a minimal stable of toppings works just as well for both, after all.