GreaseFreak is my photographic homage to Chicago-style fast food.
It started after I took a digital picture of a particularly tasty bowl of chili and liked the results. I wasn't a huge fan of digital cameras at the time but, after the next couple of meals, it was obvious that my point-and-shoot excelled at close-up, low-light shots of greasy edibles. I kept getting hungry and kept on shooting until finally, GreaseFreak.com
All foods on GreaseFreak appear exactly how they were intended to look by the folks who prepared them. I do not touch-up the food to improve appearances. My methodology works like this: I order, get the food, shoot and eat. There are a
few items, gyros sandwiches mostly, that I ordered to go and photographed at other locations. They were wrapped for travel, so their to-go appearances admittedly suffer compared to in-house orders.
I do not claim to be an expert on fast food, however my tastebuds are well aware of the merits and pitfalls of Chicago's staple meals. I've eaten countless winners and, all too often, some real stinkers that rendered me physically ill. GreaseFreak features both. To help tell the difference, I've included a four-star grading system for three basic characteristics: taste, presentation and ambience. Stars are based on strengths and weaknesses compared to others in the category, not to the best foods I have ever eaten. In very rare instances, when a meal is completely unstomachable, I use NR to relfect a non-rating. Two stars reflect an average Chicago-style fast food meal. Additional stars are awarded or subtracted based on a loose interpretation of my personal preferences and opinions that go something like this:
- Italian Beefs: Prepared properly, a good beef is as good as Chicago food gets. Likewise, a bad beef is probably the worst thing that can happen to you. Kudos to purveyors of juicy, shaved beef on a crusty bun with fresh peppers in tangy, salty broth. Almost all the beefs pictured on GreaseFreak have sweet peppers because I find that spicier alternatives, like giardanera, diminish the flavor of the beef, broth and bun, and that ain't going to happen on my watch.
- Chili: As far as my stomach is concerned, chili is more like a way of life than an actual meal. Chili with a strong tomato taste, tender ground meat, heat and secret seasonings are a must, along with a delicate layer of grease hugging the rim of every bowl. Beans, no beans, I don't care. Feed me already.
- Hot Dogs: While the ever-popular seven-ingredient dog gets most of the hype around town, I'm pretty happy when the toppings are limited to onions, relish, mustard and sport peppers. Places that add tomatoes and a pickle spear to the mix too often forget that celery salt is essential to the more elaborate concoction.
- Turkey Clubs: People always ask me, "Why turkey clubs?" For one, the bacon. Two, the fries. Three, I eat a lot of them. I know they aren't ethnic or a local delicacy, but since every restaurant has one, turkey clubs could be the most popular menu item in town. The bacon should be crisp and the meat cut from a real bird breast versus a processed, gelatinous roll. Invariably served with three slices of toast, buttered, please.
- Italian Subs: Something beautiful happens at GreaseFreak whenever Genoa salami is served on a French roll with cheese and garnish: a bottomless stomach. Save the mortadella, save the capicolla, save the pepperoni. Just the Genoa, thank you. Prosciutto if it's a pay day.
- Gyros: Another sore subject here at GreaseFreak since Gyros on the Spit closed on Broadway in 2000, then mercifully re-opened in 2014 on Lincoln Avenue. With the Spit's temporary demise, homemade gyros were virtually extinct in the town that invented them. Since restaurants are serving virtually the same, filler-intense meat products, taste differences are minor. Most variables come down to presentation and garnish. Sexy, yes. Spiritually rewarding, no.
- Cheeseburgers: Burgers are pretty pedestrian for Chicago-style food, but that doesn't mean it's easy to find a good one. Lunch counters almost always serve them overcooked and with too big a bun, while most of the city's most popular hamburger shacks are primarily known for serving a large patty, not necessarily a tasty one. Enlightened restuarants that serve hand-formed patties, regardless of size, fare the best in my book.
- Wings: Wings were added to the site to address the relentless emails that demand their inclusion. I've been eating them for years and know that it's one thing to include a side of carrots or celery, another to fry them to an appropriate crunch level, and yet another to automatically include blue cheese dressing versus ranch. Serve me some flabby-skinned wings and I'm headed for the door -- unless I'm really hungry and I'll eat them anyway.
- Slices: Slices are far from my ideal meal in Chicago; I far prefer to sit down with a traditional stuffed or deep dish pie. When I do get a thin crust, it's usually pepperoni, preferably served on a thin, bubbly crust with a nice balance of sauce and cheese. The best versions include pepperoni that cooks along with the pizza, to give the meat a little crunch, versus pepperoni that's added for the minute or two that the slice is warmed prior to serving.
- Grub vs. Grub: This section compares and contrasts foods that don't fit into the above catagories. I add categories as time permits.
This site is by no means comprehensive and it doesn't directly address french fries, which many consider the essential ingredient to a four-star fast-food meal. Dozens of locations remain to be added, especially on the South and West sides, along with different types of sandwiches and other foods that I haven't had a chance to photograph. I add to the site as my stomach and wallet allow. New items are posted at the top left of each page. On occasion, as conditions may demand after subsequent visits, I occasionally change the ratings.
The cover photo, incidentally, is the proprietor at Jimmy's hot dog stand at Grand and Pulaski.
I am happy to provide more detail about individual ratings upon request. If you're compelled to contact GreaseFreak, click here. To order the GreaseFreak t-shirt or hat, try here. For info on some non-food-related books I've written, try here.