May 29, 2013

Iconic US Eateries: Second Helpings from a Preservation Reporter

  • By: David Weible
Weiners Circle in Chicago, Illinois. Credit: ashleighb77, flickr
Weiners Circle in Chicago, Illinois

Back in April, with the close of our upcoming summer issue coming at me like a rabid screech owl and our editor-in-chief pacing around my desk, I hurriedly posted a piece for the blog highlighting just a few of what I considered some of America’s iconic eateries -- common-man haunts I’d stumbled in and out of here and there that were light on the wallet and heavy on local charm and culture. And to my surprise, the piece generated quite a bit of feedback.

So it was with a sinister (but somehow sweet) smile that the blog’s managing editor asked me if I could dig into my bag of hazy memories for a few more morsels of content. Ladies and gentlemen, without any further ado, more iconic U.S. eateries as experienced by me.

Chicago, Illinois: Wieners Circle

More-so than any of the other places on this list, Wieners Circle is less about the food and more about the experience. Sure, this dungeon of a restaurant on North Clark Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood serves up Chicago-style dogs, but it’s hard for anyone to remember what they taste like when the employees are so focused on the “customer experience.” Though Chicago is famous for being pretty friendly as big cities go, and Wieners Circle is, well, the opposite, somehow it all works. If you’re curious about what I mean, check out YouTube, but be advised, what you’ll find is NSFW (not safe for work).

Hot Sauce Williams in Cleveland, Ohio. Credit: vagabondblogger, flickr
Hot Sauce Williams in Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland, Ohio: Hot Sauce Williams

The original location was iconic for simply surviving the Hough neighborhood riots in the 1960s, and the hard-to-beat barbecue and seizure-inducing pink and turquoise paint job of one of the remaining locations on Cleveland’s near East Side haven’t gone unnoticed either. But perhaps the most famous part of Hot Sauce Williams is their "Polish Boy" sandwich. A culinary combo from the Eastern Europeans and African-Americans who flocked to the city to work in its steel mills, the sandwich slaps a Polish hotdog or kielbasa on a bun, slathers it in BBQ sauce, covers it in French fries, and then plops a healthy dollop of coleslaw right on top. If you wake up the next morning sticky and confused, you know you’re doing it right.

Original Chipotle in Denver, Colorado. Credit: wallyg, flickr
Original Chipotle in Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado: The original Chipotle

Referred to as “Mecca” by some of its more devout followers, the original location of Chipotle has even been known to give out shirts that read “I made the pilgrimage to Evans” in reference to the street on the University of Denver campus where people come to worship all that is holy about fast Mexican food. But with only about one-quarter the size of a typical Chipotle and only a few feet of counter space, this location is unlike any other as customers stack up to shout orders over one another. “It’s hard to know when to order, but if you don’t start at the right time, the employees will start yelling at you,” says Taylor Hafley, a friend that first turned me on to this sacrosanct site after moving into the neighborhood. “It’s actually almost overwhelming.”

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse, New York. Credit: las - initially, flickr
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse, New York

Syracuse, New York: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

It shouldn't make sense. Syracuse sits in the snow belt of not one, but two Great Lakes. It snows even when it’s sunny. The last thing I figured I’d find when I moved there in 2010 was an amazing barbecue joint. But then again, people need some way to stay warm. From the dozens of motorcycles that surround this restaurant on summer evenings to the blues bands that tear apart the place on the outskirts of the city’s downtown nearly every night, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has Syracuse written all over it. And oh yeah, the ribs, mac and cheese, and simmered turkey neck collard greens aren't bad either.

Sinister but sweet ed. note: Where should Dave go next? Leave your eatery recommendations in the comments!

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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