I thought I knew everything I needed to know about Chicago from the movies "About Last Night," and "Running Scared," but I was wrong. My weekend in The Windy City included gourmet hot dogs, Comicon, a Kimchi Eating Contest, Superhero Strippers and a 8 to 10 pound weight fluctuation each day.
My hosts were Pat "Deepdish" Bertoletti and Tim "Gravy" Brown, who own and operate a food truck and lifestyle brand named, "Glutton Force Five." Deepdish, a Kendall Culinary School grad and chef creates the food (cheeseburger nachos and Elvis bread pudding with bacon frosting) and Gravy, a marketing director for both HVAC and The Admiral Theater (a former Vaudevillian Theater turned into a modern day nudie palace) creates the buzz. Both left Major League Eating to pursue other options involving the food truck, Hollywood, and the internet. The remaining Glutton Force are mascots Party Bot, a pink unicorn, and Mr. Snugglesworth, a loveable bulldog who eschews physical fitness. Glutton Force Five are more than an animatronics Rock-fire Explosion band come to life. They are more than sex, food, drugs, and rock-and-roll stars. They are true American Food Outlaws where "excess" is just another word for lunch.
These are the highlights of my weekend in Chicago, or least the ones that can be printed without an ensuing criminal investigation.
Pat and I drink tall boys while we wait our turn at Hot Dougs, a venerable hot dog mecca open a scant five hours a day. The line is long, but the payoff is amazing. While a New York dog is about about the meat and bun (and maybe a little sandy salt air at Coney Island), Chicago dogs are all about the toppings - the traditional includes: yellow mustard, onions, dayglo relish, tomato slices, a whole pickle spear and celery salt. Voltaire must have coined cultivating one's garden while digging into a Chicago style hot dog - it's common ground for carnivores and vegetarians and it makes a hot dog into a sandwich. Hot Doug's also has a host of gourmet dogs and as Pat makes small talk with Doug, we order eight. My favorite is an escargot hot dog with brie cheese and parsley butter, but every dog was like a Michelan star restaurant in a bun.
The next day we go Mexican in Pat's neighborhood, eating first at El Milagro where the char grilled steak is covered in cabbage and salsa. One taco is the size of a burrito and the burritos are the size of hubcabs. For the truck, Pat has been experimenting with a duck skin taco with green avocado jalapeño salsa. In his spare time working at a huge catering plant, he fried 60 ducks and saved the skin for the food truck. He made only 15 orders of tacos out of all that skin, giving the food folks a taco orgy of the mouth. Pat and I then head to Don Pedro's on West 18th street. On the counter as you walk in are chicharrones (fried pork skin) as big as a bodybuilder's arm. In the back, a door opens, and out of the smokey haze, two men carry a coffin sized stretcher of carnitas. It looks like something out of a "Hostel" movie. Pat and I split a pound and half of carnitas tacos and our waitress comps us two deep fried brain tacos for dessert.
Gravy is working Chicago's Comicon to advertise for his self-created originally programmed "Comic Strip" at the Admiral, where strippers dress in latex superhero outfits and fight each other until, well, the latex comes off. Comicon is packed and in a genius move of counter program, the World History of Money convention is in the same building, thus giving the comic book nerds someone to pick on. One hasn't lived until they have seen a fat shirtless kid dressed as Hawkman, make fun of another kid carrying his replica buffalo nickel collection. Comicon has celebs of all sizes from Verne Troyer to Lou Ferrigno. Why Andrew McCarthy was there seemed strange...is there a big John Hughes/Swamp Thing connection I don't know about? I spotted a fleeing Brandon Routh, not in a cape, but clearly no one wanted to tell him that a new Superman movie has come out. Comicon fans are unnaturally nice and perhaps the best part was watching fans interact with the comic artists and buy original sketches and idling doodles for reasonable prices. There is plenty on sale, by the time we found Gravy Brown at his booth with the latex laden strippers, he had already picked up a Freddy Krueger basement diorama with working incense boiler and a five foot prop statue of Greta, the bikini clad female Gremlin from part two of the movie. Later that night, Mr. Snugglesworth would howl at Greta, showing his bulldog allegiance to Mogwai everywhere.
We finally made it to the The Admiral, where a sold out crowd of fanboys watched strippers dressed as catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Bat Girl do battle. The show was great, Gravy - a modern day "Boobs" Fosse had chorographed the numbers to be heavy on movement and nip slips. By the time the topless storm troopers appeared, there wasn't a dry boxer brief in the house. I could write more, but I don't want to objectify super heros.
The 18th annual Korean festival hosted the six minute kimchi contest. When I arrived a combination "They Shoot Horses, Don't They" marathon dance contest and K-Pop B-Boy breakdance competition was in it's fourth hour. I scanned the Major League Eaters assembled and realized I was about to be beaten by three women (Sonya Thomas, Miki Sudo and Michelle Lesco). The dungeon parlors of NYC may be awash in this kind of beating, but it was new to me on the MLE circuit and shows that the meek may inherit Comicon, but the ladies are taking over competitive eating. Indeed, all the women ate more than me - Miki Sudo won by tripling my 3 pounds and eating 9 pounds of kimchi. As if the sponsors' pink belly bearing shirt wasn't emasculating enough, I clearly didn't have the testosterone to place in the prize money.
Perhaps this is too much information for the Huffington Post, but kimchi is a lot more spicy coming out of the human body than going in. Jed "The Jalepeno King" Donahue once said that a spicy competitive eating contest would turn one's colon into the seventh circle of hell, and I finally realized why one should put toilet paper in the freezer before such a contest. The Korean Festival was amazing, the fans stayed through a rainstorm to watch a fermented cabbage storm and I felt pretty good about eating all that kimchi -- I can't say if my flight mates on the plane ride home felt as good about my consumption and digestion as I did, but The Windy City didn't break me, I broke it.
Crazy Legs Conti can be reached at www.crazylegsconti.com. His secret superhero identity is "Bloated Man." You really don't want to know what his powers are.