Urban-Centered Midwestern Food

Urban-Centered Midwestern Food

Steak, cheese curds and beer--why leave?

I grew up in Omaha—the land of the big steak—and went to school in Wisconsin—the land of brats, cheese and beer, so I like to think of myself as an expert on traditional Midwestern cuisine. Most Midwestern-originated food is synonymous with American food—things like Thanksgiving dinner turkeys and hot dogs—but some food in various urban centers of the Midwest is unique to those locales. Let’s take a look at a few epicenters of Midwestern foods:

Omaha. My hometown is known for Italian steakhouses and fried carp. A slowly dying legacy, great Italian steakhouses with mock-Venetian facades, fried parsley and monstrous, bloody steaks with gut-bombing sides are still popular with the over-60 crowd throughout the city. Warren Buffett frequents one called Gorat’s, which still operates out of its 1944 original location. Also, Omaha boasts to having created the Reuben sandwich--still unproven, but definitely is home to nasty ConAgra foods. 

Kansas City. Perhaps I’m biased, but Kansas City barbeque beats Texas or Kentucky or any other type of American barbeque production in my book. KC barbeque sauce—a mix of molasses and tomato--is perhaps the most well-known of any kind. Kansas City barbeque meats are also different, including smoked pulled pork and beef brisket, that was accessible because of Kansas City’s location on the railroad. Still, the Kansas City metro area has more than 100 barbeque restaurants.

Chicago. As we all know, everything fatty, delicious and heart attack-inducing was invented in Chicago. Chicago deep-dish pizza is a thick-and crispy-crusted pizza topped with meat, cheese and finally, tomato sauce. It takes longer to bake than a normal pizza, but is also about thirty times more filling. A Chicago-style hot dog is a wiener on a poppy-seed bun topped with peppers, pickle relish, mustard, chopped onion and sliced tomato. Also well-known in the city is an Italian beef, roast beef served on a bun and often topped with cheese.

Milwaukee. Wisconsin-originated foods probably are the often associated with the idea of Midwestern food. Of course, most of Milwaukee’s iconic food is German in origin and includes such favorites as bratwurst, sauerkraut and beer, or the holy grail of a icy-cold Wisconsin Friday night. Milwaukee is, of course, the Brew City, so you know Milwaukeeans know their brews. They also know my favorite Wisconsin staple, deep-fried cheese curds served with marinara sauce, and frozen custards. Why does anyone live anywhere else?

What are your favorite Midwestern specialties?