Standing Room Only: Polish Sausages at Jim's Original
"I'm not a native of the region, so my introduction to the sausage came through Chris Farley's antics on Saturday Night Live."
1250 S. Union Ave, Chicago IL 60607 (map); 312-733-7820
The Short Order: Perfectly grilled polish sausages loaded with sweet caramelized onions.
Want Fries with That? Average, but you'll get them anyway.
Want Ketchup? It will help cover up the mediocre fries.
I'll try to stay neutral and objective about my whole experience at Jim's Original, but I guess I should preface this by saying: I was given a free coke at this establishment, which may have swayed my opinion. I was just in line but it must be their policy to occasionally award free drinks to agreeable looking people or those with enormous cameras swinging around their necks. The nice man at the register asked me what kind of drink I wanted, and then said, "Don't worry about it. This drink is on the house."
How can you objectively review a stand after that? Especially one that serves a remarkable polish sausage stuffed in a bun and covered in mustard, hot peppers, and a mound of gloriously sauteed onions. The spare ingredients combine into something strangely addicting. The sausage, slightly spicy, has a major snap that's balanced by the sweet and acidic toppings. You can smell the onions alone from a block away. Though the Chicago hot dog is the most prominent sausage in the city, the Polish sausage can't be far behind. It's as Chicagoan as deep-dish pizza and the Sears, I mean, Willis Tower.
I'm not a native of the region, so my introduction to the sausage came through Chris Farley's antics on Saturday Night Live involving Polish sausages and heart attacks. You know the line, "Well the doc says, I have a small piece of Polish Sausage, lodged in the lining of my heart." And, to be sure, the sausage is roughly twice the size of a normal a hot dog. Eating one filled me up for the day.
Jim's, is in fact the original, but its location is not. "This aint' the original Jim's," I was told by a regular standing in line (honest to god, everyone talked to me). "I mean, this is the only Jim's Original, but the one over on Maxwell, that was better. Don't get me wrong, this one is good, but not as good."
Turns out he was right, at least about the different locations. The stand was started by Jimmy Stefanovic in 1939 on the corner of Maxwell and Halsted. It's moved a few times, before finally settling in its current location in 2005.
He then looked to the restaurant next door and said, "The one next door is s--t."
Jim's does oddly sit next door to Maxwell Express Grill that serves basically the exact same menu as Jim's Original. It's kind of comical--there is definitely a little double take every time you walk up. Am I going to the right place? They're even decorated in much the same way (with bright yellow and red signs) but they are not affiliated with each other.
Stories have been written about this. Discussion boards have weighed in on the issue. There are many admirers on both sides of the issue but there's no doubt that Jim's is the original. I decided to check this place out first.
Not everything is perfect. Like many stands, fries come with every meal. Unfortunately, they are just average, and are only distinguished from other places because they come with a packet of ketchup tossed in with every order. It's honestly the first time I've been given ketchup at a stand.
Other than that, It's a nearly flawless stand. Minutes from downtown, with the roar of the interstate right by, there are absolutely no seats, just one long metal counter stuck right out in the sun. It's not a place for idle eating. I baked in the heat as I tried to put down the massive sausage along with my free can of coke.
"Here's what you do," the guy in line again told me, "you head back to your car and eat on the hood. I've been doing this for years. It's a tradition."
Though I've only spent about a year in the city, I'm thinking about making it one of mine.