Serious Eats: Chicago
Deep Fried Chicago: Christkindlmarket Chicago
I'm convinced that there isn't a good time to go to the Christkindlmarket (aka, Kringle Market). The candy-caned roofed and ski lodge-esqe hutches and the cute, kitschy tchotchkes sold from within are all but obscured by the ever present throngs of people trudging through the dystopian winter wonderland. I'd refer to the whole affair as a Kluster Something-or-Other, but a fear of coal lined stockings has me keeping my mouth shut.
And yet, on a recent trip to the center that gives Daley Plaza its name, I couldn't help but notice (and smell) a number of fried options available for the punishment gluttons that have decided to conduct their Christmas shopping in an outdoor market in December. Which is why I dutifully joined their ranks and scoured the Kringle Market stand by stand for the best fried food on offer.
The Potato Pancakes ($6.50 with sauerkraut) from the aptly named Pancake House may not technically be deep fried, but from on the amount of oil slicking their flattop cook surface, they might as well be. The slightly crisp exterior houses an almost emulsified center, resulting in a homogenous texture you'd never find in a proper lattke. Combining them with the caraway seed specked sauerkraut and fine grained German mustard helped things along considerably, though.
Home to a ground pork "Germanburger" and a number of other sandwiches, Schnitzel House has at least three locations in the market. The Wiener Schnitzel Sandwich ($7.50) from the menu board picture looks like it should be fried to order and wonderful, though what I actually ended up with was pre-fried and from a chafing-dish. The raw sliced onion and German mustard dressed sandwich was somewhere between a cold Chick-fil-A sandwich and a McRib in texture and presentation. A bite in, I ditched the condiment-less bottom bun and folded the sandwich into itself, which was an improvement.
Also from Schnitzel House were some of the more solid from-frozen French Fries (3.00) that I've had in recent memory. Think Wendy's original fries straight from the fryer. Cooked to a perfect golden brown and delicious and generously salted, these made up for the stand's mediocre namesake.
For dessert, I headed to German Grill for an order of "snow balls" ($4.50), which the sign's parenthetical explains are "German Fried Donuts." The misshapen lumps are comfortingly tender under their crackly fried exterior, but the batter is hardly sweet enough to cut through the fry oil taste. If you eat only the powered-sugared parts, though, you'll be happy enough. Dipping them in a piping hot cup of diluted Swiss Miss didn't help matters (it washed off the aforementioned sugar), so your fried dough and hot chocolate empire is safe for now, Bayless.
All in all, the Kringle Market is worth the crowds and the cold once a year, if only for the enticing sights and smells and the kickstart it gives to the impending Christmas spirit. Next time, though, I'm pairing my French fries with one of those double dog looking bratwursts topped with mustard and sauerkraut.