Jimmy Ferguson has been eating the same slice of spiced sweet potato pie since she was a child, but the rest of Chicago has only had the pleasure since 2006.
The recipe is from her late father, James Jackson (Jimmy's is named after him). Jackson was a chef who at various points worked for the railroads, the Congress Hotel, and Morrison's, and every Thanksgiving he piloted kitchen duties. Most memorably, he always made sure to roll a homemade butter crust into a pie pan, fill it with his own top-secret recipe for fresh sweet potato custard, bake it off, and serve it to the whole family.
"I came home from college one Thanksgiving, and we found out he had lung cancer," Ferguson says. Jackson was feeling weak, and he told Ferguson she would have to be in charge of cooking the dinner this year—and the pie, too. "I went to write down the recipe," she says, "but he said, 'No, don't write it down—memorize it.'" She taps her temple. That's where it's still kept today.
She opened her own place on 95th Street in Beverly with her husband Harold Ferguson and nephew Adam Jackson, and the trio soon expanded the menu from pie into cheesecake, soft-serve ice cream, cake, and cupcakes. They added a lunch menu featuring loaded sweet potatoes nearly as big as your head; thick sandwiches on dense, sticky slices of sweet potato bread; Southern-style stew; and hand-cut fries. Everything is, needless to say, made from scratch.
This is officially the cusp of Jimmy Jamm's busiest season. The café takes Thanksgiving pre-orders November 1 through around the 22nd, and after that it's "will call," Ferguson jokes: "As in, I will call you if I have anything left." (Once a legendary Chicago Bulls forward managed to get a pie out of them during Thanksgiving week without a pre-order, but he had to come in person and convince Ferguson; which is to say, you don't stand a chance.)
We stopped by when there was still plenty on hand to taste the whole gamut of sweet potato-themed offerings. Check out the slideshow here.