For the November 2012 issue of Michigan Avenue magazine
By Paige Wiser
Thanksgiving is our Valentine’s Day.
Our feelings on this day aren’t so much “grateful” as “lustful.” In Chicago, it’s a celebration of our first love:
Meat. Glorious meat.
Sure, there must be scrawny vegans here and there. Chicago is the 10th-most “vegetarian-friendly” city in the country, according to GrubHub.com; based on their name alone, it sounds like they know what they’re doing.
But if there are vegetarians here, they’ve wisely learned to keep quiet. Maybe the soy poisoning has made them too weak to speak. Maybe they’re trying to bicycle their way to California.
Because the Gold Coast couldn’t be more carnivorous. If you’re not eating steak, you’re not eating. The air is porterhouse-scented, courtesy of Morton’s, Gibsons, Rosebud, Tavern on Rush and Ditka’s.
This town was built on meat, hosting 400 doomed livestock by the end of the 19th century.
But mistakes were made. The Chicago Fire turned our great city into the world’s largest wood-burning grill.
(Of course, if we had just eaten Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, there wouldn’t have been a problem.)
No one thought we’d make it through the Battle of Banned Foie Gras. But in the end, didn’t it make us stronger? Hungrier?
Meat-packing has been necessary for our survival. We pack it on strategically, to develop our own protective layer of meat. It serves us well in the winter.
On Thanksgiving, we give thanks for living in a city that won’t judge you for your burger toppings. (“Peanut butter? Hey, I get it.”) We reflect on the miracle of sausage; what is it, after all, but a delicious, conveniently wrapped gift to ourselves?
On Thanksgiving, we give in.
We have a particular fondness for turkey, a meat that requires no meticulous wine pairing. Turkey’s sedating tryptophan serves the same purpose.
Let Los Angeles have its tofurkeys. It’s only fitting that they would choose insubstantial faux food. It matches their minds.
Chicago goes the other way: We indulge in the turducken. Sometimes turkey isn’t enough for us — we need to layer our meats, like we layer our clothes when the weather turns crisp.
And nobody could make a turducken like Charlie Trotter. Before his restaurant served its Last Supper in August, he transformed Thanksgiving into a holy day. His fabled turducken – a duck breast fillet inside a chicken inside the mother of all turkeys – was 18 hours in the making. He might layer the layers with Andouille sausage stuffing, spinach and cornbread.
And only Charlie would think to complement the giblet gravy with chorizo and pickled elephant. If Thanksgiving had a Santa Claus, it would be Charlie Trotter.
We are Chicagoans. We make reservations at avant-garde Alinea, then swing by Al’s Beef for dessert. On weekends we venture south to the Maxwell Street market to sample the eyeball tacos.
Goat eye? Cow eye? A real Chicagoan doesn’t ask.
We embrace our reputation as a meat mecca. When Conan O’Brien brought his show here in 2010, he headed to Lou Malnati’s for its deep-dish pizza, where he was humbled by its dense sausage slab layer. “I’ve been here for two days and I already have a 30 percent blockage in my artery,” he shared.
It was confirmed by the Rush University Medical Center. “You’re gonna ——- die,” the head cardiologist told him.
Not us. We were born to eat meat. After generations of carnivorous breeding, we have arteries of titanium. That’s why Thanksgiving means so much to us. We’re surrounded by family — hearts full, tummies full.
And when we take our post-feast nap on this most abundant of holidays, we dream contentedly of a Chicago where every day is Thanksgiving.