Bite into Chicago Culinary History: The Big Baby and Big Mickey

A regional speciality at Mickey's in Oak Park

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By David Hammond

Peter Engler, a friend of mine and one of the most knowledgeable sources for Chicago food intelligence, wrote that “About 35 years ago a double cheeseburger known as the Big Baby was introduced at Nicky's, a small Greek-owned diner on Chicago's southwest side. Its popularity spread and there are now dozens of places serving almost exactly the same burger under the same name. I think it's safe to say that a good many Chicagoans are unaware of this indigenous Chicago hamburger style.”

The Big Baby is not a complicated sandwich. It’s basically a double hamburger, with cheese inserted between the two patties. Griddled onions, mustard, ketchup and pickles are added to a sesame seed bun, and that’s pretty much it.

Engler admits “I'm not sure precisely where and when the Big Baby originated. I spoke with quite a few people and got quite a few different stories, not all of them consistent. It seems that during the 1960s a Greek gentleman named Nicky opened a number of hot dog and hamburger stands on the southwest side. Eventually he sold them and returned to Greece. The stands that still bear his name (and their many offshoots) continue the Big Baby tradition.”

Closer to home in Oak Park, you can enjoy what is essentially the Big Baby at Mickey’s, where it’s called the Big Mickey.  A few years ago, I chatted with the cashier at Mickey’s about the namesake sandwich:

ME: You know, on the southwest side of Chicago, they call this burger the Big Baby.

CASHIER: It was invented here.

ME: The Big Baby was invented here?

CASHIER: But we call it the Big Mickey. Also, chicken pita. That was us.

ME: You invented the chicken pita? When was that?

CASHIER: 1980.

ME [surprised]: 1980?

CASHIER [thinking]: 1976.

Whatever, the Big Mickey is a fine hamburger, and a huge deal at its current selling price of 99 cents (though rumor is that it may go back to $1.19 soon). You will not find a better burger for that price.


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Posted: February 4th, 2011 2:38 PM

"Two Big Mickeys, everything, and one Lake Michigan, for-the-stay-here, please!"

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