There are lots of foods invented in Chicago that most of us in Oak Park never hear about.
Ever heard of a Jim Shoe? This is a submarine sandwich, containing both corned and roast beef, gyros with tzatziki sauce, lettuce, sliced tomato, mayo, and sometimes cheese, onions, mustard and/or giardiniera. These Dagwood-type sandwiches are offered at several street stands/restaurants, mostly on the South and West sides.
Ever eaten Taffy Grapes? They’re fresh, seedless green grapes dipped in frosting or other candy coating and sprinkled with nuts. You’ll find them at non-chain, quick-service restaurants, like Chicagoland’s many steak and lemonade stores, BBQ joints, fish stands, and chicken shacks.
Recently, Nick Kindelsperger at the Chicago Tribune brought our attention to a new breed of Chicago-style egg rolls being served by Black chefs and cooks at many storefront locations, frequently chop suey joints, some not far from Oak Park.
Last month, I drove less than two miles from my Oak Park home to 3 Kings Jerk at 5451 W. Madison. The place is easy to spot: gayly dancing eggrolls on the front windows proclaim, “Home of the Best Jerk Chicken Egg Rolls.”
Egg rolls stuffed with jerk chicken are just the start. At 3 Kings Jerk, you can also get egg rolls stuffed with jerk steak, gyros, Philly cheese steak, shrimp and broccoli, and … Italian beef.
The jerk chicken, our favorite, was served with sweet and sour sauce, like all the other novelty egg rolls, but that does not seem to make for such an awesome flavor combination. If you visit, we suggest asking for the jerk sauce on the side.
A few years ago, I spent time in Cook County Jail teaching pro bono creative writing workshops. While chatting with residents of the jail, I sometimes heard about the food they’d made in their cells. Some would crumble crackers, add cheese strands from mozzarella sticks, squirt on some ketchup and warm it all on foil gum wrappers beneath the overhead lights; this was “pizza.” Or they might take uncooked Ramen noodles, mayo and whatever fruit or vegetables they might have on hand (not many, I assure you) to create a salad. This is the kind of food you make when resources are limited, and you still want to make food of your own.
Similarly, the typical Chicago storefront restaurant may likely be working with a relatively limited number of materials, so places like 3 Kings Jerk do whatever they can to make something special, something unique and authentically theirs.
If you are looking for a meal or snack that’s a little different and not at all out-of-the-way, 3 Kings Jerk has a relatively large menu of jerked dinners (including catfish, oxtails and lamb chops), wings, tacos and, of course, egg rolls, which you can order in regular size or jumbo rolls (about two-and-a-half times as large as the regular). You can also make your own combo rolls with any two meats. Next time we visit 3 Kings Jerk, I’m going to order my own special egg roll of jerk chicken and shrimp with garlic parmesan sauce. And for dessert? Taffy Grapes!