Let's face it Chicago, when it comes to our city we can be combative. Sometimes that fighting spirit hits a little closer to home. C'mon, the city was built on rivalries. One our most famous being the Crosstown Rivalry between our baseball teams, the Sox and Cubs. I've seen many a relationship destroyed over Pro-Cubs beliefs. (Because every fan deserves the choice...to cheer for a winning team.) And when you begin to think about it there's lots of warring dichotomies pitted against each other in the city. There's the psyche crippling CTA versus the far less reliable but easier on the sanity Pace bus system. There's the Southside versus Westside at seeing who will reign as Hood Supreme and the Northside...versus anyone who doesn't have a trust fund or makes ridiculous amounts of money. Even the eggheads have gotten in on the fun, apparently University of Chicago and Northwestern have a school rivalry. Yep, it's quite viscous around homecoming when they both face each other with add machines and calculate who's tuition got hiked up the most that year. 4-Star Explorer decided it was time for Chicago to put it's menus where their mouths are and solve some of the age-old battles of culinary greatness. Bring in Chicago Food Wars! Here at 4-Star, we thought it'd be nice to ease into the series with something small but still very much apart of Chicago's historic grudge matches, Maxwell's versus Jim's.
Both bolster the "Best Polish in Chicago," Original Maxwell's Street Polish and Jim's Original have been slinging 'dogs and 'wiches for decades. Though both claim to be the original polish stand in the area historians have concluded that Jimmy Stefanovic first sold the delicious treat sometime in 1939 between then Maxwell's and Halsted. In an area known as the Maxwell's Street Market district, sellers from around the city held an open area market similar to that of a flea market for patrons to scour. For many of Chicago's long lived natives it's an area of nostalgia as many of the residents fondly knew it as "Jew Town," where a family could purchase a cheap tapestry rug and get a good polish on a Saturday morning.
When I, Vonnie Coleman, and our sometimes photographer, Chris Thompson arrived on the scene I felt basked in a familiar Chicago environment and I'm not talking about the eateries, I'm talking about our sense of weather patterns. Coming off a previous weekend high of 79 degrees I thought for sure the trend would continue but alas there it was the following Saturday and the temperature was barely kissing 50. So there I was combat boot clad with a purple scarf and matching sweater trying to channel Rosie the Riveter, only to notice a light sprinkle in patron traffic. I stood in the chill of October and was lucky enough to come across a few customers to interview, 1 group Pro-Jim's and 1 gentleman for Maxwell's.
We met the guys, pictured here as Eric, Gabe and Oscar, not only sampling once but going back for another helping. The food of choice for these Chicago visitors was the hotdog with onions and cheeseburgers. Oscar, being a former Chicago resident that visited frequently, had been devouring the delectables for a little over a year. Having a chance to try both stands he ruled that Jim's was the only place for him.
Known only as Mr. Love (seriously that's the name that he gave us) this gentlemen wowed us with his charisma and knowledge of the area. His favorite dish was the pork chop sandwich from Maxwell's. Growing up and coming to the open markets when he was a kid, he seemed passionate about Maxwell's serving as sort of a cornerstone for young African-American families. He also amused us with his decree of both stands having a "Free Polish Thursday" special alternating every hour of that day. His words were a little weakened by the fact that though he sang the praises of Maxwell's...we caught him eating from Jim's that particular day. Hey, sometimes you feel like a Maxwell's polish, sometimes you don't.
Both gave compelling testimonies despite some betraying behavior. I was always raised on Maxwell's but since I've hit adulthood I've sampled Jim's as well. I had to figure out a way to effectively judge which stand successfully topped the other. So once again I dipped into my Sex and the City trivia database and pulled out a time honored game amongst single gals. Instead of polling to see how many scrumptious men that walked by I decided to station myself in the middle of the two stands and count the number of patrons that visited each stand. Whoever had the highest numbers would claim victory. I sat for half an hour in the ever dropping temperature and the results were a little daunting...Jim's Original won by a landslide. At a whopping 43 customers versus a mere 17 it was a little sad to see such an institution like Maxwell's take such a dive. There were actually 3 customers that jumped ship by getting out of the Maxwell's line and making a boastful stride over to Jim's.
Chris and I got into the sampling process as well. Since both claim to offer the best polish in town we bought an order of each and compared our findings. What was the outcome. Well, the results are in!
Best Polish: Jim's Original
Jim's won the taste battle. Jim's had a superior flavor with its char grilled greatness. It had just the right amount of succulent smokey goodness that was much more enjoyable than Maxwell's which was a little too oily. But I declare that even though Maxwell's lost out on the coveted Best Polish award they don't walk away empty handed. I'm giving Maxwell's the Best Fries title.
I actually ordered a polish from Jim's but went back to Maxwell's to get an order of fries to go. And when I was told of the option of adding a Chicago staple of mild sauce, food nirvana was reached. Chris was awed by my meal choice, I mean who knows, if Jim's and Maxwell's could share room on my plate there's no telling what's next. Maybe some sort of Polish/Mild Sauced Fry merger? A girl could dream right?
I also want to note that UIC students get a discount at Maxwell's with the show of a valid college i.d. Also, a point I found enthusing, both stands are ketchup friendly. They don't add it to their dishes but they will offer packets upon request instead of refusing to serve you like Chicago's past.
But don't take my word for it. I challenge all the reader's of the post to get out there and take the taste challenge for themselves and report back to us on who actually cooks up the best polish in the city.
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1250 S. Union Ave
Chicago, IL 60607
ORIGINAL MAXWELL STREET EXPRESS GRILL
1260 South Union Avenue
Chicago, IL 60607