Harry Caray’s is essence of Chicago. Named for the late hall-of-fame baseball announcer whose cry of amazement – “Holy Cow!” – was a virtual mantra for Cubs fans (and who was known for singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during every seventh-inning stretch), it is a great prime steak house, a hugely popular bar (exactly 60’6” long – the distance from the pitcher’s rubber to home plate), and a museum of baseball memorabilia. Items on exhibit range from Harry Caray’s own trademarked giant eyeglasses to one of Sammy Sosa’s home run balls from June, 1998.
The setting is vintage: a 1895 Dutch Renaissance style limestone building now on Chicago’s Register of Historic Places, its interior a luxuriously muscular space of mahogany woodwork and broad tables covered by thick white napery. Although a sumptuous place to which many customers come in pinstriped business suits, there is a democratic feel about this dining room that makes any decently dressed customer feel right at home.
Probably the first thing anyone ought to think of eating at Harry Caray’s is steak. It is prime steak, as good as it gets. In particular, consider the New York sirloin grilled with a coat of cracked peppercorns. Talk about big flavor! There are other cuts of steak as well as such familiar Italian specialties as lasagne, veal parmigiana and a risotto of the day. But among the “Italian” dishes is one that we’ve found only in Chicago, and is truly magnificent: chicken Vesuvio. Chicken Vesuvio is several bone-in pieces of chicken, sauteed then baked to utmost succulence, encased in a dark, red-gold crust of lush skin that slides from the meat as the meat slides off its bone. Is it tender? Forget about it! The dark meat in particular sets new standards for chicken tenderness. Piled among the chicken are wedges of potato, long-sauteed in a bath of white wine, garlic, olive oil, and spice until they are soft as mashed inside, but develop crunchy edges.
Even if you don’t get chicken Vesuvio, “Vesuvio” potatoes are available as a side dish to go with any steak or chop. The only problem about ordering them is that you likely won’t also be ordering Harry Caray’s garlic mashed potatoes, which are superb.