south side sandwiches: the mother-in-law

fat johnnie's

Fat Johnnie's
7242 S. Western Ave, Chicago, IL, USA

So you've just eaten a Freddy and your tum-tum's so full of sausage it might as well be fuckin' haggis. What's your next move?

Straight to Fat Johnnie's, I say.

Allow me to explain myself, as I swear it was not mere gluttony and/or masochism that set me on this path. As a South Side food enthusiast who doesn't live on the South Side, I have to maximize my trips as much as possible. It's like, when you go to Paris, you have to eat six meals for every single meal, just to make sure you don't miss anything. Sure, there may be a lot of barf on the streets of Paris, but there's almost no FOMO!

fat johnnie's

Fat Johnnie's is unmistakably ghetto in every sense, and that's not just a white person being ghetto-phobic. I mean, look at this place, it's a literal falling-down shack. And besides, I'm only part white, I'm also part "mongoloid rat," if that bootleg DNA kit I bought next to Fat Johnnie's is at all accurate.

the mother-in-law

The "gotta try" thing here is the Mother-in-Law, which of the many South Side signature dishes is arguably the most "only in Chicago." It's a Chicago-style tamale on a poppy-seed bun, slathered in chili. You can get it with cheese (the Father-in-Law), with a hot dog alongside the tamale (the Super Dog), and many other variations. The menu here is extensive and I'm sure full of gems.

To me, though, the Mother-in-Law tasted exactly like what it is: bland mush on a bun. I've never been a Chicago tamale fan, so I knew going in I wouldn't love this. Soft masa with seasoned beef on a soft steamed bun topped with a rather undistinguished chili … the textural redundancy is ridiculous for something with so few ingredients. The tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers that topped it just seemed like interlopers.

Even so, Fat Johnnie's is, without a doubt, unforgettable. There's a sign commemorating a "Bordain" (sic) visit, and it's exactly the type of place he loved to romance. I'll visit again and order something different, and maybe next time I'll do it as the first meal of that particular lunch.

Review by Pumboo Dongo-Dohnoh, February 2020

More South Side Sandwiches:
Breaded Steak ~ Ricobene's
The Freddy ~ Calabria Imports
Pork Chop ~ Jim's Original
Sweet Steak ~ The Hoagie Place