One for the road
The Midwest's tastiest specialties are only a road trip away. That is, unless you cheat.
Maid Rite loose-meat sandwiches
The fuss These sandwiches may be made with ground beef, but they’re the anti-burger. The crumbly texture makes it more like a sloppy joe (though don’t say that to the Iowans who lay claim to them).
The real deal A bona fide Maid Rite can be found in Loves Park, Illinois (1726 E Riverside Blvd, Loves Park, IL, 815-282-0404, 84 miles away).
Cheater’s solution Right across the Indiana border is a little shack called Madvek’s Dog House (6923 Calumet Ave, Hammond, IN, 219-932-1060). Their loose-meat sandwiches aren’t technically Maid Rites, but they’re close enough.
Wisconsin frozen custard
The fuss It looks like soft serve or even fro-yo. But don’t be fooled: Wisconsin became obsessed with this stuff precisely because it’s richer and creamier than anything in its class.
The real deal The closest location of one of Milwaukee’s original custard slingers, Kopp’s Custard, is less than two hours away (7631 W Layton Ave, Greenfield, WI, 414-282-4312, 88 miles away).
Cheater’s solution Go to Kopps.com and order a ten-pack. Or if it’s just a cone you’re looking for, Scooter’s Frozen Custard (1658 W Belmont Ave, 773-244-6415) is a great, if slightly inauthentic, substitute.
The fuss When Danes settled in Racine in the ’30s and ’40s, they brought with them kringles, delicious buttery pastry formed into a large O shape. After one of these, you’ll never accept a “Danish” as a substitute.
The real deal Racine’s kringles are so popular, mass production has sprung up, but at the fourth-generation Bendtsen’s Bakery (3200 W Washington Ave, Racine, WI, 262-633-0365, 75 miles away), the pastries are still made by hand, fresh daily.
Cheater’s solution They might be Swedes, but the folks at Andersonville’s Swedish Bakery (5348 N Clark St, 773-561-8919) pay homage to their Scandinavian brethren by baking up kringles a few times a week.
The fuss It could be the almond filling or the flaky, puffy dough that encases it. But we suspect it’s the novelty of these alphabet-shaped pastries—allegedly only available in Iowa and Holland—that have made them an Iowa obsession.
The real deal A strip in Pella, Iowa, is a hub of Dutch Letters, with Jaarsma Bakery (727 Franklin St, Pella, IA, 641-628-2940, 312 miles away) and Vander Ploeg Bakery (711 Franklin St, Pella, IA, 641-628-2293, 312 miles away) hawking letters just down the street from one another.
Cheater’s solution Both bakeries send their pastries through the mail.
Elegant Farmer paper-bag apple pies
The fuss Though baking a pie in a brown-paper bag sounds like a fire hazard, something about the famed process results in a crunchy, sugary, cookielike crust that other pies can only aspire to.
The real deal Elegant Farmer headquarters (1545 Main St, Mukwonago, WI, 262-363-6770, 92 miles away)—a big barn with a smiley face painted on the side—sells the pies alongside jams, muffins, cookies and popcorn.
Cheater’s solution The pies are sometimes sold at Whole Foods (locations around the city), and are available frozen from the farmer himself by calling the number above.
The fuss Since this Wisconsin-born chain buttered its first toasted bun in 1984, the thin, fresh-beef burgers with lacy edges developed such a loyal following that there are now 370 locations—not one of which is in Chicago city limits.
The real deal The two closest Culver’s locations are in Franklin Park (2751 Rose St, 847-455-5135) and Bridgeview (9229 S Harlem Ave, 708-598-1400).
Cheater’s solution Green Bay’s famed Kroll’s West has been slapping big pats of butter between toasted buns and char-grilled burgers for 70 years, and lucky for you, they now have a South Loop location as well (1736 S Michigan Ave, 312-235-1400).
UP Michigan Pasties
The fuss Originally a miner’s snack, these savory, empanadalike meat pies are now the chosen snack for Upper Peninsula residents—whether they’re in a mine shaft or at the mall.
The real deal As a UP exclusive, these things are, by design, quite a hike away. But the Dobber’s Pasties in Iron Mountain (1402 S Stephenson Ave, Iron Mountain, MI, 906-774-9323, 304 miles away) is considered by many to be the best, so it may be worth the drive.
Cheater’s solution Call Dobber’s (1-800-786-4443) and ask them to send you a dozen. Or simply pick up a beef empanada from Lito’s (2566 N Clark St, 773-857-1337) and pretend.
Door County cherry pie
The fuss The Wisconsin peninsula vacation destination is the fourth-largest cherry producer in the nation, famous for its tart Montmorency variety. Put all of those cherries in the hands of bakers at adorable roadside sweet shops, and you’ll see why these pies stop traffic.
The real deal Door County locals agree on two things—rooting for the Packers and getting pies from quaint, shoebox-sized Sweetie Pie’s (9106 Hwy 42, Fish Creek, WI, 286 miles away).
Cheater’s solution Sweetie Pie’s freezes their pies raw then ships via UPS or FedEx (Doorcountypies.com).