Enter Portillo’s, the iconic Chicago peddler of enscased meats, a ‘fast-casual’ emporium of food that sells food that–let’s be real–isn’t great for you. Portillo’s just opened their first Wisconsin outpost last week, to much fanfare and skepticism. Milwaukee Record did an A-Side/B-Side about it last October, when it was first announced that the chain would be opening the Brookfield location. Ever since, I’ve heard cries from both sides, some claiming Milwaukee doesn’t need another Chicago business encroaching on our state and why should Milwaukee care about Portillo’s and others (mostly the throngs of Chicago refugees) saying it’s about time.
Truth is, the Portillo’s brand would be just fine without this new location, but in a concession to this new market/state, the Brookfield location has added a brat to its menu, the only location of its 40+ stores to serve a brat, a Usingers brat, no less. Portillo’s didn’t make its name trying to impress anyone but their core, cult-like audience and if you visit any Portillo’s in any state, at any location, you’ll see that cult has a sizable number of members, of which I have been a proud member for decades. From open until close, there’s a constant stream of patrons, dining in and using the amazingly choreographed drive-thru lanes. And these patrons are ordering the creme de la creme of ‘fast casual’ food: dogs, beefs, burgers, salads (yes, salads) and shakes, chocolate cake and otherwise. The reason there is a constant stream of patrons at every location is because the food is top-notch.
So, give Portillo’s a try, you skeptics. Try a dog, the amazing onion rings, the chopped salad, an Italian beef, and pretty much anything on the menu. Judge the food on its merits, not its city of origin. If you don’t like the food, that’s fine, there are plenty of us willing to take your spot in line. But if you decide not to try it because of a parochial skepticism, then, again, that means less people to battle in the invariable lines that circle the locations, day and night. Your loss, our gain.
[Before Portillo’s opened in Brookfield, Ann Christensen (of Milwaukee Magazine) and I took a field trip to an Illinois Portillo’s to prep for what was to come, visit that article here.]
Tootsie Rolls, Wilco, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Muddy Waters, Goose Island beer, Pitchfork Music Festival & The University of Chicago. Universally beloved? Maybe not, but close. The preceding entities are products of Chicago that have become iconic. None of them really scream Chicago at you (maybe Ferris?) but they all have an inherent Chicago-ness about them that makes them inseparable from their city of origin. Would Tootsie Rolls taste any different if they were made in, say, Minneapolis? Doubt it, but they are a time-honored Chicago confection with deep roots.