If state fairs and street festivals have taught us just one lesson, it's that just about anything tastes better on a stick—and just about anything can be served on a stick, from spaghetti and meatballs to deep-fried candy bars. Although this culinary phenomenon flares up during summer festival season, not all eats with a spit running through them are transient. Chicago's affection for skewered cuisine runs deeper than the vats of hot oil it's typically associated with.
French Toast Kabob at Orange
The archetypical "stab, dip, fry" formula that has long been the basis for skewered cuisine has found its match at Orange. This endearingly creative brunch spot, known for inspiring gaggles of salivating foodies to gleefully line up for a rotating gallery of pancake flights, has developed the antithesis to a state fair's speared fare: French Toast Kabobs ($8.95).
The toasted morsels are infused with coconut, stuck onto BBQ skewers and grilled alongside strawberries and fresh chunks of pineapple. Artfully presented and served with coconut-mango salad, this dish achieves a nearly impossible feat, convincing diners that a carb-laden meal-on-a-stick is actually healthy. Perfectly paired with a cup of orange-scented coffee, the kabobs leave just enough room for a side of Orange's signature draw: fruit and rice fashioned into maki rolls and served under the cheeky moniker "Fruishi".
Cornpole at Susie's Drive-in
As the poster product for the entire meat-on-a-stick ideology, the corn dog is in a class all its own. Attempts at improving upon such perfection have experienced a remarkably high rate of failure. Still, Susie's has developed a cult following for its unique variation on the almighty snack.
Although this snack shack is open 24 hours, regulars know better than to show up too late. There's a certain time of night when a victorious yelp, followed immediately by a despondent chorus of groans, emerges from Susie's, mere seconds after someone snags the last Cornpole. That's right—Cornpole. This Polish sausage nestled inside crispy batter immediately soaks through any paper wrappings, meaning you should grab it by the stick and inhale it before you have a chance to think about cholesterol levels. Packed with processed cheese before hitting the deep-fryer, the Cornpole cheese eruption is what sets this all-American favorite apart from the rest.
Duck Negima Yakitori at Mizu Yakitori and Sushi Lounge
There's no doubt that anything served on a stick has a certain meal-on-the-go appeal. As the snack of choice for Japanese urban-dwellers, yakitori has its roots in city street stalls, but Mizu manages to shake that fast-food stigma while keeping a finger firmly on the pulse of Japanese tradition.
Those with a wild side can chew on delicacies like chicken gizzard and beef tongue, while more docile diners tackle classics like chicken breast, pork and shrimp. Each skewer contains about three bites, with costs ranging from $1.75 to $4. For the ideal experience, grab a few friends, sip on a sake flight ($10 each) and order every option on the specials menu. A palette of accoutrements, including teriyaki sauce, citrus ponzu, spicy yellow mustard and the Japanese seven spice, Shichimi Togarashi, affords each skewer many unique identities. Be sure to order extra portions of the duck negima, but take caution: The impossibly tender meat alternated with Japanese scallions is so good, you might need to use the skewer to defend yourself against portion-grabbers.
Bacon-wrapped filet mignon at Fogo de Chao
A guaranteed way to any carnivore's heart is through the holy marriage of steak on a stake. In fact, the only more effective route is to wrap that steak in bacon. Fogo De Chao has a primal understanding of this fact.
This churassco's serving concept of espeto corridor (Portuguese for continuous service) is no joke. Chefs wielding enormous skewers of fire-roasted meat bombard you from every direction, and the only way to stop them is to flash the red side of a disc. With fifteen different cuts of meat, from leg of lamb to pork ribs, it's nearly impossible to settle on a favorite. Luckily, 50 bucks gets you that magical meat-conjuring coin and a chance to sample any animal that can be stuck onto a spit. Or, you can convince the bacon-wrapped filet mignon peddler to stand by your side, sliding those succulent medallions right onto your plate.
Lollipop Tree at David Burke's Primehouse
Skip the pricey meal at David Burke's Primehouse and go straight for the sweet stuff in the lobby bar. After braving the black-clad waiters, swanky decor and a soundtrack reminiscent of Stephen Hawking with a serious bout of the hiccups, a decadent reward is clearly in order.
David Burke's Lollipop Tree ($14 for ten lollipops) ups the ante on stick-centric cuisine. Three inspired flavors of bite-sized cheesecake—triple chocolate chunk, chocolate peanut butter and cherry-pistachio—offer something for everyone. To complete the illusion, green leaves are secured to the base of this saccharine-shrub, and fresh raspberries dangle like flower-buds from the empty branches. For a drink pairing, take advantage of Burke's stellar wine-by-the-glass menu, as this is one of those rare occasions when booze and lollipops can co-exist, sans glowsticks.