Pizza at the Tip of the Mitten

When I talk about Northern Michigan, people often think I mean the Upper Peninsula. I don’t. I mean the tip of the mitten.

If you’ve ever had a person from Michigan tell you where they were from, you know what I mean. They hold up their right hand and point with their left to the place on the map of Michigan they just made out of their own skin. When I do that to show you where my mom’s family is from, I point right up near the tip of my middle finger.

Wolverine, Michigan, is not on most tourist maps, although the area does get some traffic from outdoorsmen (and outdoorswomen, to avoid any charges that I might be suggesting that women might be afraid of bugs and mud) enjoying the lakes, rivers, and woods. But this is not the land of fudge shops and crafty wooden plaques for your kitchen. For the most part, it’s just a place where people live.

But in the next town up the highway, Indian River, there’s a place not to be missed, even if you’re only passing through. Vivio’s is one of those locally famous spots that gets packed to the rafters on summer weekends, and for good reason. It’s a sprawling lodge-style restaurant (it’s technically called Vivio’s Northwoods Inn, to give you a flavor of it), and the walls are covered in taxidermy.


So there are foxes and deer and turkeys and badgers and all kinds of critters watching you eat your dinner. But you’ll barely notice, because you’re tucking into some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

Yes, really.


That right there is the Heidi’s Special (which, according to the menu, is actually called the Heidi’s Favorite. Who knew?). I have no idea who Heidi was, but she was one lucky girl to get this named after her. The toppings are extra cheese, bacon, and tomatoes. So simple, but so delicious. The ingredients are all fresh and tasty and cooked perfectly, but mostly it’s the crust—flavorful and chewy with just enough char on it to let you know it was baked up in a superhot oven just for you. All of the toppings are worth a go, depending on your tastes. We’ve had good luck with a basic sausage, green pepper, and onion, and even with more exotic fare like the Mediterranean and the Hawaiian.

Now look. This stuff is not gourmet. They didn’t make the sausage in-house. You probably don’t want to mess around too much with the rest of the menu. You could crack a tooth on their breadsticks. You came for the pizza. Stay focused, man. Keep your head in the game.


(c) Rose Podulka

Beyond the pizza–and honestly, you don’t need more than that–what keeps my family coming back is the service. We roll in there with a crew of about two dozen, and we’re disorganized and loud, and we always get the order mixed up, and there’s always some weirdo who wants an ice cream drink, and we got too much pizza again so they have to box it all up for us, but they are unflappingly, down-home-ily nice to us. Inevitably, someone winds up getting a hug from the waitress.

It’s that kind of place. The kind of place that’s worth a detour before you blow right past on your way to Mackinac Island or even the Upper Peninsula. I barely know where that is. My hand doesn’t go that far.


How to: Visit Chicago Like a Chicagoan

[Ed. note: The below piece of writing is extremely funny. It is also extremely profane. The word irreverent does not go far enough. If you’re offended by salty language and off-color humor, please just enjoy our photo today and I promise we’ll be back to our usual family-friendly routine promptly tomorrow.]

[Ed. note part 2: It’s also really long. Tough.]

[Ed Hirsch is a huge nerd, rap enthusiast, and homesick Chicagoan currently stationed in Dallas. He is the love child of Studs Terkel and David Mamet.]

Since moving out of Chicago, I’m asked about every three months for advice about visiting Chicago: what to do, where to stay, what to eat, and so on. I’ve come to realize in these conversations that either (a) I’m a complete slug of a person or (b) everyone assumes I spent twenty-eight years in Chicago living as a tourist. While (a) is probably true, this article is about (b). People will ask me about a restaurant like Charlie Trotter’s or what I think about the Drake Hotel, and I have to remind people that I was living in Chicago on $40k a year. I make more now ($41k!) and I still don’t stay at the Drake when I fly back home. I guess I just know a bunch of obnoxious WASPs, but I don’t think you learn anything about Chicago by trying to hang around Streeterville and Gold Coast for a long weekend. So below I’m going to compile my true honest-to-god suggestions for visiting Chicago.

Where do I fly into?

I don’t care. They’re both about the same distance from where you’re going to stay. Yes, I know where you’re going to stay.

How much is a cab from the airport? Will the cab driver rip me off?

1. If you take a cab from the airport to downtown you’re a coward. Get on the El. Smell public transportation, you baby.

2. Yes, a cab driver will at some point rip you off. You’re a guest in the city, and you should be happy to overpay our cabbies.

OK, so I’m staying at the Drake…

Hahahahahhahahaha and you’re worried about getting ripped off by a cabbie? You bitch.

Stay at the Tremont. It’s $90 a night, two blocks from the Drake, and nobody worth a dime gives a shit that you roomed where some princess or Oprah or whoever stayed. You didn’t get treated like them anyway.

OK, I’m checked in. Now what do I do?

OK, so here are the things I think I would list as cool things to do in Chicago. No particular order:

1) River tour. If it’s warm out, a historical/architecture tour of Chicago is rad for both tourists and locals. Aside from a nice, breezy trip on the not overly smelly river, architectural tours in Chicago actually have significance. This isn’t your chumpsville city where you paid a bunch of dipshits a cool million to design a glass dildo in the center of your three-block downtown. Buildings in Chicago actually mean something to the history of  the city, and you’ll learn something about the meat packing industry, health and sanitation, immigrant migration, and other cool stuff that you probably won’t appreciate because you’re a fucking uneducated hick. Fuck you.

2) Art Institute. Chicago museums are in general the types of museums you have to commit a day to, and I think the Art Institute probably does that experience the best. If you can figure out a way to get tickets in advance it will save you twenty minutes in a line. The “doll-houses” are downstairs, and you can skip the African and Asian art (you fucking racists) and go through the Greek/Roman section and hit up the American classics. That will kill two hours at least, more likely three. You’ve seen about 20 percent of the museum. Also please consider reading (if you can actually read) things about the art. Art has meaning kinda!

Realize your father is terrible.

3) Get someone over the age of fifty to drive you to Pullman Town. I was lucky enough to tag along one weekend when my dad took a friend of his on a tour of the South Side. See, despite what thirty-something yuppie shitheels in Chicago think, the South Side actually wasn’t always just for black people! You should swing through Bridgeport, over to Bronzeville, down to Hyde Park, through Washington Park to Englewood, and then on to Pullman. Ideally this person giving the tour is Jewish, but I don’t have high hopes for you. Pullman is itself an interesting historic landmark, and there’s a nice little museum.

4) Cubs game. As a Sox fan, it makes me barf to say this, but you’ll get better photos and it’s more interesting to walk around Clark and Addison even though it’s just a bunch of frat guys. Hell, you’ll probably feel pretty comfortable with that.

That should eat up your weekend.

OK, but what I was thinking of doing…


1) Shopping on the Mag Mile. Ahahhahahahahahahah you fucking dipshit. You don’t have an outlet store in your state? Believe me, I want your fucking money flowing through the coffers of the city of Chicago as much as anyone, but if you came to Chicago to shop you are human trash and I hope you die.
2) Going up the Hancock/Sears Tower. Wow, you went up high. You were higher up when you flew in. Also, you’re going to spend too much on a drink in the Signature Room while sitting next to some screaming kid. Great move, asshat.
3) Seeing a show. Yeah, you aren’t going to see anything interesting, you’re going to see some musical prepping for Broadway or back touring. Wait for it to come to your dumbass state, maybe? You could go to iO or a million other great improv troupes or small theaters, but risking being in a theater where you might have to have a thought about what you just saw is likely for you pretty scary.
4) See the Bean without a local. Seeing “The Sky Bridge” seems like such a great idea too, right?! Millennium Park is like a park but without all that history and gravitas that real Chicago parks have. If you don’t have a fat half-Italian bitching about Daley as you try to take your stupid reflection shot, you’re incapable of raising children right. Ponder that.
5) The Taste. I hope someone shoots you.

Pictured: three stabbings, eight thefts, and someone eating a stupid thing on a stick


OK, now here’s where we get serious.

Eating like a Chicagoan means understanding you can get good to great food anywhere. Yeah, I’m sure Rick Bayless has had his proverbial knob gobbled by every Food Network person you watch, but it turns out if you don’t go to some rib joint that’s open until 1 a.m. you may as well be a plantation owner. So here are some quintessential Chicago dining experiences.

Chicago-Style Pizza

Yeah I know you went to Gino’s East or Giordano’s or whatever. You did it wrong. First off, you ate at the restaurant. Second, you were probably mostly sober. In no way is that how you approach eating a Chicago-style pizza.

1) Go out to a dive bar on the north side (anything west of Southport and north of Belmont will count, I feel; YMMV) and begin drinking. If they have PBR you should have at least two. Same with Schlitz. If you want to do the beer snob thing, you’re welcome to it. Same with scotch. No wine. Vodka is OK.
2) Keep drinking.
3) Begin talking to locals. They will be the interesting people around you.
4) Become best friends with locals. It should be about 10:30 by now.
5) Keep drinking. Decide if you are going to try to sleep with any of these people.
6) At 12:30, begin talking about how you’re hungry. This will be true as you have not eaten.
7) Convince your new friends to take you to their apartment. It will look like this most likely:

Hello, I am a two-flat.

8) Order a deep dish from Chicago’s Pizza.

9) Fifty minutes later, make a major ordeal about how you are going to pay this delivery guy.
10) Eat a slice of the pizza that you have somehow paid for.
11) Fall asleep on couch, not having sex with locals.
12) Wake up four hours later. At this point the pizza should be sitting on the coffee table across from you. The cheese has congealed and the sauce gone cold. Think to yourself “There is a block of cheese inside of me. It has to get out…right?” Ponder your life failures as you sneak out of this person’s apartment and try to find a cab/el stop.

This is a picture of failure.

This is a picture of failure.

Chicago Meat

Oh you want to go to a steakhouse? Ohhhhhhh hmmmmmm yeah no. Half the places out there are chains, and you aren’t mafia enough to pull off being in the ones that aren’t. Chicago meat to you can be summed up as HogDogGyroItalianBeefSausageBurger. Also ribs.

The shortcut to all your Chicago meat needs is Portillo’s. I know what you’re thinking: did this guy who can’t stop being a prick to me just tell me to go to a chain? First off, it’s no chain you ever heard of so put your dick away. Second, go ask around about Portillo’s and see what kind of reaction you get. Portillo’s is like the only popular thing Chicagoans like that’s not named Derrick Rose.

But, if you want to live it real, avoid Portillo’s and find your own hole in the wall. To do this, first you look for a sign.

Despite never being there, I know this is a reputable establishment.

Despite never being there, I know this is a reputable establishment.

Your keys to spotting this place are:

1) Vienna Beef logo on their hanging sign
2) Their name includes one or more of the following
a. Chicago
b. Windy City
c. Beef
d. Dog
e. Gyros
f. The name of the street you’re on
g. The name of a street you’re not on
h. Any ethnic sounding name followed by an “ ‘s ”
3) Their staff appears to all be related or from the same ethnicity
4) They have any of the following
a. Signed pictures of the old mayor
b. Railroad paraphernalia
c. A picture of a giant hotdog, possibly floating in Lake Michigan
d. A menu hanging above the counter that appears to have ~50 items
e. An elderly lady working the cash register

You should expect to eat here a few times. You will want to try a hot dog (plain), another hot dog (everything), Italian beef (hot peppers), Italian sausage (peppers), gyros (everything, pronounce it “euros” or someone will slap you in a just world).

Chicago Ethnic Food

Chicago is good at ethnicities and racism. It’s a good mix, as it means you end up with very particular neighborhoods and streets (ghettos?) to experience unique foods. Here in Texas, I’m not sure if most people can tell the difference between an African American and a Latino, but in Chicago my old barber (Uncle Joe!) once gave me a lecture on exactly when the neighborhood went to hell: when the Irish moved in.

So while in Chicago, you should at least try to get someplace weird. While I think Andersonville and Rogers Park are two great places to do it, I’m going to send you to Uptown. Uptown works for three reasons. First, it’s accessible, right off the Red Line. Second, it has an energetic corner at Lawrence and Broadway. Third, the Green Mill is there. And fourth, there’s a rad Ethiopian place called Demera. If you’ve never had Ethiopian food before, I expect you to go. Do not google anything. Do not be a coward. Do what they do and stop crying. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to see a guy perform guitar there and drink some honey wine. Once you’re done, go across the street to the Green Mill. Pay the cover. Listen to whatever weird experimental Swedish jazz band has flown in to play there and just there. Shut your gaping mouth and just try to appreciate what is happening. Please. Try.


I get it. A pun.

OK, so this should get you through your weekend in Chicago such that I will give a crap about what you did there. Other things to consider may be:

  • getting into a fight with a homeless man at an el stop
  • having a terrible opinion about sports and sharing it with everyone
  • being involved in a gun crime
  • eating a plate of fries at Clarke’s and wondering how unsanitary the kitchen is
  • going to a Polish buffet on the far northwest side and getting threatened by a three-hundred-pound man in sweatpants
  • freezing your fucking balls off
  • becoming a fan of Rod Blagojevich
  • bitching about Oprah
  • growing a moustache

Will Travel for Food, Part 1

I love food. I love it so much that whether or not I choose a destination can hinge on food. For instance, there’s a lot of reasons to visit Portland. Mine began when I saw a story about Voodoo Doughnut. I heard there’s a Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Nashville, and suddenly I wanted to go to Nashville a little more than I did before. My advice: don’t travel anywhere without a list of the best places for food, coffee, and chocolate.

Forget exotic beaches, snowcapped mountains, and cultured cities. Here are a handful of eateries we’ve visited that are so good, I’d get on a plane right now just for them.

Tropical Dreams Ice Cream, Kapaa, Kauai

During six days on the beautiful island of Kauai, we visited Tropical Dreams three times. It would have been daily if it weren’t for the 45-minute ride to get there. I love this ice cream so much I might pour my life savings into a franchise just so I can eat it all the time. I have no photos to share because I temporarily lost my mind while there.

The ice cream is all natural, all local. The cream comes from dairies on the Big Island, and the fruits come from local Hawaiian farms. With 18 percent butterfat, it coats your mouth with creamy, dreamy deliciousness. And the flavor! Remember the lickable wallpaper from Willy Wonka? “The strawberry tastes like strawberry! The snozberry tastes like snozberry!” It’s just like that—the flavors are completely authentic. No artificial flavor, no dehydrated and reconstituted fruit.

My flavor of choice for the week was Banana Split: a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream filled with chunks of Hawaiian bananas, fresh strawberries, and chocolate cookie bits. On our way to the airport, we made a tearful last stop. I set in my mind to try a new flavor, and I did—by getting a scoop of Banana Split and a scoop of Coconut Pineapple.

Gotta go out with a bang.

The good news is you don’t have to travel all the way to Hawaii to try it, because the owners have brought this creamy wonder to a handful of mainland locations. And, oh, they also ship, in case you wanted to get me a Christmas gift.

Zinc Champagne & Wine Bar, San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is basically two things: the Alamo and the Riverwalk. And the Riverwalk is basically all restaurants. If you want to eat, you go to the Riverwalk. Our first day in town, though, we were lucky enough to have a local steer us to Zinc, just off the Riverwalk on a quiet corner. “Get the crack burger,” he insisted. Then smiled and got a faraway look in his eyes. So we went to Zinc the next day, and then the next, and then considered extending our trip so we could go a third time.

Formally called the Zinc Burger, its addictive quality lies in the parmesan tuiles. (A tuile is a thin, crisp wafer.) To that cheesy crunch, add some gooey smoked cheddar and a spicy tomato aioli, and you can forget every other burger you’ve ever eaten.

It’s just not fair to have two “this is the best _____ I’ve ever had” items on your menu. So if you leave the restaurant without shaking your fist in anger and crying out, “Why, Zinc!? WHY!?”, then you’ve left without ordering the pizza, with mozzarella so fresh and a crust so perfectly crisped that you can barely chew because your mouth hangs open in awe. What did we do to deserve this torture?

And I haven’t even mentioned the roasted lamb sandwich with its devilish peach chutney.

So what’s that one place from a vacation you took that you can’t stop thinking about? Let me know so I can start making travel plans.