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Chicken Vesuvio, a Chicago Original
June 24, 2004 | 10 Comments

When many people discuss foods that are unique to Chicago, they talk about deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches. What is often overlooked is Chicken Vesuvio. I grew up addicted to the Chicken Vesuvio at Villa Palermo on Devon Ave, believing that this dish was created in Italy and brought to the US with other traditional Italian dishes. It wasn't until I left Chicago and first started looking for Chicken Vesuvio on Italian menus in other cities that I discovered Chicago's ownership of this dish.

Traditional Chicken Vesuvio is a half-chicken (on the bone), browned with tons of garlic, olive oil, white wine, and oregano. The whole dish is then finished in the oven and served with potato wedges and some green peas.

There are a few different places that claim invention of this dish and many who claim it as their "house specialty". According to an article I read called How to Eat Like a Chicagoan by Leah Zeldes, it was invented during the 1960s by Nick Giannotti at his restaurant Giannotti's in Forest Park.

Over the years, the popularity of this dish and vesuvio-style food has exploded in Chicago. You can find salmon, pork chops, steak, and veal served vesuvio-style. You can find Chicken Vesuvio on many different menus in and around Chicago. Too often it is a shadow of the traditional dish, served as a boneless breast of chicken with a garlicky sauce and some potatoes, other times major ingredients are left out altogether.

So, this raises the question: Who serves the best, traditional Chicken Vesuvio? My memories take me to Villa Palermo, now a small storefront on Devon (once a larger restaurant). The key to their preparation was always the dozens of whole garlic cloves swimming in the sauce.

The current reigning champion in my mind is Francesco's Hole in the Wall in Northbrook. I tried their version last year and it was, in short, perfect.

Other's swear by the vesuvio-everything at Harry Caray's, but I have yet to give it a try. Nick Giannotti's son, Vic, owns Giannotti's Steak House in Oakbrook Terrace, which I'm sure serves up a mean version.

For a taste of a true Chicago-original, check out the Chicken Vesuvio at:

Francesco's Hole in the Wall 254 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook, 847-272-0155, No reservations, prepare to wait.


Villa Palermo 2154 W. Devon Ave., 773-465-5400, little seating, mostly carry-out.

If you've had it at Giannotti's let me know:

Giannotti's Steak House, 17W400 22nd St., Oakbrook Terrace, 630-833-2700, reservations recommended.

Posted 09:28 AM
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