Taste Hyde Park: For the Love of Pizza Puffs

By GREG FAIRBANKS

Some foods remind us of our childhood. For me, that memory is warm summer afternoons and little league baseball, walking to Don’s Dairy Frost across from my Grandma’s house, craving a pizza puff. While all the other kids were enjoying their free ice cream after the game, I was counting my pennies until I got to $2.99. It was my comfort food.

It has long been a staple of my diet. It’s pretty cheap and slightly filling. I usually judge a fast food joint by the pizza puff they make. It has to be fried for almost five minutes or it doesn’t cook all the way through. If it is overcooked, then the crust is burnt and loses all the grease. I know that they are probably as bad for you as smoking a cigarette for lunch and I don’t seek them out as much anymore. I get a craving every once in a while, maybe it’s nostalgia, I don’t know.

That craving brought me to Wingers on 53rd street one evening last week. I thought I had heard they were open and I was hoping to check out the new interior and see if they were going to have my favorite childhood food on the menu. I had been there for a pizza puff before, when it was Hyde Park Gyros. I would go there to get my fix every so often over the past decade. The place never changed. The owners seemed less and less happy to see you. The last time I went, the puff was cold inside, much like the feeling you got when you walked in the door. I knew they wouldn’t stick around, especially with all the “newness” springing up on 53rd Street. Factor in a changing clientele and over a decade of being a restaurant in Chicago’s “most neglected neighborhood for food and drink” and it’s not hard to imagine why they would want to leave. I remember watching the woman behind the counter (the place aged her unkindly over the years) dealing with a crowd of high school kids, all being very rude and brash. The two cooks knew better than to get involved and she was left to fend for herself. I stood there and could see a look on her eyes that said, “I’m tired of this.” That was just last spring I believe.

Alas, Wingers was closed that evening and the next night there was a fire. I had written most of this piece already and started thinking about the strange coincidence. Maybe it is time to let go of the past, stop craving childish things and refine my metaphorical palate to desire the new menu that life here in Hyde Park has to offer. Perhaps I need to stop grazing on the dollar menu and afford myself a greener pasture free of preservatives and stabilizers. My diet of caffeine, fried food and various fermented beverages can’t possibly continue as I approach my mid-30′s. I avowed to make better choices and frequent restaurants that serve food not made in a factory. I would become, in essence, a born-again foodie.

One more pizza puff won’t kill me though.