CHICAGO – We are in the celebrated, cavernous Manny’s Cafeteria & Delicatessen and I’ll give this to you straight: I am eating kishke, an Eastern European sausage-like creation of stuffed beef intestine casings, and it’s great. It may not be a pretty picture – and it certainly can’t be healthy – but it is evocative of a metaphorical expression familiar from my childhood. Surely you remember your mother saying, “They’re taking the kishkes out of me.” Or, worse, “YOU’RE taking the kishkes out of me.” Those kishkes weren’t from a cow, they were within the speaker, and these were expressions of exasperation, annoyance, agony. I often seize on the metaphor to describe the torture my sports teams put me through before eking out a close win. During the most recent baseball playoffs, after an excruciating Boston victory, I posted on Facebook, “I am functioning today without one of my body parts. The Red Sox removed my kishkes last night.” It brought a blizzard of “likes” and appreciative comments.To be sure, the word “kishkes” also can be employed in a more instinctive way. For instance, before embarking on a course of action you might say you need to feel in your kishkes that it’s right. But I digress. The topic at hand is kishke as food. I am lunching at Manny’s, founded in 1942 and featuring Jewish-style cuisine in the city’s South Loop neighborhood.
My wife, Elizabeth, and our granddaughter, Isabella Zanobini, a University of Chicago student, are with me. Elizabeth orders a chopped liver sandwich and a towering slice of sweet noodle kugel. I have a prodigious corned beef sandwich. Isabella has corned beef and turkey. But while she complements her sandwich with a potato latke, I take the plunge and ask for a side of kishke.
The counter man takes a chunk and neatly slices it into four pieces and presents it with a small dish of gravy. Our food is wonderful, including the kishke. The casing is tough, but I set it aside and focus on the brownish crumbly stuffing. It is vaguely reminiscent of Thanksgiving stuffing but more textured: heavy, flavorful and fatty. In the world at large, traditional kishke is a fading item – you find many recipes for an alternative, often vegetarian – but co-owner Dan Raskin, 35, tells us it continues to be popular at Manny’s, especially around the Jewish holidays. He represents the fourth generation of the family’s ownership.
When he notices my corned beef and Elizabeth’s chopped liver, he says he likes to eat the two together. Indeed, one menu item, “WHAT AM I, CHOPPED LIVER?” combines the two. Of course, you might prefer “THE CHAZZER.” It combines the corned beef with pastrami, cole slaw, and cheese. Raskin gets a kick out of hearing of my Facebook post on the Red Sox and kishke. After we leave, as I mull writing this report. I email for details on what exactly goes into Manny’s kishke. My guess: beef intestines stuffed with breadcrumbs and chicken fat.Raskin responds: “Our recipe is stuffed beef casings with matzo meal, onions and beef fat.” I follow up: “Thanks for your quick response. I have seen a lot online about people using processed casings or substitute casings, but I gather your beef casings are the actual authentic traditional intestine skins. It’s nice to know, and certainly delicious.” And Raskin replies: “Yes. We have the real deal.”So there you have it.
Next time you’re in Chicago, you might give it a try. That will cost you $4.50. No need to thank me. I do this as a public service.
M. CHARLES BAKST is a retired Providence Journal political columnist.