In honor of Taste of Chicago, running Wednesday through Sunday, let's take a look at the city's savory restaurants and their sometimes unsavory customers. Eat it up:
1/ Charlie Trotter, the influential Chicago restaurateur who died last year, once ordered his waitstaff to wear double-sided tape on the soles of their shoes so they would pick up carpet lint while they delivered the food.
2/ About a century ago, when Cook County Jail was on the Near North Side, a nearby restaurant would supply 25 to 50 meals a day to inmates who could afford them. Those condemned to death got their last meal for free. The eatery was known as the Noose Coffee Shop.
3/ John Kruger is credited with first using the word cafeteria to name his do-it-yourself restaurant at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. He also called it a "conscience joint" because customers were expected to keep track of their own bills. But by 1896, the Tribune reported that many cafeterias were forced to return to the "old check-from-the-waiter plan" because losses were adding up to $20 a day, when a big meal might cost a quarter.
4/ The Signature Room on the John Hancock Center's 95th floor is the highest public restaurant in the United States, but not the highest place you can eat in Chicago. If you can finagle an invitation to the dining room at the Mid-America Club in the Aon Center, you can enjoy the magnificent views some 40 feet higher.
5/ The area's earliest restaurant predated the birth of the city in 1837 by nearly a decade. Wolf Tavern opened in 1828 on Wolf Point and featured wild game, fruits, nuts, fish and "whisky from the East." The first fine-dining establishment in the area was at the Lake House Hotel, located where the McDonald's behind the Wrigley Building sits today. Opened in 1836, Lake House had such innovations as menus and was famous for its French cook, fine furnishings and the fact that the handsome brick building was surrounded by one of the only sidewalks in the village.
6/ Michael Jordan met his first wife, Juanita, at a Chicago restaurant (Bennigan's) and proposed to her at another (Nick's Fishmarket). Barack and Michelle Obama got engaged over dinner at Gordon; the waiter brought the ring with dessert. Another romantic couple had a tougher time at a Chicago eatery. In 1934, John Dillinger dropped off girlfriend Evelyn "Billie" Frechette near the State-Austin Inn at State and Austin (now Hubbard) so she could go in first and make sure the coast was clear. When she was escorted from the bar-restaurant in handcuffs, Dillinger escaped, and they never saw each other again. (The FBI fatally shot Dillinger a few months later.)
7/ The Italian Court was a series of apartments and shops at the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Ontario Street. Nestled in the courtyard was Le Petit Gourmet, a cherished date-night rendezvous for Chicagoans until it was torn down in 1968. In the 1920s, the restaurant hosted Sunday evening literary "readings." For a dollar, patrons enjoyed coffee, cakes — and the privilege of conversing with the likes of Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay and Edna St. Vincent Millay after they recited their poetry.
8/ McDonald's, the Oak Brook-based fast-food chain, boasts a whopping 35,429 restaurants in 120 countries, serving 70 million people every day. Its growth has been inexorable. Since Ray Kroc died in January 1984, the company has opened about 1,000 stores a year. That's more than two every single day for 30 years.
9/ The area around Clark and Madison streets was once known as Toothpick Row because of the many lunch places there. Another famous "row" in the Loop was Counsellors Row, a restaurant on LaSalle Street across from City Hall where political players in "Booth One," a private corner table, discussed a full platter of politically corrupt schemes, unaware that the FBI was secretly recording them. It was just a coincidence that the menu featured a half-pound burger called "The Lawbreaker, so delicious it is almost unlawful."
10/ Joe Aiello, a gangster rival of Al Capone, tried to bribe the chef at the Bella Napoli cafe to poison Capone's minestrone soup. Instead, the chef tipped Capone to the plot, and Aiello ended up with the Scarface special: a hail of bullets that killed him on a West Side street.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Chicago Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the newspaper's weekend editor.
SOURCES: "Challenging Chicago: Coping with Everyday Life, 1837-1920" by Perry Duis; "The Foie Gras Wars" by Mark Caro; "The Mafia Encyclopedia" by Carl Sifakis; "Kup's Chicago" by Irv Kupcinet; "Fabulous Chicago" by Emmett Dedmon; "History of Chicago, Vol. 1" by Alfred Theodore Andreas; "Chicago Antiquities" by Henry Higgins Hurlbut; "As Others See Chicago: Impressions of Visitors, 1673-1933," edited by Bessie Louise Pierce and Joe Lester Norris; Encyclopedia of Chicago; "Dillinger: The Untold Story" by George Russell Girardin and William J. Helmer; people.com; "Best African-American Essays 2010," edited by Gerald Early and Randall Kennedy; "Chicago: A Biography" by Dominic A. Pacyga; "Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs: A Historical Guide" by Ann Durkin Keating; "American Language" by H.L. Mencken; "Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink" by John F. Mariani; Chicago Tribune; McDonald's; Mid-America Club; John Hancock Center; Signature Room