This is just one of them and hopefully you’ll get a taste of what I’m talking about. Back in the day you could always smell the onions on your fingers after eating a Pork Chop Sandwich from Jim’s off of Maxwell Street. My opinion of onions is to use them sparingly but that’s another story.
The Original Jim’s is long gone from Maxwell Street—it’s been relocated Union Ave. I don’t think the new location can come close in geography to the flavor of its original spot. The food might be the same but not the atmosphere. For over two years, I rode my bike throughout the city to save up enough money to buy a 1970 green Chevy Impala convertible. Through my bike travels, I came to hear the rumblings about a chow joint called Jim’s on Maxwell Street. Those rumblings tended to be very specific—“you gotta have this pork chop sandwich with the bone.” Everyone that told me the story talked out of the side of their mouth. It was the common denominator among those spreading the food rumors in Shytown. I lived only a mile from Maxwell Street, so I had to give it a try.
Maxwell Street was once famous for its ad hoc, barely legal or not so legal flea market. It wasn’t unusual for someone to be selling fur coats out of a suitcase if you wanted one. It’s the kind of place to buy cheap socks, hats, CD’s, or t-shirts. If you were walking past Jim’s during the day it made you want to try some other place near by. The competition for good food is fierce in Chicago so why eat at a dump. The best sandwich shop in the world was eight blocks from my house and yet Jim’s kept calling.
Then one night I heard about the pork chop sandwich place again after some late night escapades. I felt like the place was stalking me. I could hear the steps in my mind telling me to go. So I finally checked it out with a friend. We turned down Maxwell Street top down in late November around 3:30am. The place was a different animal at night. “Watch your back” struck a chord in the back of my mind. All the shops were closed and boarded up. The tents were packed and street lights low. Time didn’t seem to have an effect. The setting was a cross between the book Tumbleweeds and the movie Blade Runner. You would see hookers, pimps, drugs users, and cops talking in squad cars. The nightlife dwellers had taken over and the bums were congregating.
The corners leading up to Jim’s made you think twice before you stopped and asked for directions. This was a place for street hammers on account of they were never disrespected. Old men warmed their hands over oil barrel drums that were converted into fire pits. Others unable to get close to the flames were smoking hand rolled cigarettes. No matter how young they were, everyone had lines on their faces. For a kid that grew up in this life they bound for the hustle or dead to the world. I didn’t even order my food yet and the ambiance was feeding my hunger. The environment intoxicated me, and drove me past any fear. At night the place had class. The people were real. The salt of the earth that pulp writers would have chased after or poets would have listened too were walking the streets.
I pull up to the front roll and push the button for the top to close on the Impala. Jim’s it lite up like a desert oasis. The fire pits are candles. I order two grilled pork chops served with the bone and smothered with grilled white onions. Who leaves the bone on the sandwich? Takes cojones to put the bone on a sandwich and get away with it. It was a food heist. It’s been years since I’ve had that sandwich, and I can still taste it. Today Maxwell Street is nicely paved with a bus stop and a fence. The sidewalk is nice, a few potholes, and some good lighting but no Jim’s. They moved to Union Avenue.