Lynn's Chicago Foods is an unassuming establishment in Southwest Little Rock that has been serving many of Chicago's honored foods to Arkansas for over 17 years. The restaurant may not be visually stunning — the building is worn, the simple interior is far from gorgeous — but what she lacks in looks she more than makes up for in her dining options.
If you are hoping for a Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza, unfortunately, this is not the place to get it. Instead you'll find Italian beef or Polish sausage sandwiches, and the iconic hot dog, as well as a smattering of other items not particularly native to Chicago including gyros, cheesesteaks, burgers, fried fish and hot wings.
On a recent visit, we felt inclined to sample those items most associated with Chicago — first came the Italian beef sandwich ($6.05). This consisted of a sizable portion of thinly sliced beef which had clearly been wet-roasted for a considerable amount of time until the meat was tender and falling apart. The beef broth and its contents are heavily seasoned with garlic, oregano, and other spices, giving the beef an herbaceous, aromatic flavor. A stack of this beef, dripping with its own juices, gets wedged inside a chewy Italian-style roll. The entire sandwich is then dipped, oh-so-briefly, in the juices the meat cooked in. Not enough to completely saturate the bread or leave it a mushy, inedible mess, but just enough to slightly dampen the outer surface of the roll. The sandwich is finally topped with a small helping of giardiniera, a spicy pickled blend of bell peppers, jalapeño, cauliflower, and celery. The end result was a thing of beauty. The beef, so tender and juicy, was teeming with flavor. The heavy-handed spices and vinegary touch of pickled vegetables create a mouth-watering flavor profile that makes this a sandwich difficult to put down once you begin to chow down. It's a creation that does justice to the city that claims the Italian beef as her own. On a subsequent visit, we realized this same Italian beef sandwich could also be ordered with a juicy Polish sausage nestled underneath the heap of beef. Though it seemed like it might be a bit overkill, we ordered this "combination beef" sandwich ($6.90) and found the Polish sausage to be a wonderful addition — heavy on fennel, slightly sweet, a little spice — it was perfection.
We almost felt obligated to assess their attempt at the Chicago dog ($2.75). You know the breakdown: all-beef dog, poppy-seed bun, yellow mustard, white onion, neon green relish, sport peppers, sliced tomatoes, dill pickle spear, and celery salt. Rarely, if ever, do you come across a hot-dog purveyor claiming to provide an authentic version who will vary too far from this time-tested formula. And no ketchup, that'll get you in a whole heap of trouble. Lynn's does a respectable job with this one. The vegetables all tasted fresh, each of the toppings was placed in their proper proportions. We would have preferred a slightly larger hot dog, as the one provided tended to get lost among the many toppings, but truthfully, this is only a minor qualm, as we thoroughly enjoyed the dog.
We also tried their cheeseburger, which came in a combo with fries and a drink ($5.50). It was respectable, the beef was thick and hot, cooked through entirely. The condiments comprised the usual suspects: lettuce, tomato, American cheese, onion, pickle. It was rather heavy on mustard, but we found it enjoyable overall. The fries were clearly of the frozen, pre-cut variety, something we'd pass on with future visits.
Lastly, we noticed an item we'd never seen before, presumably a native Chicago product that never made it too far out of Illinois. And so, we ordered up the "pizza puff" ($2.94). The item in question takes a mixture of cheese, tomato sauce, diced pepperoni and sausage and stuffs this into a layer of puff pastry dough. After a quick dip in the fryer, the pocket puffs up to create a shell with layers of golden brown, crispy pastry. They were fairly heavy on grease, and not something you'd want to eat everyday, but it's hard to hate something this fatty, indulgent, and full of stringy cheese.
Lynn's Chicago Foods is not fancy, but it's stayed in business for all these years because the food speaks for itself. It's run by kind, welcoming folks who simply enjoy serving customers a small piece of the city they love — and there's a whole lot to love about Lynn's.