Cuisine of the Midwestern United States: Wikis


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Midwestern cuisine is a regional cuisine of the American Midwest. It draws its culinary roots most significantly from the cuisines of Central, Northern and Eastern Europe.

Everyday Midwestern home cooking generally showcases simple and hearty dishes that make use of the abundance of locally grown foods. Its culinary profiles may seem synonymous with "American food." Quoted in a 2007 interview with the Daily Herald, Chef Stephen Langlois, a pioneer in the Midwestern local food movement, described it: "Think of Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey and cranberry sauce and wild rice and apple pie."[1]

In its urban centers, however, the Midwest's restaurants offer a diverse mix of ethnic cuisines as well as sophisticated, contemporary techniques.



Sometimes called "the breadbasket of America," the Midwest serves as a center for grain production, particularly wheat, corn and soybeans. Midwestern states also produce most of the country's wild rice.

Beef and pork processing always have been important Midwestern industries, with a strong role in regional diets. Chicago and Kansas City were historically stockyard and processing centers of the beef trade, while Iowa remains the center of pork production in the U.S.

Far from the oceans, Midwesterners traditionally ate little seafood,[citation needed] relying on local freshwater fish, such as perch and trout, supplemented by canned tuna and canned or cured salmon and herring, although modern air shipping of ocean seafood has been increasing Midwesterners' taste for ocean fish.

Dairy products, especially cheese, form an important group of regional ingredients, with Wisconsin known as "America's Dairyland," although other Midwest states make cheese as well.

The upper Midwest, a prime fruit-growing region, sees the extensive use of apples, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, peaches and other cold-climate fruit in its cuisine.

As with many American regional cuisines, Midwestern cooking has been heavily influenced by immigrant groups. Throughout the northern Midwest, northern European immigrant groups predominated, so Swedish pancakes and Polish pierogi are common. Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, Ohio and Illinois were destinations for many ethnic German immigrants, so pork sausages and potatoes are prevalent. In the Rust Belt, many Greeks became restaurateurs, imparting a Mediterranean influence. Native American influences show up in the uses of corn and wild rice.

Traditionally, Midwestern cooks used a light hand with seasonings, preferring sage, dill, caraway, mustard and parsley to hot, bold and spicy flavors. However, with new waves of immigrants from Latin America and Asia moving into the region, these tastes are changing.

This section of the country is also headquarters for several seminal hamburger chains, including McDonald's in Oak Brook, Illinois (founded in California, but turned into the iconic franchise by Ray Kroc beginning with a still-standing store in Des Plaines, Illinois). The Midwest is also home to Culver's in Sauk City, Wisconsin; Steak n Shake, founded in Normal, Illinois, and now based in Indianapolis; Wendy's in Dublin, Ohio; and White Castle in Columbus, Ohio. Diner chain Big Boy, known for burgers, is headquartered in Warren, Michigan.

Urban centers

Major urban areas in the Midwest feature distinctive cuisines very different from those of the region's rural areas, and some larger cities have world-class restaurants.


The ethnic mix of the people of Chicago has led to a distinctive cuisine of restaurant foods exclusive to the area, such as Italian beef, the Maxwell Street Polish, the Chicago-style hot dog, Chicago-style pizza, chicken Vesuvio and the jibarito, as well as a large number of steakhouses.

Chicago also boasts many gourmet restaurants, as well as a wide variety of ethnic food stores and eateries, most notably Mexican, Polish, Italian, Greek, Indian/Pakistani and Asian, often clustered in ethnic neighborhoods. Many of these cuisines have evolved significantly in Chicago. For example, the Greek cheese dish saganaki was first flambéed at the table in Greektown.[2]

The Midwest is sometimes thought to be behind the coasts in culinary trends, yet, perhaps ironically, Chicago is the country's leading center of cutting-edge molecular gastronomy.[3]

As a major rail hub, Chicago historically had access to a broad range of the country's foodstuffs, so even in the 19th century, Chicagoans could easily buy items like live oysters[4] and reasonably fresh shrimp. Chicago's oldest signature dish, shrimp de Jonghe, was invented around the turn of the 20th century. Today, flights into O'Hare Airport bring Chicago fresh food from all over the world.


The Queen City was formerly known as Porkopolis. It is known for its namesake, Greek-influenced "Cincinnati chili", piled onto spaghetti. Goetta, a sausage made from pork and oats, often eaten at breakfast, and opera cream chocolates are less-famous local specialties. The city also has a strong German heritage and was home to several major breweries in the past.


Cleveland's many immigrant groups have long played an important role in defining the regional cuisine. Polish and Eastern European foods, such as beer, pierogi, and kielbasa are popular in and around the city. The city is home to Hector Boiardi and Michael Ruhlman, who have been noted for their contributions in the culinary world. The West Side Market is home to vendors selling many kinds of ethnic food, fresh produce, and ethnic restaurants can be found in the neighborhoods such as Slavic Village, Tremont and Little Italy, a center of Italian cuisine, including pizza, Italian ice, and cassata cake.[5]


The Columbus, Ohio, area is the home and birthplace of many well-known fast food chains, especially those known for hamburgers. Wendy's opened its first store in Columbus in 1969, and is now headquartered in nearby Dublin. America's oldest hamburger chain, White Castle, is based there. Besides burgers, Columbus is noted for the German Village, a neighborhood south of downtown where German cuisine such as sausages and kuchen are served.


Detroit specialties include the chili dogs called Coney Island hot dogs, found at hundreds of unaffiliated "Coney Island" restaurants. Famous examples include Lafayette Coney Island and American Coney Island, which stand next to each other, serving Coneys all night in downtown Detroit.

Detroit also has its own style of pizza, a thick-crusted, Sicilian cuisine-influenced, rectangular type called square pizza. Other Detroit foods include zip sauce, served on steaks; the triple-decker Dinty Moore sandwich; and a Chinese-American dish called warr shu gai or almond boneless chicken.

The Detroit area has many large groups of immigrants. A large Arabic-speaking population reside in and around the suburb of Dearborn, home to many Lebanese storefronts. Detroit also has a substantial number of Greek restaurateurs. Thus, numerous Mediterranean restaurants dot the region and typical foods such as gyros, hummus and falafel can be found in many run-of-the-mill grocery stores and restaurants.

Polish food is also prominent in the region, including popular dishes such as pierogi, borscht, and paczki. Bakeries concentrated in the Polish enclave of Hamtramck, Michigan, a suburb within the city, are celebrated for their paczki, especially on Fat Tuesday.


Indianapolis was settled predominately by Americans of British descent and Irish and German immigrants, so much of the city's food draws upon these influences. Much of the food is considered to be "Classic American Cuisine". Later immigrants included many Jews, Poles, Eastern Europeans and Italians, all of whom influenced local food. Two of the city's most distinct dishes are the pork tenderloin sandwich and strawberry shortcake.[citation needed]

A fast-growing immigrant population from places such as Mexico and India is also beginning to influence the local food. The area offers many diverse, locally owned ethnic restaurants, as well as nationally and internationally renowned restaurants. Indy is also home to many local pubs.

Kansas City

Kansas City is an important barbecue and meat-processing center with a distinctive barbecue style. The Kansas City metropolitan area has more than 100 barbecue restaurants[citation needed] and proclaims itself to be the "world's barbecue capital." The Kansas City Barbeque Society spreads its influence across the nation through its barbecue-contest standards. The oldest continuously-operating barbecue restaurant is Arthur Bryant's near downtown Kansas City. Another popular barbecue restaurants is Gates Bar-B-Q. Both Arthur Bryant's and Gates Bar-B-Q sell bottled versions of their barbecue sauces in restaurants and specialty stores in the surrounding areas.


German immigrants settled Milwaukee. Sauerkraut, bratwurst, and beer as well as other traditional German favorites continue to be popular in homes as well as at Milwaukee's famous German restaurants. Milwaukee also offers a diverse selection of other ethnic restaurants.

Frozen custard is a local favorite in the Cream City, with many competing stands throughout the area.[6]

Also known as Brew City,[6] Milwaukee is home to many breweries and the traditional and nominal headquarters for national beer brands.[7][8]

Minneapolis and Saint Paul

Minneapolis and Saint Paul offer diverse and upscale offerings as well as typical Minnesota regional fare such as hotdish, wild rice, and lefse. The influx of Asian immigrants is encouraging new combinations as traditional Midwestern dishes are paired with Asian techniques and spices. Chinese preparations of walleye, for example, are offered.

The Twin Cities share (along with Green Bay, Wisconsin) the neighborhood booyah, a cuisine and cultural event.

The Twin Cities-based University of Minnesota has been a center for food research; such inventions as the Honeycrisp apple have come from the "U of M." Additionally, many important agricultural conglomerates, including General Mills/Pillsbury, International Multifoods and Cargill, make their home in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. The Betty Crocker food brand (named after a non-existent housewife) was born there.

The Twin Cities claim that the all-American corn dog made its first appearance there, as well as the Pronto Pup. Another dish associated with the Twin Cities is the Jucy Lucy (or "Juicy Lucy"), a hamburger with a core of melted cheese.

Several national restaurant chains, such as Buca di Beppo and Famous Dave's, got their start in the Twin Cities area. Dairy Queen, T.G.I. Friday's of Carlson Companies and Buffalo Wild Wings are also headquartered in the Twin Cities.

Immigration from Somalia has brought an unusual number of restaurants serving cuisine from that country. The Somali Resource Center's website lists 20 Somali community restaurants, most of them concentrated in the South Minneapolis and West Bank neighborhoods. In St. Paul, there is a preponderance Southeast Asian restaurants, including Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian food, along University Avenue.


Omaha boasts unique steakhouses, several of which are Sicilian in origin or adjacent to the Omaha Stockyards. Central European and Southern influences can be seen in the local popularity of carp and South 24th Street contains a multitude of Mexican restaurants. North Omaha also has its own barbecue style.

Omaha is one of the locations claiming to have invented the reuben sandwich, supposedly named for Reuben Kulakofsky, a grocer from the Dundee neighborhood.

Bronco's, Godfather's Pizza, and the Garden Cafe are among the chain restaurants that originated in Omaha.

St. Louis

The large number of German immigrants who came to St. Louis beginning in the early nineteenth century contributed significantly to the shaping of local cuisine as confirmed by a variety of uses of beef, pork and chicken, often roasted or grilled, as well as a variety of desserts including rich cakes, stollens, fruit pies, doughnuts and cookies. Even a local form of fresh stick pretzel has been sold singly or by the bag full by street corner vendors.

Mayfair salad dressing was invented at a St. Louis hotel of the same name, and is richer than Caesar salad dressing. St. Louis is also known for popularizing the ice cream cone and for gooey butter cake (a rich, soft-centered coffee cake) and frozen custard.

St. Louis-style barbecue uses pork steaks or St. Louis-style pork ribs and a unique type of barbecue sauce and beer and bratwursts remain a standby at family barbecues, baseball games and street festivals.

Restaurants on The Hill reflect the lasting influence of the early twentieth century Milanese and Sicilian immigrant community. Two unique Italian-American style dishes include "toasted" ravioli, which is breaded and fried, and St. Louis-style pizza, which has a crispy thin crust and is usually made with Provel cheese instead of traditional mozzarella cheese.

A poor boy sandwich is the traditional name in St. Louis for a submarine sandwich. A St. Paul sandwich is a unique St. Louis treat available in Chinese-American restaurants. A Slinger is a diner and late night specialty consisting of a plate smothered with breakfast staples and chili, cheese and onion.

Regional specialties


Illinois is a top producer of corn and soybeans,[9] but corn, particularly sweet corn, figures most substantially in its cuisine. Chicago-style foods tend to dominate in Northeastern Illinois, while other parts of the state mirror adjoining regions.

Springfield, Illinois and the surrounding area are known for the horseshoe sandwich.


A popular dish seen almost exclusively in Indiana is sugar cream pie, which most likely originated in the state's Amish community. Persimmon pudding is also a favorite Indiana dessert very difficult to find outside of the Hoosier State.

The pork tenderloin sandwich is a popular state food. Beef and noodles is another homespun Hoosier dish.[10]

Frogs' legs are traditional in old-fashioned Indiana restaurants,[11] and brain sandwiches have a following.[12] Fried biscuits with apple butter are served at many restaurants in southern Indiana.[citation needed]


Cuisine of Iowa includes the pork tenderloin sandwich, consisting of a lean section of pork tenderloin that is pounded flat, breaded, and deep fried before being served on a seeded hamburger bun with any or all of ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and dill pickle slices. The main ingredient of this dish bears a similarity to schnitzel and may be related to the German immigrants who originally populated central Iowa. Iowa is also the center for creamed corn production and consumption.[citation needed]

Iowa is the center for loose-meat sandwiches, such as those popularized by Maid-Rite, although they can also be found in western Illinois and Indiana.[13] and Nebraska.[14]


Western and northern Michigan are notable fruit-growing and wine-making regions. The Northwestern region of Michigan's Lower Peninsula accounts for approximately 75 percent of the U.S. crop of tart cherries, usually about 250 million pounds.[15]

Miners looking for a convenient meal to bring to work popularized the pasty, which is now the iconic dish of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.


Perhaps the most iconic Minnesota dishes are lefse and lutefisk, brought to the state with Norwegian immigrants. Lefse and lutefisk dinners are held near Christmas and have become associated with that holiday. Lutefisk is a traditional dish of the Nordic countries made from stockfish (air-dried whitefish) and soda lye (lut).

Walleye is the state fish of Minnesota. Its popularity with Minnesota residents means that the residents of that state consume more of the fish than does any other jurisdiction.

Minnesota is known for its church potlucks, where hotdish is often served. Hotdish is any of a variety of casserole dishes popular throughout the United States, although the term is used mainly in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Hotdishes are generally filling, comfort foods, convenient and easy to make, and well-suited for potlucks.

Other popular dishes statewide include Jell-O salads, glorified rice, krumkake, and dessert bars.[citation needed]. The state is a productive area for wild rice, soybeans, dairies, chicken and turkey farms, sugar beets and corn.


A specialty of Ohio is the buckeye candy, a peanut butter and chocolate confection made to resemble the nut of an Ohio Buckeye tree, available throughout the Buckeye State.

JoJo potatoes are also a popular dish at many Ohio pizza chains. These are essentially quartered potatoes rolled in the same seasoned flour and fried in a pressure cooker.

Cincinnati style chili is a dish consisting of spaghetti noodles, a thin meat chili, covered with shredded cheese, as served by Skyline Chili and others.

In the Cleveland area, a popular dish (apparently unheard of outside the area) are Sauerkraut Balls. Sauerkraut Balls are meatball-like snack foods eaten as appetizers or as bar food. These were reportedly invented in Akron, Ohio but are more properly a derivative of the various ethnic cultures of Northeast Ohio, which includes Akron and Greater Cleveland. A once-famous but now closed restaurant in Vermilion, Ohio was McGarvey's, which was famous for its Sauerkraut Balls as well as for its charismatic owner, Captain Eddie, and its location near the scenic Vermilion River.

Clam bakes are more popular in Northeast Ohio than any other region of the United States outside of New England. A typical clam bake in Northeast Ohio includes a dozen clams with a half chicken, sweet potatoes, corn, and other side dishes. Seaweed is not used and the clams, chicken, and sweet potatoes are all steamed together in a large pot. The spelling "clambake" is usually preferred in this part of the country.


The Friday night fish fry, typically fried perch or walleye, is ubiquitous throughout Wisconsin, while in northeast Wisconsin along Lake Michigan, the Door County fish boil holds sway.

Besides beer, Wisconsinites drink large quantities of brandy,[16] often mixed into the unique Badger libation, the "brandy old fashioned sweet." The drink originated in 1947 at "Chissy's Pub", owned by Harry Chisholm, in Waldo, Wisconsin.[citation needed]

Seymour, Wisconsin, claims to be the birthplace of the modern hamburger,[citation needed] although several other locations make similar claims. The southern Wisconsin town of Racine is known for its Danish kringle.

Wisconsin is "America's Dairyland," and it's home to numerous frozen custard stands, particularly around Milwaukee and along the Lake Michigan corridor, as well as many cheesemakers, ranging from artisans who hand-craft their product from the milk of their own dairy herds to large factories. Cheese curds are common as a snack or fried as an appetizer.

Wisconsin is also well known for summer sausage and bratwurst.


These dishes, while not all exclusively to the Midwest, are typical of Midwestern foods. Although many foods are shared with other U.S. regions, they often feature uniquely Midwestern preparation styles.


Many Midwesterners in more north central states refer to carbonated beverages as "pop." However, "sodey" is preferred in Saint Louis and "soda" in Milwaukee. Areas of the southern Midwest may also use the term "soda."[17]


  1. ^ Zeldes, Leah A. (Jan. 17, 2007), "Hearty food from the heartland satisfies him", Daily Herald,, retrieved Feb. 19, 2008  "Stephen Langlois was one of the pioneering chefs who brought local food to national attention during the height of the contemporary awakening to American cuisine when he opened the groundbreaking Prairie in Printers Row."
  2. ^ North Shore Magazine: Olives and Ends Forty years ago, the Parthenon restaurant in Chicago's Greektown neighborhood took a patron's suggestion and began flambéing their saganaki tableside.
  3. ^ New York Times: Sci-Fi Cooking Tries Dealing With Reality Chicago … has emerged as an American center for this cuisine.
  4. ^ VOICES, THE KANSAS COLLECTION ONLINE MAGAZINE Chicago's busy rail yards received "hundreds of thousands of barrels of oysters"
  5. ^ DeMarco, Laura (July 31, 2008), "Cleveland's best, as seen through the eyes of the rest of America", Plain Dealer,, retrieved July 31, 2008 
  6. ^ a b Frozen custard guide "It may be Brew City, but custard is no small matter in Milwaukee, where everyone has his or her own favorite custard stand."
  7. ^ Milwaukee Breweries
  8. ^ Zeldes, Leah A. (August 10, 2009). "Chicago gave Pabst its blue ribbon". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant and Entertainment Guide, Inc.. Retrieved Sept. 9. 2009.  "Although it was founded in Wisconsin in 1844 and promotes itself as a Milwaukee brand, the Pabst Brewing Co. has been headquartered in Woodridge since 2006, when it relocated from Texas."
  9. ^ Illinois Agriculture
  10. ^ Photo: Allen County Community Album Assistant Fire Chief Robert A. Kiles tasting beef & noodles
  11. ^ Duffy, Reid (2006). Reid Duffy's Guide to Indiana's Favorite Restaurants. Indiana University Press. 
  12. ^ Hefling, Kimberly. "Craving brain food, mad cow or no: Indiana diners chow down on a disappearing delicacy"
  13. ^ Loose Meat Sandwiches at Madvek's, Hammond IN
  14. ^ Beer or Tastee Inn Their claim to fame is the tastee sandwich, kind of a loose meat not quite sloppy joe kind of thing.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Bars & Clubs: Wisconsinites love affair with brandy
  17. ^ The Pop vs. Soda Page

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