It's hard to get any more American than fried chicken, potato salad and chocolate chip cookies. But each of these components can be tweaked and, I think, improved, with a little creativity.
So we assembled our own classic picnic for the fourth, with some minor variations.
Some would swear by buttermilk and cornmeal-fried chicken, but check out the always-satisfying Crisp in Lakeview. They specialize in Korean-style fried chicken, which is first pressure-fried, then fried a second time to order. You can leave it at that - it's their "Plain Jane" option - or go one step further for the "Seoul Sassy," which means tossed in a spicy-sweet sauce of sesame, garlic and soy. It's both juicy and crispy with a solid flavor profile that makes it hard to stop at just one piece.
Potato salad is an obvious choice for a side dish, but instead of boring mustard and mayo, try the German-style potato salad at Gene's Sausage Shop at Delicatessen Meyer in Lincoln Square, where Polish culture infuses the recipe.
"It's a little bit more heartier than a traditional potato salad in that we have also incorporated a few different types of smoked meats we make here at the store," said Yolanda Luszcz, owner of Gene's Sausage Shop.
She means pan-fried smoked gypsy ham, which is tossed into boiled new potatoes, plus green onions, homemade chicken broth and two types of imported vinegar. Whole grain European mustard gives it that signature twist, along with a subtle note of added texture.
"I would say it's heavy up on the German potato salad with a little bit of European mixed in," Luszcz said.
For a classic dessert, how about a chocolate chip cookie? The brand new Cookie Bar in Lincoln Park offers at least a dozen flavors everyday, from basic snickerdoodles to more elaborate double-darks or caramelized bananas.
"We do a lot of experiments with new flavors. Today, we came up with - we had the Lisa Marie Presley cookie with peanut butter cups, milk chocolate chunks and banana chips," said Jeff Steinberg, owner of The Cookie Bar.
They'll even put potato chips in some versions, adding both salt and crunch, but their chocolate chip is still their pride and joy.
"We use great quality chocolate which is a bittersweet Callebaut, which isn't too sweet and it works really well with other flavors and we can put in there, like our jalapeno chocolate chip or chai chocolate chip, but the classic chocolate chip is everyone's favorite, and that is what we sell the most of," said Steinberg.
2940 N. Broadway
Gene's Sausage Shop at Delicatessen Meyer
4750 N. Lincoln Ave.
The Cookie Bar
2475 N. Lincoln Ave.