Celebrating Hanukkah with Bear Gabe Carimi

December 16, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Ever since the second temple was destroyed, and the remaining oil burned for a miraculous eight days, Jews have celebrated Hanukkah by lighting candles and eating fried potato pancakes, called latkes, as well as donuts, called sufganiyot. It's the latkes I crave this time of year but apparently one of our Chicago Bears craves them as well.

At 6'11,'' 316 pounds, Gabe Carimi is a force on the offensive line. First at Wisconsin, where he played in the Rose Bowl last season, then, as the first-round draft pick by the Bears this year. A knee injury has sidelined him for most of the season, but it hasn't slowed down his appetite. We met at Max & Benny's, one of his favorite spots, mainly because it reminds him of his mom's home cooking. You see, as a Jewish kid growing up in Wisconsin, Carimi has strong memories of Hanukkah.

"It was a time to gather at night and light the menorah. My mom always made potato latkes. You know, we don't have that great of delis in Wisconsin though so... my mom's a great cook though so we always had really great Jewish food up there," he said.

And they have plenty of latkes at Max & Benny's.

"Potato pancake or potato latke is a really big item, all year round. Especially when we get closer to the end of the year and Hanukkah," said Max & Benny's co-owner Benjamin Schlan.

It's basically shredded potatoes, onions and eggs, combined with garlic, flour and baking soda, first cooked on a skillet, then deep fried. The key, according to custom, is to cook it in oil, which represents the miracle of oil lasting eight days after a temple was destroyed. Carimi has very specific latke requirements.

"I like it when it's like shredded up, not just like, mush. You know it needs to be shredded potatoes, and then it needs to be very crispy on the outside, and nice and warm and gooey on the inside," Carimi said.

Having both been raised Jewish in small Midwestern towns, Carimi and I agree the holiday has, over time, been compared to Christmas due to its date on the calendar. But it's not about presents.

"Seems like the beginning part of the days - at least when I was a kid - I got socks and underwear the first couple of days, so it was really only the eighth day that mattered so it just makes us wait eight days," he said.

Now we don't get a tree but in a sense...we get the latkes, which is great," I said.

"We get the latkes, and some say a Hanukkah bush, but I guess that's just the Christmas tree," said Carimi.

Carimi's approach to eating the latkes is pretty straight forward.

"You have to put sour cream and apple sauce on top of it, smear it around and just have at it. If I was by myself I would smear it around with a spoon because I'm lazy but I take my knife and just spread it around a nice, even coating," he said.

And how do these taste? Do they remind you at all of Madison, of growing up or are these a totally different potato latke?

"These are great potato latkes, they're really good; crispy, just what you're looking for," he said.

Carimi is not alone on the team. Punter Adam Podlesh also celebrates Hanukkah. I'm sure you'll be seeing them at a deli near you next week.

Max & Benny's
461 Waukegan Rd.
Northbrook, IL 60062
(847) 272-9490

Potato Pancakes: Order 1-24 for 1.50 each! Order 25 or more for 1.25 each!
Apple Potato Pancakes: Order 1-24 for 1.75 each! 25 or more for 1.50 each!
Sweet Potato Pancakes: Order 1-24 for 1.75 each! 25 or more for 1.50 each!

Other good latke options:

The Bagel
3107 North Broadway St.
(773) 477-0300

Also: Old Orchard Mall
50 Old Orchard Ctr
Skokie, IL 60077
(847) 677-0100

Myron & Phil's
3900 West Devon Avenue
Lincolnwood, IL
(847) 677-6663

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