How Steak And Lemonade Became An Iconic Chicago-Style Pairing

Chicago and the surrounding suburbs are full of restaurants advertising 'steak and lemonade.' These are not dimly lit steakhouses suggesting that a tart, non-alcoholic beverage pairs well with your ribeye, but rather fast food joints slinging chicken wings, french fries, and gyros. The steaks in question refer to Philly cheesesteak-type sandwiches that are common across Chicago, and the lemonade is a tangy, frozen, Slurpee-like delight.

The idea that one of these sandwiches goes perfectly with lemonade is relatively recent, and it pretty much comes down to a smart business decision. In 1988, Haitham "Mario" Allabadi named his Country Club Hills — a suburban town southwest of Chicago proper — joint Baba's Famous Steak and Lemonade. Allabadi was not famous and neither was the combination ... yet. Steak sandwiches and lemonades were just the two most frequently ordered items at his own fast food restaurant. Because they were popular dishes, he decided to incorporate them into the name of his new venture.

The restaurant name had a good ring to it, and folks in the area were already into those items. The order became a thing, and now, steak and lemonade joints — both from the Baba's Famous chain and many others — are fixtures in Chicago and beyond.

What is a steak and lemonade?

This Chicago steak sandwich has thinly shaved beef that is cooked on the flat top along with sauteed onions, green bell peppers, and finished with melted white cheese. It gets served up in a hoagie roll spread with mayonnaise and topped off with shredded lettuce and sliced tomatoes. The Baba's Famous Steak and Lemonade has a blend of provolone and mozzarella, and it has mushrooms in the mix too. The beef is spiced and has a pleasant amount of heat to it.

It is warm, rich, meaty, and absolutely filling, so an ice-cold, sweet-tart lemonade is the perfect sidekick. The lemonade is like a slushy, and when you order, you have the option to add syrups in flavors like blueberry, cherry, fruit punch, grape, orange, pineapple, piña colada, strawberry, and watermelon. The rounded plastic lid on the cup is always wrapped in plastic wrap, and you punch the straw through it.

French fries are the typical side dish, and they are usually served with the option of hot sauce, mild sauce, or a dusting of lemon pepper. The sauces are tomato-based, tangy, and sweet — like a cross between barbecue sauce and hot sauce. They are a fixture in shops that serve chicken, fish, and barbecue in Chicago. At steak and lemonade spots, the sauce of your choice will get doused over the fries for the perfect side dish for your very Chicago dinner and drink.

Another famous Chicago sandwich

The Windy City has many signature dishes, like gravy bread, Chicago hot dogs — the best hot dog style, according to Anthony Bourdain — deep dish and Chicago-style pizza, and of course, a steak and lemonade. But, there is another beefy sandwich that Chicagoans love — the Italian beef.

Instead of griddled, shaved steak, the sandwich is loaded with thinly sliced lean beef that has been simmered until tender. It is flavored with spices like oregano, garlic, parsley, basil, and black pepper. The meat is kept in the savory jus, so when it is served, the delicious gravy soaks into the white, French bread rolls. Zingy and crunchy giardiniera is the typical topping, which includes ingredients like pickled cauliflower, carrots, hot and sweet peppers, olives, and celery.

You can find lots of different versions at hot dog stands, delis, markets, and fast food joints. Even Baba's Famous Steak and Lemonade has one on the menu. If you simply cannot decide on one of these hometown favorites, why not get both? Don't forget to order a frozen lemonade to wash it all down!