Used to be, if you worked up a hunger bending your elbow at Pippin’s Tavern, you could vanquish it with a dog, a polish, a beef, or a burger from Downtown Dogs next door. Over the 48-year history of this Rush Street Irish dive, its charms never included food prepared with deeper thought, effort, or feeling than that. For the most part, the same was true of its surroundings, just under the base of the Viagra Triangle, where corporate fast food dominates the tourist trade.

You can still get a burger at Pippin’s, but now it’s ground in-house from Slagel Family Farm chuck and topped with seven-year-old cheddar. If selling your soul at Chick-fil-A across the street doesn’t sit right, you can order a pickle-brined fried chicken thigh sandwich with housemade garlic-dill sours and pimento cheese aioli on a King’s Hawaiian bun. There’s a corn dog on the menu too, but its golden batter jackets a core of veal sweetbreads braised in liquid shio kogi and served with a spicy aioli-spiked Korean ssamjang.

From left: smoked carrots, veal sweetbread corn dog, roasted chicken Credit: Nick Murway for Chicago Reader

“I like corn dogs,” says Amanda Barnes, the veteran chef behind a radical mid-pandemic rebirth of Pippin’s. “I was downstate last summer and I was eating a corn dog, and I realized the textural similarities between sweetbreads and hot dogs — that creamy, bouncy texture. So I had a moment. “

Barnes, who’s clocked innumerable shifts in vaunted Chicago kitchens — from Moto to the Publican to Hot Chocolate — underwent a bit of rebirth herself in the middle of the pandemic. After two bruising years as the opening executive chef at the Hotel at Midtown, she was ready to hang up her apron for good. “It burnt me out a lot,” she says. “I was working 120-hour weeks to get that place open. It happens a lot in the restaurant industry where the money just doesn’t understand how an actual restaurant functions. “

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