I have a confession to make … I love cheap food.
I know what you're immediately wondering: How do I define "cheap" in this context? Well, it's not so much about the quality (though that is often a factor), just that the food is probably under $10, absolutely delicious and many people make fun of me for liking it.
But I am here to tell you, I no longer care what other people think, because the joy I get eating said "cheap" food is a now a pure lack of guilty pleasure.
To be clear, it's not exactly junk food I'm after, and this "cheap" love is not because I'm a picky eater, but rather, it's just that I appreciate a certain level of food that many others often -- how you say -- "poo-poo." Too gross, Adam. Too gross.
What it really comes down to for me is that the cheap stuff can be exponentially better, or simply more enjoyable, than the expensive stuff. However, I will make exceptions if the food involved has some sort of novelty.
For example, I don't care much for a straight-up steakhouse, but I quite enjoy a Brazilian steakhouse where they bring the food to you on skewers and cut it at the table. And while expensive sushi usually isn't my thing, I'd be positively delighted if it was severed on a moving conveyor belt or on boats floating down a stream. Finally, although I'm not into expensive, kitschy, fancy cafés, my one exception is, of course, Rainforest Cafés.
You see, I like it simple. If I go to a restaurant and then need to look up all of the adjectives and nouns that are in the description of the food and it turns out they are in English, then that is far too fancy for me. That is an issue I never have at the cheap places.
My love of "cheap" food is not always about being economical or stingy. It's about not fooling myself into thinking I'm above the magnanimous experience that is a KFC buffet or going to a sporting event and enjoying the most decadent topping for nachos, "processed cheese product."
When I really think about it, I think a lot of why I like cheap food stems from my love of hot dogs. Whether it's a basic hot dog at Wrigley Field, a Coney Island masterpiece (I'm oddly looking at you Fort Wayne, Indiana), or one of my favorite deals in all of Las Vegas, the $2.50 footlong hot dog hiding at the back of Casino Royale (a relatively cheap casino in and of itself) -- that's my style and quite often my speed.
But at my core, my first love will always be a Chicago-style hotdog. Find me any place where I can get a Chicago dog, fries and a drink for $6-7 and you are a kindred spirit after my own heart. Just like the high-sodium processed meat tubes I love, which are also after my own heart.
I think what I love about the Chicago hotdog outside of the actual delicacy is that you tend to find them in the same types of places. It's basically one small room that may or may not have seating that has that an old Pepsi or Coke sign with physical letters. Places like The Little Island, Byron's and yes, even The Wiener's Circle, all fit the bill.
There's something simple and special about the divey places. They speak to me. They say, "I'm cheap and you should love me." So I do. It's why I also love dive bars in Chicago. If you aren't aware, most dive bars in Chicago are easily recognizable by their signal beacon -- a giant Old Style sign.
And with these interestingly dilapidated locales that some might say are simply full of character, the truth is, at these locations are where I feel the most freedom to enjoy "cheap" beers. Now don't get me wrong, while I love craft beer very, very much, I'm not above diving down into the recesses of lower quality beer. When I dive, however, I go deep -- all the way down to Miller High Life, PBR, Old Style and Hamm's. And with that last one, it's quite ironic for someone Jewish to love it, but I make up for it by enjoying a good Schlitz from time to time.
So why am I telling you all of this? Well, it's because I want you to know -- you are not alone. All of us have our guilty pleasures hidden from the world that would be raised up a level if they could be shared with others.
So I'm taking a stand, divulging all of this to you to flat-out say that I can't even call any of these my guilty pleasures anymore. Because when I find pleasure in these experiences, I have no guilt. And I want you to have that lack of guilt too. I want you to not be embarrassed by the indulgences you love, but rather, facilitate them, promote them, and fully embrace them. And then get a napkin because soft-serve ice cream is sticky.