Is there anything better for Sunday brunch or at a football tailgate than a Bloody Mary? It’s my family’s tradition to have “Bloodies” on most holidays, and Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter would not be complete without them. My father would make a large pitcher of his “special recipe” and everyone would have one as they arrived. In more recent years, as we have evolved and broadened our taste buds, there has arisen a bit of a debate over just how to make them, notably how much horseradish (or, if any, in my husband’s case) to include. There are decidedly two camps and they seem to be geographical in nature. When you ask for a spicy Bloody in the Boston area, you a likely to get an extra heaping spoonful of horseradish along and a garnish of celery, whereas in Chicago you are more likely to get several extra dashes of Tabasco, and an olive and hot pepper (pepperoncini or sport pepper) are a must. Most of my family prefers the liquid cocktail sauce variety loaded with horseradish, though I now lean the other way after years of living in Chicago.

Today is not actually Sunday, it’s Wednesday and there are no games to attend, so why do I. have Bloody Mary’s on the brain? When I turned on my TV this morning, there was more bad news. I know that seems to be the case every day at the moment and the only good news you can seem to find is if you watch John Krasinski’s SGN on YouTube, so what was different today? It was announced that Ditka’s Restaurant in the Gold Coast was closing permanently as a result of the pandemic. In a city full of steak houses, Ditka’s is not necessarily the most special as it’s typically full of tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of “Da Coach”, but they make a great Bloody Mary and it’s a fun place to watch a game during football season.

The Bloody Mary at Ditka’s is actually called a “Bloody Mike” and includes a skewer with a shrimp, pickle chunk, cherry tomato, pepperoncini and the requisite green olive. It is also served with a sidecar of draft beer. It’s more of an appetizer than simply a cocktail. In fact, Chicago has elevated the well adorned Bloody Mary to an art form. In this sports crazy city, it’s almost like it’s a competition to see who can include the most outlandish garnishes. Maple and Ash includes a piece of their thick slab bacon fresh from the broiler (and I mean thick at 1/4″). Remington’s includes cheese curds, salami and the option of a slider along with a pony of MIller HIgh Life (Millah’s to you Bostonians). Old Town Pour House offers a monstrosity called the “Hot Blooded” that comes in more of a chalice than a glass and includes fried onion rings, celery and a skewer with bacon, pickles, cheese curd, cornichon, pepperoni, jalapenos and a hard boiled egg . . . who needs to even order brunch?! Let alone one of the over 90 beers they have on draft.

So, what’s so special about Ditka’s? It’s become our Go To for Bloodies, salt and grease the Sunday after our annual Christmas Party. My cousin Elisabeth Joyce (Lis), who used to live in Chicago but (sadly for us) moved back to New England, flies in every year for the party, as well as the Gala of the Arts for Catholic Charities each September. So, it has become our morning after tradition to go for brunch and “Bloodies”. When she couldn’t make our party this past year, she flew in the following weekend as we have become super close (she’s more like my surrogate daughter since her mom died when she was 19 and i wasn’t blessed with children of my own), and we couldn’t miss our tradition. When I heard the news this morning I texted to say we would have to find a new spot . . . her response was “Ohhhhhh My God”. Hopefully we will be past the fear of gatherings and traveling and will be together again this year to ring in the holidays, as it’s become super special to all of us. We will just have to stake out a new spot to keep the tradition alive, and hopefully we will not be starved for options. Otherwise, I’ll just have to make them, which isn’t bad news.

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