Remember Fanny’s of Evanston? Updated 7/29/2020


If you are a baby boomer and grew up either on the North Side or in one of the North Suburbs of Chicago, chances are that you knew or had gone to Fanny’s restaurant.  Fanny Bianucci Lazzar had her landmark restaurant at 1601 Simpson Street in Evanston, Illinois from 1946 until 1987.  She was a diminutive but effervescent lady, and she or her husband Ray greeted you at the door.  The foyer was crowded with photos of famous people who had dined at the restaurant and awards for both the salad dressing and meat sauce from the International Epicurian Society of France.  I loved going there as a kid, and remember Fanny going into the dining room with a big bowl of spaghetti to offer seconds to anyone.  I remember going there for my birthday and getting coconut cake with a candle and being embarrassed when the servers would gather around to sing Happy Birthday.

Fanny died in 1990, but her son John sold her spaghetti sauce frozen or in jars from World Wide Food Products in Skokie.  Despite many requests, he had kept the spaghetti sauce recipe secret, saying it was worth “millions.”

I do know now that John Bianucci died several years ago.  The fannysofevanston.com website is down, the phone number (847-679-4438) is not in service, and Sunset Foods has no (after I purchased 1) jars left of Fanny’s meat sauce.  I haven’t seen the frozen packet version of the meat sauce (or the frozen spaghetti dinner packet) in years.  I called the phone on the label (847-791-9660) and no one answered, so I guess World Wide Food Prod. Ltd. is out of business.  So, John’s heirs, if you are still with us, can you give Fanny’s spaghetti recipe please?

The label of the meat sauce jar:

A photo of the dining room:

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It is worth noting that Fanny employed black wait staff and cooks at a time when this was very unusual.  The restaurant was not on a fancy street in Evanston, but people flocked there.

The story below is from Old Lost Recipes, a web site that does not seem to be currently maintained, which is a crying shame!  Monica Kass Rogers, where are you?

Update (7/21/19  Monica is still blogging, but at a new site:  http://lostrecipesfound.com)

http://old.lostrecipesfound.com/recipe/fannys-of-evanston-fried-chicken/

My image

From the time it opened in 1946 until it closed in 1987, Fanny’s of Evanston was known for its unusual orange juice/pecan/chutney salad dressing, spaghetti with meat sauce, and? This fried chicken. You can still buy the dressing and the meat sauce from the Bianucci family’s Worldwide Foods online (www.fannysofevanston.com) Not so, the chicken. But now, you can make the chicken yourself at home! (Thank you, Helen Bianucci!) The recipe has a really-truly “knock-knock” story to it: Upon opening, Fanny (a woman of faith) prayed for a cook. Two days later, Bob Jordan knocked at the restaurant door announcing “The Lord sent me to be your cook.” To Fanny’s “What-do-you-cook?” query, Jordan answered, “The best fried chicken around!” Hyperbole notwithstanding, we think Jordan’s recipe, which he prepared at Fanny’s for 25 years, has phenomenal flavor. Really a fricassee, (i.e. not crispy) this rich, fall-off-the-bones rendition has cream in the coating and butter in the dish.

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 3, 2-lb chickens cut into pieces
  • 1 stick each vegetable shortening and butter
  • 1/4 cup flour,
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly-ground pepper
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 1/2 cup cream or half-and-half

Instructions

Heat fat in heavy skillet. Mix flour, salt, pepper, and oregano in a bag. Dip chicken pieces in cream and then place in flour bag, shaking to coat. Remove chicken pieces to hot skillet, cover. Turn heat down to simmer and fry slowly for 30 minutes. Uncover. Drain fat, but leave meat juices and crumbly bits. Scrape those to unstick from bottom of pan, but do not discard: Add enough water to just cover bottom of skillet, and mix with the meat juices and bits. Cover skillet again and simmer another 30 minutes.

This ends the reprint from old recipes found.

Now, I made this chicken and clearly there is something missing from the recipe.  I remembered Fanny’s fried chicken as moist chicken with a wonderful crispy coating, and this recipe delivers a moist well flavored chicken but not a crisp coating.  The second stage of adding water to the pan makes a lumpy pan gravy.  I’m going to have to tweak this recipe to preserve a crunch to the skin,  and improve the pan gravy.  I even question whether or not a pan gravy should be included, as my memory of the Fanny fried chicken does not register any gravy at all, just crispy and wonderful fried chicken.

What follows now is my attempt to recreate Fanny’s meat sauce.  I would love for people to try this and see if it comes close to their memories.  Here is a photo of the Fanny Meat Sauce jar label showing the ingredients:

Fanny label2

Contains:

SDR Clone of Fanny's of Evanston Meat Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients:

3 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes

1.5 pounds ground beef (ground chuck)

1 6 ounce can tomato paste

1/3 cup diced carrots

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia or Texas 1015, or similar), diced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons dried oregano

4 to  6 tablespoons unsalted butter

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Perparation:

Place the ground beef in a heavy skillet and break up into small pieces. Sauté until brown.  Drain the fat from the beef and put aside.  Wipe the pan and then saute the diced onion and carrots in 2 tbs of butter until the onions are translucent and soft.  Add the 3 cans of diced tomatoes with their juice to the pan.  Add as much tomato paste as you wish, to taste.  Simmer for 1 to 2 hours.

Take the sauce and process in a blender (hopefully a Vita-mix or Blentec) to get a very smooth puree.  Return the sauce to the pan and add the beef. Finish the sauce with 2-4 tbs of butter whisked into the sauce.  If sweet onions were not used, one might need to add some sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes, but as I made it, the sauce is slightly sweet without the addition of sugar.

Serve over spaghetti or other pasta and finish with grated Parmesan cheese.

According to other sources, the beef component is 48% of the sauce. I don’t know what the chicken represents on the label, could it be chicken stock? Could it be chicken liver? Also, the label says contains milk. Could this be in the form of cream added to the sauce, or milk to thin the sauce? Butter did play a large roll in Fanny’s sauce and she got all kinds of plaques on the wall of the restaurant for her use of butter in her cooking. Please try to make this clone and see if it is close to your memory of the Fanny meat sauce, or do what I’m planning, a direct comparison with the bottled sauce. In any event, it is unlikely to find a commercial product to replace Fanny’s wonderful sauce, and I am afraid the original recipe is lost forever!

About trustforce

A well trained amateur chef, I have learned by taking some master classes and doing a lot of reading and experimentation. I cook and enjoy many different cuisines. The fun is getting it right, with great taste and presentation. The smells and appearance add to the pleasure of eating well. I love making complex and fancy dishes for a great variety of different cultures, but I can get the same pleasure from enjoying any of the Chicago icons (a great Chicago style hot dog or an Italian beef sandwich, or Chicago style pizza) or some simple pleasures from New Orleans (po boy sandwiches, muffaletas, gumbo, etc). All my recipe postings are extensively tested by me unless I state otherwise. I will sometimes post a recipe that sounds like it should be good before I actually make it myself, but I will always come back and revise the "untested" recipe after I've made it, with valid comments to keep old posts accurate and current. If I am not the originator of a recipe I will always correctly attribute the source author, even if I have modified the recipe. I will occasionally post reviews of local restaurants on the site. The big problem that I have with eating out is that I know too much about restaurants and I find it hard to ignore or forgive sloppy technique or bad ingredients. I pull no punches in my restaurant reviews!
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19 Responses to Remember Fanny’s of Evanston? Updated 7/29/2020

  1. Bob Wilkus says:

    I share your fondness for Fanny’s. My family went there often and loved the “broasted” chicken, spaghetti sauce, and salad dressing. Some years ago, before we left Chicago (darn!), we were buying the sauce and salad dressing at Treasure Island in Old town. Will try your sauce recipe and also the chicken recipe. Sidebar: if the nephew thought the recipe was “worth million”, he apparently didn’t try to monetize it! Cheers and thanks fellow Fanny-ite.

  2. B. Haney says:

    To the best of my knowledge, “Broasted” chicken was a long-ago commercial method of frying chicken. I believe this was (might still be) the method Colonel Sanders used for his Kentucky Fried. Don’t know if it is still prepared this way. Near as I recall, the chicken is breaded then immersed in cooking oil in a pot resembling a pressure cooker of sorts. The lid was securely fixed and that was that. It cooked the chicken quickly and left the inside more moist than the usual dried out fried chicken.. Probably someone else as a more accurate description of this. As far as a “crispy coating” I seriously doubt that this is possible with the recipe above. A quarter of a cup of flour is totally inadequate to cover 3-2pound chickens! They had best go back to the drawing board on that recipe.

  3. trustforce says:

    Reblogged this on trustforce and commented:

    updated 7/21/19

  4. Nina Henry says:

    Thanks, Steve!
    I do remember Fanny’s, even though my family did not move to the North Shore until I was 16. Thanks for the blast from the past!
    Nina

  5. Tony S says:

    John Bianucci died in 2009
    https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2009-04-23-0904221420-story.html

    Must have been one of his sons that was running things after his death.
    I know that they were moving production of the sauce to a new place but couldn’t get the needed permits for the frozen sauce and only did the jars which was not as good as the fozen.

    • norm andrews says:

      The problem with the frozen sauce was the label had to be redone to bring in line with the present rules. The cousin? or daughter in law? would not pay the cost of $25,000 for the tests and labels. A food chain that’s sells the jarred sauce offered to buy two pallets, but was turned down. What a shame.

      • Bob Wilkus says:

        A shame, indeed. We bought the frozen sauce many times over the years at Treasure Island on Wells, but alas, now that’s also a distant memory. To many of us old enough to remember Fanny’s, the spaghetti sauce and the salad dressing are wonderful memories — the broasted (?) chicken, too.

  6. Bill U says:

    First of all, thank you for posting this recipe! I made this last night with a few minor changes. A little background on my Fanny’s experiences. It’s been over ten years since I tried the jar sauce, which I felt was not as good as the frozen variety. It’s been probably over 20 years since I have had the frozen sauce which I always felt was very good! It’s been over 40 years since I was lucky enough to eat in Fanny’s restaurant as a kid.

    The changes I made were I used pre minced garlic 1 ½ teaspoons and added the minced garlic when I sautéed the onions and carrots in butter. I used a large Vidalia onion which you recommended and at first thought, I thought it was a lot of onion but it’s not. Secondly, after I sautéed the onion, carrots and garlic I drained the diced tomatoes and replaced the water that I drained with chicken broth. It came out to be about 1/3 cup. In hindsight I don’t think I needed to drain the diced tomatoes, the sauce is thick and I wound up adding some water later on anyway. I also added about 4 oz of tomato paste, I bought a 6 oz can and I think I could have used the whole can. I used more chicken broth to mix in with the paste. Other than those changes I followed the rest of your recipe and instructions. I may have gone a little light on the salt and pepper. I used 4 tbs of butter at the end.

    Final thoughts, it was good! I think it was as good if not better than the jar sauce but not as good as I remember the frozen sauce being. I’m looking forward to eating some today after it has been in the fridge all night. I am a novice cook and don’t cook very often and I found the recipe easy to follow. One problem I think I have is the gas stove I use, even on the lowest setting, seems to be too hot to simmer for to long. Because the sauce is so thick, I was afraid I was going to burn it.
    Here is a link to a picture of my final result along with a picture of Fanny’s frozen box.

    https://imgur.com/a/MwO8Z57

    Thank you again for posting this and I look forward to making this again and having my family try it!

  7. Grant says:

    Im a loyal Fannys Meat Sauce fan but found a product out of Chicago thats strangely similar. Racconto Bolognese sauce. Bought at Tonys. Check for yourself.

  8. Bob Landolfi says:

    I am saddened to hear the sauce is no longer available at retail apparently. I only went to Fanny’s once, in 1985, on a Sunday afternoon just before closing, but the taste of the spaghetti sauce and fried chicken always stayed with me. I found the frozen sauce at the Dominick’s at Devon and Milwaukee years later after I moved to Park Ridge and rediscovered how good it was. Then later I moved to Highland Park and used to buy it at Sunset. The way Fanny’s recipe kept coming back into my life I suppose made me take it for granted, so THANK YOU for posting this, not being able to buy it will be a great loss.

    I will have to try your recipe. I am encouraged by the comments above saying your recipe is close to the original. I remember reading her column in the Evanston Review and recall one time she mentioned carrots and butter, which are the two flavors I recognized. I also remember it having a bit of a black peppery bite.

  9. Jeff says:

    I make “my” Fanny’s after eating there many times growing up! Lots of garlic and onion and a little cinnamon. Ground beef AND ground chicken and crushed CANNED carrots. Planty of Parmesan cheese in AND on top. NO diced tomatoes, only paste/water. And this is very close except I figured out the one secret ingredient which I will keep only for me. Enjoy, it’s great.

  10. Pat says:

    I ate at Fanny’s in 1979 and only have the glow of that long-ago wonderful experience. I never knew about the frozen or canned sauce when it was available. Please! Give a hint of the “one secret ingredient?

    • trustforce says:

      I think that carrots and butter are the two secrets

      • Bob says:

        Glad to see there’s interest in this still. I think the focus on tomato paste only is a step in the right direction. As for the special ingredient, best suggestion on the hint is try to think about cooking as it was done back in the late 40s.

  11. jlh100 says:

    thank you thank you! Will try it this evening to go with sphagetti squash that I cooked. I do not know why the Labor Day holiday should create such a deep memory of that amazing sphagetti sauce.

    • trustforce says:

      Good luck. Let me know how it tastes and whether it seems like your memory of the sauce. You should also try the vodka sauce from my post on the subject. I think you will like it.

  12. RLSchmidt says:

    The recipe was actually printed in the Evanston paper back in the 80s. I had a copy but lost it so someone could search the archives and prob find it.

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