Marshall Field’s Department Store used to be known far and wide as THE grand dame of Chicago. Much like Famous & Barr and Stix, Baer & Fuller in my hometown of St. Louis, they weren’t just a store, they were an institution. Although never having visited Marshall Field’s as a kid, I’ve heard from people over the years that it bears a legion of similarities to the experiences I knew with Famous and Stix so I feel like I can imagine a visit with some clarity. THE place to go downtown during the holidays with windows magically decorated for the season and always on the parade route where I imagine we would stand barely able to feel out toes from the cold but not caring as we anxiously anticipated our first view of SANTA!
More memories include elevators with heavy accordion closures instead of doors and an operator who managed the board, asking us, ‘What floor please?’ For a young girl with a lot of responsibility in our big family that one small thing always made me feel so special, like we had been magically transported to another place entirely where someone took care of our every need! Ah…those were the days. Still, even then, those many years ago, I looked so forward to visiting one of the flagship restaurants. I have sweet memories of a favorite hot fudge sundae from Stix when my mother worked there when I was a teen and as a young adult, lunch at Famous & Barr always meant what is still my favorite French Onion Soup.
When I was eighteen I finally ventured inside Marshall Field’s for the first time. A friend and I had decided to travel north to Chicago for the weekend and having lunch at this iconic department store was on our agenda. It did not disappoint; beautiful, stately and with an old world feeling of grace and appreciation for customers that is so lacking today. However, shopping was not on my mind as much as lunch so headed for the dining room upon arrival. My choice for lunch was this fabulous chicken salad. With a mix that included toasted pecans and grapes, it was so different from any chicken salad I had ever had and it was ‘love at first bite.’ Today I might ask the chef for the recipe but then I just left with a great memory…and one that I’ve never forgotten.
Fast forward many years to 1994 and my foray into the world of this new-fangled thing called the ‘Internet’ and my first food website. I know I starting searching for many dishes I thought worthy of including but many were not available online. Was I excited to find that this was? Absolutely…and it has been my mainstay recipe for all the years since with really minimal changes on my part. Originally calling for homemade mayonnaise, I typically bypass that step. Yes, it is wonderful and go for it if you must but I’ve just found that the ease of prepared mayo trumps the slight difference in taste so I just use what is in my fridge (I currently am loving an olive oil blend). I also throw in some dried cranberries usually in lieu of grapes. Don’t get me wrong…I love the grapes but when the spirit moves me to make chicken salad I don’t always have them on hand and I’m not the kind to run to the grocery store for one item; cranberries on hand? I use them.
Sadly, all of these great stores have been wrapped up in the Macy’s banner over the years and they are not the same. It’s funny but I used to associate Macy’s with something magical when sitting on the floor with my kids and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; but as for the stores, nothing all that special and certainly no gorgeous dining halls and renown foods on the menu. Revisiting them is only done through a food experience and this one is so close to my first trip to Marshall Field’s that I can almost hear that operator asking me, ‘What floor please?’ This Marshall Field’s Chicken Salad Sandwich is truly so iconic that it is still perfect today. Try it, you’ll see!
I was asked to sample the Sepo Sauce, however, all commentary is my own.