Newcomers often scoff at the timeworn claim posted big and bright outside Chubby's Corner tap: "Home of The World's Largest Ham Sandwich." Sight unseen, they'll order two of the sandwiches. Always, when their order arrives, they demure. "When they see how big it is, they just have one," says a smiling Barb Anthony, owner of Chubby's. Her handiwork produces plenty of prodigious piles of pork. It's one of two claims to fame in this LaSalle County village.
Newcomers often scoff at the timeworn claim posted big and bright outside Chubby's Corner tap: "Home of The World's Largest Ham Sandwich."
Sight unseen, they'll order two of the sandwiches. Always, when their order arrives, they demure.
"When they see how big it is, they just have one," says a smiling Barb Anthony, owner of Chubby's.
Her handiwork produces plenty of prodigious piles of pork. It's one of two claims to fame in this LaSalle County village.
Troy Grove's 300 residents can boast as a forebear Wild Bill Hickok, the gunslinger and lawman, born here in 1837. In the middle of town, a massive granite marker marks a tiny state park, officially called the Wild Bill Hickok Memorial.
The site draws streams of visitors, mostly bikers, in summer months. When they zoom into town, they often stop at the only watering hole, Chubby's. And some, especially riders from Chicago, care far less about Hickok than ham.
"They come here just to eat them ham sandwiches," Anthony says with a chortle. "It's amazing."
The simple bar has been around for about 60 years. In the '50s, the joint hosted a deli counter, including a full ham covered with cheesecloth. When someone ordered a sandwich, the staff would slice off enough for a sandwich.
"I don't know how it started - 'The World's Largest,'" Anthony says. "It's just something that stuck."
She pauses, wondering about the neon-lit claim.
"Maybe it's not (the biggest in) the world," she says. "But maybe the state. Or the county."
Actually, Anthony might have a legitimate claim to the title. An Internet check shows no real challenge elsewhere.
Anthony, 42, a native of nearby Mendota, bought the place eight years ago. She dubbed it Chubby's after a plump, beloved '47 Ford owned by her mother.
The decor isn't much, just typical Midwestern roadhouse: tile floor, long bar, beer signs. A dining room in the back hints at days when the place sported a full-service kitchen. These days, the bill of fare is much more concise.
"People come in and ask if they can see the menu," Anthony says with a grin. "It's ham sandwiches. But you get a choice of cheese."
That would be American or Swiss. And there's just one slice, as opposed to the seemingly endless pilings of ham - a full pound - that make for a sandwich more than a half-foot high. Dagwood Bumstead would be proud, perhaps even daunted.
Anthony buys the Virginia ham from a supplier in Mendota but slices it herself. Aside from the cheese, you get a regulation sandwich bun, plus pickles on the side. Further, it comes with a mound of wavy potato chips - all for an astonishingly low $4.75.
Anthony also touts her homemade beer mustard, which sports a horseradish-like kick. It'll make your eyes pop, but goes well with the ham skyscraper.
Anthony offers to cut the monster in two. I ask if Wild Bill Hickok would take the easy way out and have the sandwich halved. She says no, and I agree. We're two peas in a pod, Wild Bill and Wild Phil, a gunfighter and a ham-gobbler.
So I gamely try to get my mouth around this porcine wonder. No go. I can only chomp around the edges. Soon, the ham begins to fall away as the bun crumbles - a two-fisted mess.
"See?" blurts Anthony. "That's why you cut it in half."
During the summer, she'll sell as many as 25 a week. But she usually won't touch the stuff anymore.
"I've eaten so much ham over the past eight years," she says with a smiling shake of the head.
As I gnaw away, a fellow at the other end of the bar wonders aloud about my eating habits.
"Do you have a dog?" asks Lance Stewart, 45, of nearby Earlville.
When I say no, he shoots back, "Who is going to finish it?"
I tell him that, though my stomach is straining in pain, I feel compelled to eat the whole thing. Point of pride.
Stewart says, "I usually take (most of) it home," says "I make breakfast out of it. I get, like, three meals out of it."
Eventually, though I leave behind plenty of untouched chips, I managed to choke down the entire thing. I win nothing but self-satisfaction of defeating a sandwich.
Everyone asks, '''If I eat all of it do I get something?'" Anthony says. "I say, 'Yeah, a nap.'"
She recalls one day when an unknown, hulking gent - more than 6 feet tall and 300 pounds - calmly plodded into Chubby's. The stranger ordered a ham sandwich, then methodically dispatched it.
Anthony asked, "You want anything else?"
"Yeah," he coolly replied. "I'll have another."
That hasn't happened since: two pounds of ham in one stomach. After, he nonchalantly waddled out, never to be seen again.
That's how legends are born in the hometown of Wild Bill Hickok. People remember a quiet hero who can knock down not just one but two ham Goliaths - and live to eat another day.
Peoria Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano can be reached at (309) 686-3155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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