Tom Douple, local chislic critic, tries chislic from TommyJack’s Pub in for the first time Monday, May 13, in Sioux Falls. Douple is rating every chislic dish in the city. Erin Bormett, Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Tom Douple is on a quest. But he’s sly about it as he slides up to a high-top table at TommyJack’s Pub in downtown Sioux Falls.
Let’s try the chislic. Medium rare. Tots on the side, please. And for dipping, how about both the barbecue sauce and ranch? That’s it. Please and thank you.
Okay, yes, Douple is commissioner of the Summit League, the college sports league that recently relocated its headquarters to Sioux Falls. Chislic doesn’t care about that, so it’s not going to come up again.
More to the point: Douple is a self-described foodie. He’s a man who owns a successful pizza restaurant in a rural Texas town, deep in the heart of barbecue country. In Sioux Falls, he’s got a list. A list of restaurants that serve chislic.
Douple is on the hunt for the best chislic to be found in Sioux Falls. He methodically mapped out every restaurant that serves chislic, the chunks of spiced, fried meat that are a classic South Dakota food. There are 49 restaurants on his list, in no particular order.
TommyJack’s is his next stop, No. 38.
Order up. Here comes the chislic. The chunks of beef, flecked with spices, sit atop red and white checkered paper in a black plastic basket. Golden friend tater tots on the side. Two round, translucent plastic containers nestled in the basket hold the dipping sauces. There are two toothpicks.
Douple is making conversation across the table. But his eyes dart down. He’s noticing everything.
There are the toothpicks. You don’t include toothpicks to spear the chislic, you get a ding. (He’s got a 50-point ranking system he’ll show you later.)
The sauce looks to be Sweet Baby Ray’s, but could it be K.C. Masterpiece? No. Probably Sweet Baby Ray’s (it was). Ranch looks to be stock, but it’s not too thick, so it could be house-made. The tots are perfectly crisp.
Look at that chunk size. That is a nice, even chunk size.
The dip. The bite. Cooked to order, medium rare. Spice is good.
Douple’s quest is a private one, just one man’s opinion, he says. He isn’t ranking the chislic for anyone. He’s not planning to publish a book, post his opinions online or become a chislic thought leader. He’s just doing this for himself.
“It’s something that’s sort of silly, but as a foodie, that’s just something that I want to do,” he said.
Silly? Maybe. Serious?
As a heart attack.
South Dakota loves chislic. But does it respect chislic?
South Dakota loves its chislic. But love doesn’t always mean respect. When it’s on a menu, it’s often buried in the late pages. It’s the tween of the menu, its entry adrift between the appetizer and entree lists. Sometimes it’s on both.
Chislic isn’t ubiquitous at restaurants in the state, but it’s dang close. So much so, that lesser-traveled South Dakota natives are often surprised to find the dish is unique to the state, even as they reflexively recommend the dish to newcomers.
Oh, you’re new to South Dakota? You need to try the chislic. Where? Just, wherever.
“It’s so unique to this area. It would be like going to Chicago and not getting the pizza when you go there,” he said. “That to me is fascinating as a foodie — to find out this area has a unique food, no-one else has it, and it’s served everywhere around here.”
Chislic is widely acknowledged to be a dish created by a German Russian immigrant to South Dakota, its name derived from an Arabic term that found its way into Turkish. Chislic is more akin to kabob meat than steak tips.
Last year, 2018, should be dubbed the Year of the Chislic Renaissance.
The dish was officially named the state “nosh.” Urban Chislic, a restaurant specializing in the meat chunks, opened in Sioux Falls. Freeman, in Hutchinson County — acknowledged chislic capital of the state — held the inaugural South Dakota Chislic Festival.
The event turned into the best kind of failure: It was swamped with crowds. (Festival organizers have vowed to be ready this year.)
Douple marvels there’s no Chislic Festival in Sioux Falls.
“I think that would be a knockout,” he said. “With this many places that serve chislic and being unique to this area, I just think that would be a knockout festival.”
How to get serious about chislic
Douple isn’t just a foodie. He’s a food adventurer.
His life and career have taken him from Pennsylvania Dutch country to Louisiana to Chicago to Kansas City to Texas. At each stop, he’s been serious (very serious) about exploring local cuisine: Cajun food, pizza, barbecue. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
“I just come and all the different restaurants, and I try them out wherever I travel,” he said. “Wherever I go, I try to find some unique food types.”
Douple often visited Sioux Falls in the last 13-14 years for work and fell in love with the chislic served at the Denny Sanford Premier Center while there for basketball games. He’d eat it every time he visited. When he moved to Sioux Falls, he found out it was served everywhere.
“Liitle did I know, everybody has it,” he said.
So he got serious. He assembled his list at home at night, working off of online restaurants listings. He developed his own 50-point ranking system: 10 points each for sides, pricing, sauces/presentation, flavor and “chewability.”
Douple is taking his time eating his way through Sioux Falls’ chislic. He’s spending an initial year sampling chislic from every restaurant that offers it, more than once. Only after he works through every restaurant will he start the ranking process, with his evaluation tool on a card.
“I’m into my identification stage,” he said. “After I identify them I want to go back and rate them on it.”
He’s hesitant to tell his favorites. It’s too early. He’s already mentioned the Premier Center. There’s the Blue Rock Bar & Grill in the Sanford Sports Complex, where the new Summit League headquarters is under construction.
Don’t miss the chislic at Fresh Horses Saloon in Harrisburg, he said.
How about TommyJack’s? The chislic lunch special was $6 – a steal compared to the usual average price of chislic, and a big point boost for Douple’s future rating of downtown bar among area restaurants.
TommyJack’s is No. 38 on Douple’s list.
Eleven to go.
More on chislic rankings: Best chislic in the Sioux Empire? The results are in
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