Tag Archives: diner

Chicago: Day One

They could be playing "Stormy Weather" all night...

The weather on Friday was a dance between cold, wet, colder, and wetter. Every time we stepped outside the conditions seemed to have changed for the worse without somehow changing very much at all. We were colder with every new trip, or the rain struck us harder.

This did not make ideal weather conditions for taking photographs, but that’s alright with me. To tell the truth, I’m not much of a picture-taker when on vacation. I wish I was. I envy people who come back from long trips with a mile of photos glorifying their travels. They have pictures of everything they did, everywhere they went, everyone they saw. Drank a pint with friends? It’s in the pictures. Car got stuck in the mud? It’s in the pictures. Ate an amazing dinner at a famous four star restaurant?… Well, it would be in my pictures as well. But you get the idea.

As a result of the crappy weather and how it restrained us to our hosting neighborhood- Lincoln Park – and the surrounding territory, I don’t have much photographic record to share. The picture above was taken a few doors down from one of my favorite stores in Chicago, Shake Rattle and Read, on Broadway in Uptown. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Green Mill Jazz Club is a famous Chicago venue, opening in 1910 as a roadhouse complete with indoor and outdoor dining and dancing areas. In the twenties, Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, henchman of Al Capone, took over a large percentage of the club’s ownership, and the place became a favorite mob hangout. The story of McGurn’s takeover is best described in the historical summary on the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge website:

“Manager Danny Cohen had given McGurn the 25% stake to “persuade” comedian/singer Joe E. Lewis from moving his act south to the New Rendezvous Café at Clark and Diversey. McGurn managed to convince Lewis by slitting his throat and cutting off his tongue. Miraculously, Lewis recovered, but his songs never regained their lush sound.”

Ah, isn’t history wonderful, kids? I’d love to be a school child on a walking tour of jazz clubs in the city. Way more blood, booze, and broads than an average Pittsburgh field trip to the zoo.

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Dear Denny’s Maple Bacon Sundae…

Dear Denny’s Maple Bacon Sundae,

Perhaps you weren’t expecting a letter so soon. Manners and mores would tell us that a proper 24 hours could pass before I were to follow-up on our first visit. But, as I lie awake in bed, tossing and turning, a stomach full of cream and greasy protein, I am struck by an overpowering need to get in contact with you. Call me rash, call me stupid, call me a fool… but please, please understand. You have bewitched me.

It was all a joke, at first. I saw you there, on the special bacon-theme menu, sandwiched in between bacon dishes of fairly ordinary variety: A pancake and bacon plate. An overloaded BLT. Strips of bacon over top other strips of bacon, other food items just peeking out of the corners here and there.

There you were, dead center of the trifold menu. So out of place even among your bacon brethren. A sundae. A sundae with maple syrup. A sundae with maple syrup and fried bacon. Wait… what? Seriously? But…. but how? But why? Denny’s is putting bacon on pancakes, bacon on eggs, bacon in sandwiches, bacon in burritos, bacon on fries, bacon on bacon. But this… this was over the line.

Or… was it? Was it really? Why should one limit themselves to pairing bacon with other purely savory meal items? Bacon and eggs are perfectly natural together, but why not another bacon-dairy combo? Couldn’t the salty, smokey quality of the bacon offset the smooth mildness of the ice cream, the sticky sweetness of the syrup? Could it be that this is the perfect combination of salty and sweet that people have been looking for? All that time wasted on chocolate-covered pretzels, each more elaborate than the last. Was this the true missing salty-sweet link?

Oh, bacon sundae, how I could not resist your potential charms. The waitress warned me off you. But, nay, I could not relent. I wanted, no, NEEDED to be with you. I needed to experience you through my senses, see you with my eyes, taste you with my tastebuds, smell your smokey baconness through my nostrils. I needed to know you.

The wait for you was agonizing, but then, there you were, standing before me, a goblet of off-white glory. Sprinkled on top were shiny crimson pieces of bacon. The syrup stayed incognito, all but obscured by the ostentatious show piece of this endeavor. I dipped a spoon into you. I tasted. I hesitated, then tasted again.

What glory! What tribute! What unexpected euphoria! Who knew it was possible to get a bigger rush if you simply added a ton of protein to your sugar content (and vice versa). Who knew that the bacon would compliment the cream, that the two would work so divinely swimming in the pool of syrup at the bottom of the mighty goblet? Who expected such a decadent pleasure to come from a Denny’s on Lebanon Church Road?

I consumed you, as a lion would devour a gazelle, as a sparrow a worm, as a teamster a donut. When you were gone and all that remained was drippy, gooey remains at the bottom of the cup, I mourned your absence.

Yet, you are not really absent, are you? You’re a part of me now. A part that has latched onto every internal surface it can stick its meaty claws into. I feel that I will live a day shorter because of you, perhaps several days shorter. The moment we were apart, I knew that to ever have laid eyes on you was to agree to an abbreviated life.

But, oh sweet temptress, I did not CARE! I could not care! If I am but a mortal than let me feast like a mortal! Let me not throw away my opportunities in the name of safety or healthy eating or fitness! Let me live, let me breathe, let me consume. Let me risk a few years of stale life for a few minutes of confounding heaven on a spoon.

Denny’s Maple Bacon Sundae, I beg of you, do not leave our world. Once the bacon theme has exhausted its welcome, they are bound to pack you away with the rest of the bacon specials, pack you away and never mention you again. Back with the cheesecake, the carrot cake, the vanilla milkshake. But my love…. will be gone….
Your devoted servant and customer,

Forked!


Good Morning, Dor-Stop!


While I’d love to crawl out of bed early each Saturday to explore the vast array of delicious breakfast options that this city has to offer, it’s more than likely that Saturday mornings are spent sleeping in, then cooking a late breakfast in my own kitchen. This is a perfectly reasonable way to enjoy a weekend morning, but it has been limiting on my breakfast experience around town.

Another obstacle in my path to local breakfast domination is that I have one of the best diners in the area mere blocks away from my apartment. The Dor-Stop on Potomac Avenue draws in a consistent flow of weekday traffic, but it is the weekends that are the big deal here. Visitors from all around the area bring their loved ones. People line up in the cramped entrance way or shuffle about outside, sipping cups of coffee and waiting for their table. The wait – which is never more than fifteen minutes – is more than worth it.
Dor-Stop on Urbanspoon

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Square Cafe


For such a small business district, South Braddock Avenue is a culinary powerhouse. Upscale options like Legume commingle with delectable down-to-earth favorites like D’s Six Pax and Dogz. Laying somewhere in the middle is a little cafe catering to both breakfast and lunch diners and commuting visitors just stopping in for a cup of coffee to go: The Square Cafe.

My pals (and previous dining companions) Maureen and Brandon had sampled Square Cafe while looking for a place to hold the rehearsal dinner before their wedding. They were thoroughly charmed not just by the food and decor but by the friendliness and attentiveness of the staff. But what really won me over and convinced me that a visit was necessary was their high praise of the vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, including tofu scrambles and soy chorizo. When they offered to take me with them on their next visit, I jumped at the chance.
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Good Morning, Waffle House!

I have a pretty early commute on Thursday mornings, a 6:00 am start to my day that, no matter how much I do it, still seems almost a novelty. Getting up and dressing in the dark and trotting out to the corner to catch a bus into Downtown, then picking up a trolley and making the slow rail trip back to Dormont, my thoughts drift to other early mornings, the roads and places traveled through before the sun even had a chance to fully rise.

I think about rising for school all those years, how difficult it was to go from cozy in bed to the cold, sterile school environment. I think about early morning band practices, shivering through thicker and thicker jackets as the season went on. I think about college, years spent staying up into the wee hours only to get up two hours later to make it to class (or the unfortunate times that getting up two hours later never happened). I think about getting up super early for family road trips down to see my grandmother in Florida, usually sometime around 4 am. We’d be out of Pennsylvania before the sun rose, crossing the border into WV with the light still an hour away. I think of that highway terrain.

I think of Waffle House.

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