Cafe Society

Welcome to the Windy City

The newspapers? Chicago Tribunes. The tattered phone books? Chicagoland area directories. The game on the radio is the Cubs or the Bears and the tin stars in the display case are all replicas of Chicago police badges. Chicago is really less a restaurant than a small, cramped, cluttered and plastic-wrapped museum of Chicago paraphernalia that just happens to have a really killer snack bar attached. You can eat here, sure. But the real feast for Windy City expats (who, if the guestbook is to be believed, make up the vast majority of the customer base) is one of the eyes and ears and chilly memories.

Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.

Those of you out there in Hotcakesland who come from Chicago probably already know about the restaurant Chicago. Those of you who come from elsewhere probably don’t. Though the place has been open for ten years, it courts a highly selective clientele -- the kind of people who can’t live without Italian beef sandwiches and a box of Pixies, who get all the references on Chicago's unusual menu, who can read the transit maps sealed under plastic on some of the tables and find their old neighborhoods, their old streets, their old homes.

It’s a great little museum of food, Chicago. Not my favorite restaurant in the city, but likely indispensable for those coming from Windy City roots.

As for the rest of us? There are always burger joints, including Bud's in Sedalia, which rates the new book Hamburger America by George Motz. I intervew him in this week's Bite Me, talk to the owners of Frasca and also give my reasons for thinking the slider fad is over (hint: one of them is the Wash Park Grille). -- Jason Sheehan

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