My final day in Chicago was a race to see how many DDDs I could hit before my 2 pm flight. After a strategic session with a map, I determined a route that would allow me to hit three; two within walking distance and one on the way to O’Hare.
Having spent most of my time in Chicago on either the Magnificant Mile, the convention centre or West Randolph, it was nice to get off the beaten path a bit. My first stop was the White Palace Grill. Opened in 1939, this place is the traditional 24 hour American diner. It has all the classics, from eggs to waffles to Mexican breakfast platters. I sat at the counter and joined the show as one of the many cast and characters of the Chicago scene. A very pleasant waitress quickly came to my rescue, offering me the large menu and a newspaper which I much appreciated. It’s amazing how out of touch one falls when stuck in a conference for 4 or 5 days. I scanned the menu and ordered a coffee, some strawberry banana french toast with a side of bacon and some grits to try.
The banter in the place was primarily focused on the Hawks Stanley cup win the night before. People were walking in and out proudly donning T-shirts and jerseys. There seems to be a trend among couples to walk around Chicago wearing matching shirts…it’s rather endearing. I was rather amused when another waitress checked in to start working. I think her name was “Happy” or something like that. If so, the name fit her personality and I quite enjoyed listening to the conversations and laughter that erupted during my breakfast.
Without much of a wait, breakfast arrived. The strawberry sauce was on the side, so some assembly was required. It was classic french toast with classic toppings. I love grits and I wasn’t disappointment by the Palace’s butter laden offering.
White Palace grill is an all American 24 hour diner. It has all the attributes of a good experience; good food, good service and good decor. Although it may not top the Zagat guide, it’s a place where you eat lots and leave feeling happy, happy, happy.
Verdict: 4 Guyz
Stop number two was Panzanno’s Italian Market which was about a 10 minute walk from White Palace. During this time, I got to admire some of Chicago’s downtown architecture from afar while walking over the West Roosevelt bridge. The bridge itself is quite interesting. I snapped a pic of one of the numerous icons which lined the street. I did a quick internet search to find out the meaning of these depictions but came up empty.
Despite the name, I wouldn’t call Panozzo’s a market. True, they sell a small array of pastas and Italian staples, but the main attraction is the deli and take out sandwiches. There are a few “old school favorites” but the signatures are the crescentine sandwiches. Like the name suggests, they are crescent shaped sandwiches stuffed with all sorts of delicious fare.
I ordered two sandwiches to go; the porchetta crescentine and the meatball sandwich. It was hot as hell outside, so I was also drawn to the ice cream freezer which was sporting an array of Zarlengo’s Gelato. There was an article hanging on the wall touting the frozen treats, so I grabbed a Rum and Raisin for the walk back to the mile. It was smooth and creamy with lots of raisins and lots of rum flavour filled the cup.
I like when thought is put into things, even simple things. Sometimes the difference between a good sandwich and a great sandwich is one ingredient. There is always the opportunity to push the boundaries just a little and I feel Panozzo’s does that. Both sandwiches were delicious. I think the pickled fennel and chilis in the porchetta and meatball respectively added enough to make these sandwiches stand out. The bread was fresh and the fillings were ample.
Although the decor is a little barren and the vibe a little flat the sandwiches were delicious. The offering of Zalengo’s at Panozzo’s is another example of the comradery that exists between restaurants and other vendors in Chicago. Like Metropolis coffee and Graham Elliot’s eateries, it’s a win-win and refreshing concept.
Verdict- 4 Guyz
After I devoured the gelato I walked through the park, took a few pictures of Soldier field from afar, made a wish in a fountain, admired some more Chicago architecture and got soaked in a short but intense downpour. I did a quick change into some dry clothes, repacked, hailed a cab and proceeded to my third DDD of the day, Kuma’s Corner, which is located on the way to O’Hare.
Kuma’s corner prides itself on a fantastic concept; the fusion of burgers and head banging metal. This is not a superficial claim. Everything from the decor to the staff to the name of the burgers scream the theme. I see metal this way….stubborn and abrasive on the outside but with a core of justice and determination in the middle. Take their beer philosophy for example. One may attribute the “No Bud and Miller” philosophy to a pretentious and elitist attitude. Consider the possible lyric:
“Drink no Bud, drink no Miller,
I’m a commercial lager killer.”
Sounds a little nasty, but the foundation in rooted in supporting the small guy, a concept as important to the brewing industry as it is for food. To this point, I started with a Three Floyd’s Robert the Bruce Scottish ale on tap and was later hypnotized by a bottle of Apocalypse Cow housed within one of the the many bar fridges and brewed by the same Indiana brewery. Although it came with a $20 charge, it was a fantastic IPA . Rich and citrusy, almost sour and intensely hoppy , it was a wonderful complement to the burger.
The menu itself is burger-centric with a spattering of bar food available as well. The three guys beside me were indulging on an order of mac and cheese which looked divine (mind you when does mac and cheese not look divine). There are almost 20 burgers available, each with a combination of standard and not so standard toppings such as avacodo, smoky and spicy cheeses, wing sauce, poached pears and yes, a fried egg. I went Ozzy and ordered the Black Sabbath burger which was a patty seasoned with blackening seasoning, spicy jack, chili and red onion. I chose a salad as the side which turned out to be pretty good. My colleague went with the burger of the month which in this case was the Stranglehold, an 8 oz buffalo patty garnished with aged cheddar, arugula and habanero mustard.
There’s a whole lotta burger. The bun was delicious and the toppings worked well together. I had a nibble of my colleagues bison burger which hit the mark as well. If anything, I wish there was a little more liberty to choose the wellness of the burger because a patty cooked medium would have been over the top. Instead, the patty was a bit on the dry side although far from inedible.
Kuma’s concept is a fun one. I may have seemed out of place hauling a week’s worth of luggage into this tiny joint and sitting among biker types and foodies who were embryos or twinkles in their father’s eyes when the majority of the metal playing in the background came out. Needless to say, I received the same rugged yet considerate service despite the fact I don’t sport a tattoo, two inch spacers or a permanent chip on my shoulder. The food was good, the gimmick works and the beer selection was amazing.
The first line of Metallica’s Fuel is “Gimme fuel, gimme fire, gimme that which I desire”. Big burgers, plenty of local beer and whisky on tap do just that.
Verdict- 4 Guyz