A February 2004 trip
to Chicago by oldscratch
Quote: Recently I spent a three-day weekend in Chicago to visit some old college friends, sample the local food and drink, and watch one of my favorite bands perform during their Winter 2004 tour.
Restaurant | "Not Recommended"
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on March 29, 2004
2434 N. Clark St
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Restaurant | "Good Southside Thai"
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 29, 2004
1639 East 55th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60615
Restaurant | "Decent Food for Families"
We arrived just after 8:30pm on a Saturday night and found the restaurant fairly packed with extended families, large groups of friends, and several packs of suburban high school students enjoying group dates. (I was nosy enough to check out what the students were eating, and true to my memories of high school, the guys ordered burgers and pizzas while most of their dates contented themselves by sharing mozzarella sticks.) We waited roughly fifteen minutes for a table, and as we passed the time, a young female employee wordlessly offered us complimentary slices of cheese pizza. To be honest, I found both the manner and substance of her offer disconcerting and declined to accept.
Like many chain restaurants, Leona's tries to conceal its impersonal size by painting itself with a thick layer of "atmosphere." As someone who doesn't eat meat, I was slightly charmed by their slogan "Old School Italian, Abundant American, Closet Vegetarian," but the "brain food" trivia cards scattered on the table were unpleasantly greasy, and I found the large, glossy, spiral-bound menus featuring illustrations of key employees difficult to navigate. Squeezed in-between the illustrations were literally hundreds of dining options, and I struggled for some time before finally deciding upon the Portabella Mushroom Wrap ($8.95) and a glass of the Redwood Creek Merlot ($5.00). As with many of my recent Chicago meals I found the portions overwhelming and the food somewhat bland. The wrap was served on a heavy, platter-sized white plate that also held a large bowl of fruit "garnish," and while my first hungry bites were satisfying, I quickly grew bored of the entree and didn't finish half of it. That said, I had no complaints about the size and quality of the wine.
The service at Leona's was friendly and efficient. The two large tumblers of water on our table were refilled often, and the waiter was very accommodating of my request for a quick meal and check because we had a 10pm show to catch. The restaurant's interior didn't go much beyond wooden booths and checkered table clothes, so I can't recommend the restaurant for dates if you're older than eighteen, but if you're trying to satisfy a large group of diners that includes both grandparents and grandchildren, Leona's might be a good choice for you.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on March 29, 2004
Leona's - Lakeview
3215 North Sheffield Ave
Chicago, Illinois 60657
Restaurant | "Whoa! Big Pancakes!""
I had an afternoon flight back to New York on my last day in Chicago, so two old friends and I decided to share Sunday breakfast together before I left. My friend Ryan suggested the Original Pancake House, and the three of us agreed to meet at the restaurant at 1pm. I was surprised to find that The Original Pancake House was located in the basement of what appeared to be an office park, but no one else seemed to mind the location as we found the restaurant completely full. The hostess politely took our name and correctly predicted a 30-minute wait.
Upon sitting down I observed that the dining room was mostly composed of portly, older folks who genuinely seemed to appreciate the restaurant's enormous portions and inexpensive prices, so we were all a bit surprised to notice an attractive young girl sitting alone. Of course, she was waiting for a date and he finally arrived several minutes later, talking on a cell phone and wearing a stupid blue blazer. Blue Blazer continued his conversation on the cell phone after sitting down, a move that I figure he must have picked up from a men's magazine. Whatever the origins of his rudeness, the behavior only seemed to impress his date more and this made us mad.
We decided not to let Blue Blazer ruin our meal however, and so perhaps in an attempt to boost our self-esteem, both Ryan and I splurged and selected Original Pancake House Signature Items from the menu. I chose the mushroom omelet ($7.85) and Ryan the apple pancake, but in retrospect Joe made the wisest choice by simply ordering a side of silver-dollar pancakes. The food arrived shortly thereafter and the monstrosity that was delivered on Ryan's plate nearly caused us to fall from the table. If ever a pancake resembled a living, breathing, flipping-flopping creature, Ryan's breakfast was it. The enormous size of the meal made Joe's silver dollar pancakes look petite in comparison, and the waiter, noticing the difference, laughed and said that Joe had ordered the "Little Brother" special.
Ryan gamely cut into the beast and began piling forkful after forkful of apple dough into his mouth, but he had barely finished half the pancake before calling it quits. My omelet came with a small side of pancakes, and these were very good, but the omelet itself was difficult to eat. Like Ryan's meal, it was enormous, and the egg mixture was infused with so much light, fluffy air that it no longer tasted of anything but the sherry-based mushroom gravy spread across the top.
Towards the end of our breakfast, Blue Blazer walked past with a napkin stuck to his shoe, and while it was not toilet paper, this did make him look foolish enough to increase our enjoyment of the meal. Energized by this event, Ryan attacked his apple pancake once again and managed two further bites.
The Original Pancake House
2020 N. Lincoln Park West
Chicago, Illinois 60614
Attraction | "Great Bar in a Great Location"
I arrived at Schuba's shortly before show time and gathered together several of my old Chicago friends to distribute tickets. Earlier in the day I had bought the tickets on the club's website for $8.50 apiece, and my online purchase entitled me to a free appetizer at the Schuba's attached restaurant The Harmony Grill. I briefly poked my head into the Grill but decided I wasn't in the mood for anything fried and served on decorative iceberg lettuce so declined to redeem the offer.
Since I had several friends to buy drinks for, I was happy to find that most beer at Schuba's was affordably priced at $3 a pint. A popular drink in Chicago is a Blue Moon (Hefeweissen beer garnished with a slice of orange), and several of us made like Romans and enjoyed several of the fruity beer concoctions.
While not extremely large, the performance space itself was impressive and distinguished by an intricately-tiled black-and-white floor. The lighting was very good and enhanced by a particularly high stage, and the sound also seemed to be in capable, experienced hands. Most importantly, Bishop Allen rocked Chicago and, as usual, finished the show with many new fans.
As exciting as it was to watch my friends play Schuba's, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the consensus highlight of everyone's evening (band included) was the discovery of a two-dollar photo booth. Two dollars for a four-photo strip of memories seemed exceptionally reasonably priced by any standard, and as a result I'm afraid we may have overused the booth. The next morning we noticed that the photos had developed a little dark, but for the price, no one was complaining.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 29, 2004
3159 North Southport Ave
Chicago, Illinois 60657
+1 773 525 2508
Attraction | "Did Not Disappoint"
The Second City
1616 North Wells Street
Chicago, Illinois 60614
I should qualify that last statement by noting that the view from the Michigan Avenue Bridge is also one of the first urban landscapes I ever witnessed, and for that matter, one of the first truly modern landscapes the world had ever seen. Skyscrapers came of age in the twenties, and bracketing the north side of the bridge are two gleaming-white examples of the craft, the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building. These two Jazz Age cathedrals serve not only as exclusive guard towers to the booming economic clout of North Chicago, but as a gateway to American Modernism itself. While straining your neck at these buildings and standing on the Michigan Avenue Bridge with cars rumbling both past and beneath, you feel not only physically within the city but that you are experiencing the City as a capital-letter concept as well.
On your next trip to Chicago, I suggest you take the time to walk north across this double-deck drawbridge. U.S. and State of Illinois Flags will flutter violently on either side, and after you cross the bridge, the Wrigley Building will be on your left. Thirty-stories tall and distinguished by a two-story clock, the Wrigley Building's exterior features six shades of tiles that ensure the structure appears brighter as it rises. On your right will be the gothic Tribune Tower. At the tower's bottom is a WGN studio with a large plate glass window and weather and time displays, but I've never seen anything terribly exciting happening in the broadcast booth. As a college student, I used to enjoy walking around the Tribune Tower and looking at their stone collection, but to be honest, the practice of collecting famous stones from places like the Great Wall of China, the Parthenon, and the Alamo and then cementing them to the facade of a building now strikes me as a bit kitsch.
Finally, since I am actually writing this journal entry on St. Patrick's Day, it occurs to me that earlier today city employees must have partaken in the bizarre annual ritual of turning the Chicago River green. I once actually watched the transformation take place from the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Chemicals were dumped in the river and a motorboat speed around in circles to stir them up. Turning a river bright green always strikes me as a strangely 1970s custom and smacks of a time when people were enthralled by the power of chemistry to change the world, yet innocent of its long-term environmental impact. I assume, of course, that the chemicals are non-toxic or the practice would have been stopped long ago, but the gaudiness of the green river does not mesh very well with the glamour of the bridge. I suppose this sort of contrast is distinctly Chicagoan, but I would recommend avoiding the bridge on St. Patrick's Day all the same.
New York, New York