Saturday, May 30, 2015

Restaurant Review: 11 Cities Diner - Chicago

You know I got one of those shirts!

A Short Trip to Chicago Meant a Jaunt for a Food Adventure


1.7 miles from the hotel according to Mapquest. . .

A few months back I was watching Diners, Drive Ins and Dives and came across a segment for Eleven Cities Diner in Chicago. When I found out that I had to travel near there for a conference, I knew this was going to be my food destination. It just so happened (fortunately) that it was close by to where we were staying.

Now when you look at all the photos of the food I want to make the disclaimer that I didn't eat all of it. Rather, I shlepped (and you can use that word when you are talking Jewish style deli) a few of my colleagues to participate in this journey. I think I'm getting a reputation for knowing something about food and doing my research because I sometimes feel like the Pied Piper leading folks on my adventures.

Let's start with the decor. It's a little bit kitschy but a lot of fun too. They have a section in the front with T-shirts for sale (and you know I now own one as my souvenir) and all kinds of candy. It's 1950's retro diner decor with a Jewish flair. There are signs with what I call "pseudo Hebrew", using Hebrew characters to spell out English words, and even a photo of a famous Rabbi's portrait behind the counter.

 For me, the highlight of this trip was the Egg Cream.  Their version consisted of Seltzer water, chocolate syrup and whipping cream. It's a good version when you can see the striations in color with distinct layers. I haven't had one of these in years and it brought me back to an authentic deli trip in New York when I was in single digits.

Now I know that others are not just as adventurous and may not have the fond memories of an Egg Cream that I personally do. They made some luscious looking shakes as well, topped off with whipped cream, a cherry and a wafer. Of course there are other options including Dr. Brown Soda. You really can't go wrong with a can of Black Cherry. . . I gave up pop a while back but made an exception for this Egg Cream. I think that if I drank a Dr. Brown I would be completely off the wagon so I'm not going to partake but if you drink soda, you owe it to yourself to try it if you haven't. Since this is a Jewish themed post today I would also recommend that when Passover (aka Pesach) comes around, to try and find Kosher for Passover Coke or Pepsi, as well as Dr. Brown Soda. It's the one time of the year you are guaranteed that no corn syrup is used which means you get pure cane sugar retro pop. It's pretty darn good! I should mention that they also served alcohol right?

But back to the diner. . . I ordered a bowl of Bubbie's Chicken Soup. Bubbie is another word for grandmother and this really is old fashioned chicken broth like a Bubbie would make. However, I was not too keen on the matzoh ball. It was peppery but a little too leaden. I prefer a lighter, fluffier matzoh ball although these were probably homemade from scratch. With matzoh balls you are sometimes better off with a mix instead. If matzoh balls aren't your thing anyways, they had kreplach, egg noodles or rice instead. Not sure what a matzoh ball is? Well it's a ball of ground matzoh with chicken fat (shmaltz) and seasonings. At least one of my colleagues frowned when it came to the table. I think they are starting to wonder about me.

Now a deli really is about the sandwiches which is what everyone in our group ordered. I did want to try other things on the menu, including a Ju Pu Platter (latkes, fried kreplach, apple sauce and sour cream) but after an egg cream, a sandwich and a bowl of soup. . . They also serve breakfast all day and had a lot of offering in that area as well.

So sandwiches. . . I ordered a corned beef with a "shmear" of chopped liver. Again, my fellow diners were a little appalled. If you eat pate, or fois grois, this is probably not as alient a concept, but for my group there were some folks that just couldn't get past the liever thing. I love chopped liver. I'm not going to lie. It's probably one of the few things that I  have really kept from my heritage. Part of the reason I picked this place was the feature on how they made the corned beef right on site and I have to tell you it didn't disappoint. It was wonderful. Really thinly sliced and stacked high. Not the least bit dry. Divine. I will say if you are like me and you HATE rye seeds, make sure to ask for an alternate to the rye bread. The waitress understood my plight and brought me out two slices of marble rye to transfer my sandwich's insides to, so I was able to make a new sandwich.

One of the highlights at our table was the Sherm Royale which featured thinly cut salami, with turkey, shredded lettuce, American cheese and Dijon mustard on Challah bread. With a side of fries and a dill pickle it was the quintessential combination of American and Jewish cuisine all rolled into one.

Also at our table was a Rubin's Reuben (actually two of them), which consisted of an open faced Reuben made of either pastrami or corned beef (or a mixture of both), with sauerkraut, thousand island, and Swiss cheese that has been melted on top.

There was also a grilled cheese on Challah, with a side of fries with cheese sauce. You can never go wrong with grilled cheese and especially on Challah. Challah is the ultimate white bread, made with eggs and sugar and this did not disappoint. 

So verdict? I'd do it again.  I think that if you are looking for a good delicatessen and you like traditional food kicked up a notch this might be your place. If you like things like chopped liver, a latke, lox or knish, this place will knock your socks off. Even if you don't like those things but like good fries and a hearty sandwich, I'm pretty confident you will enjoy it as well.

Good stuff. Fun place.

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