Saturday, May 21, 2016

A hot dog and coffee on Touhy....

For those outside the Chicago area: yes, there's a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Niles.


   
     File this one under, "No wonder should go unremarked upon."
     Spent the morning in West Englewood, reporting on a story—we'll get to that next week—finishing up about 12:30 p.m. Time for lunch. I considered a couple Harold's Chicken Shacks—when in Rome... But there wasn't anywhere nearby to park, and I just kept driving.
     Somehow, parking a few blocks away and ambling over to get in line and grab lunch in Englewood seemed a Bad Idea. Maybe I was being timid. 
     Hurtling down 95 Street—man it gets suburban fast—I passed countless Burger Kings and McDonalds and Wendys and Popeyes. Never considered those for a second. Not hungry enough for fast food, except of course for White Castle, which are special.  White Castle has a soul.
    But the pair I passed were on the other side of the street, and U turns for Sliders....I kept going. 
     Onto 294 North. Love that road. Fast. I had an errand in Niles, so got off at Touhy going east. By now I was getting hungry. Papa Chris Place presented itself. It was well after 1 p.m. A hot dog would do the trick. I went in, ordered a char-dog, mustard, grilled onions, and ketchup. They didn't give me grief over the ketchup, not so much as a haughty glance. But that wasn't the wonder.
     Cup of black coffee.
     It was a decent dog, good pile of hot crinkly fries. Ate, checked the morning's email. When I finished, I took my tray to the garbage, fished out the green plastic basket I had thoughtlessly tossed in, after my eyes strayed over the "Don't throw your basket out" sign. Returned the ketchup bottle to the condiments, not far from where a Sun-Times sat ready for the next patron hungry for more than food. Went back to the table, retrieved my white styrofoam cup of coffee, and was leaving. The restaurant is set up so that, to exit the seating area, you have to pass by the counter, and as I did a woman behind the counter called to me, "Can I freshen up your coffee for you?" 
    I hadn't drunk much, maybe an inch worth. Good coffee, but hot, and I was eating. But I set down the cup, lifted off the cover, and she topped it off. 
    I can't remember that ever happening at a hot dog or burger joint, never, not once in my life. It certainly would never happen at a McDonalds. No minimum wage automaton would ever stop a patron going out the door to give him more coffee. That's probably a fireable offense at McDonald's. 
     "Thanks," I said. "This is my first time here. And thanks for subscribing to the Sun-Times." That last part probably sounded crazy and she ignored it, but I was glad they had the paper sitting out on the counter.
     "Come back again," she said.
    A nickel's worth of coffee. But it made me very happy, stepping into the parking lot, to see this sight, the Leaning Tower of Niles.  Not the bonus coffee, of course, but the gesture. A small kindness, a generosity of spirit, manifesting itself in subtle ways. I figured, whatever blurt of good publicity this blog could offer would be an apt way to return the kindness. It's the small things that make life rich. 

23 comments:

  1. Sorry but ketchup on a Chicsgo hotdog is just wrong. I like ketchup but not as on a dish that I s supposed to be in the "spicy" family, and a Chicago dog is. You've undermined its entire taste. It's like putting ketchup on buffalo wings or Schezhwan noodles. It may not taste bad but it doesn't taste like it's supposed to. Sugars ok on noodles but kugels not the same as a pasta dish.

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  2. Ketchup on a hot dog? That is a bold accusation, with no evidence to back it up. A vulgar person would ask for ketchup on the hot dog when ordering. A true Chicagoan knows the ketchup is a condiment for the crinkly fries.

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  3. Been there a long time. Ate there often when working at Nightingale Conant and they were still putting out audio cassettes and dvds for the "self-help" crowd. Another once successful publishing giant that didn't move fast enough into the digital realm.
    And, no need to answer the ketchup thing. Unless you want to post an excerpt from your book.
    Eat a hot dag any damn way you want.
    You bought it, you could smother it in chocolate sauce.
    But it still ain't right...................
    But this is still the U. S. of A.

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  4. Yeah, we've done the ketchup thing to death. I'll put in a link, for those new to the subject.

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  5. People forget Neil did not grow up in Chicago. I grew up in Edgebrook. My friend and I used to sneak around the Tower before the YMCA was built.

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  6. Good thing you were able to leave Englewood safely. Just don't ask for ketchup at Gene and Jude's, in Elmwood Park.

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    1. Love Gene and Judes (in River Grove). Used to live blocks away from the place.

      SandyK

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    2. Oh yes, that's right,River Grove. I'm thinking of Johnnie's Beef in Elmwood Park on North Ave.

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  7. It has been my experience that even the worst of neighborhoods are comprised mostly of good decent people and it's as likely that Neil would have gotten his coffee topped off at Harold's as at Papa Chris Place, but sauntering over after parking a couple blocks away was definitely not a good idea unless he wanted to look like a fool zig-zagging down the sidewalk.

    john

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  8. I don't recall ever being offered a refill on the way out of any place. That's a really nice touch. Little things like that are what makes the non-corporate places great to go into, although I do agree, White Castle is in a separate category.

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    1. After my open heart operation some 16 years ago, I had no appetite for almost a week, but was able to scarf up a half dozen sliders with fries as my first meal after getting out of the hospital. White Castle's is special.

      john

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    2. I like their onion rings :)

      SandyK

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  9. Oh ugh. White Castle sliders barely qualify as food. The most disgusting crap ever served up by anything purporting to be a restaurant.

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    1. Try their waffle burgers -- the sliders will taste like filet mignon in comparison.

      john

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    2. You're far too kind to them.

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  10. I love that place! Even when I'd just moved back to the neighborhood and they didn't know me from Adam, they treated me like an old friend. Next time, try the saganaki pita -- a little bit of carry-out goodness.

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  11. Let the ketchup on the hot dog slide, but how did you route yourself from Englewood south to 95th Street all the way west to 294 and then north and all the way east from 294 to Niles? Does your GPS have a "longest route" setting?

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    1. Nah, I was cooking up 294 toward home, realized I had to pick up some suits being altered for my kid, who left for his internship in DC today, and rather than go later, as I had planned, I could go right now, while I was in the general vicinity. It was more direct than going home and returning later.

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  12. It was a great hang out for my kids & their friends after school, as well as great food. Especially their ribs & gyros

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    1. Yeah, I saw a plate of those ribs was I was leaving and realized I had ordered the wrong thing. Next time.

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  13. This may be the first time in history a search for lunch started on 95th Street and ended in Niles.

    As for the snide comments regarding ketchup on a hot dog - I find any form of fundamentalist oppression to be odious. If you don't like ketchup on your hot dog, don't put ketchup on it. If the impulse to mock people who like ketchup on a dog seems acceptable to you perhaps you should join the GOP - they approve of imposing their neurotic foibles on the rest of us.

    I may start putting ketchup on my dogs just to irritate the ketchup police.

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    1. The GOP has a fixation on regulating all aspects of bedroom and bathroom activity. The Dems want to regulate everything else about our lives, especially food laws. Things like, pop and bottled water taxes, menu labeling mandates, banning foie gras, poly up one side and down the other saturated and unsaturated fat bans. No one is advocating any ketchup on hot dog laws, and I know you won't follow through on your threat of putting ketchup on a hot dog and eating it, yuck, because you are a normal person, not a disgusting pig.

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