I was down in the South Loop at Columbia College for the Chicago Zine Fest the other day. After checking out lots of zines and films, and ogling the school’s letterpress room and bookbinding equipment at its Center for Book and Paper Arts, I was pretty hungry.
I’d passed the shiny Eleven City Diner on my way and decided to head over for a late lunch. Eleven touts itself as being a New York-style diner with a serious Jewish influence. It’s got the fake retro look down perfectly in a way that’s legitimately cool and not totally cheesy. It’s the kind of place that makes you either want to order a cocktail and bop your head to some good jazz or cut a rug like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. In fact, I was tempted to get a milkshake or a Brooklyn egg cream, but when I sat down at the bar and saw the bartender whipping up two of these awesome Bloody Marys, well, I was sold.
Check this baby out – not just celery and a lemon slice, but also olives and a toothpick skewer of salami and provolone. Whoa baby.
One thing I find very strange about many of the places in Chicago that tout themselves as being “Jewish style” is the preponderance of bacon and ham on many of the menus. Somehow a ham and cheese bagel seems to clash with the collection of kosher liquors prominently on display at the top of the bar and the inclusion of “Guilt: $0.00″ under the side dishes section of the menu.
I’ve been seriously craving corned beef ever since St. Patrick’s Day, and a reuben is my all-time favorite sandwich so I was excited for this place. Of course they didn’t have gluten-free bread, unsurprisingly, but when I spotted the “deli scramble” on the breakfast menu, which features eggs scrambled with corned beef, pastrami and cheese, I had an idea. I love sauerkraut, and I like sauerkraut with eggs so….I ordered the scramble along with a side of kraut and mixed it all together. Delicious. I’m calling it the reuben scramble. Yes, there’s no Russian dressing, but that’s fine with me. I usually go rogue and make my reubens a little less reueben-esque by subbing good mustard for the dressing. I would totally go for this again.
I’ve got to give this place props for their diligence in making my dish gluten-free. The manager came over to me a few times before my dish was out to check on a couple of things, including letting me know that the grill was also used for grilled bread but that he was going to make sure it was cleaned off before my food was cooked. And he advised that I avoid the homefries because apparently the seasoning might not be gluten-free. It was really nice to get such personalized service, especially considering the place was really busy. That kind of personal attention is what would definitely make me come back again.
Oh and the manager also offered me a newspaper or magazine when I was seated. Pretty cool.
Eleven City smokes most of their meats themselves, with the exception of the pastrami – which was yet another thing the manager asked me about. Seriously – these folks are on the ball. Can’t speak highly enough of the service.
The diner also has an “in-house soda jerk” who makes various fountain drinks. This place is seriously cool, even if it’s a little on the pricey side. The service and decor definitely makes up for that.