Saturday, May 30, 2009

Interesting Link For A Saturday

Reader Marty Taylor was kind enough to send me a great link. It is an article by Scott Marks entitled "115 Treasured Memories About Growing Up In Chicago." It was a blast reading this as it mentioned many restaurants, stores and names long forgotten to most people (except us, of course). There are even a few photos intertwined. There are also some great comments from folks responding to Mark's article. It certainly is lengthy but it is worth the read and Chicago related which is a plus in my book.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Richard Estes Original

Known for his super realistic style, Richard Estes is an artist that was born in Kewanee, Illinois and grew up in Chicago, attending school at-Where else?-the Art Institute of Chicago. Here is my flash free photo of one Estes' famous works hanging in the famous museum of his Alma mater. Completed in 1984, this painting is entitled Michigan Avenue with View of the Art Institute. And what a view it is! The reflection of the Art Institute gives off a realism that makes this almost look like a photograph.

Just for fun, I took a look at many of Estes' other paintings, many of which reflect New York City beautifully. Lots of ordinary city scenes of buildings with retail and neon signs very reminiscent of Edward Hopper. One of my favorites seems to be this image of a drug store depicted on the cover of this journal magazine. There is also a great painting of the famed Apollo Theater in NYC. I really like the city lights feel of this ordinary looking retail scene of a hardware store, a liquor store and a dry cleaners. There's also the gone but not forgotten telephone booth depiction which is also a real winner for me. Then there is the small town feel of this hamburger joint that could fit inside anywhere in America. Another great painting is this awesome neon look of Grant's. Lastly, there's also the vibrant sign of People's Flowers. Based upon these peeks inside Estes' career, he really is a vibrant and brilliant artist.

Other similar artists that carry on the hyper-realism torch that Estes holds are Ralph Goings, Audrey Flack, Robert Bechtle and Joel Babb. Goings seems to specialize in painting some fantastic diner scenes such as Ralph's Diner, Booth Group, Tiled Lunch Counter and the Mid Century Modern aura of Dick's Union General and Golden Dodge. Goings also did wonderful stills of Heinz ketchup bottles and others entitled Breakfast Menu, Relish, Still Life With Hot Sauce, and, of course, who could forget the A1 Steak Sauce. Goings' stills are a hoot, I could go on and on with these. For some wacky reason I have always enjoyed stills of fruits and flowers but famous relish icons make it even more fun. Flack was no stranger to painting still life icons either. Using Crayola Crayons as her inspiration she did this lovely painting depicting the young artist tool. Other works of Flack are entitled Energy Apples, Royal Flush and Queen. Bechtle seems to dabble more with people, buildings and cars such as the Bradymobile-esque station wagon sitting in front of a garage (Presumably at a Mid Century Modern house), '61 Pontiac, '60 Chevies, and '58 Rambler. Babb has a wonderful collection of cityscapes and nature scenes entitled Newberry Street, Copley Plunge, Sonnets to Orpheus and Crystalline. While all diverse, like Estes, Flack, Bechtle and Babb add their own little realist touches that many moons from now can be used as excellent historical references.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chicago's Meeting Place

A quick Google search gave me Explore Chicago which happens to be the city's official tourism website says that the Daley Plaza is "The City’s central gathering spot...." Well, this isn't the Daley Plaza but it certainly looks like it. In either case, that couldn't more true. I know we had to meet here for a field trip in high school. Now if only I could remember which field trip. There was that fun architectural boat tour sophomore year which was probably my first foray into falling in love with terra cotta (Never mind that I didn't know what the hell it was and I couldn't come up with the name when Mr. Park asked saying part of it was a Word Clues word). There was also that boring trip to Navy Pier senior year. The one that made me hate it for the churros that cost $2.50 each, the lack of anything interesting or affordable and the insane amount of people that touted it as Chicago's premier destination. Whatever it was, I was here once before meeting my class for an entire day's worth of boring high school activities.

Kluczynski Federal Building has an interesting history but it is most famous for the Alexander Calder sculpture. Calder was an amazing artist. Though I am not a big fan of sculptures.

Enjoy this picture as I probably won't go to the Loop again anytime soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Berghoff Live and Up Close

I have featured the Berghoff many times on my blog and most recently I posted some older photos I scanned from James Ward's book Restaurants Chicago Style. This time I am adding my own photos: live, up close and very recent (last week). The Berghoff is a Chicago institution for food just as any other restaurant present and past in the area. Though I have never been on the inside, I hope to change that sometime in the near future.

For now, I hope that everyone enjoys the lovely Memorial Day weekend.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Art Institute Is Worth A Visit

The flash Nazis were hanging around the Art Institute on Monday. Yes, there are guards that actually go around and tell you that you cannot take photos on your camera with a flash. Why? I have no earthly idea though I don't believe the explanation is much of a logical one whatever it is. Problem is, shutting off the flash oftentimes creates blurry pictures and kills my battery.

I have always loved art and have been fascinated with Impressionist artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Édouard Manet, Gustave Caillebotte and other brilliant painters. One of the primary reasons the Art Institute is so great is that it contains a wonderful collection from some of these very artists. It's been a dream of mine since the fifth grade to go visit and my dream FINALLY came true.

The Art Institute opened up in 1879 and it's website has a wonderful in depth page on it's own history. Even more exciting, the museum recently unveiled its brand new Modern Wing to house some of the finest modern artists of our time. If you have never seen this important Chicago treasure, now is certainly the time particularly if you value art as much as I do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some Candid Loop Shots

I don't visit museums often and I certainly don't go down to the Loop very often either. When I was in grammar trips to Lincoln Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry and Shedd Aquarium were pretty standard. As an adult I slowly try to rediscover these wonderful treasures in our city, except for the fact that I really hate the Loop. The traffic, the people, the noise, the fact that everything is marked up at least fifty percent, etc. I started this on my twenty-first birthday with a trip to the Field Museum that I somewhat sorely regret. Then came going to the top of the John Hancock Center and a trip inside the Daley Center the next year. In 2005, it was a trip to Shedd Aquarium and Marshall Fields on State Street just before the name change. In 2007, it was Christmas shopping on State Street. This year it was a trip to the Art Institute. If I can dust myself off again every couple of years I think I will hit something equally as exciting next.

These are some candid photos I took getting off the Orange Line at Adams. Beautiful late Spring scenery, tall buildings, multitudes of pedestrians in all shapes and forms, etc. Chi-town is great!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Bridgeport Restaurant

Looks like this is your typical Chicago building located at 3500 S Halsted. I will be jetting off to the Art Institute today but not without picking up my good museum trekking buddy here in Bridgeport. We are actually going to get on a CTA train and jet to the loop from there. This is the lovely corner where the Bridgeport Restaurant is located with the old signage there. The Bridgeport Restaurant looks to be like your regular family style diner with good food and great coffee. While I will be snacking on a panini at the Corner Bakery and catching up later with Italian Ice at Freddie's, the Bridgeport Restaurant will be something I will have to check out in the near future. How obvious is it that I took this photo while stopped at the red light?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Some Tidbits...

A quick update for this evening since trying to dissect the snail paced Will Smith film Seven Pounds has left my brain suffering from deprivation of some kind.

Reader Bill M. recently commented on the post about Franksville Hot Dogs that George, Sam and Harry Radaios were NOT the original owners who started up Franksville. They actually bought the Harlem and Foster location in the early 1970s. My hat goes off to Bill for correcting me on this bit of info as Bill himself worked at the location for many years and had many great memories. Unfortunately, the brain child behind those who actually did start the company in the early 1960s remains as much a mystery as the New York World's Fair appearance. Once again if anyone has any pieces of information that can help connect the dots please remember your comments and emails to me are always welcome.

Recently, it seems that the Malls of America blog has been removed after not having been updated in almost two years. Despite not having any new posts the site was still a great reference for old photos and comments. This is very sad for me as I have spent the last three years loving that blog to death. I can only hope something like it can resurface again soon, vintage goody pictures and all.

More sad news to report, this pretty purple house located on the corner of Diversey and Mildred looks like it may have recently suffered a devastation of some sort. Having been in the neighborhood today to go watch the film Little Ashes playing at the Landmark's Century Cinema, I saw that the upstairs was boarded up and didn't appear to be in the best condition. I have been walking past this house since the first time I ever visited that particular theater back in 2002 and it saddens me to see it like this. Hopefully, it will return to looking just as good as it had before sometime in the very near future.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Last Tango In Chicago

I am sad to report that we have come to the final tango in James Ward's lovely little book Restaurants Chicago Style.

"Classics! The double-breasted polo coat, a '41 Lincoln Continental, Gucci loafers, Mies Barcelona chair, Walter Huston's 'September Song.'

And a restaurant called Tango.

Classics, all of them. Each is a one-of-a-kind, beyond trendiness and the vagaries of taste, and occupies its own space/time niche. And each has a tremendous influence on anything that follows."

This little passage is not only used to describe Tango which was once located at 3172 N Sheridan, but in my eye, can be used to describe all the restaurants featured in Ward's 1979 book. I have not talked about every one of them Ward spoke of but I did feature a good majority and I have to say Tango sounds like it could have absolutely been one of my favorites. Not for the fact that it was a good old fashioned East Coast type of fish and wine dining experience but because the atmosphere looks to have been so darlingly romantic. To think, I don't even like fish!

Located in the old Belmont Hotel (Now known as the Belmont House), Tango was started by the great restaurateur George Badonsky (who also owned The Brewery, Le Bastille, George's, Chops and Maxim's) in 1971. It was a sleek looking restaurant that served all sorts of fish such as tuna, sturgeon, white bass, shark, etc, not easily available in the Chicago area at the time. Now fish and seafood restaurants here are a dime a dozen and you have all sorts of quality that range from Red Lobster to the Bonefish Grill to all the trendy, fish, seafood and sushi places in between that probably cost more than my paycheck for a regular group outing. Dishes like Ceviche (Which gives others joy but makes me want to hurl), Poached Pompano with Shallot Sauce, Cassoulet, King Crab Legs Sauteed in Garlic Butter and, of course, no fine restaurant can live without their daily dose of escargots which had a Tango twist.

When I was a child and we first moved to Chicago in January of 1989, we lived at a building on Roscoe right off of Broadway. Being new to the city as well as the neighborhood, my parents were usually aghast at the lack of parking found in the area. Believe me, growing up in farm country, they were no strangers to walking and upon immigrating to the states in the mid 1970s, they certainly were familiar with the public transit systems. However, having been accustomed to driving in the last decade they took their car everywhere and in Ohio parking was always ample so what surprised them was the lack of parking in the East Lakeview neighborhood. I certainly don't think it was such a bad thing. I didn't realize it at the time but having to walk to the neighborhood Jewel, Walgreen's, Woolworth's, school and pretty much anything else during all times of the day and especially nice, warm summer evenings (and, unfortunately, cold winter nights) was certainly a treasure that wasn't copied when we moved to Rogers Park two years later. Traipsing up and down Broadway and trekking over to Century Mall in the late 80s heyday was as good as it would have gotten for me at the ripe age of nine years old.

One of the things, I do remember after walking from the park under the Belmont overpass to continue down Belmont was the old Belmont Hotel. I do recall that by the time we lived in the area, there was a fancy schmancy dress shop in the storefront where Tango must have been. How do I know this? I actually went inside once. Within the very first few months of moving into the city, my parents were invited to a wedding. My mother was looking for a good dress and had no idea where to shop so she tried some of the clothing options in the neighborhood. In the window of the old storefront at 3172 N Broadway was a reddish sequin number that she tried on because in all her 80s glamor and glory she thought it looked gorgeous. Little did she know the dress cost several hundreds of dollars. Obviously she didn't buy it but my mom did have a knack for buying two hundred dollar dresses, wearing them once, sewing the tag back on and returning them to the store. I don't recall anything else, but I don't think the dress shop lasted long as I believe the place was gone by the time we moved away or shortly afterwards anyway.

Looking at the sleek modern interior of Tango, it is a shame that the restaurant could not have lasted. It was gone by sometime in the mid 1980s, just a tad bit before I moved to Chicago. The change of ownership in the building drove out the restaurant who was looking for something different. I can't imagine that an overpriced dress shop with little clientele from the looks of it was such a hot commodity at a time looming towards economic distress.

Badonsky himself was quoted as saying in article for Style & Culture Shore that a successful restaurant needs "Service, ambiance and good food—in that order. If you’re not greeted warmly and served professionally in attractive surroundings, the food isn’t going to matter much." I agree with this piece of advice and I think James Ward would too. All these restaurants have featured someone who had a triple dose of passion, heart and vision that saw successes continue in some form or another or end when their namesake moved on. Whatever the case, good food, good ambiance and awesome 70s photos makes for a frolicking good time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pizzeria Uno and Due & Su Casa

Everyone is familiar with Uno's Pizzerias, particularly if you live or have lived in Chicago. James Ward was extra special familiar with them as well as he features the restaurants in his book Restaurants Chicago Style. Uno's is still alive and kicking and the location pictured above at 29 E. Ohio Street is still going strong. The famous pizzeria began life in 1943 with Ike Sewell wanting to open up a Mexican restaurant and his good friend Ric Riccardo bringing over all the new rage from Italy called pizza. Sewell, who died in 1990 at the age of eighty-seven, was a legendary pioneer and his obituary credits him for inventing the deep dish pizza though Ward does not mention deep dish at all.

What Ward does say is that in the mid 1950s, Sewell, opens up Pizzeria Due at 619 N Wabash, also still around. Sewell, who grew up in Texas, also wanted to bring Mexican food into a well known prominence so as a result he started the Mexican restaurant Su Casa located at 49 E. Ontario, also still alive and thriving. Ward describes it as "...A beauty! Its interiors are those of an eighteenth century Mexican hacienda. On one wall are giant doors with pediments from a house in Taxco; bronze Cathedral bells hang from the ceiling nearby. Jose Clemente Orozco, one of Mexico's greatest painters, painted two large panels of Veracruz Indian dancers that are on display. On another wall are two large wood sculptures of St. Peter and St. Paul...."

Pizza is of course one of my favorite things to eat and not just because I am a Chicagoan. Growing up in Ohio, I used to enjoy the Pizza Hut from time to time always begging my parents for a trip to seventies interior bliss and soft crusts within a place that still resembled an actual hut with the trapezoid windows. Of course, when I got older and more appreciative there were great Chicago haunts for us like Leona's, Giordano's, Carmen's, Manzo's, and so many others in between that are not as well known.

Nowadays, you can get Uno's at your local Dominick's or Jewel in the frozen food section. Sewell would undoubtedly be proud that his empire continues to live out longevity.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Whitehall Club-Simple Luxury

The Whitehall Club was once located inside the fabulous European inspired Whitehall Hotel which is hailed as one of Chicago's most best and luxurious. James Ward's fabulous 1979 book Restaurants Chicago Style describes the Whitehall Club as a private old school members only type of place that by then charged $150 as an initiation fee, $75 a year to keep membership and an average dinner tab of twenty bucks including drinks. Who wouldn't love all that fine dining at that low, low price? Though, was it really that low for its time?

Opening in 1956, the Whitehall Club has a pretty rich history just like most of the other restaurants we featured from Ward's fantastic peek into Chicago restaurant past. This one was especially elegant with fancy maitre d's at the helm of running the restaurant. I have never been to a restaurant with a maitre d. I guess this isn't your ordinary Prince Castle, Red Barn or Super Cup. That's just fine and dandy. Ward describes the place as "....Warm and gracious with its crystal chandeliers, dark-tan suede cloth on walls, and overall color scheme of muted browns and reds. There are red leather chairs, a mirrored bar, an antique marble fireplace and, everywhere, fresh flowers-usually roses. Silver service plates and fine English bone china are beautiful embellishments."

The Whitehall Hotel itself opened its doors in the late 1920s and is legendary in Chicago with a wonderful and colorful past. It the Whitehall Club was still around it just might make a great Mother's Day dinner.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Happy L'Escargot

James Ward's 1979 book Restaurants Chicago Style refers to L'Escargot as a simple Provincial French restaurant. For those of us who are not familiar with French cuisine and relegate it to merely as eating snails, Provincial French is actually a fancy way of saying small town cooking from many of France's provinces. Opening up shop in 1968, L'Escargot began life with owner Alan Tutzer and chef Lucien Verge (Who sadly passed away in 1985) and was once located at 2925 N Halsted. The address is now home to Erwin's which serves boring burgers and other TGIFridays-esque fare all dolled up and made to sound fancy that has mostly positive reviews save for Josie who is quoted as writing "I would not curse a homeless person with Erwin. Their life is hard enough." Ouch! I have to admit, that line is pretty hilarious.

Hopefully, no one said THAT about the late L'Escargot which opened up a second location at 701 N Michigan Avenue in 1981. Mr. Verge, who grew up in Lyons, France, was said to have been influenced by his mother's cooking. Whatever he did, his master skills served him well as L'Escargot was the first Provincial French restaurant in the city. Sadly, L'Escargot closed its doors on New Year's Eve 1993 marking the end of an era for down home cooking from France.

The goody details is that Ward refers to L'Escargot's style as "Chicago Bungaloid" where the average tab at the time was about $21 dollars per person with drinks. Nowadays, you can't even get that low at TGIFridays. This great restaurant once served 200 people on weekends and great Provincial French dishes included the liver souffle better known as Gateau de Foie, the veal brains in pastry with tomato sauce aka Feuillete de Cervelle, Creme D'avocat, Cornish Hen Grand'mere and Poires Valentin which has something to do with pears. Hmm, I am no fruit nut but I think I'll take the pears over the veal brains any day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

E Francais, A Gastronomic Miracle

Enough of Hazel Whats-Her-Face. I have been torturing all with awful 18th century fashion advice long enough. The talk of James Ward's Chicago Style Restaurants is back for its next round of posts. Opening first in 1973, E Francais was started by French master chef Jean Banchet. The first incarnation in Wheeling, IL was a gutted by a fire in 1975 and Banchet returned and rebuilt with a vengeance to create elegant memories of fine French dining.

Ward positively glows when speaking of E Francais which was located at 269 S Milwaukee in Wheeling of what is known as Restaurant Row. Banchet specialized in French cuisine and his own German wife declared "That in America, the customers of French restaurants live in the suburbs." E Francais was on a busy street in the middle of nowhere when it first began but it grew and it lasted for thirty years. Banchet himself was in his thirties when E Francais began life and after leaving the restaurant in 1989, he ended up coming back to it again a decade later and to sell it to Don Yamauchi in 2001. Yamauchi tried his best infusing Asian influences along with the French Cuisine, but business was steadily declining and E Francais shut its doors in 2003. The restaurant spent the next four years opening and closing its doors with different owners it seems but no one could recapture the magic that Banchet once created and Le Francais closed its doors for good in 2007.

Boasting five stars from the Mobil Travel Guide, E Francais was the kind of fancy place where romantic dreams and memories are made of. In the late 1970s dinner was nearly fifty bucks Serving such fine fare as Soupe de Moules Au Basilic, Bisque de Homard Au Safran, Quiche of Sweetbreads and Mushrooms, Salmon with Sorrel Sauce and Coupe Normande for dessert. It's a shame that could not attain the longevity that the Berghoff enjoyed.