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Where can I find a restaurant serving
classic Chicago-style food near Antioch, Illinois?
I'm planning a baby-daddy shower for my husband in a few weeks my sister is throwing me an all-ladies shower, so I thought it'd be fun to send the men out (in a limo!) to celebrate Mr. Smaje's impending fatherhood. I'm originally from the Chicagoland area, but have lived outside the state for many years. Mr. Smaje would love to have his baby-daddy shower at a restaurant that serves classic Chicago-style food, but we're having a tough time nailing down a place. And so I turn to you for help.
I'd like to find a restaurant within 30 or so minutes of the hip-hoppin' town of Antioch, Illinois (about 15 minutes from Gurnee and a stone's throw from the Wisconsin border). The original plan was to hit up a Gino's East or Lou Malnati's, but the ones I found that are within a half-hour's drive are either not open for lunch on Saturday or are just take-out, not sit-down full-service. So here are the caveats:
Worse comes to worst, there's a Gino's East in Deerfield (about 45 minutes drive), but I'd like to find something closer. Any ideas?
Smaje1, via the Straight Dope Chicago Message Board
Cecil Adams replies:
I've got lots of ideas, Smaje. I don't claim you're going to like them. However, you've presented a difficult assignment: you want classic Chicago-style food without getting near Chicago.
I'm not saying it can't be done. As discussed in this column in the past, you can now get Al's Italian beef in Scottsdale, Arizona, which for my money is one notch south of finding life on Mars. Some say the Scottsdale Al's is a pale shadow of the real thing. I pass no judgments. The point to be focused on isn't the quality of Chicago food available in distant localities; it's that you can get it at all.
That's basically the problem you have in Antioch. Do you have any idea where Antioch is? By your lights you do: "about 15 minutes from Gurnee and a stone's throw from the Wisconsin border." To a Chicagoan, this is like saying you take a left at Manitoba. We know where such places are, in a general way; our ancestors have spoken of them. But could we find Antioch on the map? No not because we're snobs, but because it's not on the map.
Seriously. I have here a Rand McNally Road Atlas, which depicts every hamlet of interest in North America. One of the maps, entitled "Illinois Chicago & Vicinity," depicts such remote settlements as Batavia, Crystal Lake, and Round Lake Beach. Antioch isn't on it, and won't be till either the tectonic plates shift or they make the atlas two inches taller. Antioch is on the Illinois map, but that also includes Cairo, which for all most Chicagoans know about it might as well be in Egypt. So if the Chicago-style food offerings in Antioch are a little sparse, could be it's because nobody in Chicago knows you're there.
That brings us to your problem, Smaje. I won't say for a fact that there are no Chicago-style food establishments within 30 minutes of Antioch. However, folks on the Straight Dope Chicago Message Board batted this around quite a while, and it's not looking good so far. Partly this is a function of the fact that there aren't many any-style restaurants within 30 minutes of Antioch. Here's a map, which I pulled from the bing Website:
For comparison, here's a map of restaurants in downtown Chicago:
Sure, quantity alone means nothing. For years the best restaurant in the Chicago area was widely considered to be Le Francais in suburban Wheeling. However, selecting one Antioch-area eatery at random, I find reviews such as the following:
You never know, the guys might get a kick out of it. However, seeing as this is a baby shower and thus a special event, I'm not sure I'd chance it.
I have a better idea. You say you've lived out of state for a long time; I'm guessing that's true of many of your other guests. If so, what better way to reward them for coming all this way to bestow gifts on you than to provide them not merely with classic Chicago-style food, but classic Chicago-style everything, in the form of a weekend in the big city? Some possibilities:
Unfortunately, that can't be said about anything else involved with this junket, which I'll concede is a significant downside. No problem. I have a cheaper Plan B: catered Italian beef. No need for a pricey venue, wait staff, etc.; I'm betting your sister's basement rec room will do just fine while the women convene upstairs. Remember, these are guys we're talking about. All they need to be happy is an afternoon of college football, a big screen TV, and nature's perfect food.
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