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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Chicago Diner

            If you haven’t been to The Chicago Diner or heard of it, then you are missing out.  There are many times when I regret not having gone vegan sooner.  That is particularly true whenever I think about how The Chicago Diner has been in my backyard nearly my entire life and I never once went there until a few years ago.  They’ve been praised left to right, been featured on television segments, and even have their own cookbook out.  Located on North Halsted, The Chicago Diner is basically THE place vegans and vegetarians seem to go to whenever they’re in town.  Once you go there, you’ll probably see why.  Every time my wife & I go there, we can’t help but stuff ourselves full of food.
            We try to make it a point to stop in whenever we’re in the area.  We usually stop in either before or after seeing a movie at Landmark Theatres, which is just a few minutes away.  That was the case last Thursday.
            My wife has begun working overnights and since I had Thursday off, she suggested we see The Grand Budapest Hotel (an amazing movie that has skyrocketed to my top 10 movies of all time) and get brunch at The Chicago Diner.  I’m often slow and reluctant to wake up before 9 on my days off, so since I’d have to be up anyway to pick her up from work, I decided this would be an acceptable idea.  Truthfully, it wasn’t that hard to convince me.  Even now, my stomach is grumbling just thinking about the food at The Diner.
            Jump to Thursday and we showed up to at The Diner twenty-minutes before they opened.  Yes, we’re just that intense when it comes to our food.  No, we don’t consider ourselves ‘foodies’ (an abhorrent word if ever there was one – it just elicits such snobbery.) but we just love to eat.  Plus, with Chicago’s incredibly crappy traffic no matter what time of day, I figured it’d be a good idea to leave earlier than needed.

            We parked across the street from the three-story building that The Diner is located in and headed inside.  The interior is designed like any diner-styled restaurant with the usual decorations hanging from the walls, booths lining one wall, bar stools at the counter across from the booths, and small, square tables lined up in the middle.  It’s really a fun and cool place to go for a meal.  It’s also fun to people watch, whether that’s the other patrons or the employees.  You’ll find your share everything from hipsters (at a vegan place? NO WAY!) with their beards and black-rimmed glasses to your punk rockers sporting all sorts of piercings, tattoos, and hair colors.

            After getting our much-needed coffee with soy milk, we dug into our appetizers:  cinnamon buns.  Good lord.  That is one thing I never get enough of as a vegan.  I used to eat so many cinnamon buns from Cinnabon that I am highly surprised I never got diabetes a long time ago.  I’ve had a few cinnamon buns as a vegan but a few just seem to be mediocre.  The best ones came from a recipe my wife made but The Chicago Diner’s were nearly as good.  At the very least, they were the best ones I’ve had that weren’t homemade since going vegan.

            We were so hungry and had such a hard time making up our minds that the two of us ordered three meals.  My wife had her own meal – the ‘STK’ & eggs (seitan ‘steak’ and tofu eggs), I ordered the Big Bang Breakfast, and we shared an order of ‘biscuit & sausg gravy’ (made with seitan).  I do not know how I finished everything I ordered.  I could’ve exploded had I had another bite!

            The biscuits & gravy were good but not my favorite veganized version of the meal.  The gravy was good but overall nothing mind-blowing like I’ve come to expect.  Don’t let that give you the impression that I didn’t wolf down my half of the plate, because I did.  I also used the excess gravy on my ‘sausag’ patty and seitan ‘bacun’ that came with my Big Bang Breakfast.

            The Big Bang Breakfast was really delicious!  It came with tofu ‘scrambled eggs’, toast, fruit, potato hash, and – as far as their menu states – either the ‘sausag’ patty or the seitan ‘bacun’.  However, either they messed up or changed things because I received both.  I was not going to complain at all!  Both were really good and tasted good in the gravy.  The potato hash was probably my favorite on the plate.  I could eat platefuls of that stuff.  The tofu eggs were good but I prefer my wife’s because she makes scrambled tofu eggs and throws in a ton of ingredients – really jazzes things up and adds a lot of different flavors to the mix.  As always, I did douse my tofu eggs in ketchup, which helped give it more flavor.  (Damn, I just realized all of that made me sound like the food snobs I loathe.  I’m not, I swear!  I’ll eat anything and enjoy it!  I just have different levels of likes.)
            My wife somehow managed to finish her meal off with a shake.  How she was able to finish a shake after all of that food is beyond me.  I really wanted one of their shakes but I just couldn’t bring myself to have one.  It really bummed me out because they have THE BEST vegan shakes in the world!  We always seem to get a shake whenever we go there – it doesn’t matter how cold or hot it is, either.  If you go there, you MUST order a shake.  I love the mocha and despite wanting to try others, I tend to order that whenever I’m there.  It’s just too good to pass up.
            All in all, brunch was a fantastic idea!  Plus, parking was super easy that early in the day and it wasn’t as crowded as it always is in the afternoons and evenings.
            The Chicago Diner also recently opened up a second location (not in the suburbs, however.  Do you hear me, Chicago Diner?? Hmmm??) in Logan Square, but we have yet to go there.  That may have to be rectified!
            Well, that about wraps things up.  Has anyone else been to The Chicago Diner?  What are your favorite meals or drinks?
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

The Chicago Diner is located at 3411 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, 60657 & now at 2333 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60647
You can follow The Chicago Diner on Twitter at @chicagodiner

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