Spotlight: Eleven City Diner
By Chuck Sudo in Food on Mar 31, 2006 6:00PM
For a goyim, Chicagoist has a healthy appreciation of kosher delis. Whenever we're in New York we absolutely have to grab a nosh at Katz's Deli or Nussbaum & Wu. Living on the near South Side we've also had our share of experiences at Manny's. It takes someone with chutzpah and mishegas to start up a deli with an aim of being mentioned in the same breath as Manny's, even more so to open a deli less than a mile away from the South Loop mainstay. Apparently Brad Rubin is just the mensch.
Chicagoist has been watching the buildout of Eleven City Diner for a few months. Rubin, a longtime restaurant industry veteran who's worked previously at Michael Kornick's MK (Kornick and former Pickle Barrel owner Norman Robinson helped Rubin develop Eleven City Diner's menu), decided to open a place that celebrates and preserves deli and diner culture. It's a delicate balance: if one declares himself a standard bearer he leaves himself open to critics accusing him of obsequiousness; apply too much schmaltz, and your restaurant is not much different than, say, Ed Debevic's. It reminds Chicagoist of what some musician - we forget who - once said of the Blues Brothers: "too good to be a parody, not good enough to be the real thing."
That's where Rubin stands right now with Eleven City Diner. The ultimate proof, as always, is in the food. Our reviews of some options after the jump
Rubin's concept of Eleven City Diner is to celebrate and preserve the diner culture. This is evident from the moment you pass through the vintage revolving door and are graced by the sounds of organ jazz trios on the house p.a. (Jack McDuff, Hank Marr, Jimmy Smith, and Richard "Groove" Holmes provide the soundtrack of diners at four a.m.), pristine white tile, mahogany booths, polished chrome, and a long counter manned by an in-house soda jerk. Eleven City Diner makes their own phosphates, shakes, floats, and egg creams. Chicagoist's vanilla phosphate had a color more akin to ginger ale and just the faintest hint of vanilla. The egg cream was an amazing experience in chocolate malt.
We started our meal off right with a bowl of Bubbie's chicken soup. A rich chicken broth moat surrounding one of the largest matzoh balls we've ever encountered, this could have served as a meal in itself. But we were just getting started. For our main course we ordered the "Tom Waits 2 a.m. Breakfast 1987". This dish - two eggs, two slices of bacon, two sausage links, two flapjacks, two slices of toast, and diced potatoes - is more than enough food to feed a family of four. We would have asked for a doggie bag, but the Prime Directive at all delis and diners is "finish your plate." Other recommended entrees at Eleven City are the stuffed French toast (with fresh challah, strawberries, bananas, and toasted coconut), the corned beef hash, and a gigantic "2 for $27.00" bagels and lox combo platter.
The staff at Eleven City is attentive, friendly and accommodating with their personal recommendations. With yesterday being their opening day there was a slight case of nerves, as though the staff were aiming to not screw up. Rubin himself was busy kibbitzing with friends and well wishers but still managed to constantly find something for the staff to clean or polish. It's understandable; this wasn't the press opening, this was the real deal. Eleven City Diner is Rubin's baby, after all. But a diner needs some things out of place. Maybe a spot of grease here, or a yellowed poster there. That brings us back to the Blues Brothers reference.
There are a lot of good things about Eleven City Diner. The menu is killer, the staff is friendly, and any place that plays organ jazz at ten a.m. gets a nod from us. Rubin and his staff are sincere in fulfilling his concept for the place, and people will come mainly because the South Loop needs a good diner. The South Loop has its fair share of dining establishments, but it isn't oversaturated like some neighborhoods we can mention. Chicagoist hopes that once they work through the nerves and anxieties of opening a new restaurant that Eleven City does achieve its goal of being mentioned in the same breath as Manny's. Right now it is too good to be an imitation, but it isn't the genuine article at this time.
Eleven City Diner is located at 1112 S. Wabash. The phone number is (312) 212-1112. They're open Monday throuogh Thursday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7 a.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.