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South Side Cheap Eats: Golden Heart Snack Shop

By Chuck Sudo in Food on May 15, 2006 2:30PM

2006_05_goldenheart1.jpgAfter a two week hiatus, which probably lowered our cholesterol levels by at least eighty points, Chicagoist’s “South Side Cheap Eats” series returns with a visit to one hidden gem of a diner in Brighton Park, on the city’s Southwest Side.

We stumbled upon the Golden Heart Snack Shop and Restaurant some weeks back, while taking photographs along Archer Avenue. With its malfunctioning neon marquee, it looked like the kind of place where ward business is settled over salty coffee, racing forms are studied like law books, and waitresses call you "hon". Chicagoist has always viewed Archer as sort of a Bizarro-world version of Clark Street: you wait nearly a half-hour for a bus, and when one comes, it’s leading a convoy. But Archer doesn’t have a ballpark masquerading as a beer garden along its length. In fact, Archer doesn’t have much in the way of drunken fair-weather Cubs fans nightlife. Archer intersects a series of traditionally blue-collar neighborhoods: Archer Heights; Midway; McKinley Park; Chinatown; West Lawn; Brighton Park; and our beloved Bridgeport.

2006_05_goldenheart2.jpgBrighton Park is home to a large contingent of Latin Americans, and the owners of Golden Heart have a menu that caters to the neighborhood’s residents, most of whom would look at you funny if you used the word “brunch”; it’s all breakfast to them. You’ll find huevos rancheros, chorizo, and chilaquiles listed next to Denver omelettes and chicken-fried steak. We went to Golden Heart to sample that staple of all diner menus – the skillet.

At $5.15, it didn’t disappoint. Our Mexican skillet came with two buttermilk pancakes, hot sauce and sour cream, and thick orange slices that meet the minimum daily requirement of vitamin C. Coffee was hot and plentiful ($1.00), and we eschewed the traditional Sunday bowl of cream-of-chicken soup with a bowl of chili ($2.69), which could have used some seasoning, but came around nicely nonetheless with hot sauce.

Golden Heart’s interior is a clean, grease-free version of Diner 101, with tables and sizable booths for all body types, a cashier station stocked with candies and assorted notions, and flavored olive oils adorning the pastel-colored walls. The staff is friendly, attentive, and bilingual, serving up orders as fast as the cooks could make them on Mother’s Day. That they were able to turn over tables as fast as they were yesterday was amazing to watch, until it came time for us to leave and let someone else eat. Management was handing out roses to all the mothers yesterday, which was a nice personal touch designed to create return business and regular customers.

Places like Golden Heart are wonderful alternatives to pricier brunch spots. Some might say they’re necessary for a neighborhood’s identity. Go try out the genuine article for yourself at 4210 S. Archer. Golden Heart is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., and their phone number is (773) 254-5591.