First Time Not a Charm at Chuckies

By John DiGilio in Food on Jul 6, 2011 7:20PM

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The old adage that one should never judge a book by its cover clearly cuts both ways. No matter where you go, some of the most run down, hole-in-the-wall-looking dives crank out some of the best food. And, sadly, it follows that some of the most posh leave you wishing you had opted for the nearest dive. When it comes to restaurants, looks can definitely be deceiving. A recent visit to Chuckie's in Rogers Park left us not only feeling duped, but rather hungry as well.

Chuckie's is not your typical hang-out on the Morse corridor. A stone’s throw from the El stop, it eschews the familiar and friendly grittiness of the neighborhood for a more elegant look. Metallic accents, plenty of windows and glass, and even chandeliers really set it apart from its neighbors. Chuckie's really is eye-catching when you gander at the environment in which it sits. In an unfortunate twist, it is not just the look that sets this place apart. The food and drinks do as well; but not in the good way that one might expect. In an area known for authentic and high-quality Mexican, Indian, and Ethiopian food served in rinky-dink little restaurants, Chuckie's substandard fare makes it more of a thorn among the roses than vice versa.

We visited Chuckie's on stifling summer afternoon, hoping for a bite to eat and a couple of cold beverages to fight the heat. The menu is limited . . . REALLY limited. A short food list is not a bad thing, especially if the featured dishes are done well. When a place fails at its only offerings, however, it is a much different story. And it was Chuckie's story. The place serves New York style pizzas that are promised to be ready in minutes. We ordered two individual pies and a couple of drinks.

We were excited to see frozen "margaritas" on the menu, but we were taken aback when our waitress / bartender asked us if we wanted them made with rum or vodka. We went with the rum and strawberries and advised our hostess that it would actually be a daiquiri when made this way. It did not matter. What we got was an almost fruitless glass of slushy booze. The pizzas, which actually took some time to get to us, only looked good. We considered it apropos of course; in keeping with Chuckie's theme of appearances. The slices were flaccid and almost soggy in the middle. Unsatisfying to say the least.

The salt that should have been on the rims of our margarita glasses was only rubbed in our growing wounds as the staff essentially ignored us for the rest of our visit. They sat outside talking while we labored over our lackluster fare in the vacant interior. No one asked how things were or whether we needed anything further. In truth, all we needed was the bill and to be on our way. It would not have been so galling if we had not been the only people in the whole place. Perhaps we should blame ourselves for not picking up on that visual cue from the start. Rogers Park needs places with the look and feel of Chuckie's. It also needs those places to live up to that look. Chuckie's has potential. It just needs to find a way to meet it. Looks only get you so far in the food business.

Chuckie's is located at 1412 West Morse Avenue.