Chicago Classics: Noshing at Nookie's
By John DiGilio in Food on Jan 6, 2012 7:00PM
Start with almost nothing, work hard, build an empire: it is the American dream and, for many, little more than a fantasy. It is also the story behind one of city’s most successful, local restaurant chains. Nookie's is proudly and unflinchingly heading towards its 40th year. What started as a small neighborhood breakfast nook (hence the name) is now opening its fourth large location and continues to feed hungry Chicagoans without fail.
In 1973, Greek immigrant and waiter Spiros Alexopoulos was still fairly fresh off the boat when he and a co-worker decided to hang a restaurant shingle of their own. Old Town was the scene and Nookie's was one of its smallest eateries when it first opened its doors to the public. A growing reputation for great food and service soon turned it into a local hotspot that was ripe for expansion. In the nearly four decades since its founding, not only has that original location expanded, but three additional outposts have turned the once tiny business into a local empire. Nookie's Too opened in 1982 in Lincoln Park, followed by Nookie's Tree three years later in Lakeview. With the dawn of the new year, Nookie's is expanding again into some fancy new digs in Edgewater. Spiros' sons, Nick and Peter, have teamed up with Michael Mitsoglou to open this latest chapter in the Nookie's success story.
From the food to the atmosphere, Nookie's has long been a favorite of Chicago residents, politicians, and TV personalities. The chain’s reputation as a social hub for canoodlers and connivers alike is well-known and well-deserved. One of our own foodies credits the Lakeview location with helping to close the book on his quest to find true love. In fact, you can often find him returning to the scene of the crime . . . er, first date, that is. Was it something in the omelets and coffees they shared? If you have a Nookie’s story to share, we’d love to hear it in the comments below.
Our recent visit to the new Nookie's Edgewater confirmed our suspicions that the owners are still tweaking the space and menu. Clearly they are bringing it up to the same high standards of quality and customer service that they employ at their other locations before launching a major grand opening. The food and the service were slightly off when we stopped in, but not bad. Our tuna salad, for example, took over 30 minutes to get to our table and, though packed with big chunks of tasty tuna, the fish was literally swimming in a sea of mayo. We were dismayed too to learn that some of the sides we were hoping to sample were not available. Fortunately, the staff was both apologetic and accommodating in making up for these issues. The spacious interior is modern and cozy and was much to our liking.
The Bryn Mawr historic district is an excellent choice for the newest member of the Nookie's family. The question is whether they can work out the kinks to make the new restaurant a great addition to this developing neighborhood. Of course, history is on their side. You can’t go from 40 seats to four large locations without doing something right. Nookie's has been doing right by Chicago eaters for a long time.
- Nookie's Old Town: 1746 N. Wells St..
- Nookie's Too: at 2114 N. Halsted St.
- Nookie's Tree: 3334 N. Halsted St.
- Nookie's Edgewater: 1100 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.