Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jeri's, or The Importance of All Night Diners

*French Chef/Short Order Cook by Mark Laita*

When people come to the Salon they invariably ask what my favorite restaurants in town are. Predictable (for me) answers like Anteprima and The Hop Leaf, as well as typical answers like Lula Cafe and The Publican abound. But one I always throw in is this little joint at the corner of Montrose and Western called Jeri's. I get plenty of gruff for this in my circle of friends, but let me say this: short-order diner cookery of this sort is a form of cuisine quite unique to the United States, and one that has fed a lot of people. Sure, they don't sous-vide anything there. Sure, they don't use every farm in the land (though I did see the busser up at the Lincoln Square Farmer's Market over the summer buying a huge box of tomatoes, so who knows). Sure, they're rough servers in there. Sure, every time Old Crazy Hair goes there I get blamed by his old lady. But man, these cooks have been doing it for years, and efficiency and speed-wise, could cook most fancy chefs out of their hundred-and-fifty dollar Dansko's in a flash. And the food is good, and real. No triple-organic figs on a plate here. And hey--Jeri's has been here for 50 years. In the same spot. Name many other joints that can claim that.

So, when driving by next time, put the nose down, get yourself in a booth and order yourself a patty melt. Hot, salty onions over cheese and a burger patty and ice cold pickles, and a load of fries. Get one of their great milkshakes, too (if the server is one of the good ones who doesn't bellyache about making you one). We were in there one night, the night of the boot mill incident in fact, and we decided we needed yet more salt and fat and whatever else might be lurking in there. Well, we got the waitress who hates making shakes, but between the six of us, we must have ordered four of them anyway. The faster-than-ever cook delivered our six patty melts in no time, while the grumpy waitress struggled with the shakes. But as she made them, a googly-eyed old timer, helping himself to Old Crazy Hair's fries, announced, "They're worth the wait. I've been all over the world, and no one makes a cookies and cream shake like Jeri's."