Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Happiness Is a Familiar Place

In heading off into the "wilds" of Chicago to attend a concert, I am mindful of the timing of things. Evening concerts require that you leave at a certain hour in order to get to the venue and find parking, if you are not taking public transport. That certain time to be out the door can mean that dinner, such as it is, has to be procured by the venue or on the way to the venue. I had to be out the door by 4:30, if I wanted to eat when I got down there. I also had to pick up my ticket at the "Will Call" window and I didn't want to be dashing in at 6:53 and have to stand in line and miss the opening song.

One of the great things about Chicago is the abundance of restaurants. You want a cuisine, you can find it. It might be a storefront place with 8 tables and a waiter who simply nods when you point to something or it could be white tablecloth covered, reservation-only places with a waiter in a tux who raises an eyebrow when you ask for water. In researching the restaurants around the Old Town School of Folk Music, I had my choice from Mexican to Italian to pub grub to American to sandwich and coffee shops to a German place a few blocks up the street.

In the photo in the post below, you can see the Grafton Pub and Grill. This is an Irish-themed pub with traditional and Americanize Irish fare on the menu. It is also, as you can see, about 35 steps south of the venue. I decided that arriving as close to 5:30 as possible would garner me a table, decent food and an easy walk without worry to the School. If there was a line, I could walk 4 blocks north and eat at the German restaurant. But, reality being what it is, when I finally left the house, at 4:35, the Grafton was sort of on the list and the German restaurant way farther down. I knew I needed to eat but feeling 'meh', I didn't know what I wanted.

There wasn't a line at the Grafton, but there was a semi-packed house. On Sunday evening, it appears they have live music and this has a following. Honestly, I didn't want noise beyond maybe music. The noise of people enjoying company and the tuning of instruments spilled out the open windows and doors (It was near 75 degrees Sunday night). I just didn't want to have to be sociable. So, north I went.

I dropped by the box office and picked up my ticket. With this vital piece of paper in hand, I started walking. There was an Indian restaurant on the corner. This one is Mexican. This is a bar with a patio. Here's a coffee shop and there's Starbucks. In my memory, the last time I was here, there had been a deli with reasonably priced sandwiches and lacking in anything more than utilitarian decor somewhere around here. That's what I wanted. A simple sandwich. Just enough to shove the hunger where it needed to be and to get me home after the show. If I didn't run into that deli, I knew, from reading the restaurant link, Subway was around here somewhere.

I passed a thrift store, a bead store, a used book store which was, thankfully, closed. And then, there it was, on the opposite side of the street.

Costello's in Lincoln Square is where I ate. Carole might remember them from when we saw Old Blind Dogs at Old Town. The decor has not changed although the yellow and red paint on the walls is new. Same colors. Same menu and I mean, the same menu. It's a bunch of tables, a window bar and a counter with a cold drink cooler and a soft drink dispenser. You order off the limited menu, which is nothing but sandwiches. I felt a familiarity with the place. This was not going to be weird food. This was going to be good, filling and familiar and the latter, above all, was what I wanted.

"Can I help you?" "I would like a turkey sandwich but there are things in your sandwiches that don't appeal to me tonight." "Well, let's make one up for you that you would like." It took about 3 minutes to place the order. "Do you want smoked, honey roasted or oven roasted turkey?" "Do you want pepper jack, Swiss, American, Colby, Monterrey Jack, Provolone, Muenster or Cheddar on your sandwich?" "Do you want white, wheat, Russian rye, Jewish rye, ciabatta, foccicia, hard roll, pumpernickel, or a wrap?" "Any veggies? We have lettuce, cucumber, onion, celery, carrots, cole slaw, tomatoes and peppers." Choice is good except when you're hungry and just want a turkey sandwich. The gal behind the counter just giggled when I said, "Wow. So many choices."

That's a turkey, provolone and lettuce wrap. I got mustard on it (Would you like stone ground, yellow, hot or German?). They bake it so the cheese melts and the wrap crisps. I don't remember the 5 different sides I could have. I stuck with chips.

Good. Very good. It was enough. There was a group of musicians in the place, too. They were playing folk and old-style country music. Two mandolins, 3 guitars, a banjo and I couldn't see what the one gal was playing. The place was empty except for me and the musicians and the staff. I call this a serendipitous moment. I just wanted a sandwich. I got music with it. It put me in the right frame of mind to fully enjoy the concert upcoming.

Chicago neighborhoods are filled with these kinds of treasures, from used book stores to simple delis. I sometimes think that actually living in the city wouldn't be a bad thing, but I don't think I could make that move. It was lovely to drive in and experience it, however. Subway will make me a turkey sandwich just the way I order it, anywhere, in the entire country. It will be absolutely the same. These kinds of places are fun to experience because the food is good and it may be a turkey sandwich but it was quite different.

Beverage:  African Rooibos tea


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