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Eleventh Heaven

(Photo: Just hand me the chopped chicken liver and a spoon, thanks. Credit: Eleven City Diner.)

As I happily Twittered, I had lunch yesterday at Eleven City Diner, the two-year-old nouveau-Jewish deli in he South Loop. This followed an impromptu dinner last week, when I needed a long walk to work off the stress of my blog migration project and unintendedly meandered to 11th and Wabash.

Now I’ve gone about as native as an ex-New Yorker can go in Chicago in five years.  Deep dish?  Chicago dogs?  Juicy beefs?  Pass ’em my way.  But there’s something about pastrami, reubens, lox with a shmear, corned beef, and egg creams that never leaves the soul of a former Gothamite.

And then there’s chopped chicken liver.  I guess I get the liver gene from my grandmother.  She was a big fan of the offal organ, although when I was growing up alongside her (she lived in the attic apartment), I wasn’t. As an adult, though, I’ve adopted Ina Garten’s chopped liver recipe as my own, and with the right schmaltz it’s heaven.

Yesterday at the diner, I had a #24: a pastrami-corned beef club with chopped liver and Swiss on rye.  And an egg cream.  It was like I had taken a long walk to the Lower East Side.  As I staggered out grinning, holding half my double-decked sandwich in a to-go tray, I told the waitress, “Next time you see me coming, just hand me the chopped liver and a spoon.”

When I got home, the door woman at Marina City asked me what booty I was bringing back from lunch.  Her widened eyes, cocked back head, and look of abject disgust said it all.  Good.  More for me.

Last week’s dinner at Eleven City Diner I had the reuben.  It’s actually not my Second City favorite.  That title, surprisingly, goes to the Radical Reuben, a mind-blowing vegetarian concoction at Lakeview’s Chicago Diner that you’d swear was made out of something formerly mooing.  But anyone who knows me will tell you I’ve noshed my way through Chicago on reubens, and I don’t mind paying the 12 bucks for the privelege at Eleven City.

For starters, it’s not overly large (unlike some of their other sandwiches, like their six-inch tall Marshall Field’s inspired beast that sparked a controversy I blogged about in 2006 when the still consistently locally challenged Macy’s tried to sue the diner for using the Field’s name on its menu).  Nor does it taste and feel of overused griddle grease, as frequently does the offering at The Bagel on Broadway.

I had a phosphate last week, though.  In a comment under my 2006 post about the diner, I shamefully proclaimed Midwestern phosphates better than my native New York egg creams.  Feh.  That egg cream I had yesterday at Eleven City was the equal of any of the many I had at Dirty Bernie’s on Kew Gardens Road in mid-1970s Queens.  (A long-defunct, authentic mid-century soda shop, I didn’t notice until my teens that the real name of the place was Bernieland). So let me set the record straight: real egg creams are way better than phosphates!

After I got home yesterday, I Googled Eleven City.  To my surprise, they fly their cheesecake in from Junior’s in Brooklyn.  I used to walk there during the eight years I lived down Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope.  The bathroom was horrendous.  But the cheesecake was properly New York: substantial; a bit dry; and anything but mushy (sorry, Ely’s).

I immediately called Eleven City Diner, and they confirmed their cheesecake is the one I miss from Gotham. I believe I told the man who answered the phone that I loved him. Not that I’m a total food slut or anything.  But if anyone wants to import Christie’s Jamaican beef patties from Brooklyn or open a real Portuguese restaurant in this town, you could probably own me.

Categories: Food and Drink

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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4 replies

  1. Pizza preference is so close to the soul, I won’t argue with you. I will tell you, for the best New York pizza I’ve ever eaten in five years in Chicago–the good, floppy kind with a tiny bit of crisp–and pie cut, thank you very much–head IMMEDIATELY to Santullo’s on North Avenue in Wicker Park. That’s the pie I grew up with in NYC. I would travel across town to go to Santullo’s in a heartbeat.

    The opposite of Santullo’s would be PizzaRia. That’s like the bad pizza I grew up with in Gotham–the kind you’d get in a Bodega in a bad neighborhood. Tasting of grease and cheap ingredients. You’ve been warned 😉

  2. First – Deep Dish isnt Chicago Pizza – it was invented for tourists and is rearely seen outside of river north. Most Chicagoans, especialy Italians eat a thin crust and square cut type of pizza – not the thin crust found in NY which is also delish.

    2nd – theres been a dinner extinction in Chicago in the last decade. There were great Jewish delis, Soda shops and 24 dinners around the city – 1 by 1 the owners died out or sold out to build walgreens, CVS and chase banks. The economics of the dinner sadly dont support it in the city any more. They are quite good in the older suburbs though, especially the ethnic blue collar towns.

    Thanks for the 11 City tip – I will check them out.

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