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#1
Posted October 12th 2004, 8:41pm
do cafeterias still exist in the loop, and do you guys remember stop and shop? any good joints to be had for a quick bite?
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#2
Posted October 12th 2004, 9:06pm
tonyd wrote:do cafeterias still exist in the loop, and do you guys remember stop and shop? any good joints to be had for a quick bite?


Tonyd,

I believe that some of the hospitals (e.g., Northwestern) still have cafeterias; some are purportedly pretty good.

Hammond
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#3
Posted October 12th 2004, 11:52pm
I agree with Hammond. Northwestern cafeteria is pretty good for non-institutional institutional stuff. There is an actual cafeteria in the West Loop called Racine Cafe located on the corner of Racine and Jackson. The food is nothing special, but it definately has that cafeteria ambience. This place is frequented by the cadets from the police academy who can often be seen running in formation outside the windows for your dining pleasure. There is also a bar as part of the resstaurant for a quick Old Style with lunch. However, the best example of an old time cafeteria still in existance near downtown is Manny's. Everything else is not even in the same league.
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#4
Posted October 12th 2004, 11:56pm
stevez wrote:However, the best example of an old time cafeteria still in existance near downtown is Manny's. Everything else is not even in the same league.


Amen. Manny's. How could I forget?!

Aside from ambiance, Manny's also has the distinct advantage of serving good food.

Hammond
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#5
Posted October 13th 2004, 12:02am
Hi Tony,

I do remember Stop and Shop. I loved just walking up and down the aisles to see all the exotica they had. If I am not mistaken, I believe it was the first place I knew where you could obtain chocolate covered insects. What fun!

Whenever I am out of town, whether it be in the USA or abroad, I always visit grocery stores, markets and specialized food shops. They are just as much a clue to the local culture as any museum. Just the other day in Oxford, Mississippi, I was amused to find a display in the market with vanilla wafers and bananas positioned together suggesting it's Banana Pudding time. I'll attach a photo later today. Just as we see shortcake cups and strawberries displayed together.
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#6
Posted October 13th 2004, 5:56am
I have eaten at the NMH cafeteria in streeerville and it is a good value for the money.

In the loop, especially in the financial district, there are plenty of cafeterias. Two that come to mind are the one in the Bank of America (nee Continental Bank) building at Jackson & La Salle and the one across the street in the CBOT. Both of these are similar to the NMH cafeteria.

Best,
EC
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#7
Posted October 13th 2004, 8:35am
Hospital cafeterias are either very GOOD or very BAD depending on the emphasis placed on them by the administration.

The first hospital cafeteria that I managed was literally the best food in town. On Sundays, we would have several hundred people (most of whom did NOT have family members in the hospital) who would come join us. We had to train the visitors to let the doctors and nurses cut in line to get through quickly. The administrator's philosophy was that if people came to the cafeteria for lunch, they would come there rather than running the 30 miles to Richmond, VA.

The second hospital had a limited cafeteria. There, the administrator saw the place as an employee benefit. His goal was to take care of the employees. Once a month, we'd serve a NY Strip steak dinner for $2.50. We lost our shirts on that one but he told me that steak was cheaper than recruiting nurses and medical staff to rural Virginia.

The third was a large hospital which will remain nameless. The food contracts were always decided on the lowest cost. The food that came in the back was of consistently poor quality stuff that you had to really work to make edible. At least 20% came from the state prison farm. I lasted 6 months before leaving.

Locally, some of the best cafeteria food that I have seen has come from Northwestern University student dining. Good quality and great variety. Sodexho does a nice job there. They have to as the expectations are high.

What I miss are the southern cafeteria chains - Furrs, Bishops, Morrisons, etc. where you have the choice of 8-10 different vegetables and dozens of salads.

I have seen very little like those in the midwest.
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#8
Posted October 13th 2004, 8:42am
I haven't been to the Northwestern cafeteria in a couple of years (though I recall thinking it was more of a food court, with most hot meals prepared fresh to order), but I was introduced to it via Check Please, where a woman touted its accessibility to single, available doctors over the food. For better or worse, none of the single, available, female doctors seemed to notice me, and the food alone wasn't quite enough to keep me coming back. (It was fine, but the place is almost a mile from me, and they aren't really set up for takeout.)

The Equitable building (401 N Michigan) also has a food court with some steam tables -- their stunningly ugly site is at http://www.bistro401.com.
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#9
Posted October 13th 2004, 1:15pm
Bob S. wrote:
The Equitable building (401 N Michigan) also has a food court with some steam tables -- their stunningly ugly site is at http://www.bistro401.com.


Ugly, yes...but some of the selections on the lunch menu for this week are at least ambitious. (dishes like lamb curry, cornish game hen over spinach, etc. and a full selection of sandwiches and wraps). If they follow up the menu with well executed food, it sounds like it could be a good alternative.
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#10
Posted October 13th 2004, 2:57pm
Under 55 at 55 E Monroe St, while not a cafeteria perhaps in the classic sense of the word, is pretty good. There are grill, deli, salad, and rotisserie stations. The prices are fair, the portions are large, and the food is generally good. Many of the larger buildings downtown have cafeterias of some sort. Another that comes to mind is the Aon Center, although I don't know that I'd recommend it.
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#11
Posted October 13th 2004, 4:51pm
stevez wrote:
Bob S. wrote:The Equitable building (401 N Michigan) also has a food court with some steam tables -- their stunningly ugly site is at http://www.bistro401.com.

Ugly, yes...but some of the selections on the lunch menu for this week are at least ambitious. (dishes like lamb curry, cornish game hen over spinach, etc. and a full selection of sandwiches and wraps). If they follow up the menu with well executed food, it sounds like it could be a good alternative.

Actually, you're on the money, Steve -- their steam table options (the lamb curry, hen, etc.) are often very very good. (Insert "for cafeteria food at that price" disclaimer here. ;) Instinctively the "big business hurts local outlets" reaction makes me want to hate Aramark, but the food there is generally much better than a lot of other takeout options along this end of the Mile.
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#12
Posted January 28th 2005, 10:45pm
Ch 7 10 pm news tonight James Ward has a segment on cafeterias.
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#13
Posted January 28th 2005, 11:18pm
Of course Manny's is (at least for many) the ultimate cafeteria in Chicago, and smorgasbords like Red Apple are ubiquitous here, but generally speaking, most of the rest of the world outside Indiana just doesn't get cafeterias. A cafeteria is a very long line of steam tables. The cafeteria is probably the Hoosier state's signature contribution to the American epicurean scene, and I say this without even a hint of irony. Indiana cafeterias (1) serve extraordinarily good food and (2) are unequalled outside the state line (and I know this having tried quite a few of those cafeterias south of the Mason Dixon line, where they also are quite popular...and don't measure up). Growing up in Indianapolis (as disconnected as that urban center is from the Hoosier majority), we ate every Sunday post-church meal (and sometimes a weekday dinner as well) at a cafeteria (Laughner's (founded 1900), MCL or one of the many independents). The signature piece is of course top-flight fried chicken (NOTE: always pan fried; the deep fried version so prevalent in these parts like Hecky's, ECS, Harold's, etc. is O.K. in a pinch but is really just an inferior product, and wouldn't be suffered at even a mediocre Indiana cafeteria). The second signature piece is delicious pie. In about 1,879 varieties, each one better than the last. Good pie is a lost art; you hardly ever see it as a dessert, except at goddawful places like Baker's Square. But the art of the pie has not died in Indiana, and the cafeteria is the place to get it. Doing a little armchair anthropology, I'll wager it's the German/Bavarian culture that leads to the pie making tradition. Anyway, here's a little look at some Indiana cafeterias:

MCL Cafeterias
A Book Review of Interest
The Sanctum Sanctorum of Indiana Cafeterias
A Monster Cafeteria I've Never Been To, but DAMN!
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#14
Posted January 29th 2005, 12:26am
JimInLoganSquare wrote: The signature piece is of course top-flight fried chicken (NOTE: always pan fried; the deep fried version so prevalent in these parts like Hecky's, ECS, Harold's, etc. is O.K. in a pinch but is really just an inferior product, and wouldn't be suffered at even a mediocre Indiana cafeteria).


JILS,

I will not jump to the defense of deep-fried chicken vs. pan-fried, but could you elaborate on the superiority latter?

Thanks for the links...I had no idea cafeterias were so distinctly Indianian. Gives me yet one more reason, besides Binion's Horseshoe (which does have a cafeteria-like restaurant on the boat), to visit.

Hammond
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#15
Posted January 29th 2005, 12:54am
Sure, David -- Pan fried chicken is superior to deep fried chicken for a couple of reasons. Mainly, the difference is that pan fried chicken is attentatively watched and tended by the cook throughout the cooking process, meaning each piece gets cooked just right. Chicken is an oddly shaped mass; if chicken were in perfect spheres, then deep frying it would reliably produce ideal results every time. However, each actual (once living and breathing) chicken is unevenly warfed, meaning only the hand and eye coordination (and constant attention) of a pan-frying chef will result in proper overall cooking. When you just throw it in a vat of hot oil, the thinner parts and parts nearer the tips of the bones get overcooked, while the remainder just gets nominally cooked/heated through. You really need to toss the chicken around in the pan quite a bit to make it cook up right.
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#16
Posted January 29th 2005, 1:00am
David Hammond wrote:I had no idea cafeterias were so distinctly Indianian. Gives me yet one more reason, besides Binion's Horseshoe (which does have a cafeteria-like restaurant on the boat), to visit.

Hammond


The cafeteria was the cutting edge at the turn of the last century (circa 1900), and one of the great leaders in that field in Indiana, Laughner's, was right there. I think Laughners may have met its end, but stalwarts like MCL continue. Of course the problem with making any kind of blanket representaion or recommendation is that on the day you visit, they have the 16 year old drop out crew making all the food, rather than the A Team. To ensure you get the A Team, go around 11:30 to 12:30 on a Sunday, when the church crowds are present. That will assure you the cafeteria is showing its best face.
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#17
Posted January 29th 2005, 8:36am
JimInLoganSquare wrote:Sure, David -- Pan fried chicken is superior to deep fried chicken for a couple of reasons. Mainly, the difference is that pan fried chicken is attentatively watched and tended by the cook throughout the cooking process, meaning each piece gets cooked just right. Chicken is an oddly shaped mass; if chicken were in perfect spheres, then deep frying it would reliably produce ideal results every time. However, each actual (once living and breathing) chicken is unevenly warfed, meaning only the hand and eye coordination (and constant attention) of a pan-frying chef will result in proper overall cooking. When you just throw it in a vat of hot oil, the thinner parts and parts nearer the tips of the bones get overcooked, while the remainder just gets nominally cooked/heated through. You really need to toss the chicken around in the pan quite a bit to make it cook up right.


JILS,

That makes perfect sense. Of course, to do the pan fry right, as you say, requires steady monitoring and ministration (which could not always be guaranteed), but with a deep fryer, you have no choice: some meat will be overcooked and some undercooked (a significant problem with poultry).

Hammond
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#18
Posted January 29th 2005, 9:23am
I remember going to Stop-and-Shop regularly as a kid. My grandmother would pick me up on a Saturday morning and we would take the "street car" downtown. Our routine would be to go to Marshall Fields (so she could do some shopping), a stop at Davidson's Bakery (RIP) for some chocolate eclairs which she had called ahead and reserved (always extras to bring home for my brothers) and then a trip to Stop & Shop to browse and eat. We also regularly visited another downtown market, Hilman's, which was in a basement as I recall. There was also a Hilman's branch on Devon where...or maybe across the street from where Patel Brothers is today. I'll be able to come up with the exact Devon location on my next trip there by looking around for the building.
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#19
Posted January 29th 2005, 9:38am
The last time we were thru Indianapolis, we were hightly dissapointed to find Laughners defunct. Ms. VI and I had a great meal there many years ago.

I am a HUGE cafeteria fan (too), and I agree that there existence is thinning tremendously. For instance, that Under 55 mentioned above, that used to be a cafeteria. As a kid, the trip to the Museum of Science and Industry was more fun 'cause of their cafeteria. When I worked in the loop and wanted to dine in solitude (or alternatively when I had no lunch partner), I would join the alter kockers at Morton's.

Cafeteria's are going strong in other parts of the USA. My Texas collegues just gave me funny loooks every time I suggested Luby's for lunch (sigh).

In LA, I think at least one Clifton's still exists, and maybe more. The Stern's, I belive, considered LA the epicenter of cafeteria culutre (odd I know). When I was in LA a few years ago, I stopped in Cliftons. First of all, downtown LA is so interesting in the way it is so preserved and forgotten. Clifton's is still there, faux redwoods and all. We had already eaten at the Grand Central Market, so were not hungry, but we cruised the lines and said to ourselves we'd return here one day.

Rob
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#20
Posted January 29th 2005, 10:31am
Just FYI, Racine Cafe, once a hangout for cops in training, is closed. There is a bar/grill going in called Union Park and it will be owne by the people that own the bar Grand Central. I don't know much about it but their motto is "Eat Well, Drink Better." Personally I would rather eat better....
I hope its good because it is really close to my house!
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#21
Posted January 29th 2005, 10:33am
MacArthur's, anybody?
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#22
Posted January 29th 2005, 10:42am
In case you missed James Ward last night .

Under 55
55 E Monroe,Chicago
312-849-9512

DelMonico's
111 W Washington,Chicago
312-345-0707
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#23
Posted February 9th 2005, 8:09pm
I just received my copy of the book "Tray Chic: Celebrating Indiana's Cafeteria Culture" (cited in one of my posts, above) and it's highly recommendable reading. The book covers all the stalwart: VI's lamented favorite Laughner's (R.I.P 1888-2000); MCL, still going strong and actually adding stores; some of the "mega cafeterias" like Poe's, Byrd's and Gray Brothers; and even Shapiro's, the best deli/cafeteria in Indiana and much praised by myself and others here, gets a nice long chapter, too (fitting its lengthy lifetime of 1905 to the present). Certainly there's a nostalgia factor for me (I'd give anything to have one of the "This Way to Good Eating!" signs salvaged from a Laughner's, for example), but it's also a good resource for those who may find themselves travelling through Indiana and wondering what -- and where -- to eat. And there are a number of recipes, too (none for Shapiro's, unfortunately).

"Tray Chic"
by Sam Stall
Published by Emmis Books
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#24
Posted February 9th 2005, 9:48pm
I grew up visiting Luby's cafeteria chain in Houston; at least as many items, if not more, than the so-called "world's largest cafeteria" in Indiana-puhleeze.
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#25
Posted February 9th 2005, 10:20pm
Christopher Gordon wrote:I grew up visiting Luby's cafeteria chain in Houston; at least as many items, if not more, than the so-called "world's largest cafeteria" in Indiana-puhleeze.


Oh, you Texans and your size issues! :wink: Anyway, as I'm sure you recognize, bigger doesn't always mean better in a cafeteria either, and probably means not as good. Hard to keep up the quality on such a long line, plus the wait is probably insufferable. Anyway, I have never eaten at Jonathan Byrd's, the self-proclaimed "world's largest cafeteria and banquet facility" -- a dubious bit of puffery that probably should not be taken literally. Also piquing the BS Meter is that they're combining cafeteria AND banquet facility in one designation; maybe in that bizarre category, they ARE the biggest, even though the cafeteria line taken alone is only just huge, not the biggest. I can't vouch for the quality of food there or at Luby's (although judging from the pictures on their websites, both look pretty good). All I can say is that next time I'm back in Indianapolis, I'm going to insist on visiting at least one cafeteria, and it'll probably be the (relatively tiny) MCL on Broadripple Avenue, which I hope hasn't changed a whit in the 25 years since my last visit.
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#26
Posted February 10th 2005, 12:05am
JimInLoganSquare wrote:Sure, David -- Pan fried chicken is superior to deep fried chicken for a couple of reasons. Mainly, the difference is that pan fried chicken is attentatively watched and tended by the cook throughout the cooking process, meaning each piece gets cooked just right. .


Once a year, my husband's employer contracts with Old Country Buffet for space for some events they hold. (In return, their customers get a free lunch, as does my husband, who frankly isn't too excited about having to eat lunch there for a week or two out of every year. But I digress...)

DH says there's a sign over the steam table "fried" chicken that says, not deep-fried, not pan-fried, but "hand-fried." He and I have had a lot of laughs trying to figure out exactly what they mean by that. And, of course, now when I fry chicken, that's what we call it at our house.
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#27
Posted February 10th 2005, 9:43am
David Hammond wrote:
JimInLoganSquare wrote:Sure, David -- Pan fried chicken is superior to deep fried chicken for a couple of reasons. Mainly, the difference is that pan fried chicken is attentatively watched and tended by the cook throughout the cooking process, meaning each piece gets cooked just right. Chicken is an oddly shaped mass; if chicken were in perfect spheres, then deep frying it would reliably produce ideal results every time. However, each actual (once living and breathing) chicken is unevenly warfed, meaning only the hand and eye coordination (and constant attention) of a pan-frying chef will result in proper overall cooking. When you just throw it in a vat of hot oil, the thinner parts and parts nearer the tips of the bones get overcooked, while the remainder just gets nominally cooked/heated through. You really need to toss the chicken around in the pan quite a bit to make it cook up right.


JILS,

That makes perfect sense. Of course, to do the pan fry right, as you say, requires steady monitoring and ministration (which could not always be guaranteed), but with a deep fryer, you have no choice: some meat will be overcooked and some undercooked (a significant problem with poultry).

Hammond



I'd would also add that when you pan fry chicken in cast iron, you get a deep golden crust that comes from the skin/breading touching the cast iron. The skin/coating never quite develops the same nutty flavor when deep fried.
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#28
Posted February 10th 2005, 10:58am
JimInLoganSquare wrote:Of course Manny's is (at least for many) the ultimate cafeteria in Chicago, and smorgasbords like Red Apple are ubiquitous here, but generally speaking, most of the rest of the world outside Indiana just doesn't get cafeterias. A cafeteria is a very long line of steam tables. The cafeteria is probably the Hoosier state's signature contribution to the American epicurean scene, and I say this without even a hint of irony. Indiana cafeterias (1) serve extraordinarily good food and (2) are unequalled outside the state line (and I know this having tried quite a few of those cafeterias south of the Mason Dixon line, where they also are quite popular...and don't measure up). Growing up in Indianapolis (as disconnected as that urban center is from the Hoosier majority), we ate every Sunday post-church meal (and sometimes a weekday dinner as well) at a cafeteria (Laughner's (founded 1900), MCL or one of the many independents). The signature piece is of course top-flight fried chicken (NOTE: always pan fried; the deep fried version so prevalent in these parts like Hecky's, ECS, Harold's, etc. is O.K. in a pinch but is really just an inferior product, and wouldn't be suffered at even a mediocre Indiana cafeteria). The second signature piece is delicious pie. In about 1,879 varieties, each one better than the last. Good pie is a lost art; you hardly ever see it as a dessert, except at goddawful places like Baker's Square. But the art of the pie has not died in Indiana, and the cafeteria is the place to get it.


Thought I'd also mention the great cafeteria down in Mooresville. Gray Bros? Something like that. Outstanding. Of course, like 90% of kids growing up in Indiana, I worked at MCL cafeterias, bussing tables and scrubbing congealed Meringue off my acne-covered 15 year-old face. Well, that or Corn Detassling.

Along with the Chicken, they made outstanding Cinnamon buns...
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#29
Posted February 10th 2005, 11:32am
While I'm not a huge cafateria afficianado, with several exceptions such as Manny's, I'm not convinced of Indiana's corner on the genre. My folks lived in Indy for several years (Brownsburg, actually, close to the office near Eagle Creek), and I did notice lots of cafeteria food, and it was usually pretty good. I feel that the catfish, when offered, was exemplary.

But you are neglecting the fact that cafeterias are everywhere in the South, and they often kick ass. Does the phrase "meat and three" mean anything in Indy?

The original, flagship Piccadilly in Baton Rouge, LA, serves an incredible array of both cajun and soul food classics, dirt cheap and as good as you'll find at most full-service places. (The franchised branches around the south are spotty at best, however). I would also offer for your consideration the ubiquitous Cuban cafeteria of South Florida. Most of the finest Cuban meals I've had out of the house were served from a steam table.

The Southern cafeteria tradition, like so many others, was brought to Chicago with African American migration. Priscilla's and the BJ's chain are examples. But in terms of overall quality, sheer numbers and community love for cafeterias, Indiana might be on top. The most cafeterias and basketball hoops per capita, probably.
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#30
Posted February 10th 2005, 11:41am
I can't speak to the cafeterias of Indiana, but I went into deep mourning when the seventy-year old Highland Park Cafeteria in Dallas closed in 1996. They used to line up a half-hour before opening (as if it were a Willie Nelson concert), and by the time I got done with the vegetable casseroles and fruit salads and slaws I never had much room for the carved meats at the end of the line. It almost made me believe being a vegetarian could be a reasonable alternative.
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