Okay, as promised from the very beginning of this blog, the long awaited Chicago Diner review. This will be out of order in regards to reviews with Ben as this is the second one we've done and the first he'll write a review for.
3411 N. Halsted
• M-Th 11-10
• F 11-10:30
• Sa 10-10:30
• Su 10-10
• M-Th 11-10:30
• F 11-11
• Sa 10-11
• Su 10-10:30
So this restaurant is Michelin Guide recommended for 2011 and rated highly in the Zagat guide. Aside from that, I think that pretty much every vegetarian from the right to left coast has heard of the Diner. Its reuben is legendary. That having been said, sometimes you need to splurge. As a VEGetariAN you may miss biscuits and gravy, or a sloppy joes, a.k.a comfort food, not very good for the body but amazing for the soul. This is the place; try walking into any other diner and asking for Daiya Cheese sticks.
An entirely vegetarian restaurant and most things are vegan; moreover, they have regular menu changes. Did I also mention they have a fair selection of local beer? Now, I've had their breakfast bowl with a black cherry mimosa, their reuben with fries, etc. (all excellent, by the way). But today I tried the vegan mozzerella sticks, Sloppy Joes with vegan cheese and mashed potatoes and gravy; Ben and I took three cookies and two pieces of cake back home with us. (The desserts were the suggestion of Batter and Beat author / my co-worker.) To begin with, the mozzerella sticks were excellent. I know the Daiya products, I've made vegan stuffed crust pizza with it and it's amazing. The marinara was not as chunky or thick as I like, but delicious nonetheless. The Sloppy Joe was great. Now, this isn't the manwich you grew up with; you know, the sugary crap your mom poured out of the Hunt's can? This was tangy and spicy with a hint of sweetness. The bun was whole wheat and oat-topped and quite fulfilling. The kitchen scrambled my order a bit and I was brought sweet potato fries by accident. I mentioned this to our waitress and she promptly brought me mashed potatoes and gravy as originally ordered.
Now, I hate sweet potato. It's my least favorite thing to eat followed by banana, cilantro and pumpkin; but these fries were great and I wish all sweet potatoes were not sweet like those fries. Their mashed potatoes were pretty good, I normally prefer them with garlic, but these still had the skins in them and they were not bad. I would have put the potatoes through a ricer; it would give a more consistent, creamy texture. The gravy was great (and I'd actually prefer that gravy in my breakfast bowl when I go for brunch, they put it over the biscuit). Finally, the cake, cookies and cream cake (vegan, moist, amazing) was excellent for a vegan cake complete with cookie on top, soy whipped cream icing and a great cake base, not too sweet, and with chocolate chips in the cake itself. A great success. I really enjoyed this visit, more importantly; I enjoyed that Ben liked it so much. When I mentioned the absence of mashed potatoes the waitress, she brought me mashed potatoes right away, service was excellent and food was exceptional.
All that being from the viewpoint of it being a diner. From a whole-food vegan perspective, it's junk food and definitely not how real vegans eat every day, but when you're missing Mac & Cheese, or a "milk"shake, reuben or sloppy joe, this is the place. All vegetarian items with most being vegan.
In all, I give this place a Happy Bunny rating. It's not perfect for vegans, but perfect when you need it to be. It’s a small place, but I’d suggest you go in the summer when the patio is open in the back. Non-vegetarians, you will not be at a loss here. I took my meat-eating parents there and they enjoyed it. I highly suggest it, if at least for one trip.
I ask you to try their Reuben or sloppy Joes when they’re on the menu. For breakfast: the Breakfast bowl is a must. Ben's review to come.