Lou Mitchell's Restaurant, Chicago
I've come back to where the road begins: Chicago. I've been traveling for the past six months and recently found myself on airplanes to Guam, then to Honolulu and then to here. I didn't know if it was the right thing to do. I prayed that it was or would soon turn out to be. I didn't expect things to be exactly the same when I came back, but i also didn't expect how different I would feel, how different I would be when I came back, either. In earnest I searched for the familiar, for the ritual. If it's Sunday, and Sunday morning in Chicago, for me that means two things - church at Old St. Pat's and breakfast at Lou Mitchell's.
Lou Mitchell's Restaurant has been around since 1923 and is at the eastern end of the historical and famed Route 66, the Mother Road which runs from Chicago straight on through to California. A short block from Union Station (where the Metra commuter and Amtrak trains pull in) and not far from the Greyhound bus depot and the Megabus drop-off, a collection of luggage, backpacks and parcels congregate in front of the hostess stand, tossed from the shoulders of weary travelers or pried from the arthritic grip of calloused hands.
Important things about Lou's:
One, they have their own bakery, so you should never, never skip the complimentary breads with breakfast - which for me tends to be the last component of breakfast-out I eat, if at all - or the donut holes offered in a basket by the host as you walk in. The gratis donut holes are especially nice to be plied with when faced with a line to be seated. The raisin bread costs $0.50 extra, two quarters well spent on thickly-cut, bursting with sun-dried goodness and slathered in generous pats of butter.
Two, avoid the wait by checking to see if there's a seat at the counter. If you happen to fall victim to the line, you'll also get consolation in the form of a small box of Milk Duds, two prunes and orange slices with your meal. Also helpful to go by yourself or with one other person if during breakfast or brunch on a nice weekend. If you arrive with a large party, you'll likely be seated at the long communal plastic table set up between the booths in the main half of the dining room.
Third, Lou buys double eggs, which are TWO YOLKS to a shell. What freak science went into creating these kinds of eggs on a predictable, farm-manufactured basis, I don't know, but it saves me a few bucks as I only want two normal eggs (read: two yolks, not four) so I ordered one over-easy.
Fourth, if you brave Lou's on your birthday, be ready for an un-shy cowbell ring, a serenade by the multi-generational waitstaff, and a monster piece of pleasure-inducing chocolate cake.
Lou Mitchell's Restaurant and Bakery is located at 565 W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, just on the western edge of downtown. It's open Monday through Friday 5:30 am to 3 pm, and weekends 7 am to 3 pm. Street parking is metered, of course. Welcome to Chicago.