Eleven City Diner: A Jewish deli on steroids

Eleven City Diner: A Jewish deli on steroids

Times and tastes have changed—pickled herring, lox, white fish, matzo ball soup, borscht, dill pickles, potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage, chopped liver, corned beef and  hot pastrami, still yes
But tongue—not so much
And then there's the new "Jewish deli" offerings like Mexican scramble

I don't know why it took me 13 years to get to Eleven City Diner (1112 S Wabash Ave). But, I promise, it will not be another 13 years before I return.

Eleven City Diner is a re-creation of Jewish delis and diners that thrived from the early 1900's through the '70's. During this time one could find delis on almost every block--offering gigantic corned beef sandwiches and latkes for 10 or 15 cents.

Photo: Jodie Jacobs

Photo: Jodie Jacobs

 

In Chicago some delis were small mom and pop shops in neighborhoods, with many larger operations springing up along Roosevelt Road. One of the best known of these was Ashkenaz. 

Ashkenaz arrived on the scene in 1910 when Russian immigrants George and Ada Ashkenaz opened their doors in North Lawndale near the corner of Roosevelt Road and Karlov Avenue. After a couple of location changes, including their popular spot on Morse Ave. in Rogers Park, Ashkenaz set up shop on the Gold Coast, at 12 E. Cedar St., sadly closing their doors in 2012 after an impressive 102 year run.

Disappearing delis have been the story across the country, from the recently shuttered Carnegie Deli in New York biting the dust after 73 years to LA's Billy’s Deli going dark after a 67-year run and countless Pastrami sandwiches.

According to David Sax author of "Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen, "In 1931, New York City had an estimated 2,000 delis, but by 2009 only a couple of dozen remained."

So what happened? In part, tastes changed. Another explanation, it was hard to make money.

Lucky for Chicago, Bradley Rubin--a local boy--who grew up in Highland Park eating at Jewish delis and diners--found a way to create a Jewish deli/diner that resonates with today while preserving the past. 

Rubin did his homework. Before setting down roots, at Eleven City Diner, he worked for Arnie Morton of the famed Morton's restaurants starting at age 17. From there he held various hospitality jobs, and in-between managed to motorcycle across all 50 states to pursue his love of local delis.

In 2007, Rubin opened Eleven City Diner in the South Loop and never looked back. Pretty much from day one, people of all ages and from all ethnic groups and walks of life streamed into the space and kept coming back. On any given day you'll find a gathering of regulars like Jeff Garlin, a friend of Rubin's, many of Chicago's celebrity athletes, neighborhood types along with those stopping by to grab a bite on their way to or from the Auditorium Theatre, Soldier Field or the Museum Campus.Eleven7cornedbeef

The menu reflects the diversity of the patrons--featuring a little bit of everything. Or should I say a "lot" of everything. Enormous sandwiches that you can hardly get your mouth around, over-flowing lox platters and French Toast made with Fresh Baked Challah, White Chocolate Sauce, a Drizzle of Milk Chocolate and a Pretzel Dusting are just a few of the choices from the extensive menu.

The throwback beverage menu reads like something from the '50s or '60s with malts, shakes, Green River Floats, phosphates and craft root beer that has been aged for 12-months in Merlot casks--and always served with a "head."  If you want something stronger, no worries, they have a full bar.

There's also healthy options from kale and quinoa salads to veggie burgers.

Lit by the glow from orange and pink neon and walls adorned with subway tile, this busy, cluttered (in a good way) place could be mistaken for a 1940s Brooklyn deli.

I was fortunate to catch up with Bradley's mom, Roz Rubin when I stopped by on a busy Saturday. Roz is usually there on weekends and Jewish holidays and is responsible for the highly prized matzo ball soup and is also the "Lollipop" lady. She pointed out many of the unique collectables on the walls along with family pictures that date back to her great, great grandmother.

Roz and Alex. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Roz and Alex. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

She told me that Brad was in LA where he just opened the West coast version of Chicago's Eleven City Diner that showcases Hollywood of the 1940's.

He will travel back and forth between the two restaurants and the two cities, Chicago and LA, that he loves.

Small Bites of Chicago

Brunch Added

Two Lights Seafood & Oyster debuted its brunch service last weekend. The menu includes  bacon-crusted French toast served with whipped lemon honey yogurt and  blueberry compote, grilled Spanish octopus paired with a soft scramble, and two Benedicts: one made with house smoked salmon and one made with Maine lobster.

Two Lights Seafood and Oyster, 227 W. North Avenue 312.929.3091.

Fat Tuesday

On Tuesday, March 5, The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant in the South Loop is celebrating Fat Tuesday with a special "Taste of New Orleans." Expect a buffet stocked with New Orleans-style dishes, live music, beer  and specialty cocktails. The all-inclusive event is $70.

The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant, 1401 S. Michigan Avenue 312.786.1401.

Prix-fixe lunch at Sepia

In addition to its a la carte menu, Sepia is now offering a three course prix-fixe lunch ($24), complete with a choice of at least two options per course. Recent possibilities included entrees like grilled swordfish  and ricotta cavatelli with short rib and starters such as duck liver mousse.

Sepia, 123 N. Jefferson Street 312.441.1920

St. Patrick's Day

Marshall's Landing, located at the top of the marble Grand Stair inside the Merchandise Mart, is celebrating St. Patrick's Day on Saturday, March 16 with a festive, all-you-can-eat buffet. In addition to bottomless mimosas for guests over 21, the buffet includes scrambled eggs, Bailey's French toast, frittatas, fruit, sausage, soda bread, pastries, corned beef hash. Brunch is $15 for children 10 or younger and $25 for adults.

An array of cocktail specials, such as shots of Jameson whiskey ($3), Jameson mixed cocktails ($6), and pints of Guinness beer ($5), will be available throughout the brunch service.

Marshall's Landing in the Merchandise Mart, 312.610.8050

 City Winery at the Riverwalk

On March 20, City Winery jump starts spring with the return of their heated River Domes at the Riverwalk. Open Table will begin taking reservations on Friday, March 1. The relevant segment of  the Riverwalk is located on the south bank of the Chicago River between Dearborn and State Streets at 11 Riverwalk South. Domes, which can accommodate as many as eight guests, are equipped with speaker, games, heating and comfortable furnishings.

New this spring, the Spring 2019 Lunch Special offers half off food and beverage minimums for those who book their Domes between 11:30 am and 1 pm Mondays through Thursdays. Mention "lunch special" when booking online via Open Table. For more information, visit www.citywinery.com

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    CAROLE KUHRT BREWER

    Carole is an arts, entertainment and food journalist. She writes "Show Me Chicago" and "Chicago Eats" for ChicagoNow and covers Chicago places and events for Choose Chicago (City of Chicago) as well as freelancing for a variety of publications.

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    I started writing when I was in grade school. And when I wasn’t writing or thinking about writing, I was reading what someone else had written. So it wasn’t a stretch for me to think about writing as a career. Neither was it a stretch to think about writing about food, a subject I’d always found interesting, more in terms of history, cooking, restaurants and culture than eating and critiquing. Decades after selling my first story, my interest in writing about food continues, and “A Bite of Chicago” gives me another opportunity to pursue my passion with people who share it.

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