There are many fine things that I can say about South Africa, the gorgeous country that I am working in right now.
The violet jacaranda trees take my breath away every time I open my window; the rooibos red tea latte that I toss back every morning is a tastebud sensation; the wine is as spirited as any I've had 'round the world; and the salads are a sight to behold, giant platters of bright veggies, grilled haloumi cheese and peppery olive oil.
If there were an establishment in this wild country that catered to those of us looking for a solid plate of French fries (chips, as they're referred to here) or a fat platter of onion rings, my post-work nights would be deliciously different.
Dinner here is usually a complete eating disaster, and nothing really seems to taste like much of anything. The French fries are perpetually undercooked, the cheese seems to be a funky blend of various whites, the ketchup (called tomato sauce) is just that, tomato sauce, and the mayonnaise is a yellowish foam of some sort that should not found be anywhere near a slice of bread. So it shouldn't come as any big surprise that I cannot wait to get home to Chicago and head directly to Deluxe Diner, 6349 N. Clark St., the retro-style corner chop shop where the gods have perfected greasy diner food.
Right now I'm staying in a lodge on the coast of the thrashing Indian Ocean and the view is stunning, but all I'm thinking about is the Deluxe Diner's mouthwatering patty melt sandwich. I tend to get mine with the added bonus of homemade pickle chunks and a side of crispy fried onion rings, and the very idea of such good grub makes me want to ditch the sight of the pounding waves and catch the first flight out.
Deluxe's patty melt is a perfect ode to a classic sandwich. Flanked by buttery and lightly grilled rye bread, the interior is coated with oozing American cheese and what looks like a flattened, half-pound hot-off-the-grill hamburger patty. Butter, rye bread, mayo, cheese and meat: There's no way you can go wrong with those ingredients.
Then there's the idea of some done-up-right French fries. To dunk a fistful of fat Frenchies into a huge pile of proper ketchup mixed with a bit of mayo is one of things I'm looking forward to most upon my return, and I can just imagine washing it all down with a slippery strawberry milkshake.
As my daydream continues, I move on to the mayo-laden BLT club. A pal here mentioned that I might see baby monkeys outside my window (seriously), and while that's all well and good, how can it compare with the idea of a lightly toasted triangle sandwich with perfectly cooked bacon (part crispy, part fatty), slabs of red tomato, crisp green lettuce and spoonfuls of mayo? Two words, friends: It can't. Especially after weeks of sub-par food mistakes.
I'm homeward bound in about 72 hours, and come Thursday Chi-time, you'll know where to find me. I think I might toss in a pile of buttery flapjacks to top off the feast...with extra syrup, of course.
The Final Rave: Though the breakfasts are delish, skip the Deluxe Diner on a Sunday morning, when the wait has been known to exceed two hours. Ouch.
Keep It Going:
Do it: Hollywood Grill
You can never go wrong with the Holl Dine. It's never too full, the wait staff is sassy, and the location is prime.
Eat it: Wishbone (Lakeview)
I do so love most of Wishbone's breakfast choices. The black bean patties and the corn muffins remind me of home in TN, but the huevos rancheros could use a little work. Go early, as the wait can get gnarly.
Drink it: Rooibos tea
Whole Foods sells packs of this delicious South African tea. I must learn how to make those red lattes they drink by the gallon here.
Get crazy with it: Steak n Shake
The food is so good and so cheap at this chain diner that it only makes sense to order close to everything on the menu. Its patty melt and malts are absolutely sublime.