Happy Mother’s Day, Beautiful

That’s what I said to my Mom in a card when I was a child. Strangely enough, a kindergarten student calls me “Beautiful” everyday. I think she needs glasses. On the cover of the cards displayed, my own painted artwork with Mom and a basket of candy. It should have been for Easter. My talent in writing was more than I expected at that young age. Mother, Mother, I’ll help and stay until the day you pass away. I’ll make you happy all through the year with kisses hugs and wonderful cheers. I don’t know about the hugs and cheers but I did stay with her until she passed away in 2001. Though my card was printed in block print, I did know cursive and signed it Love, Karla. Mom told me that most of my cards were signed, Love, Karla Korff which she always loved. As far as gifts for Mom, she was not a breakfast in bed lover. She did like breakfast at Denny’s in Calumet City when we lived in Dolton. But dinner was her favorite, choosing red snapper at the Green Shingle in Harvey,Chuck Cavalinnis in Dolton or the Flame in Country Side.

Back in the late 1990’s I found another card in a treasured box that says For Mom with our love and appreciation on Mother’s Day. And I know why I kept it. It was signed by both children in their best cursive. Their Dad probably bought it and for them to do something together was quite unique. I did like the beautiful bow and especially the line that says how thankful they were for my faith to help get them through difficult times which I still try to do today by responding to their phone calls and text messages. Though I have learned that it is not just my faith in them but my steady faith in God. Some of my favorite gifts have been fresh flowers for the dining room table, and a candle from my daughter as well as Lindahl chocolate. My son is known for bottled water since he works for Hinckleys, teas and he knows I love my Starbucks. Jamesons for a filet mignon in Downers Grove is my favorite for dinner but there have been many years spent having breakfast and lunch at Stevens in Woodridge.

And as I write and read this again; it is not about vacations or the most expensive gift, it is truly the love and encouragement we give to each other every day until we are able to call heaven our new home.

Happy Mother’s Day to all that celebrate with kisses, hugs, and wonderful cheers.

Sambos

We moved to Dolton in 1970, living at 152nd and Chicago Road. Mom and I began going to church at Faith United Methodist, which was located at 15015 Grant Street, only a few blocks away from our new apartment. For awhile, I was involved in the church, and I became a Sunday school teacher, but it was after church services that I enjoyed the most. We headed out to 633 E Sibley Boulevard for Sunday brunch at Sambos. Many breakfasts and lunches were spent at Sambos, many days of the week, probably until 1978. I remember having the best pancakes and how much Mom loved her coffee. At one time, it was only 10 cents. I shared experiences with many friends from Thornridge as well as Thornton Community College, now South Suburban College. After a few drinks for me in later years, at night, it was time for coffee and another sobriety breakfast. Though back then, friends would also hang out at the Denny’s in Calumet City for that reason. Illinois had more than 20 locations of Sambo restaurants, including many situated in Chicago’s south and north suburbs. Downers Grove, Countryside, Arlington Heights, Bridgeview, Glenview and Elk Grove Village to name just a few.

The first restaurant opened in 1957 in Santa Barbara, California. Though the name was taken from portions of the names of its founders, Sam Battistone Sr. and Newell Bohnett, the chain soon found itself associated with The Story of Little Black Sambo. Battistone and Bohnett capitalized on this connection by decorating the walls of the restaurants with scenes from the book, including a dark-skinned boy, tigers, and a pale, magical unicycle-riding man called “The Treefriend.”The restaurant was expanded to more locations. In late 1963, it had restaurants in 16 cities—in California, Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona. By 1969, the company had grown to 98 locations. By the late 1970’s, there were 1,117 Sambo restaurants in 47 states. All have been closed for many years, though the original stayed open in 2020 but changed its name. It is owned by the grandson of Battistone and is called Chad’s now. 

The owners did not set out to create trouble, and they were successful, raking in over 380 million dollars a year when Jimmy Carter was President, but in many places, the murals on the wall did not sit well in communities that were fighting for civil rights, and the little black sambo had been considered racist even before the business opened, though they took pride in their murals. But as the late 1970’s progressed, more and more restaurants, especially in the East, were confronted with lawsuits against the name. The company renamed some locations, such as the Jolly Tiger, but it didn’t work. In March of 1981, they tried, “There is no place like Sams.” By November of 1981, they filed for Chapter 11 and continued to fail. By 1982, all but the original Sambos were sold. Several were sold to Bakers Square or Denny’s.

The Captains Table, Mathon’s and Valentine’s Day at The Hob Nob

I was having a drink at the bar when I met the owner’s son of the Captain Table on Belvidere Road in Waukegan. I was living in the area and teaching from 1978-1987. Edward Allegretti was the owner who was a huge restaurant connoisseur. His son was also named Edward and managed the restaurant; a friend of mine back in the day. The restaurant had an excellent selection of seafood and was popular if you wanted to eat before seeing a show at the downtown Genesee theater. The atmosphere was comfortable and well-established. He owned the restaurant from 1972 to 1985. The restaurant was closed and the father passed away in 1997. Though I had lost contact with his son, sources claim he moved to Naperville and passed away in 2015.

Mathons in Waukegan opened in 1939 as a fish market just a block from the Waukegan Harbor. Mathon Kyritsis, a Greek immigrant, finally created a restaurant taken over by the son, John. The walls were ribbed resembling a ship inside and the windows represented portholes. They had the best calamari of all time. A few times I did sail from the Waukegan harbor. The vintage menu above was created by artist Phil Austin in the 1960’s.

Still open today, The Hob Nob by far is another wonderful place on Lake Michigan in Racine Wisconsin just past Kenosha. Many special occasions were honored at this restaurant. Valentines Day was celebrated with Allegretti. Strange, how I remember that it was that holiday in the early 1980’s because I was so impressed with the restaurant; my first experience. The Hob Nob served the best food and offered spectacular views of Lake Michigan from the bar. I experienced my first brandy alexander there. My engagement to be married…Kevin Sullivan…..was cherished in 1985. One of the greatest supper clubs in Wisconsin, it is truly an experience to visit and what I remember was the most elegant cream- tufted circular booths and bar seats. Established in 1954, the Hob Nob offered red snapper which my Mother loved. Many of the construction, signs and decor are exactly the same today.

The Higgins family had a restaurant in downtown Racine in the 1930’s and built the new one. Michael Aletto purchased the restaurant in the 1990’s keeping most of the same recipes. Aletto and his wife now commutes from Florida once a month and every other week around holidays. They have a strong staff that keeps the restaurant operating smoothly.

I moved to Downers Grove in 1988 though I frequent the north suburbs often. But I have not been back to the Hob Nob. Need to go back since I am less than an hour away and cherish the memories. No…….wrong. Let’s go back and create new memories with my new love…still relaxing with breath-taking views of the lake and my favorite steak.

Chicago south suburbs: Chuck Cavallinis, The Cottage and The Tivoli restaurant

My mother and I moved from the south side of Chicago to Dolton, Illinois in 1970 living in an apartment at 15222 Chicago Road within walking distance of Cavallinis Restaurant at the intersection of Sibley and Chicago Road. I was a steak lover and it was here that she and I would have the occasional Sunday dinner. It was also here in 1976 that I had my first vodka gimlet; soon to be my drink of choice…then. Not anymore. It was also a favorite place of friends from Thornton Community College now South Suburban to hang out for lunch, dinner or to celebrate a special birthday. It was also place I visited in the early 1980’s to celebrate a special anniversary and almost fell asleep at the table; not knowing that I had mononucleosis at the time. Chuck Cavallini opened his first restaurant in Midlothian beginning as an ice cream shop in 1932 but then a family restaurant finally closing in 1989.

The Cottage in Calumet City was a wonderful French restaurant that was truly an exclusive dining experience. A friend mine took me to the new restaurant in 1976 for my 21st birthday and the food was so good that it became a major Chicago destination. The restaurant opened in 1974. It was owned by Carolyn Bust Welbon and her husband for about 20 years located on Torrence Avenue. It was a risk but the atmosphere was really special….just like a cottage….with the most tasty soups and swordfish that was out of this world. According to sources, the couple divorced in 1993, the husband brought in another chef but closed the restaurant in 1996. Carolyn passed away in 2017.

The Tivoli in Chicago Heights was opened in 1947 and grew from 50 to over 300 seats. It was an excellent restaurant located at 19800 Glenwood Rd but also offered banquet rooms for birthdays, funerals and weddings. My girlfriend’s daughter celebrated her wedding at the Tivoli. They offer great steaks but was known for its Italian cuisine. John Giobbi was founder and opened another restaurant called the Tivoli II in Country Club Hills. He was known for greeting many patrons by name. He passed away in 1990 and his wife, Dolores in 2007.

Worthpoint offers a wonderful menu that I remember, preciously holding in my hands. It is in beautiful condition with gold engraving. Inside it says may it always be bluebirds in your trees. Strange, how that memory stays with me decades later. Worthpoint also offers a vintage ash tray of Chuck Cavallinis restaurant in Midlothian in great condition; packed away for many years. I had just started smoking back in the days when smoking was allowed inside and I am sure I had shared an ashtray with several. Matchbook covers were available to represent The Cottage but no longer for sale. Wonderful restaurants enjoying friends and family are missed but not smoking.

New Years Eve in Chicagoland

As a child at home in the 1960’s, it was about watching the ball drop in New York at 11 Central on TV and then turning on whatever Chicago hosted an hour later for a second New Year’s eve celebration. Sometimes I didn’t make it past 11 pm. On occasion, we would go to a friends house to spend the night. I would play with the other kids upstairs and of course, the parents would do the unspeakable…have fun. .drink…dance to the sounds of Mitch Miller in their finished basement.

Sometimes other shows were on that hosted Guy Lombardo’s Band playing Auld Lang Syne; his final New Year’s Eve appearance took place in New York in 1976. Not many may remember him. And if Guy Lombardo traveled to Chicago, many celebrated bringing in the New Year at the Aragon Ballroom to listen to his orchestra, which was a powerhouse attraction in the 1940s. Aragon is still in existence today at West Lawrence Ave in Uptown Chicago as I talked about in another article. The Aragon was known as one of the most elegant ballrooms in the world and has a capacity of 5,000, still offering live entertainment.

If my parents went out for a New Years Eve extravaganza…before my time, it was also to the beautiful Edgewater Beach Hotel, a resort hotel complex on Lake Michigan that featured such stars as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Other new year celebrations included live music at the Willowbrook Ballroom, which had a history of over 80 years of entertainment before it was destroyed by fire just a couple of years. A variety of big bands would take the stage for dancing events that occurred on a 6,000 square foot dance floor.

Today, popular celebrations that have created timeless tradition in Chicago is a trip to Navy Pier where you can enjoy entertainment and family attractions. Navy Pier offered exquisite cruises along the lakefront with an amazing fireworks display on New Years Eve. Many may have reserved a table to celebrate New Years at a fine restaurant in Chicago that offers the best in fine dining such as The Signature Room at the 95th. In the Western suburbs, you may want to try the most popular Meson Sabika in Naperville where you can enjoy brunch, lunch or dinner at this Spanish tapas restaurant.

Maybe your New Years Eve is just centered around pizza delivery, lots of wine and banging pots and pans in your yard with the little ones.  Regardless of how you spend the evening,hopefully, the New Year will bring to you nothing less than an abundance of health, happiness and peace.

Happy New Year!

Memories of the Pump Room

In my best dress, I barely remember eating in a beautiful booth with my Mom and Dad; one of my first Baby boomer childhood trips of elegance. In later years, I celebrated a friend from college’s birthday and excited about seeing the unexpected appearance of one of Charlie’s Angels; a TV series in the late 1970’s and Kate Jackson was her name from the program. My daughter also celebrated a friends birthday at the Pump Room in the 2000’s; bottom picture, my daughter, is second from the right. Dining at the Pump Room, opening on October 1st in 1938 and located at the famous Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago was a popular place for many celebrities who wanted to be seen such as Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, and even Judy Garland and her children. It was the infamous booth number one where they would eat together. It always remained vacant until someone important arrived. The table actually had access to a rotary phone where they could make and receive calls. They could also unplug the phone from the wall if they wanted privacy.

Ernie Byfield created the restaurant based on the concept of the original Pump Room in Bath, England, where aristocrats would meet and wanted the same for celebrities visiting Chicago. It worked. Another area I remember is the hall leading to the restaurant that for over 50 years have shared the framed celebrity photos that fill the walls of the room’s entrance, lives that are gone for many. The Ambassador East was located on the northeast corner of State Parkway and Goethe Street in Chicago ‘s Gold Coast area and later was renamed. Until the 1950’s, train travel across the US was the only way and celebrities would have a special cross-country Pullman car switching at the LaSalle Street Station. Sometimes they would stay overnight, but they did have a suite where they could freshen before returning to the train. Many stayed for lunch at the Pump room. Irv Kupcinet also talked about the Pump Room and his celebrity interviews in his column for the Chicago Sun-times.

According to a wonderful article by Dr. Neil Gail, Saving Illinois History One Step At A Time, in 2010 real estate developer Ian Schrager—known for cofounding New York’s Studio 54—buys the Ambassador East for $25 million. In 2011, assets are auctioned off including the phone and is remodeled which reopens as Public Chicago. In 2016, Schrager sells Public Chicago to investors Shapack Partners and Gaw Capital for $61.5 million. In 2017, the hotel is renamed Ambassador Chicago. Rich Melman’s restaurant group, which formerly owned the Pump Room, returns to manage the space and renames it Booth One. After a remodel, the team installs a rotary phone at the famed table. They actually operated the Pump Room from 1976-1998.

The Pump Room went through many changes before finally closing in 2019. Ebay offers some great items of the historic Pump Room including a variety of match covers, boxes and menus.

The Prudential Building: Tallest in Chicago?

Who remembers when the Prudential Building was the tallest building in Chicago? I went with my family, parking in the new underground parking lot and was terrified the windows would cave in. I remember my Mom putting money in a telescope dispenser where we could view the skyline and other buildings, much, much, closer. The Prudential was actually the same age as me and I was only five when I saw it for the first time….both of us born in 1955; a 41-story structure which was the headquarters for Prudential’s Mid-America company. Some visited the new Stouffers restaurant in the building after viewing Chicago’s skyline. I remember going on another trip with my girl scout troop and eating at Wimpy’s Grill on Clark Street, another Chicago beginning opening in 1934 with the best burgers. The spire on top represented WGN.

According to Connecting the Windy City, the first tenant to move into the building, the western advertising offices of Readers’ Digest magazine, settled into its space in September of 1955, taking up temporary space on the third floor before moving up to the nineteenth floor in the spring of 1956.

The structure was the first new downtown skyscraper constructed in Chicago since the Field Building, 21 years earlier and was built on air rights over the Illinois Central Railroad. It was the last building ever connected to the Chicago Tunnel Company’s tunnel network. It became One Prudential Plaza when a second building was built in 1990. Completed in 1972, the simple, rectangular-shaped, tubular steel-framed structure was originally called the Standard Oil Building and now Aon which is much taller than the Prudential. Actually, the Board of Trade building built in 1930 was taller and had an observation deck but as Baby Boomer children most of us were told that the Prudential was the tallest, maybe because it was new and located by the lake with the best views. It was the tallest skyscraper built in the 1950’s.

Then it became Two Prudential Plaza which was 64 floors. In 2006, Bentley Forbes purchased One Prudential and the property next door but went into default due to the recession. In 2015, New York companies bought in though Bentley Forbes still has interest in ownership.

Add Italian flare to your summer activities

By Caryl Clem:

Imagine any favorite fruit, strawberry, watermelon, mango, lemon surrounded by sweetened ice ready to burst into flavor inside your mouth on a hot summer day.   An Italian treat for centuries, Italian Ice can be located at over 30 locations in the Chicago area according to the updated August 2020 Yelp cite.  Foursquare  released in July their top choices for Italian Ice with critic reviews to inspire your next taste bud adventure.

The original Italian Ices’ basic ingredients are fruit, cane sugar and ice In Sicilian granita recipes. Traditional Italian Ice is healthier as a summertime dessert because it contains no dairy butterfat which intensifies the taste of fruit. The sugar ratio is low compared to other ingredients, a plus for anyone counting calories. Another advantage, tart fruit in Italian Ice will trigger salivation resulting in a thirst quenching feeling.  From the Food Network Kitchen, a simple recipe for Italian Ice contained 3 cups halved strawberries or pineapple, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 2 Tablespoons honey, 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice first blended with 2 cups ice, and then blended with 1 more cup ice.

From the mountains as historian food writer Jeffrey Steingarten has documented the snow from Mount Etna created the frozen stage for the birth of ice cream concoctions. By the 16th century, the influential families in Florence, Italy were delighted by the frozen sensation invented by Bernardo Buontalenti, a native of Florence. He had his own version of an iced dessert  His popular treat made it to Paris where it was called Sorbet, while in Italy it was named, Gelato. This version of Italian ice cream does contain egg yolks and milk.

Another Italian custom, vacation time is expected.  Ferragosto on August 15 is a national holiday celebrated by festivals. Originally a custom started by the Emperor Augustus, it signaled a “break” from hard labor in the fields before harvest time in late September.  The Catholic Church declared August 15 as a day to honor the Virgin Mary and her assumption into heaven. Before modern technology, relaxing the entire month of August was commonly practiced.

In Chicago, over 10 Italian churches stand, testaments to customs and traditions still practiced today. The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, built in 1910 on Lexington was threatened with closure in 1993, A committee was set up to save the church involving alderman, prominent businessmen and a hospital administrator raised funds to save the church that hosts Italian events throughout the year. This is still the oldest continuing Italian church. If you love Italian architecture, visit the churches and experience history.

Italians shaped many sections in Chicago we love today. Whether you travel down Harlem Avenue, go to Highwood, Blue Island, Chicago Heights, Melrose Park, Maxwell Street Market, or Taylor Street in Little Italy, ;  relish the experience of Italian traditions in summer.

Gayety’s Ice Cream is open

Gayety’s Candy was located on the South side of Chicago at 9207 Commercial Ave. established in 1920, over 100 years ago, right next to the Gayety Theatre. Founder James Papageorge was an immigrant stowed away on a steemer from Greece at the age of  nine. He learned everything about candy and ice cream while opening a shop next to the Gayety Theatre with the same name. It wasn’t uncommon to share the names of other businesses.I remember Mom I visiting to buy their homemade candies when I was little but they had best ice cream sundaes and banana splits with fruit cocktail. Moved to Lansing, IL and Shereville, Indiana, was closed, but has re-opened in Lansing.

Located at 3306 Ridge Rd,  Laurene Lemanski bought Gayety’s through her new company, For the Love of Chocolates and Ice Cream. Her parents grew up on the South side and went to the shop there. She actually worked at the Torrence Avenue store in Lansing in the 1980’s while attending high school.

The fruit topped banana and vanilla ice cream sundae is buried under a liberal dollop of real whipped cream and crushed nuts. They also offer seasonal flavors of ice cream depending on the time of year. Their shakes are massive, and they serve you what’s left in the tumbler too. They have ice cream chairs that are also fun to sit in enjoying the atmosphere of a real ice cream parlot.

Image courtesy of A.C.C

Ice cream facts

By Caryl Clem:

Surviving Italian Florentine rebellions, at the tender age of 14, Catherine d’Medici was to wed the second eldest son of the King of France, Henry Orleans in 1533.  Her two loves, ice cream and high heels are still around today.  She had purchased a recipe for ice cream from a goat and chicken farmer who won a contest her family sponsored. This frozen dessert won instant popularity after it was served at her wedding.  As a short new bride, Catherine wanted to ensure her grand entrance before the Royal Court of France; a stunning pair of custom made high heels was a fashion first.   Catherine became Queen of France in 1536 bearing 10 children with her husband.

Since 1686, a café that entertained the greatest thinkers in Paris was Café Procope . Famous clientele included Voltaire famous French author against tyranny, Diderot, inventor of modern encyclopedia organization, Americans Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington discussed world issues over coffee and ice cream.

The first recipe for ice cream used by George Washington in America had 21 steps.  Rich mansion owners had underground ice houses for blocks of ice cut in the winter.  Only the wealthy could afford the necessary ingredients.

Before Chicago, Philadelphia was an ice cream “hot spot”. Quaker schoolteacher named Louis Dubois Bassett set out to make high-quality ice creams on his rural New Jersey farm.

Fast forward to the late 1800’s when Chicago enters the ice cream market limelight.  Early vendors hawked their half Penney and Penny licks ice cream from reused, rinsed, small hand held glass containers.  Italian vendors sounded like they were saying, Hockey Pokey’s.  Believed but not proven, the more sanitary ice cream wafer cone happened at a World’s Fair Exhibition in St. Louis.  An ice cream vendor ran out of glass containers so he paired business with his neighbor selling thin wafers, rolling them then placing a scoop on top.

Gone but not forgotten the Buffalo ice Cream Parlor in Chicago.  Elaborate décor of cherubs dancing murals on the walls, leaded glass windows, rich dark walnut wood and marble top counters, amid the whirl of 20 malt mixers concocting heavenly combinations.  The Buffalo offered a perfect place to escape reality and enjoy sumptuous ice cream desserts.  The original Buffalo in Chicago opened in 1902 moving to the Irving Park in 1918.  The new location had the Commodore Theatre across the street.  Now a Shell Gas Station stands has replaced the spot ice cream was enjoyed.

At the end of the civil war, a jobless William Breyer started hand-cranking ice cream in his kitchen in Kensington outside Philadelphia then selling it to neighbors.  He was the first using a wagon equipped with a loud dinner bell to announce his location.  Breyer’s reputation rests on simple good for you ingredients for over 150 years. The cream, cane sugar, fruits and nuts ingredient base became known as the Philadelphia American style ice cream.  During the 1960’s only ice cream parlors sold the number one rated Breyers.  In the 1970’s, Breyers joined the Kraft product line.  A suburb favorite, Homer’s Homemade Gourmet Ice Cream.

In Oak Park, Petersen’s Ice Cream has been in business over 80 years. Founded by a Greek immigrant, his son, Dean Poulos, reports that his grandfather’s secret ingredient was butterfat. With décor from the 1919 era complete with tin ceiling tiles is Petersen’s Ice Cream Shop. Exploring Chicago’s ice cream history is definitely a summer treat.

Buffalo Ice Cream photo Courtesy of Patrick Crane