Fond memories of fine dining: Restaurants now extinct

Fine dining was a special favorite for my Dad and we went to a new place frequently. He was a business owner and that was the way he felt he could thank those that purchased his product. That was the way he thought he could teach his only child manners and grace. Though, I loved to explore new places , it was always the same as far as my food choice, a kiddie cocktail and a steak sandwich/medium rare without the bread. After he passed away, my Mother continued the tradition with me through the decades. Though long gone and my list could go on and on, I just included places that I had visited in the outlining suburbs/towns of Chicago back in the day.

Green Shingle in Harvey had exemplified true love from the early 60’s. It with my first date with my Dad in my best dress, shoes and gloves. It was my first steak sandwich medium rare but would not be last.After my Dad passed away, it was my second date with my college professor who helped to celebrate my birthday with fellow students;  that same college professor who passed away from cancer a few years ago. And finally, a date with my first boyfriend as we first held hands at the candlelit tabkle; killed in a car accident shortly after.

Dunlaps started as a concession but moved in 1937 to its Palos Heights location on 123rd lasting for 60 years. My father owned a business in decorative and auto glass. One of his clients was Dunlaps in which he created the smoked glass that enhanced visitors behind the long, bar still in exquisite condition when the restaurant closed. Even as a child and adult, I remember staring at my self, proud of my family contributing some part to an institution for great food including real relish trays with pickled beets.

Yesteryear in Kankakee,IL was a restaurant situated in the Frank Lloyd Wright home the B. Harley Bradley House located on Harrison Avenue. In the early 1940’s, my Mother lived in Kempton, IL and wanted to go to college. She rented a room from the Gates family who lived in the 400 block of Harrison Avenue  and attended Kankakee’s Business College.  The Gates, George, Ruth  and son Les became her adopted  family until they passed away in the late 1970’s. Les, who is 94, is still alive today. As a very young child, we would walk to Yesteryear which had opened in 1953. As a young adult, I attended a 50th anniversary of a family member from Cullom, IL.

Phil Schmidts, on the border of Illinois in Indiana, had been opened for 97 years . It was a place of many memories that included the celebration of events such as graduation parties. Known for their seafood, their most popular was frog legs and perch. Beginning in 1910 and closing in 2007, also made their own amazing tartar sauce.

The Tivoli on Glenwood Rd in Chicago Heights was also a favorite establishment especially for weddings or other family events. Though older when I visited the Tivoli, I had graduated from a steak sandwich to a wonderful porterhouse they served there and a broiled filet mignon topped with blue cheese.

The Old Barn in Burbank was a beautiful, elegant adventure for me as a child and adult dating back to the 1920’s when it originally was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Another great choice for wedding receptions and family dinners which had closed in 2008 and was 87 years. The Old Barn was especially beautiful during the holidays with leather chairs in the dining area and beautiful sofas and fireplace in the lounge.

Country Squire in Grayslake, IL was originally built in 1938 as the residence of a Sears family member and it was a mansion that became the Country Squire Restaurant in 1954. A breathtaking estate that I enjoyed often as an adult, experiencing on a date and also enjoying a wonderful wedding of a dear friend. I remember celebrating Mother’s Day with my own Mom  as she cried for its beauty and wonderful food.

The Flame, finally, in Countryside became another family favorite celebrating the same Mom’s  65th birthday there with her grandchildren. The restaurant was a classic with another dress me up atmosphere and the best in seafood and steak.  My love still was always steak or a Chateaubriand for two and for Mom, the best orange roughy she had ever tasted!

Ingredients for love and family

 

I thought about her famous recipe.

And beginning in my pre-teen years, I wanted to be just like her. It seems like yesterday that I knocked on the door of her duplex that was located across the street from my family home; introducing myself and asking if she needed a babysitter.

Her voice was articulate but child like, her smile, dark eyes and thick, short haircut, fashionable for the late 1960’s added to her confidence more than most 22 year olds could conceive. There was a playful side on the surface, a sterling intelligence deep inside and a young mother to Marc who was only two years old.  I was only 11.

My first time babysitting was while Marc was asleep not suspecting that his Mom had left him with me. Of course, he woke and cried miserably until she walked in the door; only gone a short time which seemed like an eternity for me. I was sure my days as a babysitter had begun and stopped all in one day but I was wrong. Nothing was ever said about me being more upset than her baby and I learned that I truly had talent; my first job. Finally, I was promoted from an afternoon sitter to evenings and when her second baby came along, Michael, I become an expert in my field at 50 cents an hour.

She loved to read one I again remember clearly, James Michners The Source…a story of the history of the Jewish people, her nationality as well, that she could devour in a few hours. A novelist whose writing was based on extensive, detailed research. I could only handle Trixie Beldon and maybe Nancy Drew. I wasn’t sure that I could sit quietly during a read of such depth.

Judy could appear in her husband’s oversized button down shirt with jeans rolled to the knees but when she dressed to go out or entertain, her makeup was expertly designed to compliment her features as if she used none at all and her clothes did the same for her figure; the latest in conservative fashion. But it was her nails that always caught my eye, watching her white hands maneuver the steering wheel of her blue Bonneville 1965 Pontiac. Her nails were the perfect length as we headed to the new McDonalds or Rainbow beach.

Her interior style of decorating was creative, black and white stripes in their bathroom, deep blues with yellow and white accents in her living room and off white dining room with powdered blue French curtains. Her den was made from her own imagination with tall barrels and handmade tops as end tables. The boy’s room had red, blue, yellow and green stars made out of felt decorating the ceiling.

But her real talent was her cooking and, most of all, her pepper steak published in the Chicago Tribune. Her signature smile, turtleneck sweater replacing the usual button down, was photographed as she sat on a stool by her favorite kitchen counter while Julia Child endorsed her work. Throughout the city, she was known for her Pepper Steak where all mothers, including my own, attempted to create the same.

Where was that recipe that sat in Mothers yellow metal recipe box? Where was the box after mother died?

Remember when your dad died?

Yes, I was only 12 and during the ride with neighbors to my father’s wake, I had vomited on my good clothes, remembering a variety of women all shapes and sizes, ushering me into the washroom when we arrived to clean me up the best they could. After spending a few minutes in front of Dad’s casket with my trembling mother, somebody suggested the little family room behind.

My nylons were stained and another lady kindly rinsed them off to hang there. I sat and waited in the small room away from other’s drama…too much toxicity for my own soul. It was Judy and her husband who finally rescued me and suggested that the best place would be at home with them that evening. They had no idea what they had done for me in that small gesture.

In the 1970’s, we all relocated to the suburbs and somehow the years of college, becoming a teacher and then mother became the essence of life; the recipe removed for a different time.

During the late 1980’s, I had heard that Judy had gone back to school to become a lawyer and after locating her law office in a phonebook, I called and explained to the receptionist who I was. Shortly after, I received a call back in that familiar voice to come across and baby-sit with the boys…. for a brief moment nothing had changed. After we met at an old neighbors home for a reunion, this time was with Judy holding my two year old.  Her sons were almost as old as me.

In the 1990’s and 2000s, we had are own intense lives to lead, Judy had become an appellate court judge losing contact with only words and articles in reference to her success on the Internet. The judge was creative, innovative, dynamic energetic, beautiful and charming.

Yes, that was her.

Since divorce, single motherhood, teaching, training and my roles in corporate management, I have bloomed as a writer published in a variety of newspapers, blogs and magazines. Ultimately, an avid reader of all literature. The Source was one of my favorites.

But the thought of Judy’s pepper steak has never been forgotten.

And, of course, one day my search began and, somehow the metal recipe box reared its décor behind an old collection of cook books.  Located in the front was Judy’s pepper steak, neatly written in my mothers handwriting on a significantly yellow card; the original newspaper article not among its files.

After a dinner of delectable flavor with my own family, I journeyed  back to my time of impressions. It does not take much for young children to form impressions. Children as young as 3 tend to judge an individual’s character just by looking at their face. Those young experiences tend to become our own fingerprint as we mature and, hopefully prosper.

As I publish this article today, I realize that it is Judy’s birthday…July 9th. Maybe she , too, approves of the days of old. The days when it was the warm and engaged family dinner that deterred us from the stress of our demons; giving us a more positive view of the future. Being able to enjoy what was important, those that sat at our table, bringing out the best in all of us.