To me, a place like White Palace Grill calls for black and white photography:
You know why it's called White Palace, by the way? For the same reason White Castle was called White Castle and Carl Laemmle's
first nickelodeon at Clark and Division was called The White Front and why McDonald's used to have gleaming white tile walls and Steak and Shake still does. In an era when things and people were generally grimy, when coal was the fuel everyone used and horses still worked in the streets (okay, maybe not by the time McDonald's came along), businesses named themselves "White" something or other and used hospital-style antiseptic white tile as a form of pride, and a personal challenge to live up to. You'll notice that a lot of them have backslid over the years-- dirt-hiding brown tile is the standard in many restaurants today-- but White Palace Grill still has the hustle-to-keep-it-sparkling mentality it had when it opened in 1939 with that name. Other parts of the city, you go into a 24-hour diner, you're afraid to touch things, you might get glued to your seat. It's good to be reminded what the standard used to be, still is.
A lot of people head for booths but me, I went straight to the counter (of course, since they had a two-person minimum at lunch for a booth, I had to anyway). It's a 24-hour floor show of pure Chicago, starring sharp-elbowed waitresses, speedy cooks, stealthy busboys, cops, city workers, hungover college students and a smiling, joking manager for your host. One minute they're laughing, the next a riot is about to break out over who took the wheat toast. I took the above picture at a quiet moment-- usually there were too many waitresses in the way to see the cooks.
How's the food? Well, it's a lot like the restaurant china in a place like this-- sturdy bordering on indestructible. It's not about finesse, if you want that go to the Depot Diner. It's about reliability, long before there were chains on every corner Greek diners like this one offered the promise of reliability, a menu you didn't have to look at to know your choices included Belgium waffles (never Belgian, Belgium) and Francheezies and Athenian-style chicken, where the tuna melt is always open faced
with a slice of tomato under the cheese. Great cuisine, not exactly. Great neighborhood restaurant, absolutely. Someone get it landmark preservation status, quick.
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