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Allen's Corner, Literary Crossroads since 1921

Allen's Corner, Literary Crossroads since 1921
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  • Allen's Corner, Literary Crossroads since 1921

    Post #1 - October 15th, 2005, 10:13 pm
    Post #1 - October 15th, 2005, 10:13 pm Post #1 - October 15th, 2005, 10:13 pm
    I was heading west on Route 20, looking for a dog-wagon to have lunch in. I was alone, which was just as well, because if you travel with a woman you’re bound to have trouble when it comes to picking a restaurant. They usually don’t even like you to call them a name like dog-wagons; “Decent people call them diners,” she’ll say. “And no places run by Greeks. The places you like are always run by Greeks.” Nonsense. Dog-wagon is a good old American expression, like sow-belly. The real pioneers traveled on their sow-bellies and got somewhere, where they founded dog-wagons. And Greeks? You think it was Greeks who crossed this country in the early twentieth century, building the classic American dog-wagons that you still find now and then if you get off the big highways, and that figure so invisibly yet pervasively in the great popular literature and movies of the time? Yeah, sure they did, Greeks. Greeks like good old Connecticut Sam Beardsley. Old Samuel Cabot Winthrop, the Greek dog-wagon man, I mused pointlessly to myself.

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    I spotted the sign for the repair shop first. As I pulled in two gas jockeys came running out to serve me. “Fill ‘er up,” I said.

    “Fill it up. That’s what the man said, fill it up. That’s what the man said,” one of them, the littler guy, rattled off. The bigger guy just chuckled.

    Inside the station I picked up a pack of Luckies and some gum. “Is he any good?” I asked, motioning toward the little guy, who was standing chattering away and doing nothing while the other guy checked my oil and laughed heartily at the latest thing the smaller guy had said.

    “Him? Oh, I just keep him around to amuse Pete,” the owner said idly.

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    When they were done I moved the car into the dog wagon's parking lot and went in and sat down at the counter. The waitress poured me a cup of coffee. It tasted pretty much like coffee. Sitting there I smoked a couple of cigarets, read the box scores of the American League games, scrupulously avoided the box scores of National League games, and noted with satisfaction that Joe DiMaggio was still a credit to the Italian people, because he was leading the league in batting.

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    The waitress gave me a look that said I wasn’t renting the chair for the day, so I put the paper down and looked over the specials. Country fried steak looked promising, but alas, it was tomorrow’s special. Today’s, spaghetti, seemed less exciting. The best-looking thing on the lunch menu was the hamburger, which proudly proclaimed that it was made from fresh beef. Good enough for me, and I ordered it.

    As I waited I looked over the crowd at the counter. A heavyset, slickly-dressed fellow seemed out of place in this crowd of farmers and other locals, except for the other fellow dressed the same way right next to him, reading the local paper. They were having breakfast-- the big guy was having eggs over easy and real hash browns cooked just right.

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    The other fellow was busy ignoring a plate of fluffy biscuits and gravy as white as cotton candy.

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    “Anything exciting happening in this burg?” I asked the one with the paper.

    “They don’t know the Civil War is over in this town,” the fat guy snapped.

    I chuckled. “What do people do around here for fun, I wonder?” I asked him.

    He glanced up at the signboard. “They eat the dinner,” he snarled as he put down his money and stood up, and the fellow next to him stood up too. “They all come here and eat the big dinner.”

    “I’ll tell Swede you were looking for him,” the waitress said helpfully as the two men went out the door. The other man called behind him “You do that,” in a gravelly voice that sounded like he didn’t much care one way or the other.

    Another waitress brought me my burger. She wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her. Joking, I said “Where’s the Greek who runs this place?” Her eyes opened wide and she looked at me in a kind of terror, like I was a dick from out of state or something. She set the burger down without a word, and hurriedly disappeared into the kitchen. A moment later I heard a back door slam, and steps.

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    Thankfully, this was one of those places where they made hamburgers that didn’t taste like something the dog wouldn’t eat. Finally I felt the road jitters start to leave me. That was, until I realized I'd spent the last of my cash on the gas and cigarets. “Say, friend,” I said to the man behind the counter, a good-looking fellow with curly black hair who had, I had noticed, avoided meeting the eyes of the sulky waitress all morning.

    “Let me guess. A guy in a Cadillac was going to pick you up, but he didn’t show, and he had all your money.”

    I saw there was no point in trying to kid him, so I laid it on him straight. “Something like that, how’d you know?”

    “How do you think I got this job?” he shrugged.

    “Am I good for it? I know you won’t believe this, and you don’t have to, but there’s a big silver land yacht a few miles back from a big city food website called LTHForum. If I tell ‘em to, they’ll leave you a hundred bucks. Not that you should believe that for a second, but, well, maybe this time you’ll be surprised.”

    “I’ll be more than surprised, I’ll be downright electrocharged,” he said, taking my bill away and sticking it in the cash drawer. The old timers at the counter in seed caps smiled appreciatively at my line of bull. “It’ll ruin him if you actually do have a friend with the hundred bucks,” one of them said.

    “Why’s that?”

    “He’ll give turkey dinners to every slug that comes in and never hit the jackpot again,” he said, and the whole counter laughed.

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    Allen's Corner Restaurant
    44W483 US Highway 20
    Hampshire, IL 60140
    847-683-4124

    A Couple of Hamburgers, by James Thurber
    The Big Sleep, screenplay by Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, from the novel by Raymond Chandler
    Ask the Dust, by John Fante
    Thieves Like Us, by Edward Anderson
    The Killers, screeplay by Anthony Veiller, John Huston and Richard Brooks, from the story by Ernest Hemingway
    The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain
    The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler
    Sullivan’s Travels, screenplay by Preston Sturges
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
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  • Post #2 - October 15th, 2005, 10:21 pm
    Post #2 - October 15th, 2005, 10:21 pm Post #2 - October 15th, 2005, 10:21 pm
    Mike,

    Now that I've seen the trailer, I cannot wait to see the movie!

    If you have the right attitude and sense of adventure, then one can have fun and excitement just about anywhere.

    Thanks!

    Regards.
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #3 - October 16th, 2005, 8:40 am
    Post #3 - October 16th, 2005, 8:40 am Post #3 - October 16th, 2005, 8:40 am
    Mr. G,

    Raising the bar pretty high here, pretty high indeed.

    Enjoy,
    Gary
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #4 - October 16th, 2005, 8:45 am
    Post #4 - October 16th, 2005, 8:45 am Post #4 - October 16th, 2005, 8:45 am
    G Wiv wrote:Raising the bar pretty high here


    Through plagiarism!
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #5 - October 16th, 2005, 9:05 am
    Post #5 - October 16th, 2005, 9:05 am Post #5 - October 16th, 2005, 9:05 am
    Where did the Greek go?
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #6 - October 16th, 2005, 9:52 am
    Post #6 - October 16th, 2005, 9:52 am Post #6 - October 16th, 2005, 9:52 am
    If you read or watch The Postman Always Rings Twice, you'll know (and why the one waitress was so horrified at my joking about him).
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #7 - March 30th, 2006, 4:41 pm
    Post #7 - March 30th, 2006, 4:41 pm Post #7 - March 30th, 2006, 4:41 pm
    There are NO finds anymore... :wink:

    I was playing around on google maps just now, trying to exactly locate the place we had breakfast at the other day, and what would be in the little box, but a link to this thread!

    So, in homage to those who came before me, both culinarily and literarily, here's my recap. And in the style of my noir hero, perhaps I shall call this Breakfast Confidential.

    A road: not the mother road. A route: not 66. A big no where called 20. I drive. Hepped up on fair trade. Past waste pail factories closed by union wages. I drive. I hear names: Addison and Roselle and Bloomingdale (called Bloomie). Memories of Wally P jivin' school closings. Memories of Wally P at breakfast. I am hinked to morning meal.

    I spy. I ponder. Pass pancake house after pancake house. Ignore the girls. Addison and Roselle and Bloomie chain. Addison and Roselle and Bloomie mall. My tomatoes plea. Plea pancake house passed. The girls egg for eggs. I spy. I ponder. Pass Addison. Pass Roselle. Pass Bloomie. Lost between leaving the city and entering the country.

    Country hits. Drive curves. Farms forever. Food needed. Not me. Fair trade beats the way Johnny Stompanato beats. Until that corner. That roadhouse. Car parked. 20 here.

    Farmers fuel here. Meals made from hash browns and toast and pancakes. Potatoes: Dahlia* inquiries of onions fried. The wife wants stir fry. Never orders right. Until that corner. I spy no Greek. Zoot suiters hash hash. Flip flapjacks. Zoot suiters stir eggs and fry meats. Plate eggs, meat, cheese jalepenos. Plate mushrooms, potatoes. Plate more meat. Stir fry makes up. She is right.

    When reds scared, Hoover dressed with Tolson, Dracula hid subpoenas. Plots intersected. Confidential printed. They built corners like this. Contino made meals at places like this, accordian in tow. Before Bad Back Jack put the kibosh to Marilyn, we ate at corners like this. We did not know from stir fry. Breakfast style. With ham and bacon and sausage in cahoots. With jalepenos on the lam. With a plate too full, then pancakes too.


    Worth a try, no? 8)

    *Not her real name.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #8 - March 31st, 2006, 4:43 pm
    Post #8 - March 31st, 2006, 4:43 pm Post #8 - March 31st, 2006, 4:43 pm
    Love this post! now, I'm no writer, but I always fancied becoming a sort of pulp fiction food critic. Dish Drexler, not your daddy's food critic. writing in just this style...

    but alas, that dream died when I split up with the "drexler" part of the name...

    I wonder if I can get to Hampshire Illinois on my schwinn cruiser.
  • Post #9 - October 28th, 2007, 6:42 pm
    Post #9 - October 28th, 2007, 6:42 pm Post #9 - October 28th, 2007, 6:42 pm
    I invited some friends to meet us at Allen's Corner prior to going to the Goebbert's pumpkin patch located not far from it, and returning there for the first time in a year, I was really impressed by what a perfect country diner this place is, so close to Chicago. They're incredibly nice-- I don't think I've ever been checked on so regularly in any place at this price level, let alone on a packed to the gills Saturday morning. And the food is everything you'd want from this kind of place-- though it's definitely midwest/country food, not Chicago food.

    One clear sign of this is the biscuits and gravy. Chicago b&g are heavy on the sausage, gray in color, a little greasy, peppery and often spiced up. Midwest b&g are snow white, taste like gravy rather than grease, and have far less sausage in the mix, and the first thing you do is put pepper on them. Some might find that a negative indicator, I think it's just a regional style, and if you're accepting of that, there was certainly nothing wrong with the fluffy, fresh-baked biscuits or the gravy atop them.

    At the pumpkin farm I bought a couple of items-- applewood-smoked cheddar and summer sausage-- from Dreymiller & Kray, a butcher shop in the town of Hampshire (which I had never actually found in my travels to the pumpkin farm and roadside diner). Dreymiller & Kray isn't exactly undiscovered-- Chicago mag has written about them in one of those "best-kept secrets" type pieces, and you can find its stuff at Fox & Obel-- but no one's ever mentioned them here, so I will. Alas, as I made my way down the couple of blocks that constitute downtown Hampshire, they turned out to be already closed, but you can see a nice old-school butcher shop inside, and the meat and cheese both have a fresher, more authentic (although slightly bitter) smoke flavor much closer to my own homesmoked items than to the usual taste of commercial products.

    Instead of sausage, for lunch we wound up at a drive-up burger and broasted chicken place called Chick'n Dip, where we had perfectly decent fresh-made hamburgers and shakes and caught up on some of the news regarding the high school team in Hampshire. Go Whip-Purs!

    Image
    Clearly the Hampshire class clown works at Chick'n Dip.

    Dreymiller & Kray
    140 South State Street
    Hampshire, IL 60140
    Phone: 847-683-2271
    http://www.dreymillerandkray.com/

    Chick-N-Dip
    995 S State St
    Hampshire, IL
    (847) 683-2468
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #10 - October 29th, 2007, 11:42 am
    Post #10 - October 29th, 2007, 11:42 am Post #10 - October 29th, 2007, 11:42 am
    Mike,

    I thought I posted about Dreymiller and Krey, but guess not. I've made several trips here and have always enjoyed their products. The bacon is quite nice as is their Canadian bacon as well. I've also tried their thuringer, beef jerky, and regular pork chops. Last spring I ordered one of their hams for a special occasion and had a long conversation with one of the head butchers. He's been doing his own dry curing of sausages and salamis for the past 4 or 5 years and has a nice variety. If you make a trip back, they house cured suasages in the case facing you directly as you walk in and on the left side. The guys are typically happy to provide samples. Their ham's are quite nice and offered either apple and hickory smoked or smoked and honey glazed I believe. They are mildly seasoned and definitely have a lower salt content compared to the average supermarket ham. Texture was excellent.

    One oddity I noticed was a huge chunk of "dried beef." I'm not sure if it was a top or bottom round, but it was smoked. When I asked how it was normally served, the butcher advised this is what you would use for chipped beef on toast.

    If you are in the vicinity again, another butcher shop well worth a visit is Inbodens in Dekalb. Excellent variety at surprisingly reasonable prices.

    Inbodens Meat Market
    1106 N 1st St
    Dekalb, IL
    (815) 756-5852
  • Post #11 - October 29th, 2007, 12:09 pm
    Post #11 - October 29th, 2007, 12:09 pm Post #11 - October 29th, 2007, 12:09 pm
    I have to admit that I am impressed that you made it out to my little area of Illinois. We get to Allen's Corner as much as we can but usually there is a line to get in especially on Sunday mornings.

    I actually live down the street from the Chick-N-Dip and have been impressed by everything that I have tried, especially their broasted chicken. Fresh, hot and moist with a great flavor. For whatever reason broasted chicken is very popular is this area but so far I have found nothing as good as what they produce.

    Next time you are out this way head further southwest into Dekalb and check out Bea's Wok and Roll. The only way that I can discribe the cooking is a basterdized version of Vietnamese. Everything that she cooks has that southeast Asian flavor with a touch of her own uniquness thrown in good measure. Everything that I have had there has been great but what I especially appreciate is her soups; hot, steaming and full of flavor.
  • Post #12 - October 29th, 2007, 1:46 pm
    Post #12 - October 29th, 2007, 1:46 pm Post #12 - October 29th, 2007, 1:46 pm
    mousec1,

    Curious if you have ever tried the CHICKEN (that's what the sign says) restaurant in Dekalb on Lincoln Hwy. I believe the actual name is Lothson's Karry Out. It has odd hours but a quick peek inside look promising. Appeared to be time warp type of place.
  • Post #13 - October 29th, 2007, 1:52 pm
    Post #13 - October 29th, 2007, 1:52 pm Post #13 - October 29th, 2007, 1:52 pm
    electric mullet wrote:mousec1,

    Curious if you have ever tried the CHICKEN (that's what the sign says) restaurant in Dekalb on Lincoln Hwy. I believe the actual name is Lothson's Karry Out. It has odd hours but a quick peek inside look promising. Appeared to be time warp type of place.


    I never have but now you give me a reason to head into Dekalb. I will give it a try and report back.
  • Post #14 - November 5th, 2007, 10:20 am
    Post #14 - November 5th, 2007, 10:20 am Post #14 - November 5th, 2007, 10:20 am
    Thanks (a bit tardily) to all of the above for the comments on meat markets and such in that neck of the woods. One of these days I need to go for a day and just visit the various meat markets out there, as my trips with the kids usually wind up being on days they're closed, or not giving me the chance until after they're closed. Yet it sounds like there's a lot of activity out there. I'd be very interested to hear any more specific reports you have about things you like out there.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #15 - November 5th, 2007, 10:36 am
    Post #15 - November 5th, 2007, 10:36 am Post #15 - November 5th, 2007, 10:36 am
    mousec1 wrote:Next time you are out this way head further southwest into Dekalb and check out Bea's Wok and Roll. The only way that I can discribe the cooking is a basterdized version of Vietnamese. Everything that she cooks has that southeast Asian flavor with a touch of her own uniquness thrown in good measure. Everything that I have had there has been great but what I especially appreciate is her soups; hot, steaming and full of flavor.


    Friend of mine is a professor at NIU and introduced us to Bea's several years ago. My friend and half of her department, are almost daily regulars and Bea knows them all by name. She often makes special things for them and she is more than willing to kick up spices or tweak if you are interested. Her bowls of soups are beyond description, huge and tasty!
  • Post #16 - November 5th, 2007, 10:43 am
    Post #16 - November 5th, 2007, 10:43 am Post #16 - November 5th, 2007, 10:43 am
    electric mullet wrote:Mike,

    I thought I posted about Dreymiller and Krey, but guess not.


    Me too. I love the applewood smoked bacon!
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #17 - August 30th, 2009, 9:58 pm
    Post #17 - August 30th, 2009, 9:58 pm Post #17 - August 30th, 2009, 9:58 pm
    Dammit! Just when you think you've made a new discovery...you find that LTH has been and gone while your kid was still in knee-pants. And you'd read about it. Twice. We wound up at Allen's corner on the way to Pioneer Fest in Genoa and UPberries in Kingston, and all three were well worth the drive. But about Allen's: it was absolutely hopping on a Sunday morning, with bikers and locals lined up outside waiting for a table (we stopped because of the phalanx of bikes; always a good sign outside a diner) I'll let these 1,000 words worth do our talking, but suffice it to say that I'll be back for this full-round of food finds.

    After the fact and without regret, we saw Chick-N-Dip...almost without regret. I wish I'd gotten a shot of the FOOD> sign.

    Shots of important stuff on the menu (meatloaf under eggs? If we hadn't had a long drive...)
    Image Image Image

    Pork tenderloin, a bit gristly but then I like that - a complete winner. The tomatoes are actual tomatoes (they didn't photograph well)
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    Sparky ordered grilled cheese and one of the 3 topping options (bacon)
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