It's been a weird food week. Four hours of kaiseki at Matsumoto, the next night another long eating and wine-tasting binge at Volo (still terrific), but at other times fast food crap shoveled in hurriedly as I tried to get some things done before the weekend-- I ate at Boston Market once, for cryin' out loud. When the week was over I needed a real meal, I needed adventure, I needed the thrill of discovery. I needed a place that had a sign like this:
I had spotted Petey's Bungalow during a reconnoiter of Oak Lawn. Oak Lawn, specifically the stretch on 95th in the Kedzie-ish area E-W, which (along with its neighbor to the east Evergreen Park) is one of the great undiscovered food gems of the area, if vintage neon signs for still-operating businesses is any guide-- I want to go back and try Wolf's Bakery, Rosangela's Pizza (Since 1957-- see Mike G's rule*), and many more.
These are places that hardly exist on the Internet; a search for Petey's Bungalow found only one cryptic reference
from a reader on all the Tribune's many sites, for instance. I got there at 5:45 and the parking lot and the bar were already packed. Almost as good as the sign, the first thing I saw as I walked in was... a cigarette machine. Talk about something that was once a ubiquitous sight in dining out, and now... if I've seen one in the last five years, it was at the Smithsonian. Not even John's in Calumet City still had cigarette machines. (Though it wasn't at all smoky.)
Looking around the room decorated with the sort of old fashioned nature scenes and still lifes even your grandmother doesn't have any more, I was at least ten years younger than anyone in the place, and most of them 25. The waitresses were the sort of white-haired ladies you'd like to have on your side in an alley fight. Mine whipped this down in front of me:
--and then gave me the gimlet eye as she asked me what I wanted to drink. What beer do you have on tap? I asked. None, she said, and then buttoned her lip, waiting for me to crack like so many before me in the old days before she reached mandatory retirement age at Joliet. I tried to think of a beer they would actually have that I could stand to drink, failed, and in the last quarter second of her patience with me ordered a glass of chianti. When it came, it was a chianti from the village of Manishevizzi. I suspect the thing to do is stick to cocktails-- if you have someone to drive you. This looks like the kind of place where one gets you hammered and two get you arrested if you haven't built up the immunity the regulars have.
At least for food, I knew what I wanted. Not far away is the South Side's best known burger, the Top-Notch Beefburger. I have never actually tried it but it is hard for me to imagine that it can be any larger, at least, than this:
Alas, the picture doesn't quite do it justice. The patty of beef, handformed fresh, must be nearly a pound, it's literally the size and thickness of a paperback book (not a Michener novel, maybe, but not a collection of B.C. strips, either.) The garlic bread is not all that garlicky, I wouldn't have minded more of that flavor, but it made an interesting variation to the usual generic bun. The meat also lacked a little saltiness that would have sharpened it up nicely, but that was remedied easily enough. Condiments are limited to the John Kerry Combo (Heinz and French's). On its side were entirely likable fresh-cut fries (also served unsalted; must be a concession to the medical ideas of its older crowd). I satisfied my red meat craving for the week on this monster. So if you're looking for a serious, enormous, excessive old school burger, visit Petey's. Tell 'em Mike G sent you, and they'll stare at you impatiently and wait for you to quit clowning around and f'in' order already.
Petey's Bungalow Lounge
4401 W 95th St
Oak Lawn, IL 60453
* Always try a pizza that's been around since the 50s, there's the chance they haven't turned it into imitation Domino's crap yet.