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Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket

Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket
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  • Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket

    Post #1 - November 30th, 2004, 6:11 pm
    Post #1 - November 30th, 2004, 6:11 pm Post #1 - November 30th, 2004, 6:11 pm
    As a kid growing up half-Polish in the Chicago area, there were certain things on which I could rely. One was that, when somebody died on my mother's side of the family, a mournful throng would descend on the White Eagle in Niles after the funeral to sympathize, recollect on a life well-lived and eat massive quantities of food. It would come family style, served solemnly by little old Polish women as the priest said a prayer for the dearly departed. Steaming bowls of kielbasa, pierogi, blintzes, mashed potatoes, green beans and broasted chicken would be passed among family members I usually only saw at family parties and holidays. That it would invariably be a school day would lend a surreal quality to the proceedings beyond the inherent surrealism one associates with burying the dead.

    I found myself at a wake this weekend, this time a family friend gone round the bend much too early. It was just a visitation, so no post funeral gathering was on tap at White Eagle or anywhere else. Even so, the yearning borne of family tradition that sought comfort and commune through food was a strong one for me, and Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket was nearby. At first blush, the place would appear to be an odd place for an agape feast, what with its location on Service Drive or Commercial Lane or wherever, near the heart of a grim suburban industrial park. Then again, the White Eagle faces a cemetery across a charmless stretch of Milwaukee Avenue. The tableside view at one of my favorite restaurants, Lovitt, features a giant, garishly lighted palm tree in front of a tire store across Ashland Avenue. I learned long ago to minimize the importance of terroir among my restaurant selection criteria.

    The real pull at Dell Rhea's lies within its walls, splashed as they are by suffuse pink light courtesy of an indirect strip of neon recessed in a soffit running the length of the dining room. The effect quickly becomes hell on the rods and cones, rendering my Labatt's Blue something more akin to puce as viewed through the glass. Surrealism indeed. The comforts of the place took over quickly though, from the old timey cash register at the front door to the resolutely anachronistic salad bar (macaroni salad, everyone!), to say nothing of the reassuring inclusion of mashed potatoes and green beans as part of the centerpiece Chicken Dinner.

    Now, I don't know if Dell Rhea's chicken is good fried chicken, let alone the Best Fried Chicken in Chicagoland. I suspect it's not, but I don't seek the stuff out enough to even care one way or another (I'm left similarly unimpressed by the chicken at that other Midwestern shrine of fried chicken fetishists called Stroud's in Kansas City). I do know that Dell Rhea's is a comforting, old fashioned place in the best sense of the term: almost maternal. That may owe more to the ambient hue approximating what the world looks like from inside a uterus--I really don't know. Whatever the case, it was soothing balm on a raw, sad day. The world needs more places like this.

    Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket
    645 Joliet Rd. (Old Route 66)

    White Eagle Banquet Halls
    6839 N. Milwaukee Ave.

    1466 N Ashland Ave
  • Post #2 - November 30th, 2004, 6:40 pm
    Post #2 - November 30th, 2004, 6:40 pm Post #2 - November 30th, 2004, 6:40 pm
    Well said!!
  • Post #3 - November 30th, 2004, 8:35 pm
    Post #3 - November 30th, 2004, 8:35 pm Post #3 - November 30th, 2004, 8:35 pm
    dear cooler, this is mike the chef author of the new polish cuisine!! thats a beautiful story about the polish white eagle, ive been there for many a post mortom death in the family.. my grandma recently died and left all the kids a funeral plot across the street!!! im kind of sorry now that we used to go drinking beers there late at night and kick over toomstones!!!