Film Photography, Road Trips, Travel

Landmark restaurants on Route 66 in Chicago

Route 66 begins — or ends, depending on your perspective — in Chicago, in the Loop. Two key landmark sites remain on old Route 66 in downtown Chicago. Both are restaurants with glorious neon signs: The Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s.

First, some history about where old 66 ran in Chicago. When it was new in 1926, it began/ended at Jackson St. at Michigan Ave. In 1937, that terminus moved east two blocks to Lake Shore Drive. In 1955, Jackson St. was made one way eastbound at Michigan Ave. Westbound Route 66 moved north on Michigan Ave. for one block, and then onto one-way-west Adams St. So it remained until Illinois decommissioned its portion of Route 66 in about 1977. (Signs came down on the rest of the route state by state through 1985.)

The Berghoff

The Berghoff’s roots trace to about 1870 when German immigrant Herman Berghoff came to America and began brewing beer in Indiana. He moved to Chicago in 1893 and opened his beer hall’s doors in 1898. With Prohibition he converted the place to a restaurant. After Prohibition, the Berghoff won Chicago’s first ever liquor license and beer was back. The Berghoff has been at 17 W. Adams St. for all these years.

The Berghoff

My first experience with The Berghoff was in 1983, as a junior in high school. All of us who learned the German language — ich spreche immer noch genug Deutsch mich verstanden zu machen — made a field trip to Chicago. We capped the day with dinner at the Berghoff. It was the nicest restaurant I’d ever visited — and this blue-collar kid was not prepared for Chicago restaurant prices. The least-expensive meal on the menu was beef tips in gravy with potatoes. That and an insultingly thin tip tapped me out.

I visited it for a second time on a business trip in 2018 with a few of the engineers who worked for me. We stopped in here for dinner and a beer after our business was done. We lived a little higher on the hog than I did in 1983, especially since we could all expense our meals.

My wife and I had our Chicago getaway weekend in January. A bartender at the Palmer House Hilton, where we stayed, recommended a place called Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast the next morning. It’s on Jackson St., about a mile and a quarter west of Route 66’s beginning. You cross the Chicago River on the way.

Lou Mitchell's

Compared to The Berghoff, Lou Mitchell’s is a Johnny-come-lately to the scene, opening in 1923. That predates Route 66 by three years. But the restaurant plays up its Route 66 heritage, even posting a replica of an original Route 66 sign on a lamp post outside.

Lou Mitchell's

Our breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s was a wild ride. We were greeted with a donut hole as we entered — which neither of us took, as both of us must follow gluten-free diets. There was a small box of Milk Duds for my wife, too.

Our chatty, entertaining waitress at one point sat down next to me in our booth and talked with us for several minutes. She revealed that she’d worked at Lou Mitchell’s since the early 1990s! She also marveled in mock frustration at the rest of our dietary restrictions — my wife is allergic to egg whites, making breakfast a challenge. I have to avoid onions, garlic, and beans, which thankfully isn’t challenging at breakfast time.

Lou Mitchell's

I ordered the gluten-free pancakes and two scrambled eggs. While we waited, our waitress brought each of us a plate with a prune and an orange slice. What the heck; down they went.

I regretted it when breakfast came. The two pancakes looked to be a foot in diamater. The mass of eggs was as big as of both of my fists together. I couldn’t eat it all — and let me tell you, I can put away vast quantities of food. Our waitress told us that Lou Mitchell’s serves nothing but double-yolk eggs. I can’t imagine how they manage that! Then she revealed that when you order two eggs Lou Mitchell’s serves you four or five.

It’s a point of personal pride that I eat all of the food served me, but I just couldn’t manage it at Lou Mitchell’s. I left about half a fist’s worth of eggs and half of the pancakes behind.

May the Berghoff and Lou Mitchell’s prosper for many years to come. Being able to enjoy landmark places like these on Route 66 in Chicago or beyond is what makes following the Mother Road rewarding.

Olympus XA on Kodak T-Max 400.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Road Trips

The Michigan City Uptown Arts District

In the heart of downtown Michigan City, at the end of the Michigan Road — or the beginning, depending on your perspective — you’ll find the Michigan City Uptown Arts District.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District. Map data © 2019 Google.

When I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008, this was some mighty depressed real estate. But in 2010 the Uptown Arts District was formed, and a slow transformation began. The transformation remains underway today, but “there’s a there there,” as we say in the road-tripping business. You can spend a pleasant day here popping in and out of the boutique shops and galleries, and enjoying a meal and a pint at one of the several restaurants.

Margaret and I did this on the day before Thanksgiving, a blustery and gray day. There wasn’t much action on this midweek day-before-a-holiday, but we were pleased to find many shops and pubs open.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

We spent most of our time on the Uptown Arts District’s main drag, Franklin Street. It’s a downtown strip typical of Indiana, with plenty of old buildings in a row.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

Several striking buildings line this strip, including this one, a former Eagles lodge. I’d sure like to know the story of that crazy roof!

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

Lots of public art lines Franklin Street. I liked this little scene on one of the street corners.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

Given how close this is to Lake Michigan, this wavelike metal sculpture makes perfect sense.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

We capped our Uptown Arts District stroll with a visit to an Irish pub, where we had a couple remarkably good pints of Guinness. From there we could see were within walking distance of a large outlet mall, so we went over and did a little early Christmas shopping. All in all, it was a lovely day. If you’d like to have a similarly lovely day, it awaits you at the end of the Michigan Road.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard

Fresh Local Restaurant

Fresh Local Restaurant (with Bride and Groom and Dog on Leash)
Canon PowerShot S95
2015

Photography
Image

Peppy Grill (wide)

Hamburgs
Canon PowerShot S95
2015

Photography
Image
Oasis Diner

It’s a gleaming stainless-steel 1954 Mountain View diner, shipped by rail from the New Jersey factory and opened for business on US 40, the old National Road, just east of Plainfield, Indiana. It served there for more than 50 years before hard times befell it and it closed. That’s how I found it when I last toured the National Road across western Indiana, in 2009; I hoped to take my breakfast there. See a photo of it that day deep in this post. And then the health department declared an addition behind the diner unsound. As the last diner of its type on the National Road, preservationists swung into action. This year, it moved four miles west into the town of Plainfield, where it was restored and reopened. The Oasis sign is a reproduction from photographs; the original had been removed decades ago. The Diner sign is original but restored.

My sons and I visited for dinner a couple weeks ago with some road-trip-loving friends. My younger son and I had cheeseburgers — they grind bacon into their beef for extra flavor. My other son had the cheesesteak, which he called “amazing.” The company and the setting were pretty darn good, too.

Photography, Road Trips

Captured: Oasis Diner

Image
Road Trips

Goodbye, Whitehouse Restaurant

Whitehouse No. 1

Logansport’s Whitehouse Restaurant closed its doors for good on Saturday after 73 years.

Little family-run diners used to be typical; every town had at least one. They began disappearing in the late 1970s, by my estimation, as fast-food and diner-style chain restaurants really caught on. I think that the wide availability of places like McDonald’s and Denny’s, coupled with the consistency and predictability of their offerings, made them feel like a safer choice.

Today, it takes an adventurous spirit to stop for a cheeseburger at a place like The Whitehouse. To be blunt, it was run down, as the photo above shows. Inside, seven decades of patrons resting their arms on the counters wore the color off the laminate. It spoke of owners who weren’t making a killing in the restaurant business, but who kept at it because they loved it and it made a good enough living for them. In truth, the restaurant was clean, the staff was friendly, and the food was good. But it probably felt safer for most people to drive on to the next fast-food place.

Peace of Pie

I know I felt that way. I’ve driven through Logansport a hundred times, easy, over the last 30 years. The Whitehouse is on the Michigan Road, which is always the route I take through town. But when I was hungry, I always drove right past The Whitehouse and went a little out of my way to visit a Mickey D’s.

Curiosity finally got the better of me about six years ago, and I stopped for a cheeseburger. What a great cheeseburger it was, the kind with crispy edges! I wished I had taken the chance years and years before. I’ve stopped every time I found them open since (which could be tricky, as their hours were 4 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Once my sons in the car with me at lunchtime as we passed through town, and we stopped. It was very cool to let them experience something that had once been very common in America.

A fellow named Lester worked the grill. He had been at it for 60 years when he passed away in early 2012. I wondered then how much longer The Whitehouse would hang on, as it seemed like he was the force that kept the place going. And now here we are.

Are there any family-run places near where you are? Go visit them today.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard