Sky Full of Bacon

#47: The Mystery of Jack & Lou’s

Thanks to Serious Eats for mentioning the new podcast. Watch it above if you’re at the main page, or here!  UPDATE: Thanks to Chicagoist, too!  AND: Grub Street! AND: Gapers Block, who did it weekend before last but I missed it, being on the road.

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Not too long ago I stirred the pot at LTHForum by making an impassioned plea to people who were talking about Burger King pork tenderloins, the impending openings of Culver’ses and Chick-Fil-A’s and Sonics, etc. to stop posting about fast food and go try a neighborhood joint that nobody had written about. I won’t rehash it, or recommend you waste 20 minutes there, but Wendy Aeschlimann summed up the argument just fine:

People can post about anything they want. That said, I find it exceedingly odd that the food that is “capturing the imagination” of this board lately is mass-produced, of inferior quality, involves CAFO meat, “prepared” by a teenager trained by corporate, and available on every toll road. I don’t get it. One of the reasons we all live in a big city is precisely so we don’t have to regularly eat that stuff — much less discuss it.

Along the way I noted that far from the woods being picked clean, there were new places to try all over the area— for instance, I had just spotted two unposted-about Italian beef places on Mannheim Road near Bellwood and Melrose Park the other day.

A couple of weeks later I was coming back from a business meeting in a western suburb and rather than face the under-construction Ike, I decided to try one of these places. I actually meant to try Mickey’s in Bellwood, which has the more 50s-hot dog stand look (and is apparently mainly a hot dog rather than a beef joint). But I must have missed it and spotted Jack & Lou’s first, in a nondescript building next to an adult book store (rather typical of that commercial stretch, actually). So I popped in. To the former.

Jack & Lou’s feels like the kind of restaurant you find attached to a bowling alley. It’s not— it seems to be attached to more of a cocktail lounge— but it has that feel, I guess because it’s been shoehorned into a funny, nondescript, deeply beige space off of a larger, emptier room, whose vast nothingness makes the restaurant seem rather forlorn. Making the restaurant seem even more quixotic as a venture, though, was the notice posted prominently by the front— Restaurant Closed Friday and Saturday Night. The mind reeled at what mysterious economic logic could make sense out of this policy— did the cavernously vacant lounge fill up so much on those nights that they could barely keep up the flow of gin and tonics, and didn’t have time to make hot dogs or subs then? (The menu is quite elaborate, taking in everything from pizza to weeknight specials like Baked Lasagna.) Was all their business concentrated at lunchtime because of some nearby factory? (Hard to believe that, based on the traffic while I was there.) Was there some other activity that took over the place on those nights? That wouldn’t be out of character for this part of Chicago, I suppose, but it was hard to believe of the friendly woman (probably not Jack, possibly Lou) manning the counter and calling me “hon.”  So no, probably not something dubious, just some decent folks who got a deal on a location with some curious preconditions, I guess.

What wasn’t so mysterious was the Italian beef combo I ordered, which was quite good. Actually, I should say that the Italian beef was good, and the sausage was very good. The beef was good quality, the broth had a nice flavor to it, it was a creditable if not life-changing beef. But the sausage had some real character, a little organ meat-y tang to it, clearly the product of a good local butcher shop or meat company with genuine Italian-American roots, and it lifted this sandwich above the crowd. If you’re ever in… well, you’ll never be on Mannheim Road looking for lunch, and even if you were Jack & Lou’s is one of those places that seems like it won’t be there the next time you go, or will be a completely different business, or something. Here it is, noted on the internet for one brief moment, to prove that it actually happened, even if I’m not exactly sure why.

Jack & Lou’s
2001 N. Mannheim Rd.
Melrose Park, IL 60614

P.S. Inspired by this post, Da Beef posted about a visit to Mickey’s Drive-In on LTHforum; check it out.

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