The Chicago Diner
2333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 252-3211, ext. 1
The Chicago Diner has been meat free since '83. Other than the big sign on the back wall, there isn't really anything that makes it look too different than a regular restaurant...which is how I tricked the monkeys (Satchel, 14 and Jiro, 12) into eating there on our recent trip to Chicago.
We'd been at the baseball game all day, and the monkeys were hungry. I told them I'd already found a place to eat close to our apartment. Once we regrouped, we walked over. It was close to 7:00pm when we got there and the hostess said it would be about a 30 minute wait. The monkeys moaned a bit, but I assured them that it would probably be closer to 15. (I had no way of knowing this, but I felt like it was a good thing to say.) I knew that having to wait would increase the buy in should the menu alert them to the fact that we were in a vegan establishment. (Technically everything is vegan or has a vegan option.)
We waited on a bench by the hostess stand and did some people watching. The fact that a lot of people were coming and going was good. The monkeys were not suspicious. After awhile we were seated in an open booth--there was another group "sharing" it with us. All of their food looked really good. Our server brought the menus and I braced myself.
Satchel immediately zoned in on the "Special Recipe Wings" (seitan "wings" with our vegan ranch & celery. bbq or spicy buffalo style).
"Should I get bbq or spicy buffalo?" he asked me.
I told him I thought that buffalo was more what he was used to. Then I added, "They won't have any bones."
He nodded and then moved on to the salads. "What's tempeh?" he asked.
"I make that at home," I said. "I put in the cauliflower wraps that you like."
Again he nodded and then said he wanted to add a Caesar salad to his order. "Wait, that's going to be $20," he said.
"Since when do you care about spending all of my money?" I asked, shocked.
"Well, you did spend $30 on beer at the baseball game!" he replied.
(Hmmm...is that all it takes? The more I openly drink in front of them, the less money of mine they will want to spend?)
All the while, Jiro, who was facing the giant "Meat Free" sign, had been looking the menu over. "What should I get?" he asked.
I had already scanned ahead for him, and suggested THE TITANIC BLT BURGER. (Our veggie seitan patty topped with seitan bacon & french fried onions, lettuce, tomato & Chipotle FireTM sauce.) He looked at it and said, "Ok, I'll ask them to take the onions off."
At this point I realized that neither monkey actually reads the menu. Satchel scans for the word "wings" and Jiro looks for "onions."
Then I suggested to Jiro that he get a side of waffle fries. This made Satchel look at the sides and he asked, "What's Macaroni & Teeze?"
"It's a kind of cheese," I said.
I have to admit that at this point I was having so much fun. They had no idea! Hahahaha!!
Personally, I was torn between the taco salad and the avocado tostadas. Eventually I went with the taco salad. When we ordered the waiter asked me if I wanted vegan cheese or dairy cheese. "Dairy," I replied.
STILL NO ALARM BELLS FROM THE MONKEYS.
While we waited on the food, Satchel said, "I think everyone in here is wearing skinny jeans." I think that was praise because he followed with, "Memphis doesn't have a place like this. Memphis is ghetto."
So shortly after, our food came out. The lighting was low, so I had that going for me. Jiro's burger and fries looked pretty standard though, so he just dug in.
My salad looked delicious, not suspicious.
(YES, I KNOW THESE PICTURES SUCK.)
And then there were the wings.
Satchel took a look. Then a bite. Then another. Then he said, "They're weird."
"I've never seen them like this before," he said after the next bite.
Finally, he asks, "What is this?"
Casually I responded, "I think it's seitan."
"Oh," he says. "What kind of meat is seitan?
I had to hold in a major giggle.
"Is it even chicken?" he asked.
"I think it's a tofu product," I said between bites of delicious taco salad. [It's a wheat product, I'm told.]
"It's very peculiar," he said.
By now, Jiro had eaten most of his burger and fries and Satchel had declared the wings too spicy to eat. But he swore he was full, so ok. I finished and then they started to get antsy about missing the movie we were going to see. Satchel started looking around for the waiter and that's when he noticed the "Meat Free" sign.
"Oh my god, is this a vegan restaurant?" he asked me.
I couldn't help laughing, and replied, "Yes."
"Did you know?" he asked incredulously.
"Um, yes," I replied.
He seemed genuinely impressed that I had pulled one over on him. "That's why he asked you about the vegan cheese!"
It was all coming together for him.
"When I see 'wings' I just immediately think chicken!" Satchel laughed. "Good job, Mom."
Jiro, on the other hand, looked stricken. "What did I just eat?" he asked.
"I think yours was seitan too," I said.
Even though he had NO idea and he enjoyed it, he looked crushed. "I regret eating here," he said.