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Restaurant Sat Nov 03 2007
I'm so in love with the energy and the old school family diner feel of Eleven City Diner that they could have served me just coffee and I would have raved. I hear they do have a good cup of it, too. I also hear that the wait isn't always some 30 minutes as it was the Sunday at noon I came. It was full of families and art students alike. I wouldn't had been there had I not raced to catch up with my roomie Liz and our pal Andy. They were on their way, and I had to go with after seeing multiple tofu items on the Eleven City Diner’s menu online.
Outside the diner's tall glass windows, a boisterous owner entertained the waiting crowd. Clad in a red plaid shirt, jeans and a Krispy Kreme cap, he vigorously called names: "Judy.. sweet Judy." and "Carol.. What am I going to do with you? I'll be right back." We waited in chairs on the sidewalk of South Wabash, under a new 30-or-so-story condo mid-rise across the street that's next to an old seven-story brick on the corner. 11th Street is half a block north, and it morphs into a pedestrian bridge a block east to connect this South Loop neighborhood to Grant Park over the Metra tracks. On the street, a nicely dressed lady jammed on her bike against strong wind. A young gal showing black shorts, red belt, white-stripped shirt, and red bandana pulled an empty black granny cart, exchanging hellos with two strangers waiting beside me. A passing raggedy man lured a quarter from someone with promises to make it disappear from inside a wodden box.
When the owner shouted "Chris," Liz leaped to a stand. He was just getting us ready. "Just want to know what you look like," he said. He shouted some more names, including, "Fast Eddy," ad-libbing I presume. "You're all the ones who are next." Soon, he told us we were up. "Let's do it," he said excitedly. When inside, we were on deck by the greeting stand. Two minutes, he told us. The owner seemed to have a handle on the exact pulse of all that was going on. He turned to tell a father waiting with a child something like, "I know you've got a little kid. It'll be real fast." Then back to us, he said to his greater, "Let's make it happen," to tell her to seat us. I was taking notes vigorously.
Inside under a cement ceiling that looked imprinted from boards that cast it, a menu board in classic diner-esque fonts hangs high on the wall titled a bit down. When the menu ends, a long row of tall mirrors continues over a bar. The diner seems full of vintage-inspired grandeur. Even the men’s room urinals reach all the way down to the floor.
Looking at the counter, I watched a server pull a slice of cake from underneath the glass lid of a cake stand. We sat in a dark brown booth. I took a glass of V8 with lemon and ordered a Tofu Tofu. The dish came topped with crunchies that didn't seem compatible with its red dipping sauce. It also came with many apologies from two different people for not being served at the same time as my friends' meals. They had made the tofu scramble for me by mistake, and it has eggs, our kind and attentive server told us. She had put my order down for no butter as I'd asked, and clearly understood the vegan thing. The red and green peppers, baby corn, sugar snap peas, carrots and celery with the cubed tofu all tasted quite fresh. At first, I didn't understand what to do with the savory, slightly spicy tomato dipping sauce. I pierced veggies with my fork, submerging each bite before eating. That made me think of eating popcorn with a fork - good, but a little tedious. With a suggestion from Liz, I poured the sauce over the Tofu Tofu and mixed it up. That took this dish were it was supposed to go. It just needed some kind of grain product. I asked for multigrain toast without butter and had it toasted hot before I could take my next bite of Tofu Tofu. Service was fabulously gracious.