Sunday, June 18, 2006

When Life Gives You Lemons...

...make Italian ice. Or better yet, order some of the best on the planet.

My wife was patroling at Puerto Rican Fest in Humboldt Park this weekend. I needed the car to go see my dad and granddad in the suburbs on Father's Day, so I drove her down there this afternoon. She was going to get a ride home from a co-worker.

I was on my way home this evening when I got the phone call I didn't want: her co-worker had gone home sick, so could I pick her up? I briefly considered the ramifications of telling her to take a bus, but then I resigned myself to driving back down there to get her. The timing was lousy, too -- I could go home for half an hour, or I could screw around for a while and go straight to Humboldt Park. I opted for screwing around. After killing some time in a bookstore (note: Barnes & Noble is open an hour later (10 PM) on Sunday than Borders), I decided to take surface streets because the expressway would get me there too fast.

I still had extra time as I drove east on North Avenue (IL 64) toward Humboldt Park. As I passed through the suburb of Elmwood Park, I found a way to spend that time. Although it was 10:30 on a Sunday night, the legendary Johnnie's Beef was open for business.

Johnnie's has been around so long that my dad used to go there before I was born. And the line still runs out the door and down the street. I got lucky tonight; there were only half a dozen people in front of me. I had intended to order only an Italian ice, that lemony, sweet treat of finely crushed ice. Maybe just a small. But as I watched one employee serving up overflowing large ices and another preparing an Italian beef sandwich, my appetite grew and my order expanded.

Service was impressive. My beef and my ice were handed to me as quickly as I could pay for my order. So don't be intimidated by the long lines; these guys work quickly. I sat at a table outside (there is only a stand-up counter inside) and enjoyed my meal. I'm afraid it's been several years since I indulged at Johnnie's, an error I should not repeat. The beef was as good as I remembered. Johnnie's doesn't serve the thickest sandwich, but it is surely one of the tastiest. And the Italian ice was even better, dare I say the nectar of the Roman gods. My only regret is that perhaps I should have had the beef/sausage combo instead. Next time.

As I ate, I recalled that I was wearing a T-shirt from the other not-to-be-missed Elmwood Park eatery, Russell's Barbecue. Incidentally, both restaurants now have locations in the northwest suburbs as well -- Johnnie's in Arlington Heights and Russell's in Rolling Meadows.

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