Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chicken Parmigiana

My favorite places to eat in my hometown, as a kid and as a teenager, included some of the following (in no particular order):

  • Pee-Wee Golf (for sliders)

  • Hardee's (for frozen cookie dough)

  • Jiffy's (now Bill's Diner on Kennedy Drive, a great place itself) where you used to be able to phone in your order from your table to the kitchen -- also, they had a jukebox at each table

  • Monical's Pizza

  • Aurelio's Pizza (my favorite still, thank goodness for the one in Addison)

  • Chicago Dough Pizza

  • Woolworth's (eat chicken nuggets, homemade pie and a cherry Coke with REAL cherries at the counter, then look at the parakeets and the Colorforms all in the same place! Jaffee Drug still has a soda fountain/counter open...)

  • Jesse's Fine Dining (champaign chicken, seafood bar, or a black-cherry glazed bird -- fancy)

  • Hunan Chen on Court Street

  • Mickey's Gyros -- which reminds me of Jen's little brother Jason going, "TWOGYROPLAATES!" like he's yelling to the back of the kitchen

  • Davidson's West on Court -- a favorite of the Kankaee Valley Theatre crowd in my later years

  • Blue's Cafe -- Dad used to meet his buddies there, and bring me sometimes, too. Great food, still kicking.

  • Howard Johnson's for hot dogs with buttered, toasted buns, or fried clams. For my first grade birthday dinner, I selected Howard Johnson's.

  • Hunk's, for clown pancakes

  • Lum's with mom, where I always ordered the French dip sandwich and stared at the Picasso and Matisse prints on the walls

  • The Golden Bear, and I swear mom used to bring me to a Sambo's, a restaurant chain with perhaps innocuous, yet subtly racist overtones... Maybe that was in Carbondale?

  • The Redwood Inn smogasbord... we came up with the word "bevam?" that expressed how they guy at the end of the line always asked "beef or ham?" in a quick, mashed-together way

  • Mother McGee's, where my parents could get cocktails, and I had escargot for the first time

  • Jaenicke's for sauce buns, and I'm sorry, but the one in Bourbonnais is better

  • Boz Hot Dogs, for Italian beef, not hot dogs (you go to Jaenicke's or HoJo's for that!)

  • Poor Boy Restaurant on Court (Dad knew the owner, and she'd drop off beans and cornbread or shrimp po' boys at the house)

  • Dionne's in Momence (I always felt so fancy, and imagined my future life would be eating at places like this every week)

  • Ryan's Pier in Manteno

  • Sam n' Ella's on the river... and if you're not from the area, seriously, that was the name! They had great food and and unbeatable view.

  • Town and Country, the red building out on Rte. 17. We used to get shish-kebab and duck there, or liver with onions. Dee-licious.

  • Council Table (though I always just got cereal)

I'm sure there are more that have slipped my mind... a lot of these places have been closed for years. Does anyone have any memories to add? I would love to hear them... I plan on doing individual posts on some of these in the future.

Anyway, none of these places compared to "The Little Corporal" restaurant. The Little Corporal was a Napoleonic-themed diner in the front of the building, with drum-shaped table lights and French soldier figures throughout. I kid you not. You could sit in a generous booth, or at the large counter in the center of the diner. As you walked towards the back, you first encountered the restrooms. (I can't vouch for the men's room, but the ladies' was painted bright pink.) In the rear of the building, there was more of a nightclub atmosphere, with runner lights and a piano bar. (And those rumors that Barry Manilow got his start, and got fired from the Little Corporal? Well, those aren't rumors, friends.) The seating in the rear was my absolute favorite: striped Napoleonic tents over each private booth, with the names of different French generals, and pennants at the top. Many were the times my father sweet-talked the lunch-shift waitresses into letting us sit back there in the daytime (turning into rather long lunches when they subsequently forgot we were there.) The place was too good to be true.

I always ordered the same thing at the Little Corporal: the veal parmigiana. It came on top of spaghetti with meat sauce, and lost beneath a blanket of mozzarella cheese. Early in my high school years, I found out how veal is raised, and I've never eaten it since. The last time I had veal was probably at the Little Corporal.

Now, when I get that craving for the Napoleonic/Italian/trashy diner fare of my youth, I make it with chicken. (I know, I play favorites with my meat.) I pound the cutlets, dip them in flour, then egg, then breadcrumb and fry them up. Then I place them atop a mountain of pasta in a baking dish.

Then, I load it with enough cheese to fill up the Kankakee Valley, and bake it with some foil loosely over the top. If the cheese isn't bubbly and golden enough after everything is heated through, I take off the foil and broil it for a few.

Then I simply make a general's tent with the bedsheets, and I'm ready for my stroll down memory lane... Quite a FEW strolls, and Chris and I can separate this into several meals and eat chicken parmigiana all week long.

Sadly, the Little Corporal is now some pizza place, and I think part of it is called Liquor World or something. When the restaurant closed, I skipped the opportunity to attend an auction for some of the items, and I have since seen a few things show up on Ebay... I do still have a coffee-cup shaped magnet from the Little Corporal that was on our refrigerator for many, many years. I had it in my pocket when I went to the Barry Manilow concert last year at the Allstate Arena just in CASE I got called up on stage and could get him to sign it. Didn't happen.

Oh well... I'll always have my memories (and the parmigiana.)


  1. Jaenicke's....drool....Blue's.....more drool....Little Corporal...I used to get french fries when my parents went for a drink....I could go on and on. Did you ever go to Hunk's? For a while they had tv's you could watch cartoons on for a quarter at each table. I loved their kid pancakes. They'd have whipped cream and little umbrella's.

  2. I did used to go to Hunk's! I remember the clown pancakes. We would get inordinately excited about those things...

  3. I just noticed that I had already said that on my list. I tend to repeat myself! Thanks for the visit.

  4. Mantoan's was very good. And remember Sully's when it was in the old Holiday Inn?

    Little Corporal had the big chandelier in the middle, with the counter around it.

    Remember Orbit Inn for hamburgers across from the Paramount?

    Willy's was good for hamburgers, very similar to Steak N' Shake.

    Of course, Yesteryear was very good.

    Arby's was good when they opened near Meadowview in the late 60s. Of course, since then Arby's is awful.

  5. I started my restaurant career at Mother McGees in 1980 as a bar manager. I was named General Manager in 82. I left there shortly after it was sold in83 or 84.

  6. i loved hunks as a child and my mother was employed by little corporal like forever ,and that was my first job.wallys drive inn was great for a green river and my grandmother worked there forever.well i only found this site because i was thinking back on child hood places i ate at and i remember a place on court st. called either rainbow lanes or rainbow inn but i can not remember,do you remember that place?well great list and brings up great memories