Monday, February 7, 2011

The Choo-Choo

We've been trying to find some fun stuff to do around here with two feet of snow on the ground... On Saturday, it occurred to me that we've never been to the "Choo-Choo" diner in Des Plaines. The kid loves trains, and we're hungry! Let's do that! Well, it turned out to be a huge treat, and I think maybe I had more fun than anyone.

The Choo-Choo has been open since 1951 (I recommend the "history" page on their website, which outlines their competition at the time: Ray Kroc's first McDonald's in Des Plaines.) Ray was right - I don't see how he competed with the Choo-Choo, but it was your choice, America. (As a note, I also noticed that the Choo-Choo still sports a vintage Multimixer for their shakes, which I know is how Ray made his first fortune, and I'm guessing he sold it to them. You can see it in one of the pics below.) If you sit at the bar, a train comes out of the kitchen and delivers your food. (If you sit at a booth by the front, you get regular delivery by a waitress, but you still get to watch the train.) House rules: you are not allowed to touch the train! Which I notice the kid in the photo on their website is doing, so that's some BS. (But seriously, don't.)

When we arrived at 11 am, it seemed that lots of other families had our indoor entertainment idea. The place is very small, and it was full. Plus, there was a family ahead of us waiting. Looked like Mama was gonna have to get in there with her elbows... But we actually got a seat after only two or three minutes. A busperson was Johnny-on-the-spot and cleaned the booth up for us pronto. And it was the best seat in the house: a booth at the bar. So we had plenty of room, and still got the train delivery. Ideal, except for the screaming young man behind me. (Actually, his excitement was a little contagious and part of the fun.)

The Choo-Choo has no blinds on the windows, so it was very bright and in direct sun for a couple minutes, until a cloud obliged me for the rest of our meal. Had to wear my fake Ray-Bans. (Side effect: coolness).

So we ordered a chocolate milk for the toddler, which we knew she would love, and a grilled cheese meal which we knew she would not eat (this is our routine). I ordered a plain hamburger, and Chris ordered a cheeseburger with raw onion. I then changed my order to what he was having (I couldn't let him eat raw onion alone). From her carseat on the floor, the baby said she was fine, thanks.

While we waited just a tidge for our food to come out (the Choo-Choo asks that you stay no more than 30 minutes in deference to those waiting, but our kids' attention span expires by then, anyway), several kids had birthdays (real or fake.) They play the birthday song, and the train delivers a cupcake with a train whistle on it. By this time, I was clapping like the last person keeping fairies alive. I believe! I do believe in fairies! Hey, what's that?

Feeling vibration from iron horse approach, Kemosabe?

Wait for it... Wait for it...


I expected nothing much from the food... I thought the kitsch factor would bring some laziness as far as the quality was concerned (kids don't care if it's a great burger, I mean, it comes on a TRAIN). But I must say I thought the burgers were fantastic! And the fries were hot and crispy.

I thought we would get a sort of version of a McDonald's burger, as the Choo-Choo is so closely tied to them. It was not at all that sort. The burger was generous and grilled, on a perfectly grilled bun, and the ingredients were all nice and fresh. Here's the kid, refusing to eat anything, as predicted:

But she did enjoy the chocolate milk. Oh, Dood, we know you so well.

But she had a really great time. She sang the birthday song all the way home, accented with train whistles. And here's a close-up of that tasty burger!

I wholeheartedly recommend the Choo-Choo. A really vintage experience, complete with good food, quick service, and some inexpensive fun on a cold day!

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