Monday, March 23, 2009

This Is How It Works (My Neck Of The Woods)

I haven’t blogged in ages and I’ve been craving getting back into the game and the sweet taste of reader comments. It wasn’t lack of desire that kept me from the blogosphere, it was a lack of words. When some people get stressed, they eat. They devour those feelings and pour their souls into producing books, articles or posts worthy of a Chicken Soup comparison. Not me. I turn to the more chicken nugget style of social networking like Facebook and Twitter.

So when my bloggy buddy, Shelly, told me about her new Saturday meme blogging idea, “My Neck Of The Woods” I was excited and determined to participate. I know, it’s Monday. (Better late than never???)

My neck of the woods is the Chicago area. I don’t live in the city (as we call it) any longer. I live in a suburb located about three miles north of “the city” and sandwiched somewhat loosely in between landmarks like O’Hare Airport and Northwestern University. A common misconception of the Chicago area from people who have never been here is that there are Al Capone style gangsters running around smuggling, bootlegging and shooting people all over the place. While I certainly won’t deny that Chicago does have some seriously troubled gang-ridden neighborhoods, the only gangsters remaining seem to be our local politicians who rob us blind with sales tax rates upwards of 10.25%. I haven’t heard of anyone ever caught bootlegging, but I did see a guy in a store once take a flask out of his boot!

The Chicago area is loaded with restaurants and while I think most would say the culinary claim to fame here is our deep dish pizza, I think few people outside of the area understand the savory deliciousness of a Chicago Style Hot Dog. In fact, the Chicago area has more hot dog establishments than McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s combined!

While I don’t walk around the streets in fear of gangsters in pin stripe suits, I will say that perhaps one of the scariest places I do go regularly is a local dive called “The Works”. The Works is your typical, run down hot dog establishment. It’s been there forever and it’s claim to fame is the Gyros Sandwich they serve. Even though, gyros has been a Chicago favorite since the late 60’s or so, I can’t stand it, but I seem to be alone in my thoughts on it. I know people who have moved away from the area and will drive many, many miles to get gyros from The Works.

Whether your wanting gyros, hot dogs, italian beef, or burgers, in my neck of the woods, The Works is the place to go. So why does the place scare me? Well, it’s the owners. I think everyone is scared of them. They are rough and gruff (think the Saturday Night Live “cheesebooger, cheesebooger” skit) and if they are busy they will swear at you in Greek if you order something too complicated. I waitressed myself through college and although I’m familiar (not fluent) with three languages, my knowledge of Greek pretty much consists of being able to yell obscenities at people and muttering the always startling “I know what you’re saying”. I did that once here after an exceptionally vulgar outburst after my order. I got a free coke out the deal.

When you enter The Works, you stand under the “Order Here” sign until the gentleman to the left in the picture here is good and ready to take your order. One should expect to be completely ignored until that time. I usually watch the other guy shave thin slices of gyros off the rotisserie or drool over the hot dog picture until my turn comes.

A hot dog true Chicago style is yellow mustard, chopped onion, pickle relish, tomatoes, kosher dill pickle and celery salt on top of a steamed or boiled all beef dog and served on a poppy seed bun. It is delicious!!! While some people will add peppers on their hot dogs (not a fan, personally), putting ketchup on an official Chicago Style Hot Dog is a no-no and prohibited! Of course, The Works will put ketchup on a hot dog if you so wish, but the devourer is just denying themselves the true experience.

After you pick up your food that’s been served in a plastic little basket lined with wax paper, you have your selection of tables. Trying to find one that doesn’t rock is a bit of a challenge, but part of the fun of the place. There are no windows so for scenery you have your choice of artwork that is hand painted on the walls and then trimmed out to appear framed. I watched the artist painstakingly paint these odd collaboration of portraits over a period of months and was fortunate enough to be there when he finished. The owner told him the paintings sucked and didn’t want to pay him. Along with the food, I’m sure the entertainment value is a draw to the restaurant, as well. You just never know what’s going to happen.

The only wall that isn’t painted is the “Wall of Fame”. Here hangs pictures of local and nationally recognized celebrities who have visited the restaurant. Forgive my blurry iPhone photography, but perhaps the best known of people on the “Wall of Fame” is Academy Award Winner Marlee Matlin, who grew up across the street from this place.

So, if you’re ever in my neck of the woods, be sure to stop on over at The Works. Don’t speak until spoken to and don’t complain about the food, ever! Just order Chicago style and grab a chair and enjoy the meal and the atmosphere. It sounds like a plan for disaster in the restaurant biz, but not for this place. Whatever they do WORKS!


This Eclectic Life said...

She's BACK! And, she makes me want a hot dog (no ketchup). If I ever went there, you would have to escort me with your catboots. Probably not to protect me, but to protect the owner if he cussed at me in Greek. I don't know Greek, but I know cussin'! Thank you for sharing The Works with us!
And, welcome back!

Dustin said...

HA! "I don't know Greek, but I know cussin'!" Spoken like a true Texan! Too funny.

Good to hear from you Rock Chick! I have never been to a "hot dog joint" other than Wienerschnitzel, and they're ok, but I can't imagine anyone putting up with a poor attitude and some cussing just to walk away with some grub from there. Frankly (really, no pun intended) I'd have a hard time putting up with the customer service you described...they must have one heck of a product!!! Customer service is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. I have worked with some Greeks in the past however (and at the same time, what seemed to be an unnatural imbalance of Egyptians in a Greek "style" "family" "diner"), so I can sorta get the 'tude.

And while the bulk of the post was about "The Works", I couldn't get over the 10.25% sales tax rate. YIKES!!! I spent a good portion of my life in Pennsylvania where the sales tax rate was 6%. When I came to Texas and got 8.25% where I'm living now, I thought that was high. I think you can say you "win"!

Welcome back, RC! Hopefully this will help unlock the catboot wordflow floodgates!

The Rock Chick said...

Shelly: I wouldn't escort you there during a busy time. It's just far too stressful ;) You have to work up to that!!! LOL

Dustin: I think the lack of customer service might just be the charm of these places or maybe growing up here, I just expect these kinds of places to be like this. This place does have good food. I'm a customer service stickler in most everything else except fast food type restaurants. There, I've learned to be content as long as my order is right. I worked in a similar type place, although it was a restaurant and I worked as a server all through college. The food there was horrible, but I had regular customers every night for the "atmosphere". Maybe it's a Chicago thing???

Anonymous said...

Oh I am SO glad you're back - I've been worried about you! You don't know me from Adam, but I've followed your stories, and have missed you in the past several weeks.
Hoping things are going better for you.

The Rock Chick said...

Anonymous: thank you so much for the nice words!! It's good to be back. I've missed it! You aren't Bon Jovi by any chance, are you? ;)

Veterans Loans said...

It sounds like the owners don't really know how to run a business very well. I dunno if I ever want to try one of those dogs, I mean boiled? Come on, thats gross, they need to be flame broiled for the most delicious taste.

Jamie said...

When I lived in Rancho Cordova, a Chicago Style hot dog place opened. It immediately became the place to go though they were forced to become "California friendly" and actually smile at the customers. I absolutely loved the food except for yes on the peppers and no on the tomatoes. Can you mail a care package?

nashvegas said...

Nope, I'm not Bon Jovi, although I wish I could have just one of his royalty checks!
I simply forgot to sign in when I commented.

Damien said...

Great pictures ... "One hot dog pleeze." ;)

Malcolm said...

I had noticed that you hadn't blogged in awhile before this post. I'm glad to see you are back.

I can tell that The Works is a place with a lot of character. I was salivating as I looked at that photo of the Chicago Style Hot Dog. I'm going to go whip up something in the kitchen just to satisfy my appetite.