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Posted by on Oct 14, 2012 in Restaurant Reviews, Travel, Uncategorized | 6 comments

Sunday Night in Chicago — Still Starving After Two Terrible Dinners

Nolan Dalla Blog


How do you go out to two seperate dinners at two different restaurants and still end up starving at night’s end?

Well, it happened to me tonight in the industrial garden spot of Hammond, Indiana — which is right cross the Illinois-Indiana border, outside of Chicago.

First, a few words about Chicago — the city I’m visiting over the next nine days.  It’s basically a city of trains, truckers, tolls, and traffic.  Ranks right up there with Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Detroit, only with more people, and apparently far worse food.  What would you expect from a city made up mostly of Eastern Europeans?  World class cuisine?  What’s the only thing worse than spending nine days in Chicago.  Answer — spending ten days in Chicago.  Not a fan.

But I’m here.

Here’s the story.  Last time I was in Chicago, I stayed here two weeks.  During that entire time, I don’t remember having one memorable meal, unless one considered shocking disappointment to be a virtue.  I’m sure there are some great restaurants in this city.  There has to be.  I just haven’t experienced one yet.  I’m zero for 20.  I’m the Chicago Cubs of snob diners.  In all fairness, most of the restauants I’ve tried have been either around O’Hare Airport or over in Gary-Hammond — which is kinda’ like saying you hate New York’s food because you spent most of your time in Flushing or Newark.  I realize Hammond is not the charming neighborhood of the northside.

I do remember one thing.  Last time I was here, I had a horrible meal at some Italian place on Calumet Road.  So, where did I chose to go for dinner tonight?

You guessed it — the same Italian restaurant.  The place couldn’t be that bad twice, could it?

Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to look carefully at the photograph (below).  What you are looking at is a splatter of spaghetti and meatballs.  I know.  It’s hard to see.  But, it’s the red dish on the right.  It sort of looks like what Jackson Pollack must have used to paint.

The meal was INEDIBLE.  Just as bad as my last visit.  Oh well, at least they are consistent.

First, I walked in and sat in a booth where I could see the television — which was showing the Green Bay-Houston game.  I asked if they had San Pellegrino.  The waitress has apparently never heard of this product that us basically available in every other nation of the world and certainly EVERY Italian restaurant in America.  This was a very bad sign.

“Perrier?” I asked, swallowing my pride.   I guess I can somehow manage to choke down the Perrier, if it’s served cold enough.

“No, we only have sodas.”

Bring it.  Next, I order what I expect will be a “safe” dish.  I mean, how do you screw up SPAGHETTI AND FUCKING MEATBALLS?  Well, they managed to make a mockery out of it.  I swear, I did not doctor this photograph.  Check this out:


Terrible Italian Food


Things were off the tracks from the start.  The waitress — who looked like she’d once served Al Capone — started out by asking WHICH red sauce did I prefer?  After asking for “Arrabiata” and getting a deer-in-the-headlights blank stare, I asked instead for “Marinara,” figuring that would be reasonable.

The dish finally comes out and it seems to be Hunt’s canned tomato sauce, served lukewarm over a bowl of soggy spghetti noodles.  The noodles are practically swimming in the sauce, which might be tasty if this were a good dish.  But this is revolting — about on par with something like a TV dinner.

Then, there are the meatballs, which are burned and black-hard on the sides, seemingly uncooked or left under the heat lamp for some time.  Tasteless.  Bland.

The special order of garlic bread was made with garlic powder…..GARLIC POWDER!  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  Right here and now, this place should be burned to the ground.

So, I get an unedible platter of spaghetti, tasteless meatballs, powdered flavoring on the toast, cold bread, margarine (MARGARINE!), and no Pellagrino.  At least the waitress did serve me a glass of iced tea.  She left me the entire pitcher, figuring perhaps I was such a royal asshole that she didn’t want to be bothered with having to refill me and listen to my bitching.

Faced with staring at a dinner that belonged on a pig farm, you know what I did?  I asked for the check and left the whole stinking meal on the table (tipping 20 percent, of course — because it surely wasn’t the waitress’ fault).  I then stormed out.

Pressed for time and left with few options, I darted across the street to an old-fashioned diner, which served family-style meals.  Dinner number two was about to be served.

I’m one hour into my dinner, and still starving.  But, at least the food should be better here, right?

Alarm bells.  The diner is right next to a bowling alley, which should have been my first clue that this was not going to be Antoines in the French Quarter.

Actually, the trout I ordered turned out to be edible, once you picked all the bones out of the fish.  But I ended up working so hard trying to get through the bones, that I became increasingly frustrated as the night wore on.

Worse, the trout was served with CANNED corn and frozen french fries (not fresh cut!).  HORRORS!

I scarfed down half of the fish plus a few stray bones, ordered a slice of German Chocolate Cake, and called it a night.

$48 in two dinners, and by 9:45 I was still starving.


Now, all that’s open is a Subway (which I have never tried before, but undertand that it’s mostly sadnwiches).  In addition, there is a McDonalds open, which is a sure way to go on an immediate fasting diet.  Industrial food.  That is one vile place I will NOT patronize.

Finally!  A life saver off in the distance!  It’s a Baskin-Robbins!

Ah, that’s the ticket!

Three scoops of ice cream, and I’m now set.

So, my dinner tonight consisted of two bites of horrible spaghetti, half a trout, about a dozen small bones, a piece of chocolate cake, and three scoops of ice cream.

Eight more days of this to go.


  1. You have to start using while traveling. It’s not a wise choice, but I am hoping that I can find something on the buffet to eat on Wednesday. It will be free, but that certainly is not the point.

  2. nolan, you’re fishing around for delicacies in hammond indiana. i know the exact eateries you refer to and no, zagat won’t be publishing them anytime soon. I’m guessing you’re not 7* b/c there’s a 7* lounge inside the horseshoe that actually serves magnificent food. short of that, the horseshoe steakhouse is more than acceptable although i’m sure you’ve been there many a time.

  3. I was born in Hammond. Both my father’s parents and step-father’s parents lived within sight of the Horseshoe Hammond. My mother’s parents also lived in the area before my mom’s dad fled to the “boonies” in the early 1960s (where he lived was cornfields then, suburban sprawl today). I lived the first five years of my life in an apartment building within sight of where the casino boat is now located. If either of my grandmothers were still alive, I’d have a sure-bet place for you to get a good meal.

    Alas, they are not and most of my relations have fled to more suburban locales or other parts of the country. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d be better off finding Mexican food in that neighborhood these days, as Hispanics are replacing the elderly eastern Europeans. Does Arnie’s still do a good hot dog?

  4. Funny/sad post on the dining scene of Hammond. I lived within sight of Wrigley Field for 6 years, and yes, there are plenty of good restaurants in the city proper. I did not own a car during this time, so no problems with traffic, as public transport is convenient and timely. I would agree that the outside of Chicago is a cultural abyss of traffic, chain restaurants, and fast food. I hope you get a chance to bypass the ghetto suburbs for at least one day and get into the city, I guarantee you will not starve, and many things there to keep your mind interested and curious.

  5. For Nolan:

    Why not try a sample establishment from the list of Michelin Star restaurants in Chicago? The list is easily obtained and there are about twenty restaurants in Chicago with at least a single Michelin Star rating to choose from…

  6. Nolan,

    I really wish your schedule allowed you an evening to dine in actual Chicago rather than the dead steel mill capital of the world. There are some restaurants in the city that will blow you away. Are you hanging around at all after the WSOP event is over ? I would love to take you out and show you the city properly. O’Hare and Hammond are far from a representative sample.

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