Special Treats a Tradition at Lou Mitchell’s, Chicago

Special Treats a Tradition at Lou Mitchell’s, Chicago

150131_Lou_Mitchell-3915Sometimes it’s the little extras that make a place memorable. Lou Mitchell’s is memorable for several reasons. As you begin Route 66 from the eastern terminus in Chicago, it’s the first diner you reach that has been around since before the route was commissioned. Foods that other restaurants prepare from mixes or purchase ready-made, Lou Mitchell’s makes from scratch. However, the special sweet treats are what most people best remember.

150131_Lou_Mitchell-3901In the Greek tradition of offering a sweet treat as a welcome greeting, you are offered a donut hole as you are seated.

150131_Lou_Mitchell-3900All women and children receive a snack-size box of Milk Duds, as well.

150131_Lou_Mitchell-3896Milk Duds were originally made in Chicago. The candy company owner was a personal friend of Lou Mitchell and a regular restaurant patron. “Uncle Lou” started the tradition of giving all women and children a box of the candies, and both the donut hole and Milk Duds traditions have stuck.

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Lou Mitchell’s doesn’t take short cuts with the food preparation. Their orange and grapefruit juices are both freshly squeezed, and vats of freshly made orange marmalade are on the table.

150131_Lou_Mitchell-3898I ordered a ham and cheese omelet, and Skip ordered eggs Benedict. Both came with hash browns that were really American fries sliced remarkably thin. If fried just a little more, they’d be potato chips. My omelet was so large I could only eat half of it.

150131_Lou_Mitchell-3906Skip claims his eggs Benedict was the best he’d ever tasted. It’s not surprising, since the hollandaise sauce is made fresh every morning from scratch.

150131_Lou_Mitchell-3903I knew about the donut hole and Milk Duds traditions before we visited the restaurant. We were surprised, though, with the treat at the end of the meal: a tiny cup of ice cream. Yep, ice cream for dessert even after breakfast.

150131_Lou_Mitchell-3910Lou Mitchell’s, located at 565 W Jackson Boulevard in Chicago, has been in business since 1923. They’re open every day for breakfast and lunch except the seven major holidays. Check the web site for the hours and menu.

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Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket: A Route 66 Icon

Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket: A Route 66 Icon

Family road trips were in their heyday.  Route 66, the 2,448 mile two-lane Mother Road connecting Chicago with Los Angeles, was completely paved by 1938, making cross country travel a popular family vacation.  Stops at kitschy roadside attractions, small motels and family friendly diners were as much a part of the adventure as the destination.  One of those diners was the Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, Illinois, still in existence today as Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket.  One taste of the fried chicken, crisp on the outsider, tender, juicy and flavorful on the inside and you’ll know how Dell Rhea’s has survived the rerouting of Route 66, the subsequent decommissioning of the road, and difficult economies.

When a rerouting of Route 66 bypassed the Chicken Basket in the early 1960s, the restaurant almost closed.  Instead, Dell Rhea and his wife purchased it and brought it back to life.  The restaurant is still in the Rhea family today, with grandson Patrick at the helm.  The original fried chicken recipe is still used, the one given to the first Chicken Basket owner in exchange for being the exclusive chicken supplier.  Although fried chicken is what Dell Rhea’s is known for, there are lots of other chicken dishes, too, from appetizers like chicken wings and fried chicken livers to healthier main chicken dishes like roasted chicken or char-broiled chicken breast, or your choice of seven different chicken sandwiches.

Chicken isn’t the only thing on Dell Rhea’s menu, though.  Beef, ribs, fish, salads and the popular baked macaroni and cheese are available, too.  Everything is made fresh at Dell Rhea’s, even the salad dressings (except French because Chef Patrick doesn’t like French dressing and refuses to make it).

Wash your meal down with custom brewed Route 66 root beer, or choose another Route 66 soda flavor, like black cherry or cream soda.  For a more adult palate, enjoy a glass of wine instead.

Be sure to save room for dessert, like the chocolate raspberry cake or a personal cherry pie—ordered with a scoop of ice cream on it, of course.

Despite now being off of the main road and a little hard to find, Dell Rhea’s continues to bring in Route 66 nostalgia seekers and those just looking for good food.  Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket was featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives show with Guy Fieri a few years ago.  For two weeks following the airing of that episode, the line of people waiting to get into the restaurant wrapped around the building.  You shouldn’t have to wait as long to get in anymore, so plan on stopping when you’re in the area of I-55 and Route 83.  Whether you need to satisfy your taste buds or your yearning for nostalgia, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket will fill that need.

Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket is located at 645 Joliet Road, in Willowbrook, Illinois, and is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.


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