Drop by drop sticky sweet sap falls into the metal bucket hanging on the spout inserted into the maple tree. On a good day a bucket fills in 10 to 12 hours. It takes 30 to 50 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple sirup, something the Funk family has been doing since the 1820s. They began selling it commercially in 1891, 35 years before Route 66 was commissioned. Located near the midpoint of Illinois’ portion of Route 66, you can visit the Funks Grove farm and pick up some sirup for yourself if your timing is right.
Sometimes 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.
Milk Duds were originally made in Chicago.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.
I 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.
I 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.
Lou 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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