It was Mother's Day, with The Wife and A Daughter out to the traditional brunch, I decided to bike the Illinois Prairie Path. Big rains were forecast, so I came up with a little game to play with my own brain. I do this a lot when The Wife is out of the picture.
Though currently not in very good shape, I'd decided to bike in a westerly direction until I spotted thunderheads (coming, as they usually do, from off the plains), and then turn and race the weather back to my house. Fun, right? Except by the time I got to Glen Ellyn (15 plus miles away from home), the sky was still way sunny in the West, and I didn't want to turn a 30-mile into a 75-mile round-trip, so I headed back home, storm-less.
One of the most pleasurable things about biking the Prairie Path is also one of the most pleasurable things about riding the train (which used to travel this route): you get to cruise through people's backyards and little hamlets that you'd probably never have the opportunity to explore any other way. Along train tracks, there seems to be some wild architectural experimentation (or some laxity of applicable building codes), which I find highly entertaining.
Anyhow, exiting the Prairie Path at Mannheim, I spotted Mickey's – a kind of throwback to an earlier era of drive-ins – and figured, Why Not?
Walking in, I spotted a cop – very big guy, bullet head, bullet-proof vest, multiple weapons and other incapacitating and death-dealing tools on his utility belt, serious -- wiping his mouth and finishing his order.
ME [bolder than usual]: What'd you have?
ME: Italian beef?
COP [very sincere]: Yeah, they got great Italian beef here. You should try it.
As a rather strong Johnnie's partisan, I waited for the cop to leave before ordering, as I didn't want to spurn his advice so immediately and obviously (had nothing to do with his threatening cop-like appearance: I'd show any regular Joe the same respect). Then he came back in to give a little girl customer a Bellwood Police Dept. tattoo – the guys behind the counter shouted that they wanted tattoos, too, which made all of us join in a communal chuckle that these much older guys wanted the same arm decorations as the kid. I liked this place. It was friendly and the customers seemed enthusiastic.
CUSTOMER: I came all the way from Texas for these hot dogs!
COUNTERMAN [slight Mexican accent]: Oh yeah? I came all the way from Mexico. [again, an appreciative line of customers shares a laugh]
The "special" on the menu was a double hot dog, which didn't appeal, tamales and other predictable stuff. I went with the Sloppy Joe, with fries and large RC, all under $5, a good deal.
I like Sloppy Joes. And I hardly ever have them. For some reason, I don't believe Carolyn has ever made them. The Sloppy Joe at Mickey's was everything I could have hoped for: meaty, slightly sweet (paired well with RC), sloppy as hell.
About half-way through, however, I realized that this sandwich might be improved by layering some of my fries on top of the burgundy-colored meat mess, which I did, to excellent result: the blander and salty fries balanced the sweetness of the sauce, absorbed the greasiness, and most importantly, imparted an excellent crunch to the sandwich. Using fries as a condiment will now be a common practice for me, as it is in the Middle East and Lyon.
Overall, a fine eating experience. I noticed, too, that the bike that was out front when I arrived was still there when I left. It was unlocked. Probably belonged to one of the counter guys. Maybe so many cops eat at Mickey's, it's safe to leave your stuff unprotected. Mannheim has a rep for being kind of a rough stretch, but maybe like so many other places, it'd be best to look beyond the neighborhood.
Will I ever go back to Mickey's? Unlikely…but hey, I've never been back to Stacy's, either.
635 Mannheim, Bellwood