First Bites: Mr. D's Shish-Kabob

Much as I liked the food, I very much enjoyed the vibe

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By David Hammond

Embarrassed as I am to admit it, though Mr. D’s Shish-Kabob has been around for something like 35 years, I had my first bites there just the other day. The challenge has been that this is a lunch place that opens around 10AM shuts down around 6PM (5PM on Saturday; closed Sunday).

Mr. D’s is a 20 minute bike ride from downtown Oak Park.

In addition to limited hours, Mr. D’s also has a somewhat limited menu, focusing on red meat offerings like hamburgers and steak sandwiches and, of course, shish-kebab.

The shish-kebab was about as good as this simple sandwich gets. The beef is marinated and put on the grill, watched over carefully by Mr. D and wife, cradled into an Italian roll with some extra juice, half-tomato slices, and a few shakes of a seasoning jar (largely oregano, it seemed). The meat was full of flavor, lean but not at all dry, interspersed with onion slices that provide some moisture and sweetness to the meat. The sandwich comes with a lemon slice, which, on the same principle as the Italian ice served with Johnnie’s Italian beef, adds a pleasingly tangy citrus counterpoint to the meat.

Each sandwich comes with a lot of French fries, piled on each sandwich with gravity-defying bravado. These fries are somewhat legendary (I’d heard a lot about them from food enthusiast friends), and they do not fail to match their reputation for crispy freshness.

As much as I liked the food, I very much enjoyed the vibe of Mr. D’s.

I grew up not far from this small place, and watching the people come in at noon for lunch, I couldn’t help but remember the folks I used to see around my ‘hood in Portage Park when I was still in single digits. There were the Eastern European construction workers, hunkering down to lunch and holding sandwiches tight in hands that even multiple washings would not cleanse of the oil and dirt from a hard day’s work. There were moms with kids, a couple or two, and a mother with her adult daughter (though they looked very close in age). The daughter, early thirties I’m guessing, had a pixie-face with skin reddened and toughened by maybe a little too much sun and cigarette smoke and booze. She had on a subtly grubby tank top with pink sweat pants and the word “Sweet” emblazoned on the butt. She finished lunch and got up to cross the restaurant to say hi to a man sitting with a preternaturally blonde women at a table in the corner.

HER: Don’t you remember me? You stood up for our wedding?

HIM: Sure, I do.

HER: How you been?

HIM: Great. How’s George?

HER: He’s still “away.”

HIM: How long’s he got?

HER: Fifteen years.

She went on to explain the cause for George’s extended stay in a government-subsidized dormitory, but even my stunted sense of decency rebelled at the thought of further eavesdropping, though I’m pretty sure no one would have cared.

My lunch was about $7.50 for a shisk-kebab, fries and drink. You would probably like this place.

6656 W Diversey Ave

Chicago, IL 60707

773.637.0042

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