The Wife was out of town at a seminar, and after an afternoon helping my northside Auntie queue up for Netflix, I found myself at Lake Shore Drive and Belmont at 7:30PM on a Saturday night. I decided to play Restaurant Roulette.
Chowhounds always prowl for new places, strange, out-of-the-way joints, off the mainstream radar. Despite good intentions, many of us are still bound by the manacles of the conscious mind, stymied by personal routines of restaurant selection that lock us into the usual. We sometimes dismiss places if they look too familiar/unfamiliar, uninteresting, threatening, what-I’m-not-in-the-mood-for, whatever. I had been thinking that the only way to overcome the constraints of routine vision would be to design a random restaurant selection technique (kind of like my friend and Oak Parker, Rob Gardner, who at Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown would order items based on misspellings and malapropisms).
So how do you go to a place at random? By playing Restaurant Roulette, of course! My rules are simple.
1. Search out a restaurant based on a random set of coordinates. For instance, Saturday night, as I turned onto Belmont from LSD, I decided that starting from the first intersection of streets the first letters of which spelled a word (this turned out to be the intersection of Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont, which spells “lab”), I vowed to go to the 25th restaurant (because it was January 25th) on my left-hand side (because I was feeling sinister). This may sound complicated, and you can probably design a simpler formula for defeating your mind’s tendency to be regular and routine.
2. As I counted down, I decided not to count franchises or places like bars or convenience stores that just happen to serve food along with their main offering. (Is this sounding crazy enough yet?)
3. The final and most important rule: I vowed to DEFINITELY eat at the destined restaurant, no questions asked, no backing out: if you say you’re going to eat at the 25th restaurant on your left, then damn it, do so (you may not, as when you were a kid, flip a coin to decide an issue, and then go against the flip; un-unh, Restaurant Roulette doesn’t work that way).
Incidentally, several weeks before, I had suggested to Carolyn that we try this dadaistic Restaurant Roulette approach. She rolled her eyes with the now familiar expression that clearly said, “I married a moron.” Restaurant Roulette is a mind-game ideally suited for play when The Wife’s away.
So here’s how my Restaurant Roulette saga played out that Saturday night. I started the countdown, as mentioned, at Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont. When I hit Belmont/Pulaski, I had counted only 6 restaurants on my left. At Belmont/Austin, I had counted 11 restaurants, and I realized at that point that I had committed to a long evening, but I WAS committed (see rule 3, above). The road twisted, and around Stone Park, Belmont turned into Pacific. By hanging a left when I hit a dead end, I was eventually going south on Mannheim and still looking for the 25th restaurant on my left.
Finally, an hour after starting this quest, I came to the 25th restaurant on my left: Stacy’s, a stone cottage cum roadhouse-type place on Mannheim road. I was inspired. Snow was sizzling off the hot pink neon of signs that buzzed Steak and Seafood.? The place was full when I walked in, a lively crowd of young folks on dates and whole families sitting around long tables clinking glasses and gnawing beef, gregarious goodfellows on a cold night. It was warm inside, well-kept, and old school. Me likey. I sat down at the bar and ordered a Jack (decent pour).
Now, as I get older, I find myself more prone to strike up conversations with random strangers, so I started chatting with the guy to my left: Wayne. We got along, so I suggested we share a table — which we did, after repeatedly confirming to each other that neither of us was gay (which I think is something two totally straight guys, completely secure in their sexuality, would normally effusively and emphatically assure one another of, right?).
Wayne, I’m certain, is the weirdest, strangest, most verbalicious high-velocity gentleman I’d met that year. He indulged me as I spoke of my daughter in China, my this, my that, and then he launched into a 3-hour transgalactic exposition of his life as an abused child prodigy, widower of a murdered super model wife, former CIA agent, UFOlogist, friend of those who really know what went down at Roswell, and currently the owner of a company (site link below) that is offering several technologies Wayne invented, including a UFA (universal frequency array) that, according to Wayne, far outstrips the traditional parabolic dish and could be used, not incidentally, to help prove that the US did NOT actually land on the moon (the Company staged the fabricated moon landing only to scare the ass off the Russkies; to back up this mother conspiracy theory, here’s the clincher clue according to Wayne: there’s NO debris left on the surface of the moon from the alleged US landing, no launch pod, no lunar rover, no flag, no nothing).
The Hubble telescope accident, as Wayne explained, was no accident. Our shadow government (those who pull the strings behind our then-marionette president) did not want the Hubble Telescope to work because it would reveal the lack of aforementioned equipment left on the moon. So, when they fixed the Hubble, they recalibrated it so it would work for only deep space exploration, and not for nearby heavenly bodies, like the moon, where close investigation would reveal what THEY don’t want us to know. Wayne told me all this would be exposed over the next two years…but this was more than two years ago.
One may comfortably assume that Wayne’s product line was back-engineered from extraterrestrial technology.
Any who, for dinner, I had the peppercorn butt steak, and it was fabulous. The server suggested I have the hash browns, and I did, and they were fabulous. I would go to this place again.
After dinner, Wayne invited me to his lab (remember that word?) to check the equipment they’re designing and which, he believes, he will soon be selling at the rate of 6,000 units a month. On Wayne’s site, his tagline is: “We are coming through the portal by the thousands.”
Overall, a completely unexpected, serendipitous, and memorable dining experience, made possible because I decided to play…Restaurant Roulette!
845 Mannheim Road
Bellwood, Illinois 60104-2017