Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fox Restaurant & Pancake House, Aurora

Fox Restaurant & Pancake House
2290 Ogden Avenue
Aurora, IL 60504

November 22, 2006


We've driven past the Fox Restaurant & Pancake House more times than we can count, usually around the same time in the late afternoon, and the sight of the sun setting behind it is always kind of stunning. I realize that's casting an aura around it that it can't possibly live up to, and that constantly finding a sense of majesty in ordinary things like this is only serving to deprive me of experiencing real wonders -- the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, etc. -- that I owe it to myself to one day see in person. But that will have to wait.

Inside, the Fox Restaurant does what it can to live up to its name. That doesn't mean serving up fresh fox meat (though carnivores will find something called "broasted chicken" on the menu), but decorating the walls with a very foxy motif. You'll find plenty of fox pictures and fox statues along the walls, and even some real, stuffed foxes near the kitchen above the bar. There's even one in the cover of the menu! Obviously, vulpephobes will have to face (and hopefully conquer) their fears if they hope to make it through an entire meal here. The foxes are countered with lots of Chicago sports memorabilia, but only enough to bring back a few fond memories of the 80's Bears and 90's Bulls. Thankfully, it's not enough to turn the room into a tacky sports bar.

I've seen Palestine crepes listed on a few different menus before this but could never tell just what they were, and I've never felt bold enough to find out for myself until now. In a nutshell (well, in a crepe), they're crepes packed with more sour cream than the body should be able to safely digest. I can only guess that my yogurt-saturated childhood gave me some kind of extra tolerance for lactose, because I passed them just fine, but they were really filling. The crepes themselves were perfect: light, sweet, and with an almost rubber-like texture that stretches out just a little before tearing when you pull on them.


We arrived shortly after 2:00 in the afternoon, and for at least 20 or 30 minutes we were the only customers in the restaurant aside from a few other employees that seemed to be on their lunch break. After paying our check, we headed out to the Phillips Park Zoo, which was only a five minute drive away, and just as mysteriously under-attended as the Fox Restaurant. Granted, it was a weekday afternoon, which aren't considered "busy hours" for leisure-based establishments such as these, but Phillips Park is free, and what else is there to do in Aurora? Come watch the otters play and swim, or get a very up-close look at the cougars (at least when they're in the mood to lounge about on the platform next to the observation window, that is). The wolves are usually pretty active in their pen, though I can't say the same for their cousins in the fox exhibit, which are so sedentary that they could fit right in with the decor at the Fox Restaurant. Maybe they're nocturnal?


Amanda here. This time I finally broke away from my tradition of ordering blintzes everywhere I went and got the blueberry pancakes. They were okay, but honestly? Too many blueberries. I never thought I would say that about blueberry pancakes, since usually restaurants tend to be stingy with them, but if there seems to be more blueberry than pancake, it's too much. Also, some of the stems were still attached and they got stuck in my teeth. The first few bites were good, but after that I started to feel like I was wading through an endless swamp of blueberries and soggy, blueberry-juice-soaked batter. Maybe I should have ordered the blintzes. Or the Palestine crepes. I sampled some of Joe's, and they were pretty good. I have to wonder about the name, though. Why Palestine crepes? Are they from Palestine? Were the Palestinians the first guys who thought of putting sour cream in a shell and calling it a crepe? Or is it just one of those things, like french fries (pardon me, I mean freedom fries) that really has nothing to do with its nominal nationality?


I rather liked the stuffed foxes. I mean, I'm sure the foxes are not crazy about the situation, but their sacrifice will be appreciated by countless restaurant goers. Really, it's an honor. I can only hope that when the foxes evolve into intelligent beings with opposable thumbs and take over the world, they will display my remains in "Human Restaurant."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Elly's Pancake House, Arlington Heights

Elly's Pancake House
372 E Golf Rd
Arlington Heights, IL 60005

November 14, 2006


Out of the short but disparate list of different suburbs I've lived in over the course of my young adult life, Arlington Heights has to be my favorite town of residence so far. I don't really know how I'd justify that or how I might try to categorically compare it to Elgin, West Dundee, Elburn, or Aurora. I don't know how its average standard of living stacks up against those other municipalities, let alone if it's a "growing community" or "a good place to raise a family" or anything like that. I do know that it's the only place I've ever been the victim of a crime, as my car was broken into during the middle of the night nearly two years ago, and that I constantly complained about the window-rattling noise from planes taking off from and landing at nearby O'Hare, but in hindsight, those were small prices to pay for everything else that I enjoyed. I was happier there than I have been in any other town that I've called home, and though there were plenty of reasons for that that had nothing to do with the town itself, I did enjoy the well-stocked library, the parks and forest preserve, and the easy access to Chicago. There were plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance too, and the streets and sidewalks were clean, free of litter and broken glass. I wish I could say the same for Aurora, but the popular use of "trash cans" never really caught on here like it did in the rest of America.

One of our favorite places to eat, if only for breakfast and lunch, was Elly's Pancake House. Just a 20 minute walk away from my apartment, it was always easy to get to, at least until you had to cross the usually-busy Golf Road to finally reach the green awnings of Elly's. Once inside, we rarely encountered much of a wait to be seated, though we rarely dined during the peak hours of breakfast. Any time around noon or thereafter usually guarantees instant service, though they're only open until 4:00 on most days anyway. One of these days we'll have to request the smoking section, otherwise we'll probably never get to sit on the left/west side of the restaurant. There's a pretty-impressive mural on the wall there I wish I'd been able to take a picture of. Unfortunately, we didn't have our camera with us on Tuesday, which is why we don't have any photos to post here. Instead, we've attempted to draw our food, with mixed results as you can see. This blob of brown and blue is supposed to be my order of blackberry pancakes, which was much better than it probably looks here.


I've never been a good artist but on a good day I can sometimes draw pictures of things that actually look like what they are. Sometimes. It's been years since I last attempted to sketch anything at all, the last time I can remember being assigned cityscapes (complete with a proper "vanishing point" in the distance!) that could have passed for Wesley Willis originals back in eighth grade art class. Amanda's rendition of her colorful strawberry blintzes platter is a bit more appetizing.


One of Elly's more reliable treats is their freshly squeezed orange juice. I've never been too keen on oj with heavy pulp, but I can't get enough of it at Elly's. It tastes great, and it's just got to be healthier than juice from concentrate, right? Check out the stacks of oranges behind the counter as you come in and see if that doesn't tempt you right away. Maybe it's all just a clever ruse, a bait-and-switch that my untrained taste buds can't detect. If it is, they've pulled it off magnificently.

About the restaurant itself: it's spacious with lots of windows, so the stale, claustrophobic feeling that I get in so many other restaurants never really comes together here. I guess I could complain about the restroom, but the peeled wallpaper gives it a haunting, noir-like atmosphere. Plus, someone carved "DRAGON ARMY" into the men's room stall door. How cool is that? I haven't the slightest idea what the "DRAGON ARMY" is, though my guess would be an up-and-coming street gang. Even if that's really the case (again, I might be wrong), then I'm once again willing to forgive Arlington Heights for its occasional crime issues if its gangs continue to choose great names like that. It’s the price you pay for great pancakes, and more...

Amanda here. I don't know why, but I've been on a blintz kick lately, so I once again ordered the strawberry blintzes when we visited Elly's. So far, none of the blitzes I've ordered at various restaurants have compared to the ones at Downer's Delight, but they've all been pretty good, and Elly's is no exception. I ordered whipped cream on the side, expecting to get a little puff of it atop my food. Instead I got an entire bowl. I proceeded to slather it on and make a complete glutton of myself.

Our waitress was quite nice, though I can't help but wonder what she thought of us when she saw us drawing crude representations of our food.

It is worth noting that Elly's has an attractive menu. They also provide paper take-out menus. As you can see, on the cover is the restaurant itself. I'm not sure what those green streaks in the background are supposed to represent. Paint raining from the heavens? Zeus hurling down angry lightning bolts because mere mortals dared to create pancakes better than his, and must pay for their hubris? Countless alien spaceships landing in Arlington Heights just to sample Elly's famous orange juice? You decide.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lumes Pancake House, Orland Park

Lumes Pancake House
9060 W. 159th St.
Orland Park 60462

November 2, 2006


As a pancake restaurant reviewer, it causes me deep shame to admit that until I went to Lumes Restaurant, I never fully understood the difference between blintzes and crepes. I mean, they look kind of the same, and they're both shells stuffed with filling, so I guess I've always lumped them into the same category. I finally succumbed to curiosity and asked the waitress, and she informed me that blintzes contain a ricotta-cheese based filling, whereas crepes are just shells stuffed with a generous helping of whatever. Having learned this, I have ascended one rung higher on the long ladder to Pancake Nirvana, a state of total enlightenment in which all breakfast-related knowledge is clear to me. When I achieve Pancake Nirvana, rays of pure energy will shoot out of my body and I will be able to control matter with my mind. In addition to this, all breakfast items will feel an instinctive bond with me and come to my aid in times of trouble.

Fittingly enough, I ordered blintzes at Lumes. Strawberry blintzes, to be precise. They were smaller than the ones I had at Downer's Delight, but I found them satisfying, nonetheless. The ricotta-cheese based filling was the perfect consistency, neither too runny nor too solid. Joe sampled them and thought they were a little dry. Maybe I just like my blintzes dry. Maybe next time, I'll ask for a dry blintz on the rocks.


I suppose I should say a few words about the restaurant itself. Lumes is fairly nondescript, as far as pancake restaurants go. It has a classy, restrained feel, maybe because they don't cover the walls with kitsch. The windows let in plenty of light. Our waitress was polite and helpful. And the coffee was good. Good coffee may seem like a triviality, but nothing ruins a good meal like a mouthful of foul, gritty, lukewarm coffee dregs. And all too often, restaurant coffee is either sludgy and too strong, or so weak that it's just like brown water. This was neither.

My one complaint is the pancakes themselves. I didn't order them, but I tried a bite. They weren't horrible, but they were definitely substandard for an actual pancake restaurant, sort of what you'd expect from a store-bought mix. If you're in the mood for some really excellent pancakes, go elsewhere, but if you're in the mood for something else, Lumes offers a good variety of breakfast foods. It's worth a visit.

Just like Bakers Square and Downers Delight, Lumes Pancake House has deceivingly anti-apostrophic name designed to trip up even the most astutue observer. It's not Lume's, as a casual glance or a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend would suggest, but Lumes. This lack of possessiveness is troubling if you consider the possibility that the small chain is owned by one Lume (or Lumes) family. Where's the family pride? Unfortunately, this remains the only explanation for the name that makes sense, though, as neither Merriam-Webster or even Google are able to clear up the matter. Here's where a simple telephone call would likely give me the answer I need, but I'm not about to hassle someone with such a petty question.

Nomenclature aside, Lumes has a good selection of pancakes and other breakfast favorites. It had been a few weeks since I'd had a good waffle so I ordered one. No fruit or frills this time, just a regular waffle. It was pretty much what I expected, but the presentation was nice. Our friend Chris ordered the blueberry French toast, which came with a very generous portion of blueberry compote on top.

LumesBasicWaffle LumesBlueberryFT

For a Thursday afternoon, Lumes was fairly packed with customers, even though the photo below really doesn't capture that at all. It should give you a general idea of what you're in for, though. It's a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere that should appeal to all ages.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bakers Square, Orland Park

Bakers Square
15711 Harlem Avenue
Orland Park, IL 60462

October 31, 2006


With 151 restaurants across the country, Bakers Square isn't well-known as a breakfast hotspot. Seeing how their biggest draw is an after-dinner treat, that's unlikely to change any time soon. That said, they do serve breakfast, mostly omelettes and skillet dishes, with a few basic pancake and waffle options included.

Personally, I prefer the BS in St. Charles with its spacious dining room and their reliable serving staff of art school students. The crane machine is frustrating as hell, though. Steer clear! But on Halloween we decided to grab lunch at the Orland Park location, a smaller and decidedly less cheerful locale. I can't quite put my finger on what it is; the lighting, the scratched wood paneling around the booths, the clientele... I just get the feeling that most people around me, from the servers to the cooks to the other customers, would really rather be somewhere else instead. It's a psychic virus that's hard not to catch.

As usual, if it's after noon then you'll have to request the breakfast menu if you want to see any of their choices. I chose the basic pancake combo: pancakes, eggs, bacon. There's not much else to choose from if you want pancakes. What you see is what you get.


Nothing to write home about here. BS hold up their end of the bargain and deliver a startlingly average breakfast and nothing more. With so many other options available, especially in the vicinity of the Orland Square Mall, it's hard to recommend Baker's Square for anyone on the hunt for some good pancakes. We like the Chicken Caesar Pita and the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese for lunch and dinner, and we always stay for the pie, as they recommend. Coming for the food is just fine too, but if you're looking for a reliable breakfast haunt, you can do a lot better elsewhere.

Now if I can only figure out what this is for. I'm guessing that the numbers are supposed to light up, but I never see them turned on. Anyone?