The vents open and the hash brown grease intoxicates the city smell of the opposite side of the Chicago train tracks. Our olfactory senses wake up at rooster’s hours no matter if we’re drunk or sober. It’s better than incense and stronger than Poo-Pourri.
Like a bread crumb trail, the smells lead to Patsy’s Pies, a no-frills greasy spoon in the Canaryville community that’s far removed from the beauty that Chicago is known for. To put in perspective, it lays next to the old stockyards where Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle.
Because Patsy’s is away from the farm-to-table gentrified, millennial whatever, the community frequents the old-standby time and time again for all of the aspects that make a diner special: cheap, free refills on coffee, burnt toast, and the waitresses know who you are even if they just call you, “honey”.
Patsy’s serves a no-collar type of crowd. This isn’t the community that makes the papers. This is the community that no one ever pays any mind to, but they exist, and like everyone else, they have to eat.
No one stares and no one judges. A table full of slops is loud, proud, and obnoxious. Another table plans the next great murder and stick-em-up robbery. And a table in the back ogles the waitresses.
Food is crappy and perfect at the same time. People don’t order the steak and eggs, meatloaf, Denver omelet, or flapjacks. They order “the usual.” “The Usual” isn’t listed. It’s not a special. Every person that walks in Patsy’s has his or her usual. The slice of apple pie with extra cheddar and a cup of Joe is a usual. Well-done scrambled eggs with a mountain of extra crispy and sodium heavy hash browns slobbered with ketchup are a usual. A butter fried burger with American cheese made on the plancha with fat pre-frozen fries and a chocolate malt with cheap Thrifty ice cream is a usual.
Because everything is the usual, in a weird way an item can never be wrong. Cold open-faced turkey sandwiches that are supposed to be hot at any other diner around the US, are fine the way they are at Patsy’s because at least 300 people who have been going here over the past umpteenth years kinda-sorta adapted to it as being good.
With the area, the clientele, the socio-economic environment, the waitresses carry a wit and a high patience tolerance. Hollywood calls it a tough skin; the Mid West calls it spunk. I love spunk. Patsy’s is a little different than the normal diner because it gives ex-cons a second chance. Like the urban legend of The Original Pantry Café in Los Angeles, but only real.
Why do we keep on going to places like Patsy’s when fast food or frozen dinners are better and healthier? The ambience is one thing, but the feeling being lost in time and drinking a stale and tepid cup of coffee and burnt white bread is something of a lost art in today’s society. Long live Patsy’s Pies.
ATMOSPHERE: No-collar to white-collar men, women, and children act as if they were eating at their own house or apartment only they’re in the public eye.
SERVICE: Attentive if you’re kind or rude. But if you’re read, they’ll give you a piece of their mind verbally and physically.
SOUND LEVEL: Loud but doesn’t bother anyone. Every table minds their own business so any conversation or fight can be had.
RECOMMENDED: The Usual
DRINKS AND WINE: The Usual
OPEN: 7 days a week from 5am-10pm
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
Restrooms: Yes, but it’s only cleaned once a day