The Diner Grill suffered a fire in December 2016 that shut it down. Almost two long years later, it’s reopened.
No Michelin stars will be obtained for the Diner Grill. You’re not bringing your S.O. here on Valentine’s Day. This is not where you celebrate your wedding/birthday/anniversary/divorce. It’s where you sit down at one of the generous stools facing the brand-spanking new stainless steel grill and order a Slinger.
Or pancakes, or a catfish sandwich, or any of the other items titled in giant capitals on the menu in front of you and here’s the thing, you’ll probably do so after a long night of adult beverages have caused you to reconsider a) the caliber of your friends, b) beer and c) your life so far, and landed you, wavering and unsteady, in this blindingly fluorescent-lighted narrow eatery that has been serving Chicago late-night owls like you since before World War II.
I don’t want to paint this as a midnight drunk’s diner, but the stories I heard in the light of day trended toward that kind of personal relationship with the Diner Grill. All of those stories, I must report, were delivered in an almost wistful tone of someone now a little older, a little wiser, two kids and a dog richer than they were back in the day which is when they heaved their inebriated carcass onto a stool for the kind of food that is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for a speedy return to sobriety.
Like the Slider, invented at this very diner: an untidy foundation of hash browns supporting two burger patties, cheese, and fried eggs, all topped by a this-is-how-I-eat-at-home sized portion of chili. Cajun pepper sauce is at hand for anyone who’s not Canadian and knows how to eat.
The slider isn’t about food. The slider is about physiology. Your gut, currently cleaning its high water mark with tequila and Malort, needs a kind of nutritional over-watch while it rebuilds. A slinger provides exactly the right level of basic grub so your sorely maligned stomach can power through this process and get you home without incident. It has been a steaming hot helping of wise guidance for generations, handed down by sage friends and low-maintenance chill Uncles willing to mentor their up-and-coming miscreant wards for the good of God and country.
But the Slinger might deserve to get busted down a peg in the slim pantheon of post-midnight boozehound chow. If you really want to come back to life, order the chilaquiles (cheelo keelays). But be prepared. When I ordered the chilaquiles my waitress and the cook exchanged a meaningful glance and I said Wait a minute: should I order the chilaquiles? And the cook stared at me for a full fifteen seconds then said, no.
So I did.
I’m served two eggs on a bed of fried tortilla strips – and I’m breaking southern here because only the wide-bodied prolixity of hand-crafted nomenclature from my native state of Alabama can properly capture this thing – slathered with the kind of salsa verde that can make an alpaca kick a hole in a well. I put hot sauce on it before I even took a bite not because I had some kind of experience with unsauced chilaquiles, but because there was a bottle of hot sauce on the counter and I am a grown man. So, it was spicy. I don’t subject myself to such distress to prove anything, but for you, gentle reader, so that you may enjoy your chilaquiles without scorching your uvula like you’d just snorted napalm.
Chilaquiles has all the requisite components to make it a serious contender for the best post-IPA-binge dish: the fried tortillas are crunchy and salty and already cut bite-sized and choke proof; the eggs are griddled until their edges sport a fine, nearly invisible caramel colored edge, the salsa verde is fresh and exactly as hot as you want it WITHOUT THE APPLICATION OF ADDITIONAL SAUCE unless you’re a glutton for punishment or you’re adding it to your drunk friend’s order while they’re not looking.
About halfway through you will come suddenly into focus as your body responds to the flavors and the textures, forcing you to drink a lot of water because holy molé that sauce – which is good because you’re probably dehydrated and boom, you’re a new man: strong, upright, eyes full of fire, ready to rally and go back for more.