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Gas, Füd, Lodging
Judge Vardigan

Summer 2002
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Illinois

Amtrak it while you still can. The ride's only five hours from Ann Arbor, and you avoid the Chicago traffic. As for the füd ON the train, I cannot say. Its rating would be undefined, or maybe empty set -- I've been out of high school a long time. Anyway, I didn't try it. Saw it though, and it didn't look good.

Deboarding at historic Union Station, I walked in July's oven heat through intermittent rain and frequent gusts of dust from what looked and sounded like the jackhammering, dirt-lifting, craning, dozing, and wholesale reconstruction of downtown Chicago, encountering closed sidewalks everywhere I turned. It didn't help that I had no map, and seem to lack that vocal chord that asks for directions. I was in pursuit of a Chicago Dog, and on the advice of Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood book, I was aiming for Gold Coast Dogs (2 N. Riverside Plaza), a supposedly legendary doghouse.

Gold Coast DogWhen I finally arrived, backpack epoxied to my back with sweat, I discovered that Gold Coast Dogs is in a mini-mall. I located Gold Coast wedged between a Something Bad and Something Worse, I don't remember exactly, but let's say Bath & Body Works and...Sbarro. Gold Coast's interior: Gleaming white, wincing white, and not a patron in sight. On the walls though, many accolades, which I guess were encouraging. Of course, I also thought, who knows where they're from. After all, Füd Court reviews can be seen in San Francisco restaurant windows. Not exactly reputable, but people probably read them and possibly believe them. (Like those reviews you see in the paper for crummy movies like A.I.: "Oscar with a bullet! The year's first knock-out!" Raves Robert Mitchell of the Bemidgi Post-Gazette-Star-Press-Herald-Daily-Times. Tribune.)

Behind the counter the workers were sharing some laugh of all laughs. A laugh they will look back on later as one of the best of their lives. Apparently at my expense, because a quick hush fell over them as I approached. When I ordered, the kid replied, "Are you sure?" after everything I said. This seemed ominous. I was definitely sure that $2.99 for a CHI Dog, fries, and drink ("Cherry Coke, please."..."Are you sure?") was a bargain. The dog came with your traditional Chicago fixings: peppers, tomato, pickle spear, relish, mustard, sprinkle of celery salt. It was acceptable but I've had better at Moishe's, Red Hot Lovers in Ann Arbor, and elsewhere. I didn't deem it worth the sweat, misdirection, and bulldozers.

 

Noodles & Company
930 Church St.
Evanston, IL
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Here I ate with by-now-newlyweds and reader-eaters Stephanie Blackburn and Tim Freeth, along with their friend and bridesmaid Kathleen, a recent transplant to San Francisco and therefore soon to be an avid reader-eater. This place reminded me of Frisco (yeah I'm calling it that!), as it capitalizes on the current hot thing around here: noodles in a bowl. Everywhere you turn there's a Thai Noodle House in this town. Best of, King of, Sonofa, etc. Noodles & Company brings this trend to the Midwest, where they have restaurants in four states. There's nothing spectacular about it, but you can expect a solid, filling bowl of Pad Thai or Indonesian Peanut Saute noodles for about five bucks. Tim Freech (as he is usually referred to in print) noted their serving of water in huge glasses, a practice he believes should be more widespread.

 

Magz Comes ThroughMagz Breakfast-n-Lunch Xpress
111 S. Clinton
Chicago, IL
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In a last-ditch try for a better Chicago Dog experience, I wandered around near the train station just before leaving town, searching storefronts for signs of hot dogs inside. I found Magz, located in a food court (no relation) type of space just around the corner from Union Station. The menu's claim -- "MAGZ IZ REALLY COOKIN' BREAKFAST W/ 3 GRILLS" -- appeared to be true. This place satisfies a steady line of nearby toilers, featuring everything from burgers to omelettes to gyros to polies to corned beef. I got the Magz Red Hot for $2.75, with fries. I had a good feeling walking out with my Styrofoam, but witness the trepidation (photo) as I feared another lackluster wiener. The first bite cast out all fear. I ate on a curb out of earshot of construction with relish and mustard falling on the concrete and the bad Gold Coast feeling falling there too. Yes, this was a better dog, and I could get back on Amtrak to pass through towns like Niles and Dowagiac without regret or self-loathing.

Next stop: Wisconsin in the white Chevy Malibu.

 

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