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Counting on the Monte Cristo -- George's, Oak Park

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Counting on the Monte Cristo -- George's, Oak Park

David Hammond | Oct 9, 2002 03:23 PM

George’s is a little restaurant on Oak Park Avenue that proudly boasts “Broiled Food” on its brand-new awnings. Inside, the basic restaurant area is a throwback to the coffee shops of yore. Jell-O on display, smell of java and cigarettes, and a load of sammiches on the virtually unchanging menu.

A racquetball partner told me his “derelict mother” usually sits in the back of George’s, scorching out butts in overflowing ashtrays, and waiting for the next lottery drawing. Sure enough, when I was at George’s for lunch today, there was a battalion of the life-battered, slouching in naugahyde booths that have conformed, over time, to their individual bodies, single-handedly keeping Philip Morris stock afloat. These are the old guard, the standbys, the local shut-ins who venture out once, maybe twice a day to eat, socialize, smoke, and then it’s home, where a little sleep rounds their day and they come back to George’s at dawn for breakfast. The waitress calls them “hon” or by their first names, and they flirt and cough and smile. This is the kind of clientele that George’s – and probably other coffee shops – exist to serve. People with time to sit, have pie, watch television and talk. Probably a dying breed.

Teacher I know at the local high school tells me that George’s is the place that administrative assistants go; teachers eat at the slightly more upscale “Thyme and Honey” down the street – thus is class stratification dramatized in something as simple as restaurant choice in this relatively small community within a small community.

I went to George’s for a Monte Cristo, inspired by Ron’s post last month. Upfront, lemme say, sandwiches usually bore me – I don’t even like the sound of the word, “sandwich.” At worst, they are dry, unimaginative, easy-eatin' – maybe the world’s first fast food (after matzo). Maybe they’re just too darn easy – like the caprese salad. I don’t know, anyway, at best, I usually find them just okay – and I fully disclose that maybe my experience is too limited in the area of pro-sandwich making.

What the Monte Cristo has going for it is that the whole shebang is battered and fried together, ensuring high moisture and a forced marriage of ingredients that ensures a holistically integrated (if not altogether wholesome) sammich.

George’s does not disappoint on the Monte Cristo front. Moments after I ordered, the golden brick was laid before me, steaming. Slicing into it was like splitting the yolk of a fried egg: the cheesiness flowed, drenching the fried bread, and floating out pieces of ham like tiny red rafts on a high-fat flume. This is not a sammich you order when wearing suit and silk tie (but who the hell wears that anymore!?). The cheese, incidentally, is Swiss (so very preferable to American), and the ham and turkey were rough-cut and hot so the flavor popped. What condiment did I use on this? Nope. Nothing. Not even mustard, which would be a natural.

I’m eating, and I hear Barbara, the big, blustery mom-type waitress, shout to some departing workmen, “Don’t stay away for six months next time. We worry about you when we don’t see you.” Moments later, she snaps to the cook, “Look at me, Johnny. Be nice to me, Johnny. I might not be here tomorrow.”

Sweeping up the last of the entirely superfluous French fries, I notice a little guy with glasses shuffling in. The younger, prettier waitress greets him with, “Here he is. In for his mid-afternoon coffee,” and goes to get the cup. The manager takes it from her, and says, “That’s okay. I’ll get it.” As he opens sugars to prepare this regular’s regular, he says, “Just after I wash my hands you come in.” Laugh of people who’ve known each other for years but maybe never actually conversed with one another.

I walked home from George’s, which is a good thing, because I think my heart slowed down a little while eating the Monte Cristo. Might not be a bad idea for George to install an electrified door handle/welcome mat combo that would automatically defibrillate cholesterol-dazed patrons as they leave the shop.

George’s is not a destination dining experience, not by any means, but it was right for a day when you’re sitting home, worried about your kids, amazed how some invisible hand could have so thoroughly looted your portfolio, and how we’re toeing the edge of war so that maybe we won’t notice that the emperor has no clothes.

Georges is a local joint that does an honest job with simple foods…something you can count on.

Also, George has a hat-rack – a disappearing cultural artifact. On a disturbing note, the last time I was there they had a revolving pie rack – it is now gone.

George’s
145 South Oak Park Avenue
Oak Park, IL
(708-848-4949)

Incidentally, I favor the Cuban Monte Cristo cigars (#4s), which derived their name from the Dumas book that rollers loved to have read to them as they hand-pressed their world-class stogies in the third world heat. Don’t know where the name for the sandwich came from, but a brief explanation of this and similar creations can be found through the attached link.

Link: http://members.cox.net/jjschnebel/san...

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