Because I won't be able to attend the upcoming Westernathon--at least most of it--I undertook my own version last Saturday. Truth be told, I ate at only one restaurant and stopped in at a second to use the rest room.
Julia's is housed in a small, neat brick building on a semi-industrial stretch of South Western Avenue. A sign hanging in front says Truckers Welcome and red neon letters in the window spell out Home Cooking. Only when looking at the menu does it become apparent that Julia's is a Lithuanian restaurant.
Inside there's a formica counter with a dozen stools and about ten tables. Lots of fake flowers decorate the room together with some St Patrick's hangings and more than a few US flags and God Bless America signs. When I was there on a Saturday afternoon two waitresses were doing their best to keep up with a full house (and doing quite a good job of it, I might add).
The menu lists a lot of common stick-to-your-ribs dishes including beef liver, chopped sirloin, veal cutlet, and lots of sandwiches. The daily specials are mostly Lithuanian and the most interesting. Some of the Saturday offerings are: roast duck with dumplings, sauerkraut, salad, and dressing; smoked butt with kraut, and boiled potato; pork loin with kraut, and dumplings; stuffed peppers with tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, and vegetables; stuffed cabbage the same way; homemade cheese blintzes with fresh strawberries and sour cream; homemade meat dumplings with bacon sauce, and vegetables. All include soup and rye bread and none top $6. A combination platter ($5.95) comprises homemade sausage, sauerkraut, cabbage, kugelis, dumplings, and sour cream.
I started with a large bowl of sauerkraut soup. It was hot and fresh but had the bite of beef bouillon cubes. It tasted fine on a raw winter day but I've had better versions. As the waitress delivered my plate of smoked butt she asked if I wanted horseradish. When I answered yes, she returned with two different varieties. My kind of place. By the way, Thor brand is a good one. Both the butt and kraut were very long-cooked, tender, and very tasty. The single large boiled potato was notable because it was properly done, not overcooked and mushy. With the check I received a complimentary jelly-filled paczki (or whatever they call them in Lithuania). I will certainly return to explore more of the menu.
I didn't see the breakfast menu but wouldn't be surprised if Julia's does a good job with this meal. A small sign behind the counter read Now Serving Home Style Grits.
If you want to sample Lithuanian cuisine for the first time I'd probably suggest Healthy Food or Mabenka. If you want to visit another of the rapidly dwindling Lithuanian restaurants in the city or if you enjoy real blue collar Chicago places with pretty good food, Julia's might be just the thing.
4440 S Western Av
Chicago IL 60632