Foster Avenue, which separates the 5100 and 5200 blocks of North Chicago
, is one of those streets which is in a perpetual state of maintenance, though the sort of maintenance that is plied to its length never includes the actual state of the road itself. I often commented that if one were to walk along it, beginning at Lake Michigan
to its end somewhere in the West Suburbs, one could easily assemble a fully operational vehicle from all the parts laying, battered and defiant, along its sides.
However, it is not without its high points, chief among which are three comfy restaurants where I have personally perched my bony tush for hours countless and fruitful and over-caffinated. The three that I am speaking of are George's, The Cozy Corner, and Tre Kronor. And while The Green Dolphin is quite a breadth more famous (it was at one point a favorite hang out for that legendary boot-legger, Al Capone), it is rightly considered a bar, not a full-service restaurant, so I am not going to include it here.
To begin with, let’s review George's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor, located just West of Kedzie, across the street from North Park University. First built in the late fifties, it has been a consistent hang out for students of the University and Seminary. It is owned and still operated by George and Helen, whose last name I can neither remember nor spell. They are the archetypal Greek couple, barking loudly at each other at all times of the day, and quite friendly with their clientele as long as said patrons are not drinking, gambling, or making too big of a scene. The restaurant comes complete with a smoking section which will be packed most nights by chain smoking Assyrian men, chain smoking American youth, and, every Sunday evening, a pair of men, one Jewish, the other smoking a pipe, who insist on having the same exact theological discussion with each other with hardly a variance from week to week.
The waitresses there turn over every nine to twelve months, depending on the belligerence quotent of their mulletted husbands, or the pending of their GED test results. They will give you another cup of coffee if you ask them, and don't worry too much about not having much of a tip, as they will let it slide, usually, till the next afternoon.
Recommended items from the menu: Gyros special; Eggs with toast and hash browns; Greek salad.
Items to avoid at all cost: Anything that was supposed to come from the sea.
Next on our list is The Cozy Corner, located on the corner of Foster and Lincoln. This place is open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. It was at one time owned by the mob, until someone forgot to pay off the cops, then it was closed down for about three months, and re-opened, without the prostitute operation upstairs. Yes, those are bullet holes in the wall, and pretend you don't see the greasy haired gentlemen walking briskly in and out. Do not stare too long at the mirror at the end of the restaurant, as it is one of those "Two way" deals you see in police movies. But, despite this air of danger and criminality, the service is quick, and the food is cheap. Cigarettes can be bought at the counter and I don't think they mind too much if all you're gonna have is a cup of coffee.
Lastly, and my favorite, is Tre Kronor, located on the corner of Spaulding and Foster. Owned by another foreign couple, this one from Sweden, its name is Swedish for "Three Crowns." This may be a theological reference, but I think its something cultural. It was opened in 1996, I believe, and will be packed every morning until about twelve thirty. It is a beautiful space, the widows have lacey white curtains, and a big, colorful mural of dancing Gnomes adorns one wall. Also, the waitresses are always friendly and beautiful and no older than twenty-five. It is a perfect place for a comfortable date, and, though the husband was never too keen on this, the wife always nodded her approval at me when I would spend four or five hours sitting quietly at a table by myself, writing and reading and sipping cup after cup of medium-bodied coffee. Of the three restaurants I've mentioned, this has got to be the cleanest, calmest and most polite, so you may want to bring your raucous political commentaries elsewhere, and save Tre Kronor for more monastic moods.
Anything on their menu is excellent. My favorite breakfasts are the Ander’s Hash and Eggs, and the Belgium Waffle (fresh fruit, real whip cream!). Also, the Eggs Benedict isn't bad at all.
So there you have my three highest recommended restaurants on Foster Avenue. I am still known at George's, actually I've done quite a bit of bullshitting in the smoking section with the American Youth, and the Assyrians might recognize me by face, but I've only gotten so far as nodding at them through plumes of blue smoke and once or twice ducking through a heated debate of theirs on my way to the bathroom.