In every town, I try to locate interesting diners. Diners are an American tradition, seen in many Hollywood movies and representative of the community spirit often found in the States. Locals gather to eat cheap and tasty food in a cozy setting, catch up on local news and gossip and spend time with friends. Over the weekend in Chicago, I found a really interesting one called "The Silver Palm." As you can see, the diner is an actual train car.
The diner opened in 2003 and is named after an Amtrak passenger train originally running the route from Miami to Tampa, Florida. The route was discontinued in 1985 as a result of Florida budgetary cuts. However, the Silver Palm was reborn in 1996 running a longer route from Miami to New York City. Amtrak changed the name of the train in 2002 and it's now called "Palmetto."
1. The diner is located about 15 minutes outside Chicago city center, very close to the Ukrainian Village. I visited this ethnic neighborhood and will write a separate report about it, but you can see a cathedral in the distant background. The train car was purchased from the Monad Railway Equipment Company in California and is an actual 1947 dining car, serving in the same capacity as it did on the original train. The owner battled the City of Chicago to get permits to use the car as a dining facility. After a lengthy battle, the Board of Appeals approved it and a special contractor was hired to create the rail foundation and crossing signals. By the way, I've never taken a long journey on a passenger train in the States or anywhere else. Maybe next time I visit Russia I'll go on a train journey. Sure to be an interesting experience.
2. When you first enter the diner you are immediately directed to the dining car.
3. A separate and modern bar is attached to the train car for those who want more space.
4. The bar and actual dining car are filled with amusing and novel signs.
5. Men, this is excellent advice!
6. The bar area is small and leads to the entrance of the dining car. Notice the sign "Smoking is Not Permitted on Trains." Of course anyone who has traveled to America knows smoking is prohibited almost everywhere (restaurants, stores, stadiums, concert halls, even some public parks, etc.). It's one thing I really hated in Russia, going to restaurants or bars and being surrounded by a haze of cigarette smoke. If people want to smoke, it's their choice. However, I prefer to not have it blown in my face at every second.
7. Now we enter maximum coolness! The dining car itself is very, very cramped. Six tables with four seats on each side. The diner opens at 6 p.m. daily and I arrived shortly thereafter on a Saturday evening. Only three other tables occupied at the time.
8. The dining area has photos of different pinup girls from the 1950s. I apologize for the poor quality of the photos but it was dark and cramped in the dining area. Not ideal shooting conditions for a beginner like me.
9. More clever and interesting signs.
10. The whole dining car was filled up within fifteen minutes after my arrival. The diner is open until 2 a.m. on most nights.
11. Very low ceilings.
12. Server's head almost touches the top and there's not much room to maneuver around and carry dishes, drinks, etc.
13. The diner has a huge drink menu and I understand many people come here simply to enjoy cocktails and not eat. They looked very good but I never drink alcohol when traveling alone. Probably not the smartest thing for a solo female traveler to do. I always make sure I can get back to my lodging area on my own.
14. Most diners have large menus with every type of food imaginable (Greek, American, Chinese). This menu was pretty small and the prices more expensive than typical American diners. Average meal was $18. I had some type of chicken dish with rice and carrots. Before the meal guests are served complimentary sweet cornbread. It was delicious! Common practice in most American restaurants to bring free bread or biscuits before the main meal.
15. The table beside me ordered this huge slab of meat. I think it was pork spare ribs but I'm not sure. I'm not a big meat eater. If you like meat this photo probably looks heavenly.
16. These young guys were sitting across from me. Very friendly and both were eating the signature sandwich of the diner. It's called the "Three Little Pigs" - a pork lover's dream. It contains smoked ham, a fried pork chop, two strips of bacon, cheese and topped with two fried eggs. Ohhh, sick just writing this. :))) But the sandwich is famous and was featured on a popular travel show - Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" (video below). Here you can also see the owner. Unfortunately, he wasn't there when I visited.
There's something special about American diners that can never be explained in words. I visited "The Starlite Diner" in Moscow, with its hookah and young crowds. Sure it looks like an American diner on the inside and outside, with a similar menu. The facade is there but the true spirit of an American diner cannot be manufactured. It must be experienced.