Monday, March 01, 2004

Depot blog.

This past weekend was like being on furlough -- maybe not from prison, since I don't know what that would be like -- but from somewhere unpleasant. The temps lifted. It was the fag-end of February and it felt like April.

On Saturday we were in Winnetka, the suburb just north of the better-known North Shore suburb of Wilmette, which itself is just north of Evanston, which is just north of Chicago. All of these suburbs line the western shore of Lake Michigan, which does wonders for real estate values in that part of metro Chicago.

Winnetka's not a large town, but it has all the North Shore accoutrements, including a walkable downtown sporting a mix of small shops, from professional services (realtors, doctors, banks, etc.) to overpriced gewgaw -- I mean antique -- shops. We spend some time at a local park playground, and walked along the sidewalks looking at a few of the shops. Ann was thrilled to toddle along the sidewalks. She also took a cotton to Winnetka's bright yellow fire hydrants, which are taller than she is.

For lunch we stopped by the Depot Restaurant. I'd seen it before, and it looked promising, but the only other time I'd wanted to go, it was too crowded. The name refers to the nearby commuter rail station, which is across the street (catty-cornered) and down an embankment. A sign says there's been a restaurant of that name at that place since early in the Coolidge administration. (It actually said, "Since 1924.")

The Depot occupies the corner of a building, and is longer and narrower than most restaurants, with both sides lined with worn-looking booths. Toward the back, things open up a bit, and there's room for a few tables, just in front of a counter that isn't lined with stools. Even though there are windows all along on wall, it seems a little dim inside, maybe because brown is such an important color in part of the walls and most of the booths.

Decor is spartan. Plants in hanging baskets. Small flags in the baskets, too. And a few RR signs on the walls -- including one advertising Amtrak, for crying out loud. Tacked to the wall all the way around, way up near the ceiling, is a model train track. "Tacked" is the right verb, since it looks like a sturdy but amateur bit of carpentry on someone’s part. A three-car model train, bigger than HO but I don't know what size, tirelessly made its rounds.

We were just in time to get a booth. The place was alive with people, and nearly every spot was occupied by families with small children out for a Saturday lunch. We fit right in. Drinks: Diet Coke for Yuriko, Green River for Lilly, lemonade for me. Green River is a sweet, emerald green concoction only available in greater Chicago or on the Internet, as far as I can tell. An outfit named Sethness-Greenleaf makes it, that company is located in the Chicago 773 area code, and the drink's motto is "First for Thirst Since 1919."

Soon after I first moved to Chicago in the late '80s, my friend Kevin D. introduced me to Green River, along with another little-known soft drink, Mickey Melon. That was a watermelon-flavored drink apparently created by Mickey Rooney. It was as awful as it sounds.

But back to the lemonade. It was the best lemonade I'd had in months. My mouth puckers up just thinking about it: a fine harmony of major sour and minor sweet. The best since I discovered a pretty good brew last year at Middle Eastern eatery in the food court of the State of Illinois building.

The food didn't disappoint either. I had a good gyros plate, and they did right by the nachos Yuriko ordered. Even Lilly's dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets were tasty. Total tab: a shade over $20. A very likeable place.


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