Usually you’d see a place like Stella’s Diner and think – Oh, that’s sweet they must have named it after their long-gone great grandmother. – and you walk in and get sub-standard food with sub-standard service.
Not at Stella’s.
You walk in – and Stella, a feisty Greek matriarch is sitting right there to welcome you and hand you a menu (while lovingly berating her kids and grand-kids working the cash register). Her diner is on Broadway and Barry. The building features a massive hand holding utensils and a pinky ring (I asked her and the pinky ring is because her husband always wore one). I think they have the cheapest and best breakfast in the neighborhood ($8.50 for eggs, bacon, toast, fresh fruit and a beverage).
I probably eat there at least once a week for breakfast – it’s replaced my usual weekly Ann Sather’s journey now that I’ve moved (sorry Tom Tunney!). And ever since I got the scoop on Melrose from an ex-employee (lousy owner that doesn’t care about service), I feel more allegiance to Stella’s than before (though Nookie’s remains the best dinner menu with Stella’s a close second – of course this is in the category of American-style diner fare – asian food remains Ecce and Peking). Plus, it is literally less than a block away. I’ve found I should never shop for groceries while hungry so I’ll go there to eat and then walk to the grocery store 2 doors down.
Today, Stella was wrestling with the credit card terminal at the counter and chiding You have to treat it like a man – yell at it! Transactions were going through slowly. I suggested she try soothing it and petted the plastic terminal box – my transaction went right through. While she was doing this her daughter Maria was going to go outside and bring in a hundred pound box of something. Of course Stella knew she’d break her back. Lift with your legs, not your back, that’s what my dad would say, I said. I also added: I hope you’ve got workers comp if she gets injured.
You think I give her workers comp?, Stella countered.
This is another example of Chicago being a city of neighborhoods. Yes there is insularity. Yes there is homogeity. But yes, there are also those personalities that you get to know and love and businesses that you feel affection for.