Brunch · Full Complement

Salt ‘n Pepper Diner, Chicago: “I sure could go for a Tang.”

STEVE inherited a phone earlier this summer, and it came with the most incredible ring-tone. We call it just to hear that familiar riff from Push It, and wait (nearly breathless) for the yeaaahh in the middle. To myself, and occasionally not privately at all, I’ve been lamenting the lack of a really good ring-tone on my own phone. It’s a cute phone that fulfills all my requirements for a communication tool: it flips, it’s red, it makes and receives calls, and it can text. Basically, that’s all I want. Until now. Now, I want a truly awesome ring-tone.

Poor Lexxy put up with my moaning over my phone whenever my mother called me this past weekend (which was surprisingly often, considering the long-distance bills): “Man, if it just rang to U Can’t Touch This or, I dunno, Donna Summer. Wouldn’t that just make me want to answer the phone?” And so on.

I guess it finally got to her. Because, when we got into her cute Toyota Scion (why isn’t it a hybrid? it ought to be a hybrid!) to drive into the city for brunch, she told me the place was going to have “meaning.” Now, I’ve known this girl since 8th grade. So saying that something has “meaning” usually indicates that it has some random middle-school-esque significance. I was prepared for a music medley of Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, and TLC; I was steadying myself for waiters in saggy pants and too-large T-shirts. But what she picked–what she hand-picked–just for this occasion was so much greater, and ended up being significant on a multitude of layers.

Let me break it down. First, it was a light slap-on-the-wrist. The diner’s name? Salt ‘N Pepper Diner, which was (obviously) an allusion to Salt-n-Peppa, the group that made the amazingly ring-tone-adaptable Push It. French toast? Check, though Lexxy ended up being the one to order it. And theme? Oyez, 1950s.

‘Course, when Lexxy read an online review of the place, she figured the 1950s theme was going to be so in-your-face as to be completely unavoidable, and was understandably frantic to get there. (The girl likes her drama, and her themed diners even more.)

Truth be told, the decor was a little watered down. Though there was the stainless steel backdrop behind the bar and a poster of a 50’s Chevy, it was a little underwhelming. Especially since we were expecting waitresses in poodle skirts and horn-rimmed glasses. And at least a jukebox. Alas! We didn’t get that (though they do have an exceptionally 50s-esque clock), but we did get fed.

Lexxy went for the french toast, Bogarting my initial gut-choice. Back in our middle school days, she’d come panting around my kitchen for my daddy’s french toast and then end up staying the weekend. This rendition of the breakfast classic, covered in bananas and cream and nuts, was a close contender to my daddy’s own, and was certainly filling and beautifully presented. (My dad is a closet banana-phobe and won’t garnish anything with bananas, let alone nuts; purist he is, confectioner’s sugar “will just have to suffice.”)

Ousted from my french toast quest, I fell back on a new favorite. Since I’d been on a burrito theme (Chipotle, anyone?) already in Chicago, I ordered the breakfast burrito: hash browns on the side, but the burrito itself packed with eggs, guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, and various other tasty brunch-appropriate fare. Yeah, it made my belly hurt. But once doused with ketchup and cut into, it was heavenly. McDonald’s, you leave a heck of a lot to be desired.

We talked, naturally, about the fact that we’ve been friends for over a decade. We’ve been locked in together, and had to be busted out by locksmiths and a very capable carpenter. We’ve eaten sand, climbed inside the pyramids, and jumped on moving mini-buses. We’ve changed diapers together (Justine, you so owe us). We’ve snorkeled together. (Her sister almost drowned me that time, too.) We’ve been through three different continents together, a series of serious boyfriends (none of them shared; we’re not that close), one stage show (hers), one gallery show (also hers), and a variety of other life-changing times together. It’s been more than a decade, and we’re looking forward to a lifetime more.

Which, in essence, was why the Salt ‘n Pepper Diner was so perfect: we love the 1950s (the style! the cars! the music! the Hepburns!) and we love food, and the combination of the two–albeit a little questionable–was delicious. But as we looked around, we had to admit: the Salt ‘N Pepper is a poser. It has the sense and idea of the 50s, but not the execution. It’s so close, though; and, really, who’s keeping score? Just like Down With Love, sometimes it’s just better to sit back and enjoy the product than nitpick the little details. After all, it’s on the good times that solid friendships are built, and it’s the good times that keep them alive.

-bisoux

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