Smile Politely

A fresh look at Old Chicago

This last weekend I hopped in the ol’ DeLorean and took a trip to Old Chicago. So strap in and lets go for a journey. Maybe I am exaggerating a little, but the recently opened restaurant piqued my interest, so I took the opportunity to check it out.

Occupying the prime real estate that used to be Smokey Bones (and most recently empty for the last few years) at 1910 N. Neil St. in Champaign, Old Chicago fashions itself as a pizza and pasta place with a sports bar thrown in. But just like a Transformer, or a tootsie pop, there is “More than meets the eye.” Enveloping more than just the expected Italian palate, the menu offers steaks, seafood, burgers, calzones, an all-you-can-eat pizza bar at lunch, Stromboli, and a unique appetizer selection.

The girlfriend and I were a party to the Stromboli and the Calzone offering. The meatball Stromboli was quite delectable but at the same time it was nothing more then what I expected. The old lady chose the Chicken Club Calzone which was composed of chicken, bacon, spinach, tomatoes, green onions and ranch onions. Once again it didn’t overly impress either of us but it also didn’t disappoint. At fewer than ten dollars apiece, one might just call the food “average.”

A special note must be made about their fries. When ordering something that has the accompaniment of fries (burgers, sandwiches, and Stromboli), you are given a choice of which seasoning to have with them. I chose the jerk seasoning and it was very good, but you also can choose ranch and salt and vinegar to have on them. It is something minor, but it’s a nice choice to have.

What was the coup-de-gras for us was the dessert item we chose. The Applezini consists of “Granny Smith apples and cinnamon baked in our made-from-scratch pizzini dough, dusted with cinnamon sugar. Served with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel sauce and icing.” Words do not do it justice. For nothing else, we will visit this place again just for dessert.

“If they didn’t pour their heart and souls into the food, then where did it go?” Well don’t fear, I’ll tell you. The restaurant offers 110 different types of beer. Yes, you read that correctly. What’s even crazier is that the corporation as a whole offers more than that, but each location selects 110 for their restaurant to feature. Including beers from all over the world, it actually takes longer to choose your drink then it does to choose your meal. Common ones from Budweiser and Miller to smaller ones like Flying Dog and Purple Haze are a part of this menu.

If one feels so inclined they can even sign up for the World Beer Tour. You get a little card and each time you drink a new beer they put it on your card and once you get all 110 you get your name on a plaque on the wall and a few other prizes.

The restaurant has close to 30 televisions throughout itself with the larger ones hanging around the bar. Now, unless you are actually sitting at the bar, it may take a little squinting to see that the Illini are losing to Ohio State (I’m still a little sour). Finding a seat at the bar is never a problem, though. Encompassing what is easily a fourth of the floor space it is a monster all its own. It actually leaves you wondering if the bar was a bit smaller, could my 15 minute wait for a table maybe been a little less?

In the end the restaurant feels like a rehashed Boston’s, just with a bigger bar and a few more televisions. It’s worth a trip once but don’t make it a special one.

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