just hangin’

I’ve been here for just over a month and a half, and since my arrival, I’ve been searching for a neighborhood hangout. It had to be a place within walking distance of our apartment, the food had to be good, the beer selection had to be decent, and it had to be reasonable. And I was not about to let it be a megachain.

There’s a Mexican restaurant around the corner, Flaco’s Tacos, that M took me to the first time I came to the city. It’s good, and certainly hangout-worthy, but something just wasn’t there for me.

M always orders takeout when she studies for big exams, and she likes to order from this place next door to Flaco’s and near our place, that makes good burgers, and also owns both Flaco’s Tacos locations (the other one’s on Chicago Avenue, near Water Tower). Tonight, as I left work, she told me that they had Bell’s Oberon drafts on special. So I decided to give it a shot.

I walked in the door to Hackney’s Printer’s Row, the only member of the Hackney’s restaurant family (they’re huge in the suburbs but this is the only location in the entire city), and about three people smiled and greeted me, without sounding like I was at Applebee’s. It was dark but not too dark, with dark red walls, a full bar. This was probably the most relaxed I’ve been in a restaurant since my arrival in the city.

The hostess seated me at a table near the bar, the manager took my drink order (without carding me because amateurs just don’t understand Oberon), and I sat back and watched ESPN on the TV until my waiter, a rather zealous young guy, came to talk to me. He went over the menu with me and asked what I was drinking. I told him I was a long-time Bell’s fan and we discussed how Bell’s just doesn’t make bad beer. Joe (the waiter) took my order: the special, “red, white and bleu burger.” A medium-rare half-pounder mixed with bleu cheese and then dressed with provolone and roasted red bell pepper, on a pretzel bun.

It was not the best burger I’ve ever had by any stretch, but it was exactly what I needed. It had great flavor and good balance, and the fries were perfectly crispy. I didn’t even bother salting them.

Probably the best part of the whole experience was that I could tell that several of the people in the restaurant and at the bar were regulars. Printer’s Row is a very well-known neighborhood and the restaurant is right near the legendary Dearborn Station Clock Tower, which is the figurehead for the Dearborn Park neighborhood, and a lot of young and intelligent people live nearby.

I am now a regular at Hackney’s. The menu reads like a classic neighborhood joint, the desserts are supposedly legendary, and everybody I spoke to tonight was very nice and un-corporate to me.

In Jackson, I had Jackson Coney Island, Schlenker’s, and Giglio’s. In Adrian, Coast-to-Coast Deli. Baltimore, it was the Annapolis Seafood Market. Bakersfield was Bucko’s. Fargo was a tie between Nichole’s and JL Beers. And now, in Chicago, Hackney’s is my food comfort zone.

And that, my friends, is how I know that I’m home.

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