In these days of glacially-paced financial recovery, there are unspoken rules about lunchtime in corporate America: Always be visible. Don’t stray too far. Lunch is an interruption in the work day, not an earned, stress-relieving, hour of peace. And for God’s sake, Get. Back. To. Work.
The days of staff members disappearing for a sit-down lunch every other day are over. We all bring our lunches in plastic bags. We eat our sack lunches in the office lunchroom; sometimes at our desks. When the foodis gone, the break is officially over. There’s no pleasure in lunchtime. It’s a means to an end.
This reality isn’t specific to where I work, mind you. This is a reality for everyone I know, across dozens of unrelated industries.
Today, two friends and I decided to rebel. We were going to go out for lunch, and we were going to enjoy ourselves,dammit. Way to stick it to the Man! It was Friday. It was payday. We deserved it.
My friends Bob and Brenda(names changed to protect the innocent) decided they wanted to walk over to Tilted Kilt
on Wabash. If you’re unfamiliar, the restaurant is a celebration of Scottish heritage,best explained by this calendar girl shoot:
We got there around 12:30, taking the escalator up. Once we hit the second floor, we saw dozens of double-chinned businessmen waiting to be sat by a skinny schoolgirl in knee socks. We didn’t need the titillation as bad as they did; we really just wanted a burger. We went back down the escalator, wondering where to go next.
Heaven on Seven? Bob hated the idea. Brenda was indifferent.
Elephant and Castle? Didn’t move me at all. Bob and Brenda were lukewarm on the idea.
Flat Top Grill! None of us had been to the Wabash location yet, so our decision was made. We marched due south for one block, opened the door, and found…another long,swelling, line of businessmen waiting for a table. The Loop is usually busy during lunchtime, but this seemed ridiculous.
We kept walking south, this time deciding on Miller’s Pub. The food’s a little pricey there, but it’s a comfortable place to sit and talk. The bar was packed, wall-to-wall, with people waiting for tables. “F***me,” we said individually, with varying levels of frustration. We walked back outside.
“How about the Art Institute Cafe?” I asked. “I have a membership there; we can eat in their cafe.” Bob and Brenda were polite enough not to open-palm slap me on the back of my head. Then Brenda said, “Bennigan’s?” “Never been,”said Bob.
You never forget your first Bennigan’s lunch, we told Bob, so we walked east towards Michigan Avenue.
Another. Long. Line. Bob would have to live yet another day never having touched a Bennigan’s menu. 20minutes into our lunch break, and we’d only dined on FAIL.
Brenda seemed to remember hearing that there was a swanky food court in the basement of the Chase building on Adams and Wabash. We walked in, took the escalator down, and sure enough, it was swanky. Lots of food choices. There were even a few open tables.
We wandered past the dining options, not saying much to one another. “Is this doing anything for you guys?” Bob finally asked. “I kinda want to go somewhere where a person brings me food,” I replied. “This lunchtrip sucks,” said Brenda. We couldn’t argue the point. We left the Chase building to reassess our options.
Plymouth is a restaurant next tothe John Marshall Law School whose claim to fame is a kickass rooftop best utilized for after-work happy hours. I also had dinner there before Rush at the United Center.
Inside, the place looks like a relic from 1978: Brightly lit room, loads of vinyl booths, and not a trace of modern furnishings. In many respects, it looks like Le Peep, only Le Poopier. Our expectations were gutter-low,especially after crashing and burning across the entire South Loop area. But, the Plymouth had waitresses and plenty of open tables, so it already had some good things going for it.
We each ordered Reubens (the perfect sandwich, IMO). I expected tough meat, stale bread, and a dirty plate. Instead, I got a hot, melty,open-faced pile of corned beef, sweet sauerkraut, and gooey cheese o marble rye. They put the 1000 Island on the side, next to the waffle fries (mmmmm, waffle fries). I was blissful. I completely fell in love with the Plymouth sandwich, especially after having been beat down by our prolonged dining-out failures. I’m sure you could find better Reubens at Manny’s; maybe even at Bennigan’s. But I swear, in that moment, it was the best sandwich I ever had.
And the bottom line? It got me out of the office. Bob, Brenda, and I got to B.S. and socialize about things unrelated to work. For all the hassle, it was a great experience.
That said, I’ve gotta go grocery shopping this weekend. I need to make sure I have enough lunchmeat for next week’s lunchtime sandwiches. They call them “workdays,” not “fundays,” you know.