While in Evanston, Illinois, earlier this week, I had dinner with Claire Zulkey at the Lucky Platter. I ordered four side dishes -- mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, beans and rice, and a simple salad -- just like I was at a meat-and-three in Tennessee. Mmm! I also had a tamarind lemonade. It was really good, but I wondered: What the heck is tamarind? I like tamarind nectar, and I like tamarind lemonade, but I couldn't quite peg it. Kind of like figs, kind of like dates. A little like raisins, sort of like prunes. But not really. I thought it was a fruit -- and it is -- but it's also considered a spice. The word "tamarind" derives from tamr hindi, or "date of India." So they are kind of like dates!
My friend Lynne-Marie and her husband just opened a cafe near the Art Institute of Chicago at Michigan and Madison. Millennium Perk is a wonderfully comfortable spot with extremely good coffee -- try the Foglifter! -- a shelf full of interesting books ranging from Christopher Locke to Thomas Merton, and a friendly staff and patrons. They cater, too. If you go, be sure to look up toward the front of the cafe from the counter to see the second-story office without windows, and if you're feeling brave, ask to see the narrow, narrow staircase. Depending on how much coffee you drink, you might need to use the restroom. Ask for the key at the counter, and the bathroom's on the second floor -- you can walk up the stairs from the lobby. Congratulations, Lynne-Marie -- Millennium Perk rocks!
Last night, I ate at Carton's with Joe, Jennifer, and Kirsten. They called Carton's a diner, but it's probably the nicest diner-cum-family restaurant I've ever been to. The section we sat in was filled to the gills with Gold Coast blue hairs, and there's a pretty large bar on the other end of the restaurant. Decorated like a Denny's, Carton's food is anything but similar. Three of us ordered breakfasts, and Joe ordered a corned beef sandwich. I ordered a Greek scramble -- I forget the word for it -- that had eggs, onion, feta, and tomatoes. Came with Greek toast, which is kind of like scali bread, but thicker, grapefruit juice, and coffee. The coffee was really, really good. You should go there just for coffee.