Brad Rubin traveled across America to create
Eleven City Diner's menu. But it turns out he's the
most crucial ingredient.
I was attempting to make a dent in a gigantic slice of chocolate cake when Brad Rubin asked me to move my seat.
“I’ll buy your coffee if you move over,” he said. “You’re kinda sitting in my office area.”
I looked to the left of the counter seat where the hostess had placed me. An empty stool. I looked to the right. Same thing. Rubin was already setting up his laptop on the counter space in front of me.
But with the memory of the chopped liver I had just polished off—so creamy, so rich—still in my head, it was hard to be angry with the Eleven City Diner owner. And it was probably time for me to stop eating anyway. In addition to the cake and the liver, I had already put away half a pastrami sandwich—the fatty slices of thin meat called out to me bite after bite until it was gone—and a bowl of matzo-ball soup.
Rubin claims to have traveled across the country to research his Jewish deli/diner. He modeled his corned beef and pastrami after Katz’s in New York, the milk shakes after those at Langer’s in Los Angeles. The sliced meats were top-notch, the chocolate milk shake viscous and creamy. But he didn’t copy everything perfectly: The lox scramble was good, but a little dry—far from New York’s Barney Greengrass material. And while that matzo ball was delicate and ethereal, the chicken broth it came in was lackluster; it was too bland, not enough schmaltz.
Luckily, Rubin has enough chutzpah to make up for it. During my visits I witnessed him in countless situations: schmoozing with the regulars (yes, he already has them), snapping at his employees and warmly welcoming newcomers. During one visit he got into a friendlyish debate with a customer right in my ear.
“Where are you from?” he asked, obviously referring to her thick accent.
“South Africa,” the woman told him hesitantly. “But I’ve lived in Chicago for thirty–”
“Let me guess: You’re in diamonds,” he interrupted.
“Not all South Africans are in the diamond trade,” the woman shot back. I was trying not to listen—I was more interested in the gorgeous, roasted chicken on my plate. But they were talking right over my head.
“I’m trained in psychology,” she continued.
“Oh, so you see right through people?” Rubin joked.
“That’s right,” she answered.
“Can you see that I’m not wearing anything underneath these clothes?”
Yeah, it looks like Rubin studied those New York and L.A. delis pretty closely, right down to the eccentric, charismatic and overbearing guys who give them their personality. For better or for worse, he seems to have gotten that part exactly right.
Eleven City Diner1112 S Wabash Ave between 11th and 12th Sts (312-212-1112). El: Green, Orange, Red to Roosevelt. Bus: 1, 3, X3, 4 (24 hrs), X4, 12. Open: Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Average main course: $8.