Restaurant Review – Chuck’s Southern Comfort Cafe

Chuck’s Southern Comforts Cafe — located in a former rock music club in Burbank, Illinois, a southwest suburb of Chicago — has somehow become part of our family.

Last Thursday, we spent Thanksgiving at Chuck’s, just as we did the year before. On Easter, we also gathered at Chuck’s. And it’s a regular destination for birthdays and other family milestones.

When wife’s cousin family — who happen to live next door to us — celebrated their son’s graduation from law school, they rented out Chuck’s party room. When the power went out last summer in the middle of an important White Sox game, I headed over to the Voodoo Lounge, Chuck’s New Orleans themed bar, to watch the final innings.

Which got me to thinking about why Chuck’s has become my family’s favorite gathering place. Part of it is certainly the food. Chuck’s features Southern-style barbecue mixed with New Orleans Cajun and Tex-Mex.

The barbecue is amazing

The barbecue is amazing

All of it is amazing, but the barbecue in particular is really exceptional, especially the smoked pork, chicken and ribs. Everything is made from scratch. It’s the kind of place where they make their own barbecue sauce and sell it by the bottle at the cash register.

The staff is friendly and warm, and you feel like home when you are at the restaurant. Chuck himself — a bear-sized man with a booming voice and a permanent smile — constantly makes the rounds and checks in with every table to see how they’re doing.

This past Thursday, he came to our table to insist that we all try some pickled beets that he made from the harvest of his own garden. They were spectacular.

The restaurant is large and comfortable. The decor is like Mardi Gras meets Southwest. There’s lots of colorful masks and beads side-by-side with original paintings that are reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe.

It’s a relaxing place where you are immediately put at ease the moment you walk through the door. And we always see people we know from the neighborhood dining at the tables in the dining room.

Chuck with my neice, Megan

Chuck with my neice, Megan

The South Side of Chicago tends to be a clannish place and outsiders are not usually made to feel welcome. Yet Chuck’s is the rare exception where everybody can gather for a good time, great food and a comfortable, relaxing dining atmosphere.

Chuck’s has been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” as well as “Check, Please!” , the locally-produced restaurant review show. In both cases, the reviewers were glowing with their praise of the restaurant.

While Chuck’s is never going to win any Michelin awards or be written up in exclusive magazines, its combination of comfort food in a laid back setting make it one of my family’s favorite destinations.

If you ever find yourself on the South Side, make sure you check out Chuck’s Southern Comfort Cafe. Just give me a call first so I can join you!

Chuck’s Southern Comforts Cafe is located at 6501 W. 79th St., Burbank, IL. The phone number is 708-229-8700. Reservations are accepted.

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Restaurant Review – Stacked

I grew up in a town called Oak Lawn, Illinois, just outside Chicago.

On my town’s “Main Street” — actually 95th Street — there used to be a little hole in the wall restaurant called Veli’s Koffee Kup. It served breakfast and lunch, was run down, the waitresses were all about 100 years old, and the food was mediocre at best.

I loved it. In high school, my friends and I would go there before school on big exam days to study and on Sundays we would often end up there after church (sometimes instead of church). As an adult, I loved to spend my days off wandering the aisles of the public library across the street then settling down to a long cup of coffee and a good book at Veli’s.

Sadly, Veli’s closed in the early 2000s. The entire block was razed and a mixed use residential/retail development was built on the site, including a Starbuck’s, a Jimmy Johns and bunch of other soulless chain places.

But recently, just a few doors down from where Veli’s originally stood, another all-new family-owned restaurant that serves only breakfast and lunch opened up. It’s called Stacked and once I heard about it, I couldn’t wait to see how it would compare to my memories of Veli’s.

When my wife and I went there on a recent Sunday morning after church, there was a line of people waiting out the door — something I have never in my life seen at an Oak Lawn restaurant.

Informed that there would be about a 25 minute wait, I took advantage of the time to check the place out. Hectic would be a good word to describe the atmosphere. The waitresses and bussers were hustling, the manager was literally running around keeping things organized, and a steady flow of food was coming out of the tall kitchen pass-through window.

Unlike Veli’s dark and ancient interior, Stacked is fresh, bright and colorful, with huge windows letting in sunshine on the north and west walls. It was chilly that morning, but it looks as if there eventually will be outdoor dining.

Even though the restaurant is not large, only about two dozen tables, the line moved quickly and we were seated at a spanking new booth next to a window. It took a while for our server to get to us, but given how busy the restaurant was, this was understandable.

Sandi ordered the multi-grain pancakes and I ordered my usual: Corned beef hash and eggs over easy with Greek toast. We were both served coffee, which was unexpectedly strong and flavorful.

It took a little while for our food to arrive but, again, given the business level, I wasn’t expecting it instantly.

Sandi’s said her pancakes were perfect, fluffy and delicious. My corned beef hash was outstanding. At most breakfast places, corned beef hash comes out of a can. But it was obvious that this corned beef has was made fresh, with tiny chunks of potato nestled into a perfectly seared bed of finely chopped lean corned beef. The eggs were large and perfectly cooked. Even the toast was better than I expected.

Our breakfast was also amazingly affordable, coming in at less than $20 for both of us before tax and tip.

Okay, so Stacked wins the breakfast round, but how they would do for lunch?

A few days later, I returned alone on a Tuesday just after the lunch rush. I brought a good book with me in order to replicate as closely as possible my Veli’s experiences.

Stacked was surprisingly busy for a Tuesday afternoon, with about 3/4 of the tables filled with customers. Probably because I was alone, I was seated at a tiny table tucked a corner, even though there were lovely empty booths available nearby.

Perhaps because of my location, it took my server a few minutes to find me. When she did, I ordered more of their excellent coffee, along with a corned beef reuben to see if the sliced corned beef would be as good as the chopped.

Lunches come with a cup of soup and I opted for the Greek lemon rice over the chicken noodle. It was served piping hot and tasted deliciously creamy, with saltines on the side. Sometimes cream soups can be goopy, especially later in the day after they have been sitting in the steam kettle for hours, but this was not the case here. It had the perfect texture and was exceptionally flavorful.

My food arrived more quickly than it did on the Sunday morning. The reuben was served on a marble swirl bread and was stacked high with close to a pound of thinly sliced lean corned beef. The fries were perfectly crisp and piping hot and there was a small cup of cole slaw on the side.

The reuben was outstanding. The outside of the bread was fried perfectly crisp and there was a generous amount of sauerkraut. The Swiss cheese was melted and stringy, just the way it is supposed to be, and there was nearly a Carnegie Deli amount of corned beef, which I later learned they cure themselves.

The service was attentive without being intrusive. My coffee cup never ran dry and plates were cleared quickly and efficiently.

Once again, the bill came in much lower than I would have expected, about $10 before tax and tip.

Not only did Stacked exceed my expectations but it did something that I wouldn’t have thought possible: It replaced Veli’s as my all-time favorite Oak Lawn breakfast and lunch spot!

Stacked is located at 5273 W. 95th St., in Oak Lawn. The phone number is 708-422-5555. It is open from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. daily and serves breakfast and lunch only. Credit cards are accepted and they do not take reservations.

Stacked does not yet have a web page or online menu, but here’s a link to its Urban Spoon page.