Wednesday, July 28, 2010

11 City Diner

Anatomy lab is a funny thing. It's a right of passage for any first year medical student. One thing I never expected, and don't freak out, but after every lab I was always starving. I've heard it has something to do with the exposure to the preservatives. Either way, my lab mates and I were often hungry after lab and liked to discuss our love of food. When I started writing, we started to talk about all of the places we should go together. After a series of failed attempts, this team of gurgitators finally got together this week.

 Well, with Arif (Indian-ish), Timi (Nigerian), and Anthony (lots of things) I had the most diverse crew Jeff Eats Chicago has seen so far. We decided that our new goal would be to eat a meal together from each of our backgrounds. This suggestion came from Arif who had the perfect Jewish deli we just had to check out called the 11 City Diner. I've been to Katz's and Carnegie Deli, so I had high expectations but still managed to keep an empty stomach and an open mind.

The 11 City Diner is in the South Loop right down the road from the Roosevelt red line stop. We went on a Tuesday at 6:30 PM and got sat immediately. Although the well decorated diner style interior was intriguing, it was a beautiful night so we sat on their patio. The hostess and the owner both greeted us enthusiastically, but that was just the start to our excellent service. I'm pretty sure you can make reservations, and on a busier time slot you might want one. They have a nice party room too in case you've got a big group.

From the second we walked in till the moment we left, we felt like kings. The waitress and the owner Brad Rubin both took a ton of time to talk with us about their favorite menu items and philosophies on Jewish deli food. Timi ordered his sandwich hot instead of cold, and the owner checked multiple times that it was to his liking. The food came out quickly and just seemed to keep on coming. As far as the cost goes, most of the sandwiches range from $10 to $12. That may seem steep for a sandwich, but the amount and quality of the meat you get makes it well worth it. Compared to some other famous delis out there ($20 sandwiches), this is cheap. The desserts were around $7, and the drinks were around $3 which really let us get a ton of food for our money.

In fact, for dessert we decided to sit inside for a bit to check out the sweet diner decor. From the cool Yiddish writing on the walls to the menorah above the bar and finally to the leather booths, this was the perfect layout for a Jewish diner.

The Food
To start with, Anthony and I tried out some drinks from the Soda Jerk with a Cherry Phosphate and a Chocolate Egg Cream. They were both well balanced between the syrup and the seltzer (if it wasn't, they gave us extra seltzer on the side to add in). I hadn't had an egg cream in years, and this one was fantastic. The only problem was that I drank it in like 2 minutes flat.

 The Chocolate Egg Cream

The Cherry Phosphate

For our entrees we all got different sandwiches. Arif and Anthony both got The Springer, a sandwich piled high with corned beef, pastrami, swiss, and thousand island. Timi had the Woody Allen, a double decker with pastrami and corned beef made to replicate the famous sandwich from Carnegie Deli in NYC. I had the Matzoh Ball Soup and a half Pastrami Sandwich with a Shmear of Chopped Liver. The soup wasn't too salty, and the ball was an amazingly light and fluffy floater. Everyone got their sandwiches on Challah. The meats were all juicy and delicious with the perfect amount of fat. They roast them daily in house and slice them nice and thin. Each sandwich comes with a pickle and coleslaw which are also prepared in house and provide a nice cool balance to your sandwich. The Chopped Liver was freaking awesome. This was the next best thing I've come across to my Mom and Grandma's recipe which is saying a lot. Between the beautiful flavor profile from the liver and the juiciness of the meat, there was no need for any other condiment.

 The Matzoh Ball Soup

The Springer

The Woody Allen

The Pastrami with Chopped Liver

As if we weren't satisfied enough, the owner came out with some free samples to give us a better look into their flavor profile (this was before he knew anything about our blog by the way). First he came out with a plate of their homemade pickles including a pickled tomato and garlic pickles (again all done in house). As someone who has tried and failed to grow his cucumbers and pickle them, I really appreciated the tutorial. This was soon followed by a tour de meat when we were brought out samples of plain corned beef, pastrami, sliced brisket, and roasted brisket. We ate them in that order as the flavors got more intense. What was explained was that the real goal at 11 City is meat purity. The way to go is really to get just the meat on a challah roll and savor the natural flavor. The roast brisket may have been the best I've ever had. It melted in my mouth immediately, and the taste was out of this world. Finally, in order to give us a taste of the brunch options we were given a taste of the 11 City French Toast. It was deliciously smothered in toasted coconut, bananas, and strawberries. After that taste, I would definitely check out the rest of their brunch menu.

The Homemade Pickles (Tomatoes, Regular, and Garlic)

The Tour de Meat

The Roast Brisket

The 11 City French Toast

Well we'd already had plenty when the owner popped his head in and suggested we try some dessert. After some deliberation we somehow found room. Supposedly the Chocolate Cream Pie is the best thing, but they were out of it for the day. Instead we went with the next best choices, the Chocolate Cake and the Carrot Cake. I would say the chocolate cake was the only thing that was just alright. It was rich and tasty but a little bit dry. The Carrot Cake more than made up for it though with an incredible moistness.

The Chocolate Cake

The Carrot Cake

I've eaten at what people would consider to be the gold standards of Jewish Delicatessen. I know to some of you this might be blasphemy, but I thought that this was better. Now you won't get 2 lbs of meat on your sandwich like at Carnegie or Katz's, but the meat is more flavorful and way less dry. From the service to the amazing food, 11 City Diner hit on every point. That's why I'm giving them a Pearl Necklace, 5 out of 5.

Another note, if you've ever seen the PBS show Check Please, there's a hilarious surprise in the mens room you should check out if you have the chance and the anatomy to make that socially appropriate. Also, I'd like to extend a special thanks to Arif for taking all of these pictures.

Eleven City Diner on Urbanspoon


  1. It's unclear if Jeff really liked this meal, or if the absence of hipsters allowed him to focus on the food more. The sad thing is we may never know.

  2. Trust me the owner was putting on a show. He is rude arrogant person who only cares about the money not his customers.

  3. He threw my brother out in front of his daughter for trying to use the washroom before being seated.


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