OyChicago blog

The return of a north shore staple

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The return of a north shore staple photo 1

There was a time when the “Wild, Wild West” was much more than a thoroughly annoying Will Smith song. (Quick: name one Will Smith song that doesn’t stick in your head, for the wrong reasons. Can’t do it, can you?) But the Wild West, for most non rapping sit-com/cheesy action movie stars meant frontier living, sleeping with whomever you wanted to, and not showering for days. You know, kind of like the parking lot at a Phish concert.

For others, the Wild West is best summed up by an obscure yet ridiculously great 1969 movie musical called, “Paint Your Wagon”. Haven’t seen it yet? Well, my friend, go ahead and add it to your Netflix list without haste, buy a cheap and perhaps lethal bottle of whiskey (Kessler, anyone?), and get ready for the surreal experience of hearing Clint Eastwood sing a song about talking to the trees, and those very same trees not listening to him. (One can easily trace Clint going nuts in “Grand Torino” to being blown off by trees.) You’ll also witness the surreal sight of Lee Marvin stomping around drunk singing a song entitled, “Whoop Ti Ay”. You must see this genuinely odd film to believe it, and I promise you, songs like “There’s A Coach Coming In” – which, sadly, has nothing to do with the long forgotten Craig T. Nelson show – will soon be on your iPod.

Then there’s Mel Brooks’ classic “Blazing Saddles” which many consider the ultimate Western comedy. Only Mel Brooks (with a brilliant assist from co-writer Richard Pryor) could make a classic western out of fart jokes, racism, and Dom Delouise as a gay choreographer. Forget “Young Frankenstein”, its way past time that Mel adapts this movie for the stage.

I certainly learned some of what I know about the Wild West – as well as an inordinate number of show-tunes – from both movies. But for most of my younger years, the vast majority of my western education came in the form of a traditional, gold-rush era cheeseburger called “the Motherload," mozzarella sticks wrapped in authentic, frontier-style won-tons, and an awe-inspiring salad bar which no doubt the miners ate from as they were staking their claim in 1800’s California. Who needs beans when you’ve got a light balsamic, right?

Many Jews (and a few goyum, but they’re not reading this so let’s ignore them) raised in Chicago or the north shore in the 1980’s & 1990’s know exactly what I’m talking about: the legendary Claim Company restaurant, a dining staple for Chicagoland restaurant-goers for about 25 years. First located on Clark Street near Belden, and later in both Northbrook court and the 900 N. Michigan Avenue building, I frequented the Claim Company seemingly hundreds of times with family and friends. And I wasn’t alone. Heading to Claim Company was a staple of all kinds of get-togethers: dinners with mom & dad, high school dates, and mini summer camp-reunions to name a few. With a large menu – originally displayed on gold-miner pans – Claim Company was the ideal restaurant for a kid, teenager, and young adult. The burgers were huge, the appetizers were old-school (just try finding potato skins at your local favorite restaurant these days), and the environment was unpretentious without veering into the cheesy “hey, let’s put as much vintage crap on the walls as we can find” décor which mars other similar restaurants.

As has been well documented in this blog, I tend to be a sucker for nostalgia. So when Claim Company closed its’ doors back in the late 1990’s, I was genuinely saddened. Sure, I lost about 40 pounds from no longer eating weekly “Motherloads” – Claim’s signature cheeseburger, which is usually served with a huge slice of cheese, fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, a tangy and delicious concoction called “claim sauce”, and other condiments which could give even the most healthy individual an instant stroke. But I was also heartbroken. After all, I’ve long insisted to anyone who’d listen that the fajita was actually invented by the Claim Company, despite having zero proof of this. (A lack of actual facts has never stopped me from making outrageous and unverified statements, which is a major reason I could someday host a show on FOX “News.” Hello, “Hannity & Shanoff!”)

Sure, I’ve found other, comparable restaurants in the years since Claim Company was closed, but none could hold a candle to that once-great dining experience. So imagine my surprise when one of my oldest friends – and a frequent Claim Company Companion (which is also my least favorite Marc Cohn song) – called to tell me that Claim Company would re-open at Northbrook Court after a 12 year absence. I was rightfully thrilled, and celebrated by purchasing pants two sizes larger. No, I’m not kidding.

Let me state right now that I have no vested stake in the Claim Company, lest this seem like some paid advertisement. But having been there twice since it reopened, I can safely say that anyone in their 20’s or older with fond memories of the restaurant won’t be disappointed. Two of its’ original managers are apparently in control of this new Claim Company, and they have faithfully replicated the original menu, with only a few concessions to a more healthy society. To that end, let me state that I am both equally thrilled and appalled by the addition of veggie and turkey variations of the “Motherload.”  I expected this would be like replacing Five Alive with prune juice, but a taste of the turkey “Motherload” proved nearly as flavorful as the traditional beef variation. On a completely unrelated note, I’d like to promise you that I’ll never again use the phrase “traditional beef variation” for myriad reasons, but primarily because I’m not entirely sure what it means.

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Semantics aside, my return trips to the Claim Company – both within its’ first week – did not disappoint. The bar area is a great place to catch a game & have a burger, the milkshake was just as thick and delicious as it was back when Pearl Jam was relevant, and from what I was told by my dining companion, the salad bar as top notch as a salad bar can possibly be. So next time you find yourself trapped at Northbrook Court, clamoring for not only a great meal, but also a need to relive a restaurant from your formative years, you’ll know where to go. Friends of mine in our (ahem, mid) 30’s from the Latin/Parker/north shore set who grew up with the Claim Company will no doubt be thrilled, and hopefully an entire new generation of Motherload eaters (also a phrase I ought not to use again) will soon make the Claim Company part of their adolescence; not to mention their authentic introduction to the wild, wild west.


Dear Bug and Sprout…

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Now that the nausea has mostly subsided and the shock of having twins has been replaced by pure excitement, Mandi and I have been getting things ready for the arrival of The Winks. I’ve been thinking a lot about setting up the nursery and other logistical details. We have so many ultrasound appointments now that I’m making a scrapbook of all the ultrasound pictures. But most importantly, I’ve been thinking about what kind of life I want to create for the girls, as I imagine many new parents must do around this time. As part of my mental preparation for being a mom, I made a list of some of the hopes and dreams I have for Bug and Sprout.

Dear Bug and Sprout photo

Bug and Sprout, already putting their heads together

Dear Bug and Sprout,

Today you have been in my womb for 23 weeks and six days. I already love you. You can open and close your eyes and are practicing your breathing. I hope you are not kicking each other or knocking heads too often. I know there is only so much room in there.

I am waiting patiently to meet you when you’re ready to be born. Thank you for kicking me so often so that I know you are alive and well. Even without these reminders I would think about you all the time. There are many things I wish for you in your lifetime here on earth and I want to write them down so that someday you can read this for yourselves.

I hope you will have love in your life and be generous with your love.

I hope you will have a deep friendship with each other. I know you will fight sometimes. Your personalities may be complete opposites. But the two of you will have something incredibly special: someone who has been by your side since before you were born.

I hope you will love learning for your entire life. Reading is fun!

I hope you will respect other people even if they disagree with you. And I hope you stand up for yourselves and what you believe in. I hope you believe in the power of your own voice.

I hope you will become confident individuals and know that you are beautiful. This may be challenging at times, like if someone in your gymnastics class says you have a bubble butt, or if your breasts stop growing before you even realized they were there. Regardless of what your challenges are, you will be beautiful people and I hope you can overcome all the pop culture propaganda about what beauty is and truly love your bodies.

I hope you will sleep at the same times.

I hope you will know that you have two parents who love you and will do anything for you. When you are upset about not having your biological father in your life, I hope you will be patient for the day when you turn 18 and can reach out to your bio dad if you want to.

I hope you will become friends with all of your cousins who have been born in the past four months – Emmett, Tevin and Nathan. I hope you will have fun together and learn from each other, especially since you will have different religions and live in different cities.

I hope you will be proud of your Jewish heritage and at the same time learn about and respect other religions and spiritual paths.

I hope you won’t take yourselves too seriously and will enjoy making fun of yourselves. I wish you happiness and humor.

Above all, I hope you will love waking up every single day and enjoy living in this world. I can’t wait to meet you.

Mama C


I’m getting married

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I’m getting married.

The wedding will probably be mid-January; my fiancé and I are figuring that out this week. You’re all invited for the dancing. Really. It’s going to be a wild time.

At Jewish religious weddings, anyone can come and dance. You certainly don’t have to wait for an invitation. We’ll have a private meal for close friends and family, but then the dance floor will open up around 8, and as Jewish beatboxer Y-Love puts it in his song Shake it For Your Maker, “if you’ve never seen this, you’ve never seen joy in your life”. He was talking about the holiday of Sukkos, but I think it applies here as well.

We got engaged about two weeks ago, after eight weeks of dating, after knowing each other for thirteen years.

It’s a beautiful story, a good one to tell.

I was thinking about all the stories we would tell our children one day, about what life was like when we were growing up. About all the fads. Like pogs. Who could explain that? Flipping over cheap cardboard circles, for hours of high class fifth grade entertainment. Or tamagotchis. Or not owning a cell phone until I was 18. Or being perpetually lost, before the GPS was even a Hanukkah gift possibility.

I also imagine the more serious conversations we would have on lessons I learned from my mistakes.

I’d attempt to explain to my children about the world I was raised in, that was incongruously both a gluttonously “disposable culture” and yet conversely also a society obsessed with “being green”.

I would tell them that in my youth “I bought designer bottled water,” and they would look at me in utter confusion and ask- “didn’t you have clean, free, tap water?” “Yes, yes, I would answer, but we were young and foolish.” “You paid how much?,” they would laugh.

 I would tell them how my conscience at that time, desperate for rationalization, felt assured by the writing on the bottle altruistically explaining to me that by buying their product, I was somehow helping save the rainforest.

My children would look at me in the eye, my liberal, socially conscious children, and beg me to tell them that their mother didn’t really know how much of the rainforest was being cut down every day, that her “Google generation” didn’t have that information at their fingertips, that the government caught up in politically selfish motives concealed the truth from the ignorant masses.

 I’d look away, and in that silence, their question would be answered.

I was young, I would repeat . We didn’t realize.

I am young.

 I’m 25.
I’m getting married.

I’ve got things to do. I must read “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” as soon as possible. I must internalize the importance of hangers and the benefits of keeping clothes off the floor.  I must change my texting plan to unlimited. I must meditate on the steps to actualize the environment I want for my future home; a warm, grounded, thinking, and compassionate oasis.

I’m moving on in my life. Everything is dramatically changing, and I love it. I love the person my fiancé helps me become, I love working together with him on life.

I’m looking towards the future, and focusing on the practical next steps. Yet the understanding of the responsibility I will be taking on, with unlimited potential, is felt just as much as the responsibility I have to find a low-cost yet stunning antique wedding dress.

I don’t want my wedding to be the best day of my life. I want the day after the wedding to be better. And I want the day after that to be even better. And I want to look at my husband and my grown children forty years later and feel that, that day is the happiest day of my entire life.

I’m preparing for the next generation. What wisdom will I pass on? What lessons will I derive from my experiences? Will they laugh when I tell them that in my day, people paid forty thousand dollars a year to get a college certificate? Will they still drink Coca Cola? Will they be able to safely visit Jerusalem and cry at the Western Wall?

If I’ve learned anything after eight weeks of dating my fiancé it’s this: to love is to invest time- in caring, thinking, and subduing the ego. I feel even more sensitive to the preciousness and joy of existence. I feel even more acutely the impact my existence and the decisions, collectively and individually, that I must make as I move on to the next phase of my life, at last.

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