Salt & Pepper Blues 

1990 was the year they started building Comiskey Park. Not the old baseball palace they opened in 1910--the new one across the street.

This was also the year they opened the Original Mitchell's restaurant--not Lou Mitchell's, the breakfast shrine that's been on West Jackson since 1923, or the Original Mitchell's on North Avenue, but the other Original Mitchell's on Clybourn.

Worst of all, in my opinion, it was the year they moved my favorite eatery, the Salt and Pepper Diner. The white-brick hut on the corner of Lincoln and Wrightwood, no bigger inside than a few VW vans, had been serving torqued-up coffee and taters for 25 years. The denizens for the most part looked like they came from hell or were on the fast track to get there.

But then the Salt and Pepper was "discovered." That meant being overrun by overgrown frat boys in their Notre Dame and Michigan caps and their counterpart bimbos in skintight cycling pants. It became hard to get a seat at the counter, let alone enjoy a good old country breakfast, amid the loud chatter about how much Scooter and Muffy had to drink at the Big Nasty bar the night before.

Soon the Salt and Pepper was unbearable. Even the owners were suffocating under the crush of new age capitalists. They eyed a bigger space across Lincoln Avenue. They shuttered the old place and opened up across the street a few months later.

Of course it's not the same. The Salt and Pepper used to be the kind of place where you'd bid "so long, for now" to old friends leaving town. It was a chance to hash out the surrounding nonsense. Now it's just another place to get eggs. I wish I could ignore the change, but when I go there and peer up from a mug of coffee and look across the street at the old place, I suffer the cruel indignity of the El Taco Bandido diner. Its bright yellow and red awning barks out a Tex-Mex menu. White-stone siding has replaced the white bricks.

Now I don't blame the good people who run the Salt and Pepper for making the move. The pack animals made them do it, and I'm sure the roomy digs have helped business. I'm sure the exposed brick walls, 1950s-ish vinyl booths, and checkerboard floor are all design winners.

But the Happy Days look puts me in the mood for a drink. Excuse me, I think I'll wander over to O'Rourke's. It's on Halsted now, right?

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