It’s another gorgeous summer day in the windy city. We have a leisurely start and decide to take a mini road trip to Wisconsin for a late lunch. Frank’s Diner in Kenosha has been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”. Frank’s covers “diners” and “dives”.
The drive to Kenosha is unremarkable highway. The Smith Falls-sized town is pretty in parts especially along the lake shore, where the mighty Lake Michigan is an incredible jade-green blue. Frank’s resides in a less picturesque part of town, the part that time left in the dust. The residents have not forgotten however, and Frank’s, a narrow, oak, ancient train car diner is orchestrated chaos at lunchtime. Diners are lined up behind the row of counter stools waiting their turn amid shouts to clear the door way that leads to a narrow addition added on to provide minimal booth seating. Outside tables are also available but you really want to be inside at the counter where the action is. And by “action”, I mean a high-speed ballet of cooking, plating and food delivery that is remarkable in such a tiny space.
From our counter stools we have a perfect view of the ancient kitchen and the short order cook. There is no room for a mise en place. Another woman reads the order tickets and places what the cook needs beside her for each order. The menu is fairly extensive for the size of the kitchen. Meanwhile, three to five others shout, take orders, berate customers, take payment, deliver plates, clear plates and grab ketchup. Barely organized chaos. But they still have time to chat and make sure each customer is happy and looked after.
Frank’s is decorated in – layers. Layers of cooking oil, layers of kitsch, layers of attitude. The patina of grease cannot be faked. Even my lungs are coated. Smoke hangs in the air over the flat top. This is no faux diner. A customer at the counter wants ketchup. The counter guy gives him a good-natured hard time. Another diner asks him if he is the owner. He asks her why she thinks that. She says “because you sound like a guy who would own this place.” He distainfully says “no, I sound like a guy with a few more years of school left then I’m outta here.” It’s that kinda joint — fast moving fast talking, slow food cooked to order.
Rob and I order the house special: The Garbage Plate. You can order half, so we each ask for half. Hash-browns, eggs, cheese and meats of your choosing, peppers, onions – jalapenos if you like. I choose cheddar with their homemade corned beef hash and Rob orders sausage and pepper jack. While we wait a server dances by briefly holding cinnamon rolls under our noses. “Yours?” No, but wow…wish they were. We continue to watch the short order cook load order after order on to the flat top….several garbage plates, burgers and pancakes one inch thick cooked to golden perfection. The show is worth the drive. I’m thinking the cook is surprisingly efficient but really she can be nothing but. The kitchen is so tiny the deep fryer is out back somewhere.
Our food arrives and it is hot and melty-delicious. Jalapenos add a nice heat. The plates come with delicious homemade toast that has been slathered in butter with an extremely heavy hand. A little grape jelly sends the toast into another dimension.
After lunch, since we are in Kenosha, you have to visit the Jelly Belly factory in the neighbouring town of Pleasant Prairie, don’t ya? It’s on the way out of town so we stop for the 15 minute tour on the Jelly Belly Express, an interesting “Mr. Roger’s style” look at the factory that produces the tiny flavoured beans.
We learn that many flavours contain natural elements – coconut contains coconut flakes for example. I am hoping it doesn’t, but I didn’t ask if the Harry Potter vomit flavour contains any. The signature is stamped on in cornstarch ink, and that the rejects are called belly flops. All in all it was a fun tour and the factory shop has a sample bar and tons of goodies to purchase. Cue Homer Simpson voice: Mmmmmm…chocolate-covered Very Cherry Jelly Bellies.