Eleven City Diner sits just to the south of the downtown loop in Chicago. If you’re visiting the Field Museum, the Planetarium, or the Acquarium, you’re not far away. Similarly, if you’re unfortunate enough to visit Soldier Field for a Bears game you’ll also be right in the vicinity. The diner has exactly what you’d expect from an old school Jewish deli (pastrami, corned beef, matzoh ball soup, etc.). Think Carnegie or Katz’s in New York, or Katz’s. The sandwiches are massive and meaty, the breakfast options are hearty, and they’re one of the few diners I’ve seen with a proper soda fountain.
It’s impressive and nostalgic. Not nostalgic for me, but for anyone alive between the 1930’s and 1960’s a soda fountain will bring back memories. You can order your phosphates, your fruity soft drinks, and even a traditional Brooklyn Egg Cream.
I can thank President Bartlett for introducing me to Brooklyn Egg Creams. During an episode of the West Wing Martin Sheen waxed poetic about the drink while enjoying it for the first time in the White House. The drink contains a special chocolate syrup (Fox’s U-Bet), milk, and seltzer water. The combination creates a thick and foamy head on top of a fizzy chocolate milk with a slight tang from the CO2. There are no eggs, and no cream. Eleven City made it correctly, and even provided a small side-car of seltzer to top it off. Unfortunately, I just don’t like the drink very much. The first 5 sips were great. The Fox’s syrup is rich and satisfying, but I think that it struggles to completely integrate with the seltzer. After those initial sips I was left with a very diluted chocolate seltzer beverage with a foamy head. If every sip was like the first it’d be incredible. However, for $2.99 I don’t regret trying it. Still, based on enjoyment alone, it’s a 5 out of 10 on my rating scale.
What I find more interesting about Eleven City Diner is their commitment to quality root beer. They offer two varieties of house brewed root beer. The root beers are quite different from each other, and also quite different than other house brewed root beers I’ve had elsewhere. Both the dark root beer and the blonde root beer are aged for 12 months in oak barrels using natural sugars. That’s incredibly rare.
Let’s start with the dark. The most notable quality on my initial taste was the smoothness of the brew. It’s silky and thick. I tasted the deep notes of the sassafras but they were simultaneously balanced by the warmth of the vanilla and caramel notes. The finish is a light caramel that sits on the tonsils, but it doesn’t come across as syrupy. This is one of those rare root beers that is both sophisticated and approachable. Connoisseurs and kids would both love this root beer (properly served in a chilled glass mug). The $6.99 price tag seems a bit steep until you factor in that the mug is bottomless. Also, you don’t have to commit to the single variety, you can switch between dark and blonde. I certainly did.
The blonde is a different beast, and Eleven City was a bit cagey when I tried to pry into the details. They told me that it’s made with brown sugar, but that was the only real distinction between the two types that they’d give me. Here’s the thing…it’s blonde. Root beer is supposed to be dark. I couldn’t figure out if it was missing sassafras or if I just couldn’t pick it out through the other flavors. I definitely tasted brown sugar and vanilla, but root beer? This seemed like a nice cream soda masquerading as a root beer. I liked it, and it deserves a share of the spotlight, but I’d like to put someone from Eleven City Diner on the stand to testify regarding this soda classification. It’s also a bit lighter than the dark.
For me, the dark is an 8.5 out of 10 due to the silky texture and quality vanilla. The blonde is an 8 out of 10, but I’m calling it a cream soda. I’m willing to hear arguments, though. Those are both high ratings on my rating scale. Also, there are a couple other sodas that I’ve tried that are barrel aged. Click here to see how these compare.
Visited on July 18, 2017