Chillinois’ Billy Goat Tavern
Welcome back infatuated readers to a Billy Goat Tavern edition of the Pot & Pan Handler’s misanthropic blog. This post is an illustration of the futility of food porn production as who hasn’t heard of the Billy Goat Tavern already? Between the owner’s goat curse on the Cubs, to the Saturday Night Live skit, Olympia Café an ode to the Billy Goat Tavern, CHEESEBORGER! CHEESEBORGER! CHEESEBORGER! NO FRIES! CHIPS! NO COKE! PEPSI! Everybody has already heard of the Billy Goat Tavern. Such is the folly of the food media running around the country in order to tell each other about restaurants we’ve already heard of. Consider me guilty, such is my cross to bear, all for you the insatiable reader. We even have a link for your ignoring pleasure. http://www.billygoattavern.com/locations/michigan/
The scene opens as you walk down the steps from the sunlit skies above, the metaphor for moral decline is palpable as you descend to the dank and dark commercial vehicle underworld of Chicago’s streets. Unlike the famous tourist pizza traps in town, foundations bending under the weight of fat American tourists stuffing their faces with pizza that would be more aptly named lasagna. The Billy Goat Tavern is popular with locals and tourists alike. With an air of nothing has changed here in 70 years, including the prices, it’s probably the cheapest place to eat downtown & everyone appreciates it.
WATCH YOUR STEP!
Once you get to the bottom of the filthy city steps you’re greeted by the seediest little bar that could. Upon entering you’ll be delighted to find the moral declination continues in the form of another staircase. The basement of a basement. Shouts of WELCOME! C’MON IN! And WATCH YOUR STEP! Punctuate the slamming door and the metaphorical moral decline continues. Enter quickly, this place is busy, you’ve got a decision to make, straight ahead for food, or turn right for the bar. WELCOME! C’MON IN! WATCH YOUR STEP! Bookends the slamming door. I take an efficient right turn and sit at the bar. This is the perfect opportunity to drink a Pilsner as 12:30 in the afternoon is the optimal pilsner hour.
Armed with a Pilsner I observe the controlled chaos as the door startles me. SLAM! WELCOME! C’MON IN! WATCH YOUR STEP! A steady stream of tourists, locals and even food tours come in, allow the door to slam & are greeted with the mantra WELCOME! C’MON IN! WATCH YOUR STEP! Many ask for and are granted permission to take pictures with the owner. I watch this happen repeatedly in the time I was there. Eventually I find a break in the line before the door slams again and prepare to order. SLAM! WELCOME! C’MON IN! WATCH YOUR STEP! The line quickly extends behind me.
The line moves quickly and reminds me of Pat’s Cheese steak joint in Philly where patience for the customer is in short supply CHEESEBORGER! CHEESEBORGER! CHEESEBORGER! Since, Cheeseburger is the mantra, that’s what I’ll order. It’s my turn to order. NEXT! I’ll take a cheeseburger please. The grey haired geriatric Greek looks at me & shouts in reply DOUBLE!? I am shocked at this display of up sale battery. These guys took the Sullivan nod & upgraded it to a Sullivan water boarding. It’s time to take a principled stand against this up sale assault. I stand my ground & say I said a cheeseburger, not a double bub. But it comes out sounding more like sure, I’ll take a double.
I quickly retreat to the relative safety of the bar & my sole companion nearly full Pilsner, before they can underhandedly up sale me something else. FABERGE EGG!? Sure I could use a Faberge egg I’d reply. SLAM! WELCOME! C’MON IN! WATCH YOUR STEP! A man stumbles in the door, clearly intoxicated, he’s had more to drink than one Pilsner. He drunkenly ignores the advice to watch his step & almost falls down the steps. WATCH YOUR STEP! Is yelled again impatiently. An impromptu meeting forms & the proprietors & employees agree to let the drunken man order a to go order.
JOSH! They yell my name, indicating that my burger, er, ah, double cheeseburger is ready, I grab it and take a quick right to the well-stocked if slightly abridged condiment bar. Pickles, onions, mustard & ketchup, I help myself to the pickle, onions & mustard & stack in a foundational, sound manner, then I head back to the shelter of the bar & a half full Pilsner.
The double cheeseburger is the perfect blue collar fare for the time capsule that is the Billy Goat Tavern. Two 2-2.5 OZ, thin hand-made burger patties, not great, under-seasoned & topped with pasteurized American cheese product, but also perfect. Nobody comes to the Billy Goat Tavern for a mind blowing gastronomical experience. Instead people here are looking for a sensible, serviceable, yet still juicy burger, and the Billy Goat Tavern delivers. The now familiar SLAM! WELCOME! C’MON IN! WATCH YOUR STEP! Punctuates the experience, once again.
This is the cheapest meal I’ve ever eaten in Chicago. I would gladly & in fact look forward to going back again to ingest more food of the people & bask in the atmosphere. Joined of course by my constant companion local Pilsner. SLAM! WELCOME! C’MON IN! WATCH YOUR STEP!
The intoxicated man has received his burger to go. In the manner of a trained interloper, I silently observe, a reminder, the drunken man once again ignores the advice to WATCH YOUR STEP! In a teetering manner he stumbles up the stairs and drops his (presumably double) burger. The burgers separates from the butcher paper they’re wrapped in, paper, buns and burger patties cascade down the stairs leaving a neon yellow tell-tale trail of mustard. And I see something I’ve never seen before… it rains pickles. A brief briny flurry and it’s over as quick as it started the only evidence that it happened is the yellow smear, exasperated hurried clean-up & an impatient bark WATCH YOUR STEP!
I finish the sustenance of Local Pilsner and brace myself for the metaphorical moral ascension back to world of sunlight above the netherworld beneath the city. Next, faintly, receding in the distance, as I climb I’m accompanied by one last token command to WATCH YOUR STEP! Always good advice, thanks Billy Goat Tavern.
Coming soon: We continue to dissect the windy city’s culinary landscape @ Portillo’s Hot Dogs. There you’ll find us wide eyed, panicked like deer in the headlights. While there, we’ll treat ourselves to total sensory overload, with a side of Chicago dog and spoiler alert, somebody says they have a better Italian Beef than Al’s #1 Italian Beef. The gauntlet has been dropped, we’ll see you there.
The Pot & Pan Handler are rare escaped kitchen avengers armed with weapons of mass instruction. We scour the earth in a quixotic mission to attack restaurants with our rusty spatulas and unbound flatulence. We do all this in an attempt to follow the rules of travel & tell a story to you, the trusted reader.