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Not Alinea But A 5 Star Experience for my Family

Published in ChicagoNow, January 22, 2014

Recently, we went out to lunch with three of our grandchildren and their parents. Thank goodness we weren’t at a fancy restaurant like Alinea. Instead, we were at a local place we frequent, Panino’s. We first chose it based on its menu that includes two of the most important food groups for the kids, pizza and ice cream. Also, the service is fast. But most importantly, it is one of the best places in our community to go with children who cannot be expected to be quiet or linger over their meals.

I’ve been there many times with my grandkids. They know that my grandchild with special needs wants the pizza slice ASAP. They know that another grandchild has to taste at least three flavors of ice cream before making a choice. They even know which of their salads I ordered last time.

On our recent visit when my grandchild with special needs decided to throw a fit for reasons unknown, the waitress said, “Don’t worry. We don’t mind.” The patron at the nearest table smiled at us and returned to having lunch with his kids. Wow! We are so unaccustomed to these kinds of responses that it made our day.

How could this scene have played out at other restaurants? I’m pretty sure those of you with young kids and/or children with special needs know: hostile stares, disapproving looks, unsolicited advice, waitresses whose look says “hurry up and leave,” and hastily boxed up meals to go.

So this piece is a shout out to Panino’s in Evanston and all of the other family-friendly places that don’t get too many rave restaurant reviews. True, it's not Alinea. Food is food for most of us non-Alinea diners, but finding a place to eat that feels like an ode to the old show Cheers, now that’s something special.

Remember the Cheers theme song about a place …

Where everybody knows your name,

And they're always glad you came;

You want to go where people know,

People are all the same;

You want to go where everybody knows your name.


by Laurie Levy
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