Olga’s Delicatessen, in Chicago’s Albany Park, makes, flat out, some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. I’ve been twice in the last two weeks, and each time she created an amazing Germanic pile of meat on great bread slathered with vinegary brown mustard. But first she would insist on offering me tastes of the various cuts she had on hand: Chicken and pork schnitzel, smoked butt, roast beef. All warm and fresh from the oven.
Sandwich and Jay’s potato chips: $7, including tax.
A glance around the place can be a bit…unsettling. It’s ostensibly a grocery store with a deli in the back. And many of the items on the shelves seem to have been placed–along with their dust–in the early 1980’s. Notice how she’s not using gloves in the picture?
The place is a throwback. Not just the decor, but the entire way of doing business. In the Chicago of my youth, back in the 80’s, there were dozens, if not hundreds of these kinds of places across the city. Slapdash lunch places where the food was cooked on a stove in back or upstairs with a decidedly less hygienic decor. Maybe some fly paper strips loaded with insects.
Walking from school to the L, every afternoon I passed a hot dog stand on North and North Park. It was a squat, dingy brick shack, painted white, just large enough for the grill, a counter and five stools against a foot-wide table on the wall. I’d pick up a bag of fries for a dollar now and then, as much as my teenage budget would allow. They were hot and covered with ketchup, keeping my fingers warm as I’d wait on the train platform a block away.
That place is an empty lot now, a victim of raising property values. But other similarly, low rent spots have fallen off the map as more efficient Potbelly’s, Costello’s and Chipotles have hoovered up customers looking for a decent lunch at a decent price…and hygienic conditions.
But we didn’t all die in the 1980’s when we went to the dusty spots. And I didn’t either after I ate at Olga’s. In fact, I enjoyed it. And I think you will too. You should go. 3209 W. Irving Park Rd.