A model train tumbles from the kitchen of All Aboard Diner, announcing its arrival with a shrill “toot, toot!” As it chugs down a thin sliver of track that extends deep into the dining room, the contents of its cargo are revealed: hearty burgers, jumbo fried shrimp, and sandwiches stacked with corned beef. Children might have to pinch themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming as the train finally halts at their table to drop off a meal. Everything at All Aboard Diner is 100% real, however—including the vintage photos of locomotives and neon signs pinned across the walls. The diner’s front window even contains a miniature town complete with another model train, a Ferris wheel, and a man twirling his mustache as he tries to make sense of his gargantuan visitors.
If you're all dressed up in chainmail with no place to go, today's deal is an excuse to wear grandma's mail hood and mittens out of the house. Today's Groupon to Medieval Times gets you a sensuous four-course feast and live show, featuring horse-mounted combat, falconry, and mace-wielding professionals, for $39, a $64.75 value for adults, including tax. Call Medieval Times to schedule your outing soon, as this Groupon expires on January 31, 2010, the centennial of the Blue Knight's battle against Chaucer's time-travelling sword. An expansive stone castle bedecked in flags awaits you in Shaumburg, where you can satisfy your New Year's resolution to spend more time with the other family you've secretly been keeping in Shaumburg.
Everything about Eggsperience Pancakes & Cafe is bright, warm, and sunny. Natural light floods the restaurant's eight locations, which sprinkle across Chicago and its suburbs like powdered sugar over a slice of french toast. Orange and yellow walls surround every dining room, and some locations have fireplaces, which make ideal places to sip Ghirardelli hot chocolate or espresso beverages. Even the food is colorful. Fresh fruits—either in solid or juice form—complement dishes such as the Mediterranean omelette, baked in the French style and filled with a vibrant medley of spinach, tomatoes, olives, and imported feta cheese.
Those omelettes, like what most of what comes from Eggsperience's kitchen, start with grade-AA, farm-fresh eggs. The chefs work magic with those eggs, whipping them into frittatas and poaching them for five different "Eggsquisite Benedicts." They also use them to create their signature pancake batter, but in this case, eggs are only the beginning. Strawberries, blueberries, and other fruits mix into the pancakes.
The creativity shown with those pancakes and egg dishes extends to dozens of other breakfast items, and diners could spend countless mornings at Eggsperience without boring their taste buds. The chefs don't stop at breakfast, either. They simply transition to lunch, when they grill Cajun avocado burgers and pair gourmet chicken-salad sandwiches with a soup of the day.
At Doggie Diner, chefs try to bring together some of Chicago's most recognizable dishes, which already tend to be warm and hearty, with comfort-food favorites. Vienna Beef hot dogs, of course, fill buns destined for a coating of the requisite mustard, relish, pickles, and a tomato. The team loads another Chicago staple, italian beef sandwiches, with peppers and cheese and crown burgers with everything from bacon to pizza toppings. Meals might conclude with scoops of ice cream, which can be blended into shakes, served in a float, or used to test the willpower chip of a robot.
The Junction Diner was born from a child's imagination. Kate and Brad Wahl's son Connor had just turned 1 and received a wooden train set. He played for well over an hour, delighting his parents, who had been searching for something that could keep their son's attention. The next step seemed as natural as a locomotive's forward momentum: they opened a train-themed restaurant to cater to parents and their kids.
Inside The Junction Diner, a long counter wraps around the room's center like a winding train track. Diners sit on either side, and servers move up and down the middle, carrying plates of food with playful, train-inspired names. Customers at the counter itself can even get their meals delivered by an actual train. The aptly titled "Lil Conductor's Menu" delights kids with mini burgers and cheese quesadillas, while older diners peruse "Box Car Burgers" made with certified Black Angus beef and "Junction Wraps" including the buffalo chicken, topped in buffalo sauce, veggies, and a choice of ranch dressing or blue cheese. Near the dining area, a large table with interactive model trains keeps kids busy while their parents finish meals.
Ham is the star of the kitchen at Mr. Allison's Restaurant, where it’s been slowly smoked, hand-trimmed, and slathered in a signature sugar glaze since 1971. Slices of ham top sub sandwiches and julienne salads, or sidle up to hearty breakfasts of eggs and strips of crispy bacon. These throwback dishes are mimicked by the dining room's décor, which features retro-styled booths and a mural of vintage cars.