First day back in Chicago and J and I had a lot of errands to run. We got up early to take care of our first major task at the Cook County Courthouse in Bridgeview. After that, we needed to run to Joliet to see my grandma. By the time we left her, it was lunch time.
I lived in Joliet for four years and there wasn’t much reason to ever go downtown. Things have changed a lot in the last seven years. They’ve brought in a great Independent League baseball park and the Harrah’s Casino has invested a lot of money downtown. With the influx of things to do, the dining scene has picked up dramatically.
In June, J and I went to a Joliet Jackhammers game with my parents. They wanted to eat at the only reason there was to go downtown when I was there..Chicken ‘N Spice, but on our trek through town, I noticed a number of restaurants that I tucked away into the ol’ memory bank should we ever get back to Joliet.
After driving around the block a few times, the restaurant I settled on was The Department. It was a neat looking restaurant from the outside, but what we found inside blew us both away.
The Department is on the corner of Chicago and Cass Streets at 205 N. Chicago. It’s a huge two story building with an outdoor patio at both street level and on a balcony. We parked along Cass Street and walked back to the front entrance on Chicago. We were met by a hostess who asked if we wanted to sit in the bar area or the dining room. J said she didn’t care so we were seated in the bar which has a row of booths on a platform.
The bar area was beautiful. J and I looked for a long time at the walls trying to figure them out. The whole restaurant had a rustic, industrial feel. The walls were exposed brick and it looked like there used to be a painting on both sides. At one point, the waitress noticed us looking around and asked if we had ever eaten there before. We said no and she offered up a history of the building.
The building is over a hundred years old getting it’s start in 1896 as a grocery store. Actually, that’s the just the dining room. The bar area….was an alley. The owners closed in the gap between the two buildings. Those brick walls that had painting on them…they were, at one time, the exterior walls. The paintings are original advertisements that have been on those walls for many, many years. It was a very cool look and once the waitress pointed, we could see how they turned the alley into an amazing space.
Anyway, on to lunch. The Department is more than a bar. It’s a little bit fancier. The bar area doesn’t have table cloths, but they do have cloth napkins and a pitcher of water on the table. The dining room has a much fancier feel with white table cloths and a fireplace setting the mood.
We ordered our drinks while looking over the menu. I got a Coke and J got an Iced Tea. The waitress informed of us the specials, one of which was a grilled chicken sandwich on foccacia.
The menu was traditional American fare with sandwiches, salads, etc. They had my favorite burger, the black and bleu burger, but J and I had plans to meet one of her bridesmaid’s for dinner at a bar on Chicago’s north side, so no burgers for lunch.
The other sandwich that looked good was the Tender BBQ Chicken Sandwich. J said she was going to order that, so I went with the grilled chicken special. The chicken actually had a pretty good flavor with a little bit of a salt and pepper seasoning. The bread was a nice soft foccacia. There was also onion, tomatoes, and lettuce which I pulled off. The fries that came with the sandwich were delicious. They were thin and crispy and there was a lot of them.
J’s sandwich was huge. The chicken was covered with a slightly tangy BBQ sauce and put on a sub bun that had gotten soggy by the time it got to the table. J tried her best to eat the sandwich, but she wasn’t a big fan of the sauce and the chicken was too meaty. She looked at me and said she really wanted to like it because she loved the restaurant, but it didn’t do much for her. She loved the fries, however, and made most of her meal out of the fries on her plate.
Before we left, the waitress said I had to check out the bathroom. They are so proud that they have TV’s above the urinals tuned to ESPN. While I was doing this, the check came and J graciously paid the $23 tab.
The Department is an awesome space. It’s easily one of the best restaurants we’ve been to as far as ambiance goes. J wasn’t a huge fan of her meal, but she said it was her. Mine was good, but I should have gotten a burger. I enjoyed my chicken, but it wasn’t filling. I ordered the “light lunch” and I’m not really a light eater.
If The Department had been in Joliet when I was there, it’s the type of place I would have spent a lot of time at. They have good drink specials, good food, and an amazing space.