Often, you walk into a restaurant named for a certain person, only to realize that "Johnny" or "George" is nowhere to be found, or has been gone for years. You won't have any problems locating the namesake at this neighborhood joint, though, as you can find Howie Stein working the registers along with his wife, Laura, every day.
During the lunch hour rush, the counter gets packed with construction workers, students and South Loop residents, eager to feed on Howie's food. Blackboards suspended above the four-stool counter list the offerings, from $7 Denver omelets to $11 Maryland Crab Cakes. In addition to the more eccentric items, Howie serves up a lot of dogs, burgers and stacks of pancakes so big you gotta call 'em flapjacks. Hand-cut fries spill out of the baskets of diners seated at the dozen tables or at the counter by the front window.
The big blackboard above the condiment bar lists the soups of the day, which always include chili ($3 small; $4 large) and chicken noodle, as well as kids' meals and treats from the soft-serve ice cream machine. Two TVs hang in the front corners, those who need more entertainment can turn to Golden Tee or leaf through one of the many newspapers on hand. Most of the sandwiches (excluding the $4 egg, meat and cheese breakfast sandwich), from the turkey Reuben to the grilled pork chop, cost about $6 and can be upgraded to a combo for an additional $2. You might have some trouble choosing your drink, though; there's a full coffee bar, eight different beers, wine and home-brewed iced tea. Food runners bark out your order, spot you, then deliver it to you.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Robert Duffer