So, in the spirit of this selection: All Aboard!
Restaurant: The Silver Palm
Address: 768 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago
Hours: Tue–Fri 6:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m., Sat 6:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m., Sun 4:00 – 11:00 p.m.
The Silver Palm is a throwback to the golden era of the railroad. The bulk of the dining space is contained in a 1947 dining car housed behind the Silver Palm’s cocktail lounge. Although the atmosphere is definitely part of The Silver Palm’s appeal, the food is far from shabby. Our review of this restaurant is long overdue; The Silver Palm was one of the first restaurants to inspire Table for Two.
Sarah and I first heard about the Silver Palm on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. The infamous Mr. Bourdain, a personal hero of mine, visited this eatery in 2008 and ordered a sandwich that forever imprinted itself on my memory: the Three Little Piggy, named the best sandwich in America by Bourdain. The Three Little Piggy is a king among sandwiches, decked with bacon, smoked ham, fried pork loin, a fried egg, Gruyére cheese and an onion ring. I seriously can’t put my admiration for this sandwich into words. Each individual portion of meat was cooked perfectly in its own way, and the egg was fried expertly, just runny enough to mix well with the sandwich but not so runny it makes a mess.
However, this sandwich is a bit messy on the whole. By the time I finished eating, bits of bacon and ham littered the table around me. Also, note that I said that I finished eating, not that I finished eating the sandwich. To quote Kanye West, “No one man should have all that power.” In this case, no one man should have all this pork. Anthony Bourdain made it look easy enough, but I am a voracious eater and I barely made it halfway through. Perhaps it’s because I attempted to clear some fighting room on the plate, which was packed with french fries at the onset of the meal, but huff and puff as I might, I could not blow this sandwich down.
The Silver Palm offers service with a smile. Though the room was not crowded during our meal, they seemed more than capable of dealing with a full house. Our food arrived at the table quickly, especially considering the vast portions. However, nothing made the service at Silver Palm stand out. It was good, but not great. Then again, with the quality of the food, it really doesn’t need to be more.
I’m a big fan of trains and have been since a very young age, so eating in the Silver Palm was something of a fantasy experience for me. I’ve ridden cross country on a train before, but its dining car was unglamorous and the food disappointing. The Silver Palm is, to me, everything eating on a real train should be. Perhaps it’s just my naivety, but as I watched the sun set over Chicago through the window of a train car, I felt as though I was smack in the middle of rail travel's glory days. However, the tall best beware the low doorways on the train car while the long-legged may feel a little strapped for space at the authentic train car tables.
Date Factor (3.5/5)
While I can’t heap enough praise on the Silver Palm, I think it may be better suited to groups of friends than to couples. There are no tables for two here, only four-person spots and, while the food may be delicious, it can cause a bit of a mess. However, I think that the Silver Palm would be a welcome respite after a day in the city.
Since John had dibs on Mr. Bourdain’s favorite sandwich, I opted to order something a little less publicized. After scouring the menu, I came across the Illinois Central Railroad’s Chicken Saltimbocca. This delicious sandwich consists of sliced grilled chicken, prosciutto, sage, and a creamy tomato spread stuffed into a ciabatta roll. The flavors blended beautifully; the prosciutto’s smoky flavor played off of the sage and tomato spread’s earthy tones. The spongy ciabatta bun balanced the savory chicken and subtly spicy tomato spread. This was no ordinary chicken sandwich. Every sandwich comes with French fries, onion rings or grilled vegetables.
Considering John’s pork-filled meal, I didn’t feel too guilty about my New Year’s resolution when I ordered the onion rings. These thick-sliced onion rings were a perfect complement to my sandwich. The batter was thick, but the rings were not too greasy. For such a generous sandwich portion, the onion rings were somewhat skimpy. During our meal, I ate half my sandwich and four of the six onion rings. Although their food is delicious and plentiful, the Silver Palm could improve its portion ratios.
The Silver Palm is notable for its food and atmosphere, but not its service. Our waitress was attentive and friendly enough, but there was nothing fantastic about the waitstaff. Our food was delivered promptly, our drinks remained reasonably filled. Nothing was egregiously wrong. The adequate service does not detract from a dining experience at this unique locale. It is not, however, the most enticing aspect of this restaurant. I didn’t feel remorse when leaving an average tip.
John’s really said all that needs to be said about the physical dining space. Classic train cars are pretty darn cool, and you’ll be sure to enjoy the Silver Palm if you—like me—enjoy trains even half as much as John does. Aside from the dining space, the Silver Palm offers a retro cocktail lounge with tall barstools that line a classic hardwood bar. The music at the Silver Palm is somewhat disjointed from its visual impression. Although the dining car screams “1950s,” the tunes seem less jukebox and more surf-style acid trip. The volume was also a bit loud for such a small space. Maybe the owners of The Silver Palm are trying to warn patrons aurally of the epic gastrointestinal battle they will begin by ordering such impressive sandwiches.
Date Factor (2.5/5)
Let’s be clear: the Silver Palm is not for beginning couples. At several points throughout our meal, I found myself containing fits of giggles while watching John struggle against his gigantic combatant of a sandwich. The minimal lighting may create a dreamy feel, but the blaring guitar music overhead destroys any shred of romance. That being said, the Silver Palm is great for a hungry group of friends or a couple that is comfortable in the unattractiveness of eating. If food trumps flirtation in your assessment of a date night, then the Silver Palm won’t disappoint.
The Silver Palm is delicious, casual and a bit of a novelty. It’s an absolute must for any self-respecting foodie or train enthusiast. If the legendary Anthony Bourdain thought it was worth mentioning, the Silver Palm is assuredly worth the long El ride and slightly elevated prices. Consider sharing one of the monster entrées or sandwiches with your date. Both of you can struggle against a mountain of food together and be uniformly inelegant. Although we absolutely love this restaurant’s concept and fare, the Silver Palm is not necessarily an ace in the hole for a night out with your sweetheart.