JOLIET, IL —Over the past couple weeks, I have been reflecting on the Joliet area restaurant casualties from the coronavirus pandemic. A number of well-known restaurants did not make it. One of the big losses is Diamand’s near the Louis Joliet Mall. The Diamand’s property on Plainfield Road is listed on a real estate website, as I reported back in August.
But most of the Joliet restaurants that did not make it were restaurant chains. The Boston Market on West Jefferson Street, the Bob Evans restaurant at the Interstate 80 exit for Larkin Avenue, and most recently, the Church’s Chicken on Joliet’s thriving Collins Street corridor.
During the pandemic, many Joliet residents are opting to support their local restaurants and that’s terrific, as I’ve been doing that myself, picking up Merichka’s last weekend for my family.
On the other hand, should we completely turn our back on a Joliet area restaurant because it’s part of a franchise, or part of a restaurant chain?
On Tuesday, for the first time since I moved back to the area from Wisconsin in 2017, I made a visit to Joliet’s only Brown’s Chicken. My memories of Brown’s Chicken date back to the 1980s and our summer family reunions on my mom’s side of the family, the Astorinos. I think it was a requirement for everybody to bring chicken to my late aunt Rosie’s house on May Street.
Other times, we picked up the Brown’s Chicken for my dad’s annual summer softball team reunions for Pisuts out at Hammel Woods.
It seemed every time we had something big, my family picked up Brown’s Chicken, usually at the restaurant at Plainfield Road and Larkin Avenue.
That Brown’s Chicken no longer exists.
So Tuesday afternoon, in a way, kind of made me feel like a freshman in high school. I was unsure of myself and my surroundings as I pulled into the Brown’s Chicken plaza at 18 South Larkin Ave. I walked inside the restaurant, one I had never visited before.
The Joliet Brown’s had a plethora of specials: whole wings, jumbo tenders, jumbo chicken, hot dogs, hamburger, Italian beef, Italian sausage, meatball sandwich, even a BBQ pulled sandwich.
Wow, I forgot Brown’s had such a large menu. But none of those options had my name on it. I came for something I haven’t had in decades. I came for the Brown’s Chicken.
For the $5.99 special, I went with the two-piece, dark meat, chicken meal. It came with fries, a biscuit and a can of soda. My order was ready within a minute, no longer than 90 seconds, from the time I paid for it.
Either way, it was fast.
The woman who walked inside after me came to order their gizzards. Gizzards? I thought. Sure enough, Brown’s has gizzards as well as mushrooms, okra, livers, mozzarella sticks, toasted ravioli and Jalapeno poppers listed on their menu as specialties.
When I was growing up, Brown’s Chicken commercials were a constant on Chicago’s TV stations. Anybody my age or older remembers the jingle, “Brown’s Chicken, It Tastes Better.”
As I ate my two-piece chicken meal Tuesday afternoon, it was a little bit of nostalgia.
I was pleased to see steam rising from my chicken as I unwrapped my bag. The skin on the Brown’s Chicken is soft and tasty. The biscuit was fresh and so were my fries.
“For over 71 years Brown’s Chicken has tempted the taste buds of generations of Chicagoans. From humble beginnings in 1949 when John and Belva Brown opened their first location in a trailer at 80th and Harlem in Bridgeview, the company’s pursuit of chicken that truly tastes better continues in a new era,” the Brown’s Chicken website proclaims.
There are some fast-food chains that I would not lose sleep if they left the Joliet area tomorrow. But Tuesday’s visit reminded me that while Brown’s Chicken may be regarded as a restaurant franchise, it’s a local franchise. Brown’s is a Chicago area fixture and Joliet, thankfully, still remains one of its viable locations.
Let’s hope it stays that way.