Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Orly's: 30 Years and Still No Concept; Treasure Island Puts in a Soda Fountain

posted by chicago pop

A piece of paper floated to my doorstep the other day, a promotional menu for the restaurant once known as Orly's, but now apparently the "Hyde Park Barbeque & Bakery."

Now admittedly, this new name, which exists only on the menu, tells you more about what to expect there than the other, superceded name, which carried the symbolic baggage of an air terminal redolent of jet fuel in the fields south of Paris, unless you happen to be more familiar with one of the great names of Israeli tennis.

All fine and good, but didn't this place put out a similar promotional menu a year or so ago, when it was converting itself into an old-schul delicatessin? There were the bagels, pomoted on this blog until they were outclassed by the competition from Zaleski and Horvath, and there was the overhauled menu with home-made corned-beef, matzo-ball soup, kreplach, and knishes.

It turns out The Restaurant Formerly Known as "Orly's" has gone through multiple mutations over the 28 years of its existence. Even the name of the restaurant's owner changes spelling as one voyages back in time and through the Herald archives (David ShOpiro, SApiro, or ShApiro).

Mutability may be a source of inspiration among romantic poets, but is it good for restaurants? Let's review the history of Orly's, starting at The Beginning, when the Herald proudly reviewed the new establishment in 1981.

Walk into Orly's and you feel that Hyde Park is a place where exciting things are happening, that you don't have to go to the North Side to find out what is current in dining. A complete redecorating job on the first floor of the Mayfair Apartments has produced an elegant Art Deco interior with heavy black mahogany tables, brass railings and hurricane lamps, lots of palms and fresh flowers and inset tanks of tropical fish. White Naugahyde upholstered booths, roomy tables, light rock recordings and a bright, active ambience spell comfort plus fun. From servers wearing Izod shirts and introducing themselves by first name through cutesy menu terminology ("One Helluva Burger") and "health" ingredients to elaborate fruit-ice cream cocktails, everything is almost slavishly obedient to current trends. Owner David Shopiro designed both the interior and the menu himself, and currently supervises both dining room an kitchen at lunch and dinner— a superhuman task.

Orly's Server ca. 1981
That was Concept #1, which was greeted by a rave review from the Chicago Maroon. Then came concept #2: in 1991 , Orly's completely "revamped its menu," "providing Hyde Park's only gourmet, low-calorie, low-cholesterol meals," focusing on "Mexican, Japanese, Italian, Polynesian and Israeli dinners."

Concept #3 came in 1995, when Orly's diversified a bit by adding "the most spectacular salad bar Hyde Park has ever seen," and a complementary Asian vegetable stir fry bar.

Concept #4 followed shortly thereupon in 1996, when Orly's ditched the tightly focused Japanese, Italian, Polynesian, and Israeli menu with attached Asian vegetable stir fry bar to concentrate on Southwest cuisine. This is most likely when the Sonoran murals went up (the Sponge Bob fish tanks set into the walls date to Concept #1, and blend nicely with the arid, desert wall paintings). Orly's began sprinkling its print ads with lots of words like "huge" and "massive".

Two years into Concept #4 (1998), Orly's became "JalapeƱo's" until a revolt of "old Orly's" regulars resulted in Concept #5, a return to Orly's from Concept #3 in 2002.

So bearing in mind that Concept #5 is really Concept #3, Concept #6, a "Corner Bakery style cafe in Hyde Park," arrived in 2006, when Orly's owner realized that opening a bakery and selling "focaccia and bagels" "was a no-brainer," and Orly's cooks were sent for one month to train at the California branch of a New York bagel-eria and started making the bagels that we reviewed on HPP in 2008. (There was also talk of an "oatmeal bar").

Which makes the Hyde Park Barbeque and Bakery Concept #7

So there you have it. A little bit of something for everybody.

In other news, we see from a Treasure Island ad in the Chicago Tribune that a soda fountain is coming.

It's things like this that will help make the onset of the Great Recession bearable.

chicago pop ca. 1981


edj said...

The most amazing thing about this is that Orly's (or whatever it is) is still in business after all this time while other restaurants have come and gone. Whenever I walk in there (not often, mind you), the place is deserted. I heard that it does a lot of catering.

Kudos to the owner for being able to stay afloat in a business where its impossible to stay in business for more than a few years. Maybe the changes are what keeps the restaurant in people's minds.

NG said...

Thanks for this; it's very illuminating. Orly's is among the strangest restaurants I've ever been to, and the weird menu is the least of it. With all the steam from the bagels, it's like a southwestern greenhouse in there.

Richard Gill said...

I repeat what I said on this blog a year or so ago: In the category "Places I wouldn't go back to, even for free," I listed Orly's. A dud by any other name is still a dud. In years past, I was more than generous in repeatedly trying the place "just one more time." No more, no way, uh uh.

Maybe, just maybe, if the place has changed ownership and is really under new management, I would try it.

Yes, other than an unsuccessful venture into the South Loop, David Shopiro has cast his business lot with Hyde Park; I will give him that much. But I still won't go back to his restaurant. Maybe that corner location would be good for Parker's Pets.

A soda fountain at Treasure Island. What a good fit for a place just a few feet away from a toy store. And how nice for the neighborhood, since the long-awaited Cold Stone Creamery failed to materialize in the shopping center.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Dick, I feel like the old Woolworth's in the Co-Op shopping center had a soda fountain, when I was a little kid? Or maybe it was just diner food. Homemade ice cream would be welcome, that's for sure.

Ah, and I remember that Wimpy's had good shakes in the Co-Op shopping center, too.

Gosh, I'm suddenly old.

Anonymous said...

I ate at Orly's a few times when I lived upstairs from them. The place really screams "CHAOS", although on my dining occasions (which included a specific time with my parents and very elderly grandmother), I generally had acceptable service and quite yummy food.

My first experience was pretty weird, where one of the servers (who I never saw again after this one time) stood at my table and went into a 25 minute shaking tirade about gangs and how they were threatening him at his old job at a restaurant out by Ford City Mall and how "sometimes you have to fight, you can't just get away". I'm actually surprised I went back after this. But the people I encountered there after this one incident were always very pleasant. The guy with the rubber chicken was always lots of fun.

One time I went in and stood at the bakery counter for 15 minutes while the one or two people working there totally ignored me. I walked out.

Every time I dined there (maybe 6-7 times in 4 years) my group were the only people in the place. I never saw it crowded and I never understood how it couldn't be bleeding red ink, especially considering how they changed the menu every other week and then tore out the unused bar and renovated it into a bakery counter.

So reading about the name changes, reconcepting, and general other chaos doesn't really surprise me.

Like I said before, the food was really quite good there. The service could be either decent or terrible. The location is absolutely prime, one would think.

All I can think is that the owner doesn't really need to make a profit off of this restaurant and that it's actually just a bit of fun or an experiment for him. (This is not a comment or a criticism of the owner as a person, I don't know him, just a general comment on the fact that this place has existed since 1981 in spite of the unusual business decisions made.)

Anonymous said...

Mmmmmmm, soda fountain! I will definitely have to try that out.

Treasure Island seriously rocks.

Addendum to my comment about Orly's: I wonder why he didn't just go with the Israeli concept 100%? We don't have any kosher delis down here that I know of and you'd think that would be a slam dunk. I haven't had any decent chopped liver or matzo ball soup in I don't know how long.

chicago pop said...

The rubber chicken thing was a deal-breaker for me. Like Chuck E. Cheese's meets David Lynch. Why not a pervert in a clown suit? Equally unappetizing.

Charlie Chaplin made his last Chicago slapstick movie in 1915. We don't need no more rubber chickens.

Anonymous said...

Pop, I have to disagree: Svengoolie is still going strong!

chicago pop said...

So David Shapiro (sp?) is a knock-off Svengoolie?

Until Greg mentioned that, I hadn't remembered about my youthful (and evidently repressed) exposure to I can't keep from seeing chickens flying out of the TV set. At least they're not flying out of my ass. Mmm ... now I feel like dinner at Orly's and the man with the rubber chicken.

Richard Gill said...

"Svengoolie is still going strong!"

I wonder if Rich Koz would like to move to Hyde Park. What a funny guy. We could use someone like him.

edj said...

I actually am thinking of going to try out the barbeque just because it's a favorite food type. Now if only my wife would stop that vegetarian thing...

Anonymous said...

Koz can't move to Hyde Park as it would require a rezoning to allow for an upright coffin (mortuary) and rubber chicken storage (large-scale food warehousing). The Herald would be inundated with letters from various task forces and committees about the effects groan-inducing humor would have on the Point's limestone revetment.

Besides, everyone knows Svengoolie lives in **BERWYN**!

Richard Gill said...

"Maybe, just maybe, if the place [Orly's] has changed ownership and is really under new management, I would try it."

It's the same owner. I'm not going back in there.

Yael said...

Orly's did an almost great job catering my son's bris--David was incredibly nice and accommodating, and the food was great except...we told him we were vegetarians (no fish no meat) and despite this he brought lox and chicken. The lox we could have lived with, but serving chicken at a Jewish religious event along with dairy products (cream cheese on the bagels, for one) is a HUGE no-no. We offended several orthodox guests, not to mention my kosher vegetarian kitchen (we had no idea the egg rolls had chicken in them--we actually thought he had brought deep-fried cheese blintzes)!

When we moved here and saw the Orly's awning, we were desperately hoping it was a Jewish deli...alas, I guess it's not meant to be. Perhaps someone else can pull it off in HP someday.

Famac said...

As a joke, I've been telling my girlfriend "we should go get BBQ" and she knows I'm just antagonizing her.

I don't understand how Orly's is passing Health Department inspections because it doesn't appear to have been cleaned since 1981.

And maybe I'm inagining it, but I think someone died and was left to rot in one of those booths back there. The body seems to be intact, though some ribs are missing.

Michael said...

Since I moved to HP in 2001, I never knew that Jalapeno's had a "storied" past. I liked Jalapeno's well enough, although I can't remember it well. I do know that I went on the first day it reopened as "Orly's" in 2002, and that the staff was so slow and confused by the transition that I was there for >2.5 hrs. It was 50% off for opening weekend, but it was still a huge pain and, perhaps unfairly, I never returned. I am glad it still is in business despite me, since we don't need another empty storefront. May it live as HPB&B.

chicago pop said...

Like the saying goes, if they keep fixing it, it must be broken.

I'm waiting for the Jamba Juice to take that location.

Kofi Bofah said...

Ha Ha.

Orly's isn't getting much Love on here.

mhb said...

My husband and I have never, and will never, set foot in Orly's, or whatever it's called. There are only so many stupid menus you can assault my doorway with and not expect some annoyed feelings in return.

Like many, I don't understand what's keeping them in business.

Meanwhile, if the "Move Svengoolie to Hyde Park" movement is getting organized, count me in.