by Aimee Levitt
This did not seem to be an unreasonable complaint since we had been sitting in a restaurant, Miss Ricky's, the diner at the Virgin Hotel, for the past 20 minutes. There were only two other occupied tables. There appeared to be plenty of waitstaff. Soon after we'd sat down, one of them even appeared to take our drink orders. But the drinks did not materialize and no one had come near us since. Because the menu was a placemat, we could not close it to signify our readiness to order. I was starting to get paranoid.
"Maybe there's something wrong with us?"
We were sitting out in the open, too, right near the counter.
The TV above the counter was, for some reason, showing an old Busby Berkeley movie. I tried to describe it to my friend, who couldn't see. "This girl has just been attacked by a man breaking into her room!" I said. "He threw her on the bed. But she escaped. She's going to jump out the window."
"Oh, no!" my friend cried.
"Oh, wait, she's dancing in the street now with this other guy. It's all OK." Even to my own ears, it sounded like I'd slammed down both drinks in quick succession and started trying to recount a dream.
Maybe ten minutes later, after we'd straightened our spines and done our best to look imperious and evil, a server finally came over. In the interest of getting us out of there so we could reach our next destination on time, my friend changed tactics and smiled a lot and ordered according to the server's recommendations.
After that, the food came pretty quickly. It was amazing. Or maybe it just seemed fast because on the TV, things had become fascinatingly absurd and surreal. An army of American GIs was marching in tandem with another army of Asian women in coolie hats. Somehow they all acquired big cards and did a card stunt, as at the Rose Bowl. At first it showed the American flag. Then, when they flipped the cards, it turned into a portrait of FDR.
The feta cheese sticks were salty, as is the nature of feta, and the inside was not as melty as it could have been, but the cucumber yogurt and harissa aioli cut the saltiness nicely. The only thing inspired about the grilled cheese, though, was its size. It looked like it had been made from a couple of baguettes that had been butterflied and smushed flat on the grill and it covered the whole plate. Tastewise, it was reminiscent of the white-bread-and-American-cheese grilled cheeses our parents used to make us when we were small, but without the overlying flavor of parental love that makes up for blandness. (I like to pretend I'm all sophisticated now, but I still love it when my mom makes grilled cheese for me.) Also, your parents don't charge you $12 for a sandwich.
I ordered the fish pie because it's one of those foods people are always eating in old-fashioned English novels and Miss Ricky's is supposed to be British (although to be honest, the decor was more old-school American diner, with chrome and stools at the counter and pies under glass domes). Fish pie is like shepherd's pie, but instead of beef or lamb, there are salmon and whitefish swimming in a buttery sauce. The potato crust on top was crunchy like potato chips, not creamy like mashed potatoes, but overall, it was pretty satisfying, not the horror I'd always expected from British cuisine.
We had to take the salad and dessert to go because about halfway through the grilled cheese and pie, we realized everything had taken so long, we had just ten minutes to pay up and be on our way. The check came speedily, too, even though the place had started to fill up. It made me paranoid again. Did they really hate us?
I ate my dessert—a slice of Nana's Birthday Cake—at home later. It had endured a few hours in a theater coat-check room and a long trip on the Red Line but emerged from its to-go box more or less intact and still moist. Like the grilled cheese, it was probably meant to appeal to nostalgia: yellow cake (flavored with a hint of lemon), white buttercream, and lots of sprinkles. Unlike the grilled cheese—and Miss Ricky's in general—it succeeded.
Maybe someday I will go back to Miss Ricky's, but only if it's late at night and I am either slightly tipsy or the rest of the evening has been extremely strange and I really want to stay in the Loop. I will order cake and watch Busby Berkeley dance numbers while I wait for it, and all will be right with the world.
Miss Ricky's, 203 N. Wabash, 312-940-4777, virginhotels.com