Penny's Noodle Shop may be the most annoying restaurant in town, luring the famished with a reputation for quick, tasty, cheap dishes, then repelling them with an hour-long wait under the el. So when the new Penny's showed up on Diversey--and hadn't yet strung up a sign--we hoped we could finally sneak a taste, sans wait.
Inside, the new Penny's is even cuter than the student-encrusted old. The simple, clean decor is built from stacked plywood--humble and adorable. Likewise, the cuisine.
(Thai Spring Roll) - Someone ordered one of these, perhaps out of a sense a obligation. It was the usual cold white log. Inside some nice crunchy greens mixed it up with those little canned--and un-deveined--shrimp, the ones that make me queasy. Perhaps the sanitary wrapper is supposed to shield us from this lapse in culinary hygiene, but I'm not easily dissuaded.
(Tom Yum) - Spiked with aromatic shards of lemongrass and onion--like a plane ticket to Thailand, only cheaper.
(Stir Fried Cabbage with Tomato) - Simple. Fab. Everyone else finished mine, so I sulked.
(Stir Fried Water Cress with Bean Sauce and Garlic) - Pretty good.
(Chinese Greens with Oyster Sauce) - Nice to see some greens more daring than broccoli, though these cowered beneath an abundance of oyster sauce.
(Tea) - Jasmine, wonderful.
(Thai Iced Coffee) - Substitutes burnt for strong coffee.
(Sliced Beef or Chicken) - Charming floor plan. Sliced chicken stacked over here, sprouts lounging there, plenty of chopped cilantro and peanuts running a border down the middle. Cute and simple -- to a fault. Not a lot holding together the disparate elements.
(Sauteed Chicken) - Better to order this, which is almost the same, but more coherent. The overworked, if not yet overwrought, waitress offered to substitute egg for rice noodles, but they're both so skinny and similar, it didn't make much of a difference.
(Pad Thai) - The standard, only better.
(Pad Se Eu) - Deee-licious. Love those fat noodles. Love that sweet lilt to the sauce you can doctor with a couple varieties of hot peppers.
(Spicy Basil) - Nice ginger kick. This one rises above the three chords, no melody limitations of the bowls. Complex and lovely.
No dessert, which we were left longing for. Nor drinks. There's a liquor store next door where we stocked up on beer.
The long-wait Penny's is at 3400 North Sheffield, 281-8222. The soon-to-be long wait Penny's is at 950 West Diversy, 281-8448.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Menu.