I've always been curious about the Red Front - a seedy looking diner in a tiny plaza on the corner of N. Clinton and Andrews. Obviously because the name invokes communist revolution and secondly because it's attached to the liquor store next door. After years of curiosity I headed over for lunch. Most small diners have a collection of regulars who turn their heads when you walk in the door so it was refreshing to walk in at the tail end of lunch, half the tables full, and have no one take notice of me. I looked around: to the left, a small vestibule with a woman offering tax prep help. To the right, the dining area, a cigarette machine that time forgot except for the hand written cardboard signs updating the price and advice on making selections before putting your fives in, and against the far wall a Lotto machine. It was kookier than I expected, though nicer, too.
I walked straight ahead and looked at the menu board above the long counter (curiously covered in steel decking) and ordered a sausage, egg, and cheese but hesitated on what bread to have.
"Your hard roll the Petrillo's roll with the knotted top?"
"The Paulo?" I reiterated quizzically.
"Yeah, that's what we call 'em. You want it on a hard roll?"
I didn't ask why and I'm not entirely sure I heard her correctly, so I proceeded: "Nah, those are too soft."
"But we toast 'em!" she enthusiastically threw back.
I smiled and decided to try something entirely different and went with an English muffin and added some home fries for $2.25.
I walked further down the counter to pay at the register (right next to what I think is a check cashing area) and waited a couple minutes for my food while continuing to take it all in. I was expecting another past-its-prime diner but instead was pleasantly surprised that it felt like it belonged in a big city. They didn't care who waked through the door because I'm guessing in the 41 years they've been in business they've seen it all walk through the door. There was banter. And the pragmatic combination of diner, liquor store, tax prep, cash checking plaza is pretty hard not to like.
I headed back to work and dug in. Egg, cheese, and sausage were good, though I kind of regretted the English muffin (After the first bite I was reminded how much I don't really care for them unless they are very toasted and covered in butter and jam). Not a disaster, just not a home run. The potatoes were curiously slimy but tasted fine. I look forward to heading back to try another.
Sandwich cost: $3.00
Rating: A solid breakfast sandwich