September 2nd, 2015 10:47 AM
When Cucina Paradiso opened in Oak Park, lo these many years ago, I called several friends and invited them to dinner there because, as I said at the time, this is the Oak Park restaurant that "comes closest to a downtown dining experience."
Reflecting on my initial perceptions of the place, I'm guessing it felt more "downtown" at Cucina Paradiso because, at the time, it was the only upscale Oak Park restaurant that had a train going by the front windows. That, and a well appointed dining room, made this suburban restaurant feel more citified. And I'm not suggesting that's a good reason to like or dislike a restaurant.
Location affects our perception of restaurants, and it's hard to separate the dining environment from the dining, and a restaurant's location seems to critically influence how people respond to it.
Recently, I drove out to Woodfield to go to the new Kuma's Corner. I posted a picture of the place on Facebook. Many people responded negatively, because it seemed, as one poster put it, "just wrong" to locate such a place in suburbia.
If you're not familiar with Kuma's Corner, the original location has been around for about ten years now; it's a relatively small, dark place that, as I recall, is located across the street from a massage parlor. It's a seedy neighborhood, yes, but it has a lot of character. This popular joint has been characterized by blaring heavy metal music, heavily tattooed and pierced servers, and heavy, heavy burgers that always seem to contain, as one of my friends put it, "one ingredient too many." Indeed, I had the "burger of the month" – the Godhammered – and it was a big burger, topped with pulled pork, bacon, cole slaw, and fried onions, all so huge it defied the average-sized mouth. I ate it with a knife and fork (I'm a priss, I know, I know), and man, it was very, very good. The menu at all Kuma's locations is the same. The music is the same. The only thing that's different is, of course, the location.
At the original Kuma's, there was also, usually, a very long wait for tables, which fueled the cache of this place which from the start had a gangsta appeal that felt almost underground even after it started getting national attention.
Then last year, a Kuma's opened on Diversey, as one friend put it, "in the land of Chads and Trixies." There was mild outrage.
About six weeks ago, the Schaumburg location opened and is currently facing no small amount of indignation.
But here's the thing: the night I was there, probably 90% of the western suburbanites at this new Kuma's had probably never been to either of the downtown Kuma's locations. People are packing into this new location perhaps because they've heard of the original (perhaps their parents told them about it) but perhaps even more likely because they dig big juicy burgers and loud metal music.
The original Kuma's was small; the new locations are bigger, and that's a good thing because they're all offering the same burgers. For those who were fans of the original location and see all subsequent efforts as a type of culinary blasphemy, we should all be simultaneously thankful that we don't live in Schaumburg and happy for those who do because there, yes, even there, one can eat some good chow whilst the bass blasts of Motorhead and Maiden shake the tables. Wherever Kuma's is located, you're still going to have a fine burger. And Lemmy is still god.
814 North Blvd.
Oak Park IL, 60302
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