The menu at Ann Sather's Restaurant in Chicago reads "just good food," but residents of the Windy City know better. As one of the area's last original diners -- a Swedish one at that -- this purveyor of charming, homey fare has become as much of a culinary institution in Chicago as thick-cut steaks and deep-dish pizza.
"You can eat at home or you can eat at Ann Sather's," says chef/owner Thomas Tunney of the 40-year-old tradition. Indeed, at least 7,000 patrons opt to do the latter each week. Lunch and dinner are as busy as breakfast, he says, though it's the morning meal, introduced only four years ago, that has become a ritual for many Chicagoans -- especially on weekends, when they wait in lines that stretch around the corner for a chance to break bread at Ann Sather's.
What they wait for are some of the best cinnamon rolls to be had, and such Swedish specialties as veal and potato sausage and thin, lacy pancakes, adorned with the customary lingonberries, or an array of omelets from spinach to peach. All this for an average breakfast check of $4.
Ann Sather is no Betty Crocker; she's as real as the 90-seat restaurant she opened in 1945 with $4,000, in what was then a predominantly Swedish neighborhood. Only after she could assure that her namesake would live up to her stringent demands for quality did she dare retire, turning ownership over to Tunney, her handpicked successor, in 1981.
Tunney expanded the restaurant (he bought an adjacent building, a former funeral parlor) and added liquor, banquet facilities and late night hours, but the Ann Sather menu has remained unchanged. And so have the waitresses, many of whom could pass for our own mothers, so concerned are they that we make ourselves at home.
Fortunately, you don't have to travel far to sample an Ann Sather's favorite, Swedish potato pancakes, which are as suitable for a light supper as they are for breakfast. In Chicago, they're served with homemade applesauce, but the home cook can substitute any commercial topping as an accompaniment. Assuming you have sugar, flour, oil, salt and pepper on hand, all you'll need to take through the Express Lane are six items.
Express Lane list: nonfat dry milk, eggs, red potatoes, onion, sour cream, applesauce ANN SATHER'S SWEDISH POTATO PANCAKES (Makes about 11 cups batter)
FOR THE SWEDISH PANCAKE BATTER:
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
4 cups water
2 cups sugar, or less if desired
Approximately 3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
7 eggs, well beaten
3 grated red potatoes
1/4 cup onion, grated
Dash black pepper
Oil for griddle
Sour cream for serving
Applesauce for serving
In a large bowl, whip nonfat dry milk in water; add sugar and sift in flour and salt. Add the eggs and blend to mix well.
In another bowl, combine pancake batter mixture with potatoes, onion and pepper. Beat well. Generously oil a hot griddle and place spoonfuls of the mixture on the surface. (The pancakes should be fairly thick, approximately 1/4-inch.) Lightly brown, then turn and brown the other side until crisp. Serve warm with sour cream and applesauce.