Editor's note: The Over 21 Club series features Chicago restaurants that have been around for over 21 years. They must be doing something right, so we'll visit them and see why.

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[Photographs: D.H. Lee]

Garrett Popcorn Shops

27 West Jackson Boulevard Chicago, IL 60604; (map); 888-4-POPCORN; garrettpopcorn.com
Open Since: 1949
Cuisine: Confectionery Popcorn
Cost: CheeseCorn™ ($3.55); CaramelCrisp® ($4.60)

I've always had mixed feelings about Garrett's Popcorn. A lot of their storefronts are located downtown in Chicago's tourist-filled areas, and the lines often spill out of the door, letting the sweet smell of caramel corn waft down the street. That sugary smell reminds me of countless gaggles of people with shopping bags in their hands. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't one of those cranky people at one time or another.

Garrett Popcorn Shops originally opened in Chicago in 1949, which is a long time for any food vendor. I didn't realize it until just now, but they also have international locations, including places like New York, Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, according to their corporate website. But as a local Chicagoan, Garrett's is still firmly planted here in my memory.

Now that it's the holiday season, I see a lot of those popcorn tins in offices and people's living rooms next to the Christmas tree. You know the kind, the ones with the shitty stale popcorn and the weird tri-part cardboard separator thing.

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By the way, this is for a visual reference, it's not Garrett's. It's gross. I like gross. I AM gross. I really did buy this one for myself at the drugstore across the street from the office. Don't make fun of me. Look at that happy snowman!

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Garrett's popcorn bags look like this, and you'll see them sprinkled around the downtown area. (That yellow bear you see hiding in the back? I liberated him from a claw machine. Claw machines are my secret power. Don't tell anyone.)

The reason why Garrett's strikes a mixed tone with me is because in my opinion, their popcorn is delicious and terrible at the same time. I mean, it's popcorn! By nature, popcorn is light and fluffy and airy. It didn't come out of the fire oily, heavy, salty, or sugary. Of course, if you've read any of my other stuff, I generally don't have a problem with oily, heavy, salty, or sugary. In theory, I hate it because it's bad for me. But in person it looks beautiful.

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This is their CaramelCrisp® popcorn, which has a buttery, brown sugary, toffee-like flavor and is basically just a vehicle for salt, oil, and sugar. But hey, they even have a registered trademark for it.

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The CheeseCorn™is caked with cheese powder and oil and, like prepackaged popcorn on steroids, is overly rich and salty. It coats the inside of your mouth.

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But something strange happens when you mix the CaramelCrisp® and CheeseCorn™ together evenly. Garrett's dubs this the Chicago Mix, and it's a huge seller because it's salty and sweet, a combination one of my coworkers said "shouldn't work, but it does," as he took down a giant mouthful.

I love it. I hate it.

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I left the remainder for my happy coworkers, who enjoyed the rest of the batch. And I may or may not have tried to feed some to the bear to see if he had an opinion. He didn't say a whole lot.

About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.

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