You don't have to be a White Sox fan to appreciate Schaller's Pump in Bridgeport, but it sure helps. Hours before a game begins, patrons pack the Bridgeport staple, even if said game happens to be at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon. The menu is blessedly short and very old school. Sure, that means no nachos or wings, but Schaller's Pump is also literally old, having been in continuous operation since 1881. When you're open that long, and also happen to be located across the street from the 11th Ward Democratic headquarters, you pile up more stories than I have time to recap here. But perhaps you remember chef Kevin Hickey's neighborhood guide, where he reminisced about eating prime rib and kicking former White Sox owner, Bill Veeck's, wooden leg. It's that kind of place.
What Schaller's Pump does serve is beef. I missed out on the prime rib special (which I'll need to go back for) and have heard that the corned beef sandwich is good, but I felt no remorse with the prime butt ($9.95). Though located on the sandwich side of the menu, it's not so much a steak sandwich as a slab of steak on a piece of toast. Cut from the sirloin, prime butt isn't the most tender slab of beef, so you'll need to slice it against the grain with a steak knife—not very sandwich-like, if you ask me. As for the toast, by the time you're done slicing, it disintegrates under the weight of the beef. But if it's not a sandwich, why is it served with lettuce, tomato, and pickle on the side? So many questions.
It may be hard to call this thing a sandwich, but if you're in the mood for a big slab of beef for under $10, all served in one of Chicago's most distinctive restaurants with one of the friendliest waitstaffs I've ever encountered, Schaller's Pump is your place. Of course, as a White Sox fan, I have to admit that I'm biased and shouldn't be trusted.
3714 South Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60609 (map)