Jan 142008
 

This place is easy to miss if you don’t know about it. Despite its high traffic location on 75th just east of Metcalf, Fritz’s is located in a strip mall fairly far back from the street next to an auto parts store. It has a truly charming exterior, complete with a neon sign and big windows. This is charm in the old school sense, not in the tin-ceiling, brick, and exposed ductwork sense. I could just tell this was going to be something special before I got within 100 feet of the place.

Holy cow this place is old school. There is a nice, low lunch counter with chrome stools attached to the floor, reminding us of simpler days when apparently people did not have knees. There is a fair sized “dining room” but it’s a very casual affair–no booths or anything cuddly like that. Each table holds a dispenser of impossibly flimsy napkins, a squirt bottle of vinegar, another bottle of vinegar infused with a healthy handful of hot peppers, and a shaker of chili powder.

Apart from myself, the clientele ranged in age from 75 to 95. This is not a bad thing. Anyhow, as solo diner, i ventured to the lunch counter next to a woman reading the pitch and eating a curious concoction of what must have been “chili.” From a plate. The waitress took one look at me and asked “you ever had our chili before?” Admitting I had not, she grabbed an 81/2” x 11″ laminated sheet and set it on front of me. She told me that this item explained what their version of chili was, and how to order it! This place doesn’t even have a real menu, it’s just posted on a few aging letter boards up on the wall. But they have about 500 words telling you how to order your lunch. I love curmudgeonliness in all its forms.

You see, Fritz’s chili is basically just ground meat and spices. It is not cooked with beans and probably not tomatoes either. But you can order beans with it, along with cheese, onions, and other stuff including “bean sauce” which reminds me of the juice from a can of beans, but is probably not. You see, Fritz doesn’t roll like that. The bean juice serves to moisten the whole affair and is really quite nice. I ordered a hot tamale covered with chili and beans, and a cup of shredded yellow cheese on the side. The waitress called it out to a dude in a white hat and apron who plated it up in about 10 seconds. The food is dished out right behind the counter–most of the prep and heavy duty cooking seems to happen in a large kitchen in the back. I think the kitchen is bigger than the dining room. The waitress, sensing my naivete, brought me some bean sauce in case I found it too dry. And I did, thank you very much. The best part is that the bean sauce came in a ceramic coffee mug. I thought that was very cute.

Anyhow Fritz’s offers their various permutation on chili, as well as chili burgers, and of course, chili dogs. You can get chili in three different sizes, and the plates are carefully hung behind the counter so everyone knows how much they are getting. I have the feeling that this measure, along with the explanatory laminated page, were taken to prevent people from expressing displeasure. They tell you up front what to expect. As my favorite sentence explained “if you just order ‘chili’ you are going to get a plate of ground beef.” This is a very oddball kind of place and I loved it.

Not that the chili was all that great. It just didn’t have a lot of kick or spice or pizazz. I think that you kind of have to find what suits you–the relative blandness lends itself well to multiple toppings and side items. Jalapenos, sour cream, cheese, hot sauce, would all be good. I did like the vinegar a lot, and overall the meal benefited greatly from a modest sprinkling of salt. But it’s not someplace I’m going to visit often. It’s a great slice of what people annoyingly call “Americana”–some dude named Fritz knew how to make chili, never redecorated, and managed to survive the onslaught of suburbanization. Seriously this place is a rarity and is worth a visit for the experience alone. It’s very friendly, extremely quiet, and generally a nice old diner atmosphere. It’s worth a visit once in a while just to keep it in business.

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