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Club Lucky
DISH Weekly Dining Guide in Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Images from Club Lucky. Photos by Ed Negron.

Club Lucky (1824 W. Wabansia Ave.; ) has been around for more than two decades because it's steeped in tradition.

The eatery itself is the business equivalent of comfort food. It's a family-friendly establishment that serves traditional Italian fare and features exceptionally friendly staff. There's even a jukebox that plays everything from traditional holiday songs to Marvin Gaye tunes. Recent holiday decorations included numerous lights and snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.

General manager Tom Kleiner talked with Windy City Times and co-owner Jim Higgins talked about Club Lucky's history. "We've had the same owners [during Club Lucky's entire run]: Jim Higgins and Bobby Paladino," Kleiner said. "We've been a family-owned and -operated restaurant for 23 years. We treat staff as a family, and we do activities and events that focus on the community and our staff as one entity—as a family.

"The recipes [for most of the menu items] came from our grandmothers. [Even] the way we prepare the noodles reflects what's been passed through generations, and our food reflects that. We're not this new, fancy dining place; this is sitting at grandmother's table having a hearty meal, and it's meant to make you emotionally happy. It's not about pushing ourselves in a new, trendy direction. We often have two or three generations sitting at the same table."

Club Lucky also has ties with the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities. "We have been a major supporter of Dining Out for Life [an annual event that benefits HIV/AIDS organizations]," Higgins added. "The past two years, we have been the number-one restaurants in terms of raising money for that event."

Then, there's the food, which does not disappoint. We started off with a mix of grilled and fried calamari; I could've nibbled on those all night. My dining companion also liked the minestrone, which was the soup of the day. The antipasti were a variety of tasty cheeses and meats, including a prosciutto that was an unmitigated standout. (Club Lucky has an extensive list of appetizers and salads, including stuffed artichoke, little neck clams and meatball insalata.)

The entrees were even better. I tried the grilled chicken with whole-wheat penne—a combination that was so good it felt sinful even though it's relatively healthful. (The chicken is char-broiled, and marinated with lemon, herbs and spices.) My friend immediately gave his chicken with creamy pesto sauce a thumbs-up; I took a bite and had to concur. As with the appetizers, Club Lucky offers a cornucopia of entrée items, ranging from shrimp scampi to grilled pork chops to homemade lasagna. Also, if you can somehow make room for dessert, do so (or you can do what I usually do—order dessert to go); offerings include buttermilk chocolate layer cake, cannoli and even warm tollhouse cookies (a la mode with caramel cream and hot fudge).

A seasonal cocktail I tried was the Sleigh Ride (which contains, among other things, Captain Morgan's spiced rum, and features a cinnamon-sugar rim and a chocolate "cigarette")—and it was absolutely heavenly. ("It's a take on the Mexican horchata," Kleiner said.)

One of Club Lucky's handcrafted cocktails is the award-winning Six Corner Fizz, which is named after the North/Milwaukee/Damen intersection in Wicker Park. "The Wicker Park/Bucktown Chamber of Commerce named this its official drink," said Kleiner. "It contains a myriad of different alcohols, juices and garnishes to reflect the history of the communities of Wicker Park and Bucktown." With more than 10 ingredients (including dragonfruit and Gran Gala), I'm inclined to believe him.

Although tradition is a huge part of the establishment, Club Lucky has changed a little: Its menu now also features the aforementioned whole-wheat penne as well as wheat- and gluten-free spaghettini made from organic quinoa. There are also specials each day that allow the chef, Alfredo Anaya, to put his spin on classic dishes. What hasn't changed is that Club Lucky is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

I enthusiastically recommend Club Lucky—especially for those who want to take a break from the trendy eateries and just enjoy delicious comfort food in a relaxed atmosphere.

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