Anchors Aweigh with Classic Ribs
by Pat Bruno

Published August 8, 2003

Twin Anchors has a wonderful history. Consider that it all began in 1932 at the corner of Sedgwick and Eugenie in Old Town (the speakeasy days for this building) and has rambled on through live music (a while back I received a letter from a woman who had a girlfriend who had a fling with the trumpet player who was playing in the band here circa 1940s), through a couple of movies ("Return to Me" with Minnie Driver), and hand-delivered ribs to big name movie stars.

One night I was sitting under a framed collage that included a selection of poker chips from Vegas casinos, a picture of the original Rat Pack, and a canceled check that looked to be payment for ribs delivered to the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra.

Twin Anchors has taken it all in stride. The place never seems to lose its focus. It's a bar that serves a good drink and a restaurant that serves good food. Nothing more and nothing less, but in this case less continues to be more.

In the scheme of things, Twin Anchors is a lot more than food and drink. This place is definitely a Chicago institution, one that has taken its place in the culinary history of Chicago, along with other stalwarts such as Berghoff, Lou Mitchell's, Tufano's, the Pump Room and Gene & Georgetti.

Paul Tuzi, son of the late Phil Tuzi (he acquired the place in 1978) now runs Twin Anchors (along with a host of other siblings). The name? That is attributed to (according to legend), a seaman by the name of Bob Walters (he had twin sons).

And it seems that the reputation of Twin Anchors is not confined to Chicago alone. One night, while waiting for the valet to retrieve my car, I took note of a young couple standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. They were speaking French while looking at a map. I managed to figure out that they were looking for LaSalle Street, and then Ontario Street. In my fractured French, I got them headed in the right direction.

I don't know. If you came to Chicago from France, do you go to the Twin Anchors to eat ribs? You really should! I wish that my French had been good enough to ask them how they liked the ribs.

I like the ribs at Twin Anchors. I like them a lot. I used to live in the neighborhood, so I have been enjoying the ribs here for 20 years. It is said the recipe for the ribs was handed down from the Walters days. Truth or apocryphal, it doesn't matter. In the case of ribs, it is the enjoyment that occurs when teeth meet meat and taste buds tingle with that pleasing barbecue flavor.

At Twin Anchors it's the whole ribs and nothing but the ribs. No half slabs, no combo chicken and ribs. So eat the whole deal of take some home (I dare you). The babyback ribs here are roasted then seared on the grill. Timing is everything when doing ribs in this fashion. The kitchen has it down pat. The ribs are meaty, succulently sweet, tender (not falling off the bone, though) and delicious.

It seems that something new has been added since my last visit (a while ago). There is a choice of "original mild barbecue sauce" or "popular zesty sauce." Change does not come easy for me, but for the sake of the story I tried both sauces. I will stick with the original sauce, thank you. I lay the sauce on rather thick, dipping again and again into the ramekin. The sauce has a subtle sweetness with just a slight backtaste of vinegar, a Carolina kind of flavor, which works just fine for me. Ribs are priced at $19.95 and come with choice of potato (or onion rings), coleslaw, and outstanding dark rye bread.

Twin Anchors is more than ribs alone, though. I have, for example, found enjoyment in the New York Strip steak, a 12-ounce hunk of tender beef that was charbroiled and topped with a choice of grilled onions or garlic butter (go with the onions). The $16.95 price makes it a comfortable choice for those who don't want ribs. Choose the baked potato with the steak, because this is one fine potato (never mind that it comes wrapped in aluminum foil), a spud that has been baked to textural perfection. Scrape it right to the skinthe enjoyment is intense.

Sandwiches are an important part of the menu (and very reasonably priced, nothing higher than $8.75). One good idea would be the half-pound Anchor Burger (good beef, good flavor.) The kitchen has a tendency to cook the burgers beyond requested temperature, so give your server a heads-up on this.

Nothing to worry about with the barbecued pork sandwich. A wealth of sweet pulled pork was blanketed in sauce (the zesty version, which works fine with this sandwich), tucked into a soft bun (don't squeeze too hard) and arranged with French fries (crinkle cut, not great, not awful).

Non-beef-eaters have a choice of grilled shrimp, chicken and a grilled fish of the day sandwich. Desserts are a grand total of one. It's a Henry Ford kind of thing: You can have any dessert you want, as long as it's cheesecake. I had the pecan cheesecake.

Try: barbecued baby back ribs, strip steak, barbecued pork sandwich, Anchor Burger

Tips: Two rooms. Bar and booths in front, tables in the back. Chicago posters and such are the atmosphere. Nothing covering the tables (this is a bar, after all). Service is as friendly as a puppy dog and as efficient as a time study engineer. Limited selection of beer and wine. Good for children (ribs, grilled cheese sandwich or burger). No reservations. Small alfresco dining area this time of year.

In a bite: Seventy years old and still going strong, this bar/saloon/restaurant is a comfortable as a pair of old shoes. The neighborhood around here has changed, but "the Anchor" weighs in pretty much the same, and that's a good thing. The ribs are the kicker here, and they are top-drawer.