Bonnie Hunt's Dining Haunts Are Worth Treasuring
by Chris McNamara

Published May 4, 2007 

It's a bit intimidating, being referred to as one of Chicago's treasures. But Bonnie Hunt handles that label with the self-effacing charm that has transported her from the corner of Addison and Austin to Hollywood and stardom.

"I'm not picky," she says when asked about her eating habits. "And I think my figure suggests that."

Hunt appears at the Chicago History Museum on Wednesday as part of Chicago Treasures, a series of conversations moderated by Chicago Public Radio's Steve Edwards that "spotlights Chicagoans whose work has defined the city, while the city has defined their work."

And those audiences have to eat, so we spoke with the actress, who recently voiced "Sally Carrera" in the animated blockbuster "Cars," about teenage jobs at Dairy Queen, filming a movie in a rib joint and finding the best flapjacks on the Northwest side.

"Chicago has definitely played a part in my character development," says Hunt, who splits her time between homes in Los Angeles and the Edgebrook neighborhood locally. "I love the essence of the city, the personalities of the people, the hard-working spirit that you need to get through the winters. And every neighborhood has its great restaurants and the local hot-dog stand."

A teenage Hunt dressed franks at Dogs & Suds, formerly located at Belmont and Austin. And she operated the soft-serve machines at Dairy Queen (still at 5636 W. Irving Park Rd.), where friends would get extra brownies in their hot fudge brownie delights.

When asked about where she now eats when back in her hometown, it becomes clear that her tastes were formed while performing at Second City in the late '80s. She rattles off a number of Old Town eateries within walking distance of the Chicago History Museum. (Leave it to a local girl, right?)

"It's hard to pick one [favorite spot]," says Hunt. "Restaurants in Chicago are seldom disappointing."

Topo Gigio (1516 N. Wells St., 312-266-9355) is a regular stop, where Hunt has the fusilli alla Topo Gigio, which she complements with a glass of red wine.

Just north on Wells, a block past Second City, is Nookies (1746 N. Wells St., 312-337-2454), where Hunt's goofy working hours often prompted her to order breakfasts in the evening. "I like regular meals, and restaurants that will adapt things to your taste," she says. "Not a place where they roll their eyes if you want the sauce on the side."

Of course, you can't talk Bonnie Hunt and restaurants without Twin Anchors (1655 N. Sedgwick St., 312-266-1616), the primary location for the 2000 film "Return to Me," written and directed by Hunt, who also acted alongside David Duchovny and Minnie Driver.

"I wrote Twin Anchors into the story without knowing if they'd be willing to participate," she says. "But they let me film there and they treated me like family."

Also a favorite haunt of Frank Sinatra, Twin Anchors still draws a crowd, so be prepared to wait for a table. The ribs ($19.95) are lean, meaty and fall-off-the bone tender. They're served with a crock of zesty sauce and a mound of crispy onion rings.

Hunt's last recommendation sounds delicious, but hard for fans to follow: She makes sure to eat the thin pancakes flapjacks she calls them served by Mom in her childhood home.