Mystery Diner: Merichka's is family owned since 1933, famous for fine dining and poorboy

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CREST HILL – I found it hard to believe anyone living in the Joliet area has not eaten at Merichka’s.

Seriously.

But such was the case with a good friend. So we recently remedied it.

For anyone who doesn't know (or who does know and forgot), Merichka's began in 1933 with Merichka "Mary" Zdralevich and her son, Joe, a lithographer, selling sandwiches from Mary's home to feed passing factory workers, according to the Merichka's website and a previous Herald-News story.

Today, the family’s third and fourth generations continue the family business, the website also stated. Merichka’s can seat 300 and serves about 5,000 people a week, the Herald-News story said.

Now, the Merichka’s name is associated with its famous poorboy sandwich: 6 ounces of tenderized cube steak on a toasted roll drenched in minced garlic and butter, mozzarella cheese extra.

Knowing my friend likes poorboys, I felt this person was overdue to try the “real” one. So off we went.

Wait time was minimal, despite three large parties that day. While waiting, my friend read the sign announcing the daily specials and decided the “build a burger” was most appealing.

I quickly reminded my friend of the mission: poorboys.

But once seated, this person leisurely scanned the menu, which now includes a poorboy made with chicken. My friend ordered an appetizer: a combination platter of onion rings, chicken tenders and cheese sticks (favorites of my friend) and hold the mushrooms (which this person dislikes).

And then my friend placed a “build a burger” order.

Soup or salad?

Choices that day were split pea, minestrone and chicken noodle. My friend ordered the chicken noodle. I ordered a house salad with my poorboy, passing on the double-baked potato that’s also put Merichka’s on the Joliet map, since I knew the appetizer portions were extremely generous.

While we waited, my friend gestured to one of the employees changing a nearby tablecloth and said, “single service,” meaning each customer gets a fresh tablecloth, a mark of quality.

The soup and salad came first. My friend pronounced the soup “perfect,” with the right amount seasoning, al dente noodles (translation: not soggy) and “super tender” chicken.

My salad looked and tasted “super fresh,” according to my friend, who noted the lack of ribs on the iceberg lettuce, a sign of quality. I liked the grated carrots and finely chopped purple cabbage, evenly tossed, that add texture. Even the ranch dressing I ordered on the side and the croutons had a light fresh taste and texture.

The cheese sticks were typical of cheese sticks anywhere, but my friend liked the light crispy breading on the tenders that also had “a decent amount of seasoning.” Yes, they were delicious.

My friend admired the rustic onions: uneven in size with a flaky coating and a satisfying crisp when biting through to the tender insides.

The burger was large (as were the strips of bacon topping it) and smothered in American cheese. It was also juicy, tender and more than this person could eat in one sitting. My friend’s fries were fries, but they filled half the platter.

And my poorboy? Exactly as I described above and delectable as always.

Dessert options were chocolate cake, ice cream or cheesecake. Dessert wasn’t homemade (I asked), but the cheesecake was Eli’s and as this person had never tried Eli’s cheesecake either (gasp!), we split a slice of chocolate chip, although we could have ordered plain or tiramisu.

We brought back enough food for dinner. And I need to bring this person back for a poorboy.

• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at The Herald-News. The diner’s identity is not revealed to restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a restaurant and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.

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IF YOU GO

WHAT: Merichka’s

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: 604 Theodore St., Crest Hill

INFO: 815-723-9371 or www.merichkas.com