In 1913, “Chili John” Isaac opened his cozy little restaurant in Green Bay, Wisconsin with a $40 stake. In 1946, his son Ernie opened Chili John’s in Burbank, and painted the bucolic mural that graces the back wall himself. It is the oldest restaurant in Burbank. According to The Food Network, “The chili recipe…is so old that it came with the building when the LoGuercio family bought the place.” The Isaac family was Lithuanian, but the LoGuercios are Italian, so they have added garlic to the chili. The chili is then cooked for 24 hours. The tiny oyster crackers you can add to your bowl are purported to have been invented for Chili John’s, and the waitress, Donna, tells me the lemon pie recipe is 65 years old.
For a restaurant that serves one thing, you can order it at least a dozen different ways. Straight up red, hot or mild, beef, turkey (or chicken), vegetarian quinoa, with or without beans, onions and cheese, topping a tamale, spaghetti or a hot dog, and topped with the famous oyster crackers. The only thing that’s missing is a chili burger. I assume they don’t have a grill, because everything on the menu can be steamed or boiled. Or in the case of refrigeration, they have a fantastic lemon icebox pie.
Food is not the only draw to the cool little eatery. The horseshoe counter encourages socializing. If that doesn’t do the trick, your friendly servers are always ready to chat. When you hang out at Chili John’s, you definitely feel a sense of belonging. Although the place is good for whiling away a slow afternoon, your food comes quickly, just a little quicker than your check. You can enjoy your lunch with no chance of being late back to work, and the turnover is high so you rarely have to wait long for one of the orange stools. Just don’t expect my seat; I’m staying as long as Donna keeps telling stories.