It takes a village to sustain a restaurant, and Carm's, open since good, old 1929, is all about neighborhood. The restaurant, located on a residential strip of Polk Street in Little Italy, is flanked by aluminum-sided single-family homes, Georgian style facades with wooden scroll-work and Chicago Common Brick three flats.
About a hundred feet from Carm's, old wise guys in khaki shorts and black socks pulled up to their knees hang out on white plastic lawn chairs. Sidle up to the storefront and find a blue and white uniformed army of students from the nearby Galileo Scholastic Academy slurping down Italian ice while businessmen take refuge from the heat, perusing the Wall Street Journal under red and yellow Vienna Beef patio umbrellas. Standing in front of a backdrop of plywood paneling and photos of the Sheridan Park little league teams they sponsor, the owners Steve and Mary Deville hold court with their regulars.
The selection of food is straight-up, old school diner-style, with burgers, Vienna dogs, submarine sandwiches, the namesake Italian Beef and, during the summer, a fresh fruity spectrum of Italian ice. Carm's thick spicy relish-style giardinieria is different from the typical Italian beef condiment and is well worth the extra 35 cents.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Michael Nagrant