No two people I’ve discussed Wishbone with can agree on what to call the neighborhood it’s in. Since gentrification, everyone’s confused by all the new names for old places: River North or North Town, where Wishbone is located, at Grand and Wood just west of Ashland, is really West Town.

Over in my part part of town the restaurants serve serious food with prices to match. Once, gasping at the price of a lobster, Laney asked me if I wouldn’t really rather have a Buick. Always on the lookout for laid-back neighborhood hangouts where everybody isn’t wearing black, I love Wishbone’s good, cheap home cooking.

The place looks more like a luncheonette than a restaurant, with gray formica tabletops and a counter and stools. Since the front room only seats about 40 people and we were starved on a recent visit, Laney cased the joint to see if anyone looked like they were ready to leave. There was a bridal shower in progress in the tiny claustrophobic back room, which made it seem smaller and noisier than ever. This is also the room set aside for nonsmokers, unfortunately the same people whose sense of smell isn’t too dulled to notice the odor of garbage. The two bikers behind us in line went to the counter, but only after making sure that they weren’t cutting ahead of anyone. That figures; it’s the suits who knock you over to get a table.

A man in his 60s with a gray ponytail, wearing an expensive suit with a gin bottle sticking out of his pants pocket, entered, handed the bottle to someone in the kitchen, and sat down at the counter. Wishbone doesn’t serve alcohol, but you can bring your own.

After about half an hour, we were seated–and there on the table, just waiting for anyone, no matter how unworthy, was a plate of wonderful zucchini bread and corn muffins with cheese and onions. We both chose from the slate of specials. When I ordered the panfried chicken with mashed potatoes, coleslaw, and corn muffin ($5.95), our waitress asked if I wanted breasts. Mother Nature never treated me that good. My potatoes came with the essential pool of gravy in the middle, and the yankee coleslaw was of the delicious vinegary variety.

Laney, who would special-order at a truck stop, asked for the salmon papillote ($9.95) not poached but grilled, no spices, no paper bag. With a choice of two sides, she decided on sweet potatoes and acorn squash with butter and brown sugar–a sweet tooth is a terrible thing to waste.

Was it good? Laney and I have changed our weekly dinner night to Tuesday because Wishbone is closed Mondays. We decided that if we can’t find a parking space close by, one of us will circle while the other eats. On our way out we saw a silver stretch limo parked in front of the fire hydrant and figured that it belonged to the guy with the ponytail.

We returned another time with two friends. We’d made a point of going earlier, but there was still a 20-minute wait, and believe me, you can’t walk next door to another restaurant in this neighborhood.

This time there was carrot bread along with the corn muffins. I cleaned the crumbs off the tabletop while a friend went for the ones on the floor. My sauteed sole ($9.25) was flaky and delectable, but the sauteed fresh spinach I’d heard so much about tasted as if it had been cooked along with the fish. Two friends ordered the Yardbird special: grilled chicken with red pepper sauce, rice, and black beans (whole leg $4.95/breast $5.95). To their surprise, the red pepper sauce turned out to be buttery, bland, and not red at all. Laney special-ordered grilled chicken with brown rice and southern-style lima beans with chopped tomatoes and ham.

Wishbone prides itself on its use of fresh ingredients. Its cuisine emphasizes southern cooking, especially Cajun, but there are other choices as well. Entrees range from about $5 to $10. The regular menu includes Hoppin’ John, blacked-eyed peas on rice topped with cheddar cheese, scallions, and chopped tomatoes ($4.50); peppercorn steak ($8.50); Carolina crab cakes ($8.95); and a “backyard burger” ($4.50). There are always a few daily specials, such as blackened bluefish with black beans and rice ($8.95), and chicken and shrimp etouffe ($8.25). There is an extensive take-out menu and a special brunch menu of omelettes, homemade biscuits and country gravy, and French toast with real Vermont maple syrup.

Desserts are seasonal. They’re baked on the premises and vary nightly: cobblers, cheesecakes, pies, fruit sabayons, and bread pudding with caramel sauce. I had the sweet potato pie and Laney the apple. They were very sweet, but that’s the way we like them.

This time as we left, it was the two police officers sitting at the counter who had parked their car by the hydrant. On our way home, we basked in the warm glow that comes from having eaten out without being ripped off and speculated on how long it would be before Wishbone raised its prices and hired waiters who introduced themselves.

Wishbone, at 1800 W. Grand, serves breakfast from 7 to 11 Tuesday through Friday, and 8 to 2:30 Saturday and Sunday; lunch 11 to 3 Tuesday through Friday; and dinner 5 to 10:30 Tuesday through Saturday. They are closed for dinner Sunday and all day Monday. They don’t take credit cards. For more information call 829-3597.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Phara Fisco.