A meal (or two or three) in a Catlow sandwich
The Refrigerator, a sandwich of heroic proportions, captures the complete attention of Pioneer Press writer Irv Leavitt, trying to subdue it in Barrington's Catlow Theater.
If you like to put away a day's calories while sitting in front of the TV, the Catlow Theater is your kind of night out.
The Barrington movie house, 116 Main St., has a diner off the lobby called Boloney's where you can buy a sandwich. There are lovely little tables where you can politely eat it.
But that's no fun.
Here, they let you walk right into the movie theater and eat it ensconced in your cushy seat.
And these are no ordinary sandwiches. These are sandwiches that could choke a horse.
I bought one the other day that weighed 24 ounces. It tired me a little just to carry it around.
Though Boloney's sandwiches are assembled in one of the tonier suburbs, don't look for truffles or fois gras in them.
They're made of no-nonsense materials like roast beef, turkey, Muenster cheese, corned beef, ham and hard-boiled eggs.
Sometimes, all at once.
The sandwiches are made by Roberta Rapata, who, as a young waitress, learned to distrust "goofy chefs who've got to order their mushrooms from China. I like good old-fashioned food you can put in your mouth and swallow.
"I worked at Ponderosa, and I thought those steaks were amazing. I loved Big Boy. I ate like a queen, anything I wanted."
For the unenlightened, Big Boy Restaurants serve fast food and a surprisingly varied short-order menu on real plates. Kind of like Steak 'n Shake on steroids.
They make a sandwich called The Big Boy that looks like McDonald's Big Mac, only it's bigger and tastes like food.
Ponderosa, an affordable steak joint, has only one Chicago-area location left, in Aurora. The state's others are in towns many Chicagoans may doubt are real places, like Litchfield and Glen Carbon.
To get an idea of what Ponderosa is like, its slogan is "Wear Your Eatin' Pants."
That would be a good one for Boloney's, too.
On a recent visit, I insisted on the full Boloney's experience, and paid $7.50 for the biggest sandwich, The Refrigerator.
Rapata piled 5 or 6 ounces each of corned and roast beef, ham and turkey, plus Muenster and Swiss cheese. She coated each end with mayonnaise, and added two thin tomato slices and a sprinkling of shredded lettuce.
If you're into fruits and vegetables, you have the wrong sandwich.
She cut The Fridge in half and stuck a couple of toothpicks in it.
They were very long toothpicks.
Photographer Joel Lerner ordered the smaller Reubenesque, a still-oversize classic Reuben (corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, hot on rye bread with Russian dressing). He cut off a corner for me.
It was melt-in-your-mouth wonderful, briny and peppery, evocative of Devon and Western on a summer's day, 1968.
Lerner inhaled it like it was his last meal.
I carried my more massive sandwich and a big Dr. Pepper into the theater, juggling to pay Roberta's boyfriend of 33 years, Tim O'Connor, who runs the theater end of the business. For $10, he waved us both in to see "State of Play," the almost-first-run Russell Crowe movie he had booked.
Lerner aimed a camera as the tray teetered on my knees.
I picked up one 12-ounce sandwich half and laughed. Who could be that hungry?
It looked daunting, but I attacked a vulnerable corner and chewed it off. The rest was downhill. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so I did journeyman work on the first half.
And then I put the tray down on the floor. This surprised even me, because as a child of Depression parents, I eat everything I see.
But 1.5 pounds is a lot of lunch meat all in one place.
It was at this point that I was glad we were seeing a movie about a newspaper, and not the one a week earlier about people who clean up after murders.
"State of Play," however, did open with two very energetic shootings. But with all the blood in my body rushing to my stomach and neglecting my brain, I had no idea who was shooting whom.
I took home the unmolested half of The Refrigerator, and put it, natch, in the refrigerator. A few days later, two other reporters and I divvied it up for lunch.
"That's a lot to eat," Todd Shields said. "I can go light at dinner."