We’re stepping back in time and sharing a little Barrington history with this week’s Marketplace feature here at 365Barrington.com.  Not many restaurants in town have a history that goes back 100 years.  Except for the Bread Basket which, years ago, was the go-to place to grab a seat at the bar for a sip from an old-fashioned soda fountain.

The business has changed hands five times since it opened as McCleister’s Sweets Emporium 100 years ago and it was established as the Bread Basket in 1974.  You’ll still find fountain drinks here today, along with a special blend of familiar food and faces plus the distinct feel of times gone by.

We’re excited to share the story behind The Bread Basket today, the newest addition to the Barrington Online Marketplace here at 365Barrington.com.

But first, we want to take a second to explain how the Marketplace works:

On Mondays each week, we’ll be introducing you to the latest members of our marketplace and sending an email to people who’ve signed up for our newsletter, The 365 Barrington Buzz. If you’d like to receive those emails, which will also include information about upcoming events, we’d be happy to add you to our list of subscribers. Just enter your email here and click “Submit”.

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You’ll find the new community resource at 365Barrington.com/Marketplace. To have your business, organization, home or event featured in the new Marketplace,visit 365Barrington.com/Advertise for more information or call Liz at 847-691-3150.

Now back to The Bread Basket, the man behind the counter and the restaurant’s colorful history…

People who’ve been around Barrington a while remember the old McLeister’s Sweets Emporium & Soda Shop which first opened for business at this Park Avenue location back in 1913.

There is a treasure of a restaurant in the heart of downtown Barrington that offers a serving of local history with each steaming plate. The Bread Basket Family Restaurant has all of the old-town Main street charm to perfectly befit a nostalgic community.

But today, The Bread Basket Restaurant is known as much for its owner, Sam Nikolaidis, as it’s history. Sam’s the familiar face you’ll find behind the counter the minute you walk in the door. He moved to the United States from Greece when he was just 27 years old. His first job in the states was working as a dishwasher at a Chicago restaurant, which he later purchased. It was also the place where he taught himself to cook.

Sam bought and sold two more restaurants, in Wheeling and Melrose Park, before purchasing the Bread Basket 15 years ago. He’s the fifth owner of this downtown Barrington dining destination, which was established as the Bread Basket in 1974. But the history of this space dates back 100 years, when it first opened as McLeister’s Sweets Emporium and Soda Shop in 1913.

Courtesy of the Barrington Area Library

Back in the day, McLeister’s offered the best homemade candies and soda fountain creations in the area, according to Diane Kostik’s Voices of Barrington.

Courtesy of the Barrington Area Library

From the timeworn floor to the vintage hobnail milk glass light fixtures above, you’ll still find some of the original finishes and décor from McLeister’s when you visit The Bread Basket today.

But where McLeister’s once had a bar and stools, today, Sam has a servers’ station decorated with photos given to him by his most loyal customers over the years.

Besides Sam, the food is what has earned this restaurant its reputation as one of the area’s most unique and delicious spots for breakfast and lunch. In a world where food chains and franchises outnumber mom & pop shops, The Bread Basket stands out as one-of-a-kind in our community and beyond. It’s a spot where personality, familiar faces and consistently great diner-fare blend, creating a flavor that’s hard to come by and impossible to replace.

Sam says his head cook, who is also named Sam, “came with the place” when it changed hands 15 years ago. Sam and Sam often work together in the kitchen, preparing the restaurant’s most popular dishes like The Bread Basket Special (2 eggs, 2 pancakes, 2 sausage) and their great variety of pancakes. Each for under $6, we can see why they are popular.

We wanted to try some things that are unique to The Bread Basket, which led Barrington Chef, Kelly Donlea and I to the Greek Skillet. This is a large dish filled with hash browns, grilled onions, green peppers, tomatoes, gyros & feta cheese, topped with two eggs for $6.95.

Kelly Donlea had rave reviews for this Bread Basket favorite. “It’s one of the best skillets I’ve ever had, if not THE best. Where a chain may use large chunks of ingredients to both save on line-prep time and cost (as larger chunks take up more space and appear to be more food), the Bread Basket dices all the ingredients to a fine consistency. This allows for better cooking, crunchier hash browns and a more appealing blend of flavors.”

We also tried the more classic Main Street Skillet with ham, green peppers and Cheddar cheese, which is also fantastic. Sampling off the lunch menu, we were also treated to two of Sam’s special recipes, Split Pea Soup and a Chopped Salad.

Kelly Donlea again offered high praise. “People love chopped salad because of the fine-chopped ingredients and mixed flavors. This one does not disappoint, combining unique sweet ingredients, like raisins and raspberry vinaigrette dressing, with savory bacon and pecans.”

The Split Pea Soup was, again, the best Kelly Donlea says she’s ever had. “The flavor was rich, the consistency was like velvet, and it was laced with butter-soaked croutons. I could not get enough and will surely be back for more.”

The Bread Basket has homemade Chicken Noodle soup plus a soup of the day on Monday through Saturday and traditional Greek Lemon Chicken soup on Sundays. The extensive diner menu also has great sandwiches like Turkey Reubens, Monte Cristo and the Old Chicago, which is sliced ham and bacon with coleslaw and Swiss cheese on rye. The menu also includes hearty options like steak, seafood and chicken and the prices are incredible.

Another thing the Bread Basket is known for is its milkshakes. Sam says kids come in every day and want “shakes, shakes, shakes”. He serves a few hundred customers a week and says being social helps keep his business growing. “It’s part of my job, you know, people like to talk. And when they get to know you more, they ask for more favors.”

He says this familiar flexibility, along with his wife’s weekly bouquets of fresh flowers picked from their home garden on the counter, are what keep people coming back for more. “Our customers are very nice people. They spend money, they don’t complain and they aren’t fussy. I am proud the Bread Basket is still in existence and that the place is busy. People keep coming back for the good food, good service and my wife’s beautiful flowers”

The Bread Basket Family Restaurant

Address: 131 Park Avenue – Barrington, IL – 60010
Phone: 847-382-3099
Website: TheBreadBasketRestaurant.com

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