There were a handful of Humboldt Park skater kids in Grandma J’s the morning I visited for breakfast, and though the place only opened earlier this summer, they were obviously comfortable making themselves at home. Maybe that’s because this spot is full of folksy, old-lady touches (tchotchkes and figurines and hard candy). Probably it’s because of the hipster touches (the birds painted on the wall, the moderately inked-up owner of the place). After all, it’s not like these kids can go to a bar, and when it comes to coffee shops and other alcohol-free spots, this is about as close as they’re going to get.
Adults will experience Grandma J’s a little differently. There’ll be some slight regression, the coffee-shop vibe and French toast sticks sparking flashbacks to high school. (Those sticks are housemade, by the way, and fried to order and happily Burger King–like, crispy on the outside, all custard within.) But then comes the relief. The relief of a no-stress menu; the relief of recognizing every ingredient. Here, it’s all about well-prepared eggs, well-toasted toast, crispy bacon, crunchy housemade potato chips. The fact that the eggs might come with a tiny pile of very delicious, very herby mushrooms, or that the eggs and bacon and cheddar in the “morning sandwich” are slathered generously with chive mayo—these are just extra gifts from the kitchen. They’re the details that separate Grandma J’s from a run-of-the-mill diner, sure. But it’s Grandma J’s dinerlike qualities that make the place appealing.