It's hard to improve on perfection, but a place I fell in love with long ago has done just that.
With its retro charm, homey food and ice cream treats to fulfill every want, need and desire, Magic Wand in Churubusco is a treasure.
Changes – subtle and major – are what has made this 53-year-old eatery even better.
The major was going smoke-free. When I first started visiting, there was only a little corner area that was smoke-free. And given it is in every way a family place, having to wait for a smoke-free table was just wrong.
Plus, my kids love sitting at the old-fashioned counter, which was not smoke-free.
Next to the smoke, the other warning I always gave about the place concerned the decor. If you have a clown phobia, it probably is still not the place for you, but the clowns have been tamed back a bit. They are still pretty much in your face at every turn, but at least the creepy, life-sized mannequin by the restrooms is gone.
I have no such fears, but even if I did, I would have to fight through them to visit Magic Wand.
In addition to burgers, sandwiches and standard ice cream-stand fare, the restaurant also has daily hot-plate specials, one of which gave me my meatloaf fix.
Magic Wand's meatloaf was offered in two thickness sizes and my large was a good inch thick. It was the best of both worlds as it had a sweet ketchup-based glaze and brown gravy. Paired with thick, scrumptious real mashed potatoes and grandma-worthy, ham-laden, slow-cooked green beans, I had zero complaints.
I never have a complaint about the Magic Burger, which is a take on the Big Mac with two beef patties – made with fresh beef from the IGA grocery store across the street – lettuce, onions, pickles, cheese and a special sauce, which is sort of a sweet, mild horseradish. But I have a hard time choosing it over the pork tenderloin.
Magic Wand breads theirs in-house, and they are excessively big. They aren't excessively thin so the pork is not lost.
If you want something lighter – especially since you are probably having ice cream, too – the broiled cod is a good choice. Cooked in butter with a dusting of paprika, there is no secret to what makes it good. It is simply perfectly cooked so it is moist and flaky. It also makes for a good sandwich.
The cod dinner included a potato, side salad and a roll or Magic Toast, which you shouldn't sell short. It is a thick slice of buttery garlic Texas Toast that is deserving of holding the restaurant's name. You can order it as a side with honey, but I have not been daring enough.
The salad had just a few rings of onion, tomatoes, croûtons and cheese. Though I wasn't expecting a steakhouse-quality salad, the vegetable and creamy potato soups were better options. Both were spot-on and well-seasoned. The chili, however, had a scorched flavor that did not sit well. It is worth warning that the soups were all boiling hot.
There are no real appetizers to speak of on the menu, but watch that specials board because the Ribbon Fries – with cheese – were exceptional. They were just like what you would get from the fair. If you see cheese fries or cheese tater tots, get those too and have them add Coney sauce for a real treat.
The only meal I did not care for was the Ham Supreme sandwich. It had deli-style ham, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and special sauce on a hoagie roll. The ham was grilled a bit and released a lot of water that, combined with the sauce and juicy tomatoes, made it soggy. I also did not think the sauce, which was a tad sweet, worked as well here as it did on the burger.
Everything worked when it came to dessert.
My love of Twinkle Cote, the nutty, crunchy, sprinkle-spiked ice cream topping knows no bounds and there is a whole page of other great treats to choose from, including:
• If you like buttery biscuits, the strawberry shortcake packed in a foam cup will make you happy. There is biscuit on the bottom and near the top that soak up all of the sweet fruit juices and the creamy, melting vanilla ice cream.
• The E.T. Sundae's name may be a bit dated, but this mix of ice cream, Reese's Pieces and hot fudge never goes out of style. It's even better with chocolate and vanilla swirl instead of just vanilla, too.
• Though it isn't ice cream, the doughnuts are a must-try and a little dish of vanilla goes great with them, too. Two freshly fried dough rings with their round holes included are coated in cinnamon sugar and served piping hot. And they are only $1.05.
The best new treat I discovered was one I normally would pass on. I usually prefer apple or peach over cherry cobbler, but Magic Wand's changed my mind. There is almost always a cobbler offered on the specials board.
It had the sticky, gooey, sweet cherry filling with a touch of tartness than I expected, but what I didn't expect was the buttery flavor of the crust. Its golden color made me expect there was a lot of butter, but it was the touch of saltiness the browned butter gave this cobbler that put it in a whole new category of greatness.
Owner David Hill said that brown butter treatment is by design and said it is really good with the salted caramel ice cream they sometimes have.
Hill's grandparents, the late Max and Judy Myers, opened the Wand in 1964 and he took part ownership in 2011. Judy is still there running the grill three days a week.
There will be no salted caramel or chocolate, for that matter, in a month or so as Magic Wand offers those flavors only during the warm summer months. Vanilla is offered all year long.
And I will keep visiting Magic Wand all year long, just as I have in the past. There is no other place like it and nobody does it better.
Restaurant: Magic Wand
Address: 602 S. Main St., Churubusco
Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Smoking status: Non-smoking
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Magic Burger ($4.65), tenderloin ($6.95), Ham Supreme ($4.25), cod dinner ($8.95), meatloaf special ($6.95; $7.95). soup ($3.25), ribbon fries ($2.40; $3.20 with cheese), E.T. Sundae ($3.74), cobbler ($3.79), shortcake ($3.74)
Rating breakdown: Food: *** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five