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Remembering 44 Years of Highland Park Eats

The 44th anniversary of Stashs brings back memories of old dining favorites in Highland Park.

On Tuesday, and boastfully claimed to be the "oldest restaurant in Highland Park." 

See more photos from the event on Patch's Facebook page.

I'm not 100 percent sure if that is true - has also been around a long time (as have a few of the fast food outlets) - but surely has one of the most colorful stories for any Highland Park institution.

Certainly, Stashs has come a long way in 44 years. I still remember regular visits to the small storefront further south on Second Street - about where the truck dock for is today. The space was distinctive, with grease-covered walls, a few stools along the window, and a limited menu -- hot dogs, Polish sausage, hamburgers and fries. 

Oh, and what fries! They came in a brown paper bag, which instantly spotted from the oily potatoes inside. I remember they were gone long before we ever got home with lunch, leaving us with the steamed red hots on poppy seed buns. For many of us growing up, Stashs was the original, and even if I did (and still do) occasionally like ketchup as a condiment, they never kicked me out.

In the 80s, as what is now Michael's opened up in town, Stashs found itself under dual threat -- a direct competitor and a plan to build Port Clinton Square. During construction, the City of Highland Park put Stashs, and the Country Maid Bakery, into twin trailers set up at the corner of First and Central. (Imagine what the financial conservatives would be screaming today -- "We don't need to build a city mall! We shouldn't be in the restaurant business!") Stashs, in its second incarnation, expanded its offerings substantially, and the Highland Park salad bar wars were underway.

Once Port Clinton was complete, Stashs moved closer to its original location, near where is now, and snazzed the joint up with tables and a huge kitchen. Though they remained open for years to come, for me, Stashs never recovered from the move back to Second Street. The atmosphere was completely different, the prices were higher and down the street was simply making better food. When the original owner decided it was time to move on, I figured that was going to be the end of the story.

Then Bobby Dubin bought Stashs about 10 years ago and moved it a block north. The menu has expanded again, and the space is now being used for multiple dining experiences. seems to be succeeding as a new entrant to downtown Highland Park. 

Officially, yesterday was also the grand opening of the . The concept of a BYOB (bring your own booze) enoteca doesn't sit right with me, since that word means "wine bar," but I respect that Dubin is trying to do something creative. Within two weeks, though, he'll have new competition just across the street, with the  

The good news for Highland Park is that these two, along with other newcomer restaurants, are all quite diverse and are offering great options, which has actually been true for the entire 44 years Stash's has been around.

That anniversary brought back memories of other Highland Park eating establishments of an earlier era. What Highland Parker of my generation can forget eating at Goodman's, on Skokie Boulevard where the Honda dealer is now, and getting a prize from the treasure chest after devouring a pizza bagel? Who can forget going for mu-shu beef at Chi-Lin Court on Central, where Las Palmas sits today? Who else remembers having first dates at Kip's Delicatessen? (OK, maybe that was a bad choice.)

I enjoyed stopping by Stash's 44th birthday celebration. Still, I couldn't help feeling momentarily nostalgic, and wishing for a nice salad from Mushroom & Sons, the restaurant that occupied that same space three generations ago. I would love to have a place like that back today, but in a pinch, you can recreate their sweet and sour cabbage soup from this online recipe

It's nice to know some memories from the past can be recreated.

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