Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Wed August 10 2016

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | August 10, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    Capture '90s Nostalgia at Chicago's Saved By The Max

    Capture '90s Nostalgia at Chicago's Saved By The Max

    Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    The ’90s are back in a big way. It’s not just fashion and music that have been honoring the grunge decade with re-interpretations, but movies like “Independence Day” and TV shows like “Full House” have also returned. So it shouldn’t be that shocking that ’90s teen show “Saved By The Bell” has garnered a restaurant that pays detailed tribute to the gang at Bayside High. 

    Still, Saved By The Max, a pop up diner in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park  neighborhood has managed to catch locals off guard with sold out reservations and foodie-approved dishes.

    I ignored the initial hype about Saved By The Max, thinking it was just a theme park resto cashing in on frantic fans. But when the hype grew more intense and what was supposed to be a summer pop-up evolved into a longer term proposition, I decided to check it out. What I discovered was a clever eatery right at home in Chi-town’s serious restaurant scene.

    The first thing to understand about Saved By The Max is that it’s not like typical restaurants where you just walk in or call and make reservations. The website allows diners to reserve a table for an allotted 90 minutes and you pay for a three course dinner (appetizer, entree, dessert and non-alcoholic drink) up front for $35. 

    That is, if you can find an opening.

    All of the two-person reservations are sold out through December, but there are three-person reservations starting in October. The best bet is to go for a solo slot, which is how I found an opening for the following week. There’s also a waiting list (good luck with that) and walk-ins. People line up in a queue that always snakes down the block, so chances of walking in are iffy. The best time to try your walk-in luck is 5-7 p.m. The restaurant opens at 5 but most people make reservations for 7 or later so there are more possibilities for openings. After a problematic introduction, weekend brunch was reinstated from 10 a.m. until it sells out. Brunch is on a walk-in basis so arriving at least an hour before opening is a good idea. There’s also a bar (totally not a thing at the original Max) that serves up cocktails and boozy shakes that’s open for walk-ins.

    The other thing to know is that Saved By The Max is a completely recreated Saved By The Bell dreamland. From the crayon-colored walls, to Jessie and Slater’s lockers at the entrance, it’s like you’ve stepped right into The Max, the gang’s afterschool hangout. TVs blasting scenes from the show line the walls and there’s even arcade games (Centipede and Kung Fu Master) a jukebox and a payphone. Tunes from the ’90s, including George Michael and Paula Abdul, play on rotation and you might see a few customers decked out in kitschy ’90s clothes (or maybe just regular Wicker Park hipsters, it’s hard to tell the difference.)  If you’ve never watched the show, you’ll miss most of these references so just enjoy the retro ambiance.

    READ MORE: The Top Travel Adventures from 'Saved By The Bell'

    The menu features an innovative take on classic dishes and characters.  Michelin-starred chef Brian Fisher whips up Miss Bliss’ Candied Bacon, Poutine Engel with fries smothered in red eye gravy with cheese curds and ham and Lisa’s Grilled Cheese with Gruyere, aged cheddar and caramelized mushrooms, among other standouts.

    The menu reflects a sophisticated take on diner food, with local ingredients and unusual pairings. The Snow White and The Seven Dorks delivers Lebanese fried chicken wings with yogurt sauce rather than basic wings and the Preppy BLT features pork belly instead of the usual bacon. The portions are huge and most times they work, but the harried kitchen staff can be slow with service, which can sometimes make for cold or underwhelming dishes. Stick with the flawless and simple Bayside Burger and the pie of the day from local darlings Bang Bang Pie Shop and you’ll never go wrong.

     It really doesn’t matter if you don’t know who any of these characters are or what they did to deserve such adoration; once you step inside Saved By The Max and sample the offerings, you’ll be cheering for Bayside like a total preppy. 

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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