Southern Exposure—Thai Medallion

September 2014 View more

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Photos by Greg Shapps

Spend any time at a train station, like the downtown Naperville Metra/Amtrak depot, and it becomes very clear that the commuter is a decidedly single-minded and deliberately focused animal. Even without spotting a monthly pass versus a daily-ride ticket, it doesn’t take long to discern the hardcore regulars from the casual interlopers. The veterans know exactly where they need to be and when. There’s a singularity of purpose to their routines, built over months and years of making the same trip and having figured out how to do it in the most efficient and time-effective manner possible. 

NMAG914_TableforTwo_Thai Medallion-002_800pxAs a business owner, the prospect of establishing oneself amid the swirl of humanity near a train station seems like a surefire path to success—just work your wares into that daily routine and you’ve got guaranteed business five days a week. But the regulars, those creatures of a habit you so desperately want to be a part of, are wearing the blinders of the daily grind. In their mind, the most direct path is the only one that matters, with no distractions permitted.

Hidden In Plain Sight

So it’s far from ridiculous to consider whether many Naperville commuters have ever even noticed Thai Medallion, a cozy little spot situated literally steps from the bustling platforms of the downtown train station. While tucked away from any major vehicular thoroughfare, the building fronts a sidewalk that sees a torrent of weekday foot traffic nearly every 20 minutes or so during rush hours. But are those commuters looking up? Do they know what they’re missing?

NMAG914_TableforTwo_Thai Medallion-041_800pxThe crowd was sparse on the July evening that we visited, and one could only assume that it was the result of folks just not taking a detour from their daily paths to give it a chance. Because if they were to stop in, they’d realize that this is not just another interchangeable Thai eatery. While many of the items on the menu can indeed be found elsewhere, the focus here on cuisine from the southern portion of Thailand is a distinction that truly sets Thai Medallion apart.

Thai One On

The appetizers we chose—crispy egg rolls and crying tiger (marinated beef tenderloin)—wouldn’t have been out of place on any Asian menu in town, but both shined in the execution. The same went for my companion’s Pad See Ewe, its broad noodles, tofu chunks and rich sauce holding few surprises but plenty of satisfying bites. But I was here for the southern Thai experience, a preference that meant girding myself for the spice of life.

NMAG914_TableforTwo_Thai Medallion-022_800pxMy attention was drawn to the Khua Gling, a spicy dish of chopped chicken, beef or pork stir fried with galangal, turmeric, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf and fresh Thai chilies that I couldn’t recall seeing on any other Thai menu. I was sold. Still, given my delicate palette when it comes to extreme heat, I asked our server to treat my order as if it were for a six-year-old. Even then, I only made it through about half the dish, probably due at least in part to having filled up on several liters of water trying to soothe my scorched taste buds. But unlike many spicy dishes, this was not spicy for the sake of braggadocio. While the seasoning was indeed intense, it was acting in service of the flavor, not simply trying to reduce a grown man to a puddle of sweat and tears.

NMAG914_TableforTwoThai Medallion-064_800pxHad I found a new favorite Thai dish? Probably not—the beef with broccoli is still more my speed. But that tasty Khua Gling was a reminder that every once in a while it’s good to step out of one’s usual routine and try something new—a lesson that might be worth remembering for those hordes of commuters passing by Thai Medallion.