Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Talking to Hyde Park Locals-Pat

This week's featured local is Pat, a career counselor and president of a local art cooperative. Here goes....

How long have you lived in Hyde Park? What brought you to the neighborhood and/or what keeps you here?
I lived in Hyde Park for 21 years from childhood through young adulthood and went to the U of C. Now I'm a member and president of Artisans 21 and work at the University as a career counselor.

How would you describe Hyde Park to someone who isn't familiar with it?
A somewhat collegiate small town that's extremely proud of its history and institutions.

You have friends visiting for the weekend-- What do you make sure to show them in the neighborhood?
The University, Obama's house and his hangouts-Valois, the barber shop, where Dixie Kitchen used to be, some of the wonderful tree-lined streets from the campus west, and of course Artisans 21.

What is your favorite restaurant and/or business in the area? What about it do you like? What do you recommend there?
I really like La Petite Folie; it's reasonable and white tablecloth. Medici never disappoints and I almost always have lunch at Shinju Sushi next door to Artisans on 53rd Street.

How do you feel about the Harper Court development project and community re-development in general? How do you feel it will impact the neighborhood? What type of development would you like to see, if any?
While Artisans was evicted, Dixie Kitchen's no more (except for a few menu items at Calypso), I think it will be good for the neighborhood. The University needs a hotel so [its] visitors would actually stay and shop and dine in the neighborhood. Hopefully there will be someplace to get "ordinary" clothes without going downtown: jeans, sweaters, socks, regular stuff.

Overall, how do you feel about the neighborhood?
Like most people who live or almost live in Hyde Park, I love it, am defensive about it and would be happy to move back.

Bonus Question: Feel free to talk about any neighborhood-related issues or topics that I haven't touched on, suggest a question to be included in future interviews, and/or plug your own website or a cause you're passionate about.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Favorite Things- Garifuna Flava Restaurant

Ok, so this week's featured spot isn't in Hyde Park, but it is one of the best restaurants I've been to on the south side, and so I think it deserves a shout out.

Mr. Hyde Park and I were feeling like something different and wanted to stay on the south side, so we did a little research and came across Garifuna Flava (2516-2518 W 63rd St), a Caribbean and Belizean/Garifuna restaurant with rave reviews on Yelp. The place, which has developed somewhat of a cult following, is known especially for its jerk chicken, but has a full menu of authentic Caribbean seafood, meat, and vegetarian dishes.

Garfuna Flava (2516 W. 63rd)
Image from

The restaurant is at Western and 63rd, so it's just a quick drive west from Hyde Park. The neighborhood is a bit rougher around the edges than what some Hyde Parkers may be used to, but we parked in the lot right next to the restaurant and never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. We went on a Friday night last month at 7ish and the place was completely empty except for one other group. I always feel a little uncomfortable going into a restaurant that's near empty, especially when I've never been there before or I'm not that familiar with the cuisine (I worry it'll be too obvious we don't know what we're doing...). The server we had, though, went out of his way to make us feel comfortable, explaining the menu, telling us a little about the Garifuna culture, and giving us recommendations about what to try.
Half Jerk Chicken w/ Spicy Jerk Sauce
Image from

We ordered conch fritters (which were really fresh and flavorful) to start and then both got the jerk chicken which is, hands down, the best jerk chicken--maybe even the best chicken, period-- I have ever had. (Yes, better than at Calypso Cafe...) The seasoning was on point, the meat was juicy, and it was spicy but not so hot that we couldn't taste the other complex spices. It comes with a delicious gravy/hot sauce that was so tasty I could drink it (according to the waiter, the kid at the table next to us did, in fact, drink a few little cups of it...) The jerk chicken I've had in the past, including at Calypso, often seems to have an artificial liquid-smoke taste to it, but this just tasted really fresh and tangy, with a rich natural smokiness. We had TONS of food (and Belizean beer) and, considering the quality of what we got, it was extremely affordable.
Red Snapper Dinner w/ Rice & Beans, Plantain & Potato Salad
Image from

As I mentioned above, the restaurant-- in spite of it's delicious fresh food and amazing service-- was pretty empty on a weekend night at a prime dinner hour. This makes me really sad because this type of home-grown, mom and pop business is really great for the neighborhood and the south side in general. I worry that a gem like this will not survive if people don't go out of their way to support it. With that said, I urge you to take the little trip and check it out. If you like it, tell Yelp, tell your friends, tweet about it, and do whatever you can to spread the word.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Andersonville, The Other Woman

I've been with Hyde Park for a really long time and, for the most part, I love her dearly. But our relationship is a lot like a marriage... It takes some work to keep the spark alive and there are some things about her that really irk me. I'm not going to lie, once in a while, my eyes begin to wander. I start to daydream about what it might be like to be with someone else-- Would things be more exciting? Would I be more fulfilled?

I've even gone so far as to develop a little crush on someone else. Not any of the obvious temptations-- not sleek and sexy River North, young and flirty Lakeview, classy, sophisticated Lincoln Park, or edgy and mysterious Wicker Park. Nope, I've got a little thing for Andersonville, the cute, down-to-earth girl next door. (Not familiar with the neighborhood? Check out its official website here.)

Top: 53rd Street in Hyde Park (from
Bottom: Clark Street in Andersonville (from:

What is it about her that drew me in? Well, she's definitely my type, i.e. very approachable and easy-going, yet interesting without being frivolous or overly trendy. She's also got a lot in common with my main squeeze, Hyde Park. She too is a bit off the beaten path-- she's as far north as we are south, but, like Hyde Park, she's right by the lake and Lake Shore Drive and thus easy to zip to from other parts of the city. The locals are unpretentious and cool, but not too trendy or overly hip. Also like Hyde Park, Andersonville has a small-town feel that it's very proud of-- the website even describes the neighborhood as a "quaint village in the middle of a world class city." The homes in the neighborhood are not as architecturally interesting as in Hyde Park, but the buildings along its main drag (Clark street from Hollywood to a little south of Foster) are the same low-slung, 50s-era storefronts you find on 53rd and 57th Streets.

What's different and in some ways more attractive about Andersonville is that it is packed to the gills with fun, interesting, exciting businesses and restaurants. Within a one mile stretch on Clark, are affordable tapas, sushi, small plate Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Morrocan, Belgian, gastropub, southern, and brunch spots, not to mention several fun bars. In general, these restaurants are unpretentious and affordable, but the interiors are well-decorated, the menus are thoughtfully planned, the service is solid and professional, and the food is legitimately good and even innovative at times. Andersonville is home to my hands-down-favorite bar/restaurant in the city, the Hopleaf, which has an amazing beer selection and serves up simple and cheap sandwiches and fries but also offers some upscale fare that competes with any restaurant I've been to in a so-called hip neighborhood. The place is always packed and people are willing to drive there from all over the city. I've tweeted about this before, but I see no reason why Hyde Park couldn't sustain a place like this, as it fills so many needs-- a fun bar, affordable food for college students or those on a budget, and nicer options for special occasions or those who have more expensive tastes.

Don't get me wrong, Hyde Park has some very good restaurants and fun bars. To be totally honest, though, I feel like I often have to overlook little "quirks," like slow service, outdated decor, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink menus (e.g. guacamole on an Italian menu), and excessively high prices for food that is good, but rarely innovative or exciting. There's also the obvious issue of there just not being enough options, particularly when it comes to restaurants that sit somewhere between super cheap take-out and special occasion spots. The Snail or the Med, for example, are great for a quick weeknight dinner and Park 52 or La Petite Folie are perfect for your birthday or anniversary, but they are too expensive to visit often.

Ok, ok, I'm going to stop here because Hyde Park is still my main girl and I don't want you to think that I don't love and appreciate her for what she is. (I'm not going to go into the details here because that's what I talk about in virtually every other post, but there are of course things I love about Hyde Park that Andersonville could never compete with.) It's just that I think she's capable of more. Neither Hyde Park or Andersonville is the prettiest girl in the room, but both have a special something that catches your eye and hooks you in. Andersonville, though, does a better job of keeping your attention once she's wooed you. It's like this-- Andersonville knows some people love her, but--given that she's off the beaten path and not the hippest hood in the city-- she knows that she needs to style her hair, put some perfume on, and do a little flirting if she's going to keep folks interested. Hyde Park, on the other hand, seems to have let her self go a little bit. She's started wearing sweat pants to bed. She knows that she has the University of Chicago population and folks who want to be in a thriving south side neighborhood in the palm of her hand, so she doesn't feel like she has to work at keeping the spark alive. The thing is, we (Hyde Park locals) are putting a lot into this relationship-- we pay relatively high rent to live here and we invest a lot of money in local businesses, even when there are often more affordable and/or higher quality options in other parts of the city. It's only fair that our neighborhood meet us half way. Local spots owe it to us to step up their game-- to improve their service, to get real leather menu covers, to repaint their walls, to spruce up their menus. And I think the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce should be doing more to lure businesses here, to demonstrate that there is a great need and captive market for more dining and entertainment. Yes, the new Harper Court development may help-- but Andersonville didn't need plastic surgery to woo suitors and neither should we.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This Weekend in Hyde Park....

Looking for something fun to do this weekend? No need to travel out of Hyde Park! Here's what's going on in the neighborhood:

Friday (5/14)
Saturday (5/15)
Sunday (5/16)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Talking to Hyde Park Locals- TA

Talking to Hyde Park Locals is back! This week's featured local is TA, a 25 year old University of Chicago employee and soon-to-be-grad student. All of the pictures you see in this article were taken by TA himself. Here goes....

University of Chicago Campus in winter

How would you like to be referred to on the blog? (e.g. first name, initials, or a nickname-- whatever you feel comfortable with)

About how old are you? What's your occupation? Feel free to be as vague or specific as you want...
I'm 25 and work at the University. I will be starting an MA program here in the fall.
How long have you lived in Hyde Park? What brought you to the neighborhood and/or what keeps you here?I have lived in Hyde Park since the Fall of 2003 when I moved into the Shoreland as a first year undergrad at the University. After graduation, I got a job with the University and have resided in Hyde Park ever since. The University brought me to Hyde Park, but after graduation, the walkable community, great lake access, and easy access to downtown are what have kept me here. I'm particularly partial to East Hyde Park.
Behind the scenes at Doc Films

How would you describe Hyde Park to someone who isn't familiar with it?
Hyde Park is like a good-sized town/small city within the larger Chicago community. It is small enough to walk/bike wherever you want to go in the community, but it is big enough to have diverse eating, shopping, and entertainment options.

You have friends visiting for the weekend-- What do you make sure to show them in the neighborhood?

The Point! Also Doc Films (where I project), the Obama House, MSI, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago campus, and Osaka Garden in Jackson Park. Renting a bike is an excellent way to do all of this.

Lake Michigan

What is your favorite restaurant and/or business in the area? What about it do you like? What do you recommend there?
My favorite restaurant is Calypso Cafe in the soon-to-be-gone Harper Court. Definitely have the plaintain nachos with jerked chicken. With that and a tropical drink you can easily make a full meal. Another business would be Open Produce on 55th...great selection of produce, good prices, and amazing people.

How do you feel about the Harper Court development project and community re-development in general? How do you feel it will impact the neighborhood? What type of development would you like to see, if any?
If it happens, I would be excited. I'll be sad to see Calypso/Dixie Kitchen go, but I would appreciate greater shopping, entertainment, and food options. 53rd Street and Lake Park are both good streets for high-density developments like this. While other places in Hyde Park would not work for something like this, the proposed location is good.

What do you think the neighborhood is missing (if anything)? What do you see as the barriers to Hyde Park having this?
Generally: more entertainment and a transit line downtown would be ideal. Specifically: A Trader Joe's and an all night diner/eatery would be great. Seems like a perfect market for these.

Overall, how do you feel about the neighborhood?
I really love Hyde Park. You have fantastic lake views, a homey neighborhood vibe, and a surprisingly diverse and intelligent population that is completely unique within Chicago. More recognition for the neighborhood would be fantastic, but I hope that it doesn't lose its quirky vibe.

Bonus Question: Feel free to talk about any neighborhood-related issues or topics that I haven't touched on, suggest a question to be included in future interviews, and/or plug your own website or a cause you're passionate about.
The Point! Something desperately needs to be done to renovate it. I'm terrified waiting for the summer when someone is impaled on a steel girder and the city shuts the Point down for good. The Compromise Plan that was proposed a few years ago was a great idea but never came of anything. I would love to see this blog ask the Save the Point movement why this plan was unacceptable and if their opinion has changed since. An exploration of this debate would be great.


Thanks to TA for taking the time to do the Q&A! If you're interested in sharing your thoughts, you can fill out the survey here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Favorite Things: The Beach/Lake Michigan

Ok, so I know that this Hyde Park gem is pretty well known already (at least to locals), but I'm going to dedicate this "Favorite Things" post to the Lake and the cool things along its shore. Why am I writing about this now, when it's not quite summer yet? Well, partly because I've been gazing out my window at the turquoise water, fantasizing about playing hooky from work and spending the afternoon digging my toes into the sand while I read a magazine. Also, I've recently had to spend a bit of time along the lake path up north (jogging with northsider friends who, of course, would never volunteer to meet me in my neck of the woods!) and I'm pretty convinced that the south side part of the trail is better.

A little-known fact about Hyde Park is that it was once popular as a weekend getaway for northsiders. The Shoreland, Windermere, and Flamingo buildings (among several others that have been razed) were once cushy resorts that attracted tourists looking to spend a few days lounging on a quiet beach. These resorts, as we all know, have been transformed into apartment buildings and, ironically, there remain few hotels in the neighborhood, but Hyde Park still possesses a little hint of its beach town past.

Photo via

Many Hyde Park locals have the luxury of living in these one-time resorts, or in other similar buildings that are literally only steps from the water. Lakefront property south of the Loop-- for better or worse--is drastically cheaper than on the north side, which means that even average Janes like me can afford to live right on the water.

Within the boundaries of Hyde Park, the shores of the lake are clean and quiet, without industrialization or the eyesore parking lots, concrete blocks, imported palm trees, and gravel-y sand found along the lake's north-side shores. 57th Street Beach is admittedly tiny and completely under the radar of non-Hyde Parkers, but it is--probably because it's so unknown-- one of the nicest, calmest beaches I've been to in the city. It can get a little crowded on hot weekend days, but at its worst it is still waaay more low-key than any of the other city beaches I've been to. Another nice thing about it is that Promontory Point juts out into the water and essentially cuts it off from the rest of the lake, which seems to block the gravel, trash, and seaweed that so often washes ashore at huge, wide-open beaches like Montrose Beach. There's also a cute little snack shop on the beach where you can get ice cream and cold drinks.

As much as I love the beach, I know we still have at least a month or so before we will truly be able to enjoy it. In the mean time, the weather is perfect for taking advantage of the lake path. The south side portion of the trail is way less crowded than the north side--so you're not constantly having to elbow your way through crowds of joggers--but you still get the same views of the lake and a better view of the city skyline. You also get to pass some pretty nifty stuff along the way. My favorite spots along the lake are, in no particular order:

  • Promontory Point: (Locals bear with me...) A man-made stone peninsula that juts out into the water, offering the hands-down best views of the city you can get anywhere. It's a great place to barbecue-- they even have firepits! [Thanks to PhotoTravel1, aka Jim Watkins for the beautiful photo!]

  • The Promontory Point Field House: A field house that looks pretty much like a small medieval castle, which is made even cooler by the fact that it sits on a stony peninsula in the lake. FYI, this is a great, cheap place to have a wedding or other fancy reception. (Almost had mine there!) [Thanks to TonytheTiger for the photo]

  • The Model Yacht Basin, aka "Boat Pool": Ok, so this is not technically on the lake, but I'm including it since it's right on the other side of Lake Shore Drive and visible from the lake trail. Located at the north end of Harold Washington Park, the "boat pool" is a shallow reflection pool, with a sculpture by Italian sculptor Virginio Ferrari at its center. The pool/pond/whatever-it-is is pretty nice to look at, particularly at night, and-- on the off chance that you own a toy sail boat-- you can take it there for a sail. [Thanks to PhotoTravel1, aka Jim Watkins for the beautiful photo below!] Also, check out this photostream by Mojosmom for more images of the pond.

Hyde Parkers, would you have anything else to add to this list?

Apologies, etc.

As many of you have no doubt noticed, I have again been MIA from the blog for a while. I'm not going to make excuses other than to say that I have been overwhelmed at work and just struggling to find the time and energy to write. With that said, I'm going to try my best to get back on the ball, and hope you all will have me back.

Ms. Hyde Park