Jason Schumer

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Best Reading List

Archer Heights Library Polish Book Club

Jason Schumer

Where else can you come together once a month to read and discuss works by Polish philosophers, Jewish theologians, journalists, satirists, and even novelist Elena Ferrante? The Archer Heights Library Polish Book Club, that’s where. Led by Elizabeth Ptasik, the branch librarian at Archer Heights, the book club has been meeting continuously since 2005, when Ptasik started working there, but she believes it had been meeting for many years before that as well. Now one of just five or six Polish book clubs left in Chicago, according to Ptasik, the Archer Heights location has members from Hyde Park, Berwyn, and at one point even Willow Springs. Every third Wednesday of the month, between two and eight people show up to discuss the latest book in a personal and intimate setting.

Ptasik explained the inclusive and collaborative process by which the book club members choose which books to read that year. At the beginning of the summer, members nominate which books they want to read. All the Polish book clubs then send their lists to someone at the Harold Washington Library Center in the South Loop, which contacts the owner of D&Z House of Books, a Polish bookstore that has been in Belmont Cragin since 1994. Based on availability and price, they then narrow the list down to twelve books for the year, and buy eight copies of each. The clubs then take turns reading each book and exchanging throughout the year. Ptasik says that there is usually a mix of older and contemporary, originally Polish and translated books.

In addition to the book club, Archer Heights library sports a number of other resources, including a Graphic Novel Book Club, Mad Science Mondays (for students), and as of recently, a ‘CyberNavigator’ fluent in English, Spanish, and Polish, to help people set up email accounts, apply for jobs, and in general navigate the internet/tech space. (Adam Przybyl)

Archer Heights Polish Book Club, Archer Heights Library, 5055 S. Archer Ave. Every third Wednesday of the month. Po polsku. (312) 747-9241. chipublib.org/locations/5

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Best Atole

Western Orange Line Stop Stand

Waking up early and running to catch a train shouldn’t mean having to skip a hearty breakfast. Luckily for commuters entering on the Western Orange Line station, there’s a familiar, mouthwatering sight of a tamale stand right outside the entrance. On several occasions, this stand has saved even me from going into work hungry and grumpy. The stand sells red and green pork or chicken tamales, hot and ready to eat. And for a drink, my absolute favorite is featured: atole, an arroz con leche–like beverage made with masa harina, milk, chocolate, piloncillo (cane sugar), cinnamon, vanilla, and star anise. It all comes together in a thick, warm, comforting beverage that I’ve only ever known to come best from stands like this. Only available weekday mornings, students and workers can indulge in comforting flavors from roughly 6am until everything is sold out—so be quick to grab a bite before that inbound Orange Line train leaves the station! (Mell Montezuma)

Western Orange Line Station, 4901 S. Western Ave. 6am weekdays until sold out. Cash only.

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Best Fish-Filled Half-Pineapple

Mariscos El Abuelo Y Yo

The clapboard houses and spray-painted murals of 38th and Kedzie sit hundreds of miles away from any ocean. But for the fifteen years that it’s called that corner home, Mariscos El Abuelo Y Yo has served up the catch of the day, every day.

Saltwater and seafood is the rule: oysters, ceviche, sopas, mariscadas, and so on, all complemented by the half-dozen hot sauce bottles at each table. The menus and signs use the rusted-up hull of a fishing boat as a backdrop, and the walls are painted a blue-green that’s halfway between seawater and seaglass. Then there’s the steel counter by the open kitchen, where entire schools of fish are grilled each evening.

Like most Chicago success stories, El Abuelo y Yo has ventured beyond its home. Some years back, the owners opened a sister location in Milwaukee, while more recently, they’ve become an unlikely GrubHub mainstay. But UberEaters of the city are missing out. You have to be seated in person for the complimentary caldo, a delicious broth that features the beady eyes of a shrimp peeking out of your styrofoam cup. It’s a perfect sinus-clearer (or hangover cure, Yelp reviewers suggest). 

My favorite dish, however, is the piña rellena: a hollowed-out half-pineapple filled with shrimp, octopus, and snail, all covered with melted cheese. In less capable hands (or skillets), it’d be rubbery—but El Abuelo Y Yo’s own take on surf-and-turf is tender, buttery, and unbelievably good. It’s a little nautical cornucopia for anyone with an open mind about pineapple on pizza.

El Abuelo Y Yo is clean, inexpensive, polished, and offers the best seafood I’ve had in the city. There’s nothing terribly sentimental about the Jarritos pendants or the inflatable Modelo tallboy hanging in one corner—you come for the food. 

But good cooking is a family business, so it makes sense why Abuelo would be first. (Christopher Good) 

Mariscos El Abuelo Y Yo, 3752 S. Kedzie Ave. Monday–Thursday, 10am–9pm; Friday–Sunday, 9am–10pm. (773) 247-9110. Cash only.

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Best Rolled Ice Cream Flavors

Rolling Chicago Cafe

Adam Przybyl

Although it’s only been around for about a month, Rolling Chicago Cafe has already made a name for itself as a place with great food, ice cream, and drinks. The name comes from what many would consider the main attraction: rolled ice cream. Also called stir-fried ice cream, making it calls for pouring a liquid mixture (usually some combination of milk, sugar, and other flavors) onto a pan that is kept at around negative thirty degrees, stirring it to incorporate air, and then scraping the now-frozen mixture into “rolls.” The result feels denser than regular ice cream, and is usually served with lots of toppings.

The giant, colorful chalkboard menu goes all out with flavors like Pink World (strawberry), Froot Loops (exactly what you think), Lechero (espresso, pretzels, and chocolate chips), and Nutella Love (Nutella-flavored ice cream with bananas, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce). The Cafe also serves a wide variety of crepes, paninis, freshly squeezed juices, and smoothies. A video on their Facebook page shows someone preparing a panini in slow motion, throwing and slicing vegetables as if in an action movie trailer. But whether you’re here to watch your food get made or to relax and enjoy the flavors, there’s ample seating inside and outside. Make the most out of the last days of summer and head on over. (Adam Przybyl)

Rolling Chicago Cafe, 3904 W. 47th St. Monday–Thursday, 7am–9pm; Friday–Sunday, 7am–11pm. $2.75–$9.25. (773) 940-2492.

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