Lizzie Smith
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Hyde Park/Kenwood has of late become an in-the-place-to-be, place to be. More and more each year, it’s all decked out with a shiny new vibe, including a Whole (paycheck) Foods, and it’s soon to have its own Trader Joe’s, the first one south of Roosevelt. It even birthed (not from the womb, but you know what we mean) a U.S. president. 

Twenty years ago, if you told someone you lived in Hyde Park/Kenwood, they’d likely ask: “Where is that?” But tell them now, and they will tell you that their friends Becky and Biff just bought a place down there… sigh. But anyway, yes, Hyde Park/Kenwood has quietly been all of that for generations. It was once considered the first suburb of the city and held a longstanding reputation for having the highest concentration of wealth. HP/K is the place that the fortunes of the Rosenwalds of the Sears and Roebuck empire, the Swifts of the meatpacking empire, and the Ryersons of the steel empire called home. (And all those names can be found on University of Chicago buildings.) Now that reputation is not so quiet anymore, and HP/K has been doing some new things mixed in with the old things—and serving up a few unexpected bests.

Nicole Bond is the Weekly’s Stage & Screen editor.

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Best Stretch of 43rd Street

Lizzie Smith

If Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, East 43rd Street from Cottage Grove to Ellis is the most happening spot in Kenwood, where eats, entertainment, and upscale retail fashion therapy can be found all in a three-block stretch. Starting on Cottage Grove just off 43rd is newcomer Cleo’s Southern Cuisine, which offers a weekly changing menu featuring dishes like pan-seared salmon, southern fried chicken and waffles, and country collard greens, inspired by executive chef Kristen Ashley’s grandmother, the late Cleodell Harper. 

Just steps away, Some Like It Black Creative Arts Bar is a swanky gathering space where artistry and healthy food meet. Grab light bites, smoothies, and signature cocktails while surrounded by a laid-back low-lit vibe for enjoying live music, poetry, and more. 

Continue east to Norman’s Bistro, which for years has been serving up Cajun Creole fare daily and live jazz every Sunday night at 9pm with no cover charge. 

For those who “Dare to be Different,” the absolute best of this best stretch is Fort Smith Boutique, at 43rd and Ellis—take it from me, a loyal customer of Smith’s for the past thirty years. What started from a bag of wholesale beads and broken jewelry used as inspiration  back in 1986 has become a haven for sophisticated movers and shakers throughout the city and beyond who believe in fashion. Smith’s culturally forward, one-of-a-kind designs have filled his current 43rd Street location for nearly twelve years. Here you can have your pick of sparkly evening bags, gorgeously functional tote bags, handcrafted jewelry made of natural gemstones and semi-precious metals, expertly tailored garments constructed from rich, flowing fabrics, and even some home décor. Smith’s designs have sold at local retailers like Marshall Field’s and Spiegel and are regularly used by style directors for upscale salons and fashion shows. One of the things Smith enjoys most about this location, he told me, is being able to have a wonderful store in a wonderful community so Kenwood residents don’t have to leave their neighborhood to shop. Once across the threshold you instantly feel welcomed and cared for by either Smith himself or Tyrone Marshall, his business partner of nearly forty years and a fellow artist and jewelry maker. 

It’s hard to imagine now that when Smith first started out as a self-taught artist, another local designer scolded the samples he’d made from that bag of odds and ends. After that, Smith showed few of his pieces for sale, until one woman bought what he had on display and asked if he had anything else similar. He pulled out the rest of his collection, and she purchased everything he had, giving him the confidence to continue his work. The rest is, as they say, history—and you can stop by 43rd Street to be a part of it. (Nicole Bond)

Cleo’s Southern Cuisine, 4248 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Wednesday–Thursday, 2pm–8pm; Friday, 2pm–9pm; Saturday–Sunday, 2pm–7pm. (773) 633-2757.

Some Like It Black Creative Arts Bar, 810 E. 43rd Street. Tuesdays–Thursday, 3pm–11pm; Friday, noon–4pm and 6pm–midnight. Closed on Saturdays, unless for special events. (773) 891-4866.

Norman’s Bistro, 1001 E. 43rd St. Wednesday–Thursday, 11am–10pm; Friday, 11am–midnight; Saturday, 10am–midnight; Sunday, 9am–10pm. (773) 966-5821.

Fort Smith Boutique, 1007 E. 43rd St. Tuesday–Friday, 11am–7pm; Saturday, 11am–6pm; Sunday, 2pm–5pm. (773) 268-8200.

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Best Cheap Eats

Antoni 1

That it even exists feels like an accident, an oversight by some university administrator tasked with planning this stretch of 53rd Street. Many of Hyde Park’s recent restaurant openings—Virtue, Mesler, and the short-lived Bibliophile—are staffed by chefs with elite pedigrees, even landing on citywide “Best Of” lists. Other recent arrivals, such as Capital One’s “bank café,” are merely Hyde Park outposts of national chains. Antoni 1, by contrast, lists the day’s specials on a Pepsi-branded menu board above the counter.

What Antoni 1 lacks in “sophistication,” it more than makes up for in food. The menu includes a wide selection of Greek specialties, including gyros, baklava, and three kinds of souvlaki. It also has the usual Chicago fast food fare: hot dogs, rib tips, and an excellent Italian beef. Straddling the divide is the Greek Freak burger, elevated by the addition of gyro meat and tzatziki sauce.

But there’s a fair number of good restaurants in Hyde Park—Salonica, for instance, even offers decent spanakopita. Few restaurants, however, offer good food, fast, at reasonable prices. (Some do excel at two out of the three—the Harold’s a minute’s walk away is certainly good and cheap, but no one can call the service fast.) Antoni 1 has some seating, including a patio, but it’s mostly a takeout place, and service is accordingly speedy. The prices for all of this are exceptionally reasonable: none of the sandwiches are over ten dollars, and the dinners are only a few bucks more. Served with soup and salad, the dinners might be the better value, and portions are consistently generous enough to provide for leftovers.

Antoni 1 used to excel in another category, as one of the few restaurants in Hyde Park to stay open past 9pm. Sometimes you just need an Italian beef at 12:30am, and, for a while, Antoni 1 met that need. They have since scaled back their hours, closing at 10pm all week. Despite this change, Antoni 1 is still unusual for Hyde Park. While glitzy restaurant after glitzy restaurant opens in the neighborhood, Antoni 1 resists the tide, serving good, unpretentious food at a price families and college kids can afford. (Sam Joyce)

Antoni 1, 1310 E. 53rd St. Monday–Sunday, 11am–10pm. Currently closed for remodeling. (872) 465-3701.

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Best View of the South Side

Medical Center Parking B

Lizzie Smith

It may have taken me fifteen minutes to ascend the slopes of the parking lot, but by the time I was standing in the open air on the eighth level of Medical Campus Parking B, I knew how it must feel to conquer Mount Everest. Stooped over, hands on my knees, I needed to catch my breath. The air was thick with haze and car exhaust, making it difficult to breathe. It also proved difficult to see. Here I was, tasked with seeing the best sight in all of the South Side, and yet I could barely see my sneakers. But then, emerging from the haze, I was greeted by streaks of pink and yellow, buoyant islands of deep purple, and a whole circus of red spots in a green blur. I was Adam taking his first breath in Eden—suddenly, I could see I was in a garden! Basil, chard, marigolds, jalapeños, aubergine, tomatoes, row after row, paradise encircling this concrete meadow. Peeking through the thicket, I saw canals of light down below sprinting out to the horizon, into the warm embrace of what I could make out of the skyline. Best. View. Ever. (David Books)

Medical Center Parking B, 5656 S. Maryland Ave.

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