Best of Bridgeport 2021. Photo by Gonzalo Guzman

Best of Bridgeport 2021

When I sat down last year to write the introduction to the Bridgeport section of the 2020 Best of the South Side issue, I thought about all the factors that led me to settle there after I moved to Chicago in 2016: its diverse and eccentric residents, its strong sense of neighborhood pride, and the plethora of independent businesses, restaurants and bars that give the neighborhood its gritty charm. I described Bridgeport’s working-class history, its tradition of fighting for workers’ rights, and how this laid the foundation for a community where neighbors help each other through tough times.

One year later, I have so many new things to appreciate about this neighborhood—a place that has felt more like home to me than anywhere else I’ve lived. Each time I take a new route on my daily walk to CVS, chat with the women who work at the Suds Factory laundromat, or meet with a friend for before-work coffees at one of the neighborhood’s many independent coffeehouses, I’m convinced that I will never stop discovering (and re-discovering) things to love about Bridgeport.

But, don’t just take my word for it—ask Jeremy Kitchen, the head librarian at the Richard J. Daley Branch, who is featured in this issue as Bridgeport’s Best Punk Rock Librarian.

When sharing what he loves about Bridgeport, Kitchen mentions classic local businesses, bars, and restaurants, like George’s Gyros (“where they still call you ‘hun,’”) or The Stockyard Coffeehouse (“the Mexican Mocha is divine, as is the breakfast sandwich. Also, [there are] no embarrassing ‘trying just a little too hard’ baristas working there. A family business owned by Bridgeport natives”). He also gives a mandatory shout out to the South Side’s very own Chicago White Sox: “Tim, Jose, Eloy, and the boys are killing it this year. The energy in the park is electric, and the bullpen slays. LaRussa has proven his worth after my initial skepticism, with proven competency and wins with injuries galore. The Sox are probably the most affordable pro sports ticket in America, which is good for families.”

And, as a librarian and Lumpen Radio host, Kitchen feels compelled to highlight some of the neighborhood fixtures that contribute to Bridgeport’s vibrant art scene. The Zhou B Art Center, owned by brothers ShanZuo and DaHuang, was one of his top picks, as were the Little Free Libraries on Morgan and Wallace. Kitchen was lucky enough to discover a Paris Review with two William S. Burroughs stories at the miniature library on Morgan, and he often drops the books he reviews on his Lumpen Radio show, Eye 94, at the library on Wallace.

But the best part of talking to anyone who’s lived in Bridgeport long enough is the strange, niche reasons they have to love the neighborhood—reasons that go beyond a favorite bar or restaurant. As the neighborhood captain, these unusual responses are the ones I love to explore further and feature in the Best of the South Side issue.

One favorite landmark Kitchen mentions is Bubbly Creek — “a gnarly piece of history; decomposing blood and guts from the Union Stockyards kept it bubbling for decades. It bubbles less than in the past, yet the mythology persists.”

He even mentioned skateboarding at the Sox Park parking lot, which is also featured in this year’s section: “I spent many hours of the Covid-19 pandemic skating, and there is just something rad about skating around Sox Park. Flat, smooth, fast, and funa winning combo. I was able to have a few decent conversations with walkers, bikers, and rollerbladers during a lonely time.”

Whether your favorite things about Bridgeport are among the five items highlighted in this year’s Best of the South Side, or whether you have your own ideas—I hope this issue gives you an insight as to how the neighborhood’s unique people, infrastructure, and local businesses all shape our community. (Nikki Roberts)

Nikki Roberts is a freelance writer living in Bridgeport. This is her second year editing the Bridgeport section for Best of the South Side. You can connect with her online at @bynikkiroberts.

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Best Punk Rock Librarian

Jeremy Kitchen

Photo by Gonzalo Guzman

Jeremy Kitchen is Bridgeport’s Best Punk Rock Librarian. For fourteen years, the heavily tattooed head librarian at the Richard J. Daley Branch has been helping residents find their next read, fighting for accessible and inclusive library access, and even booking the occasional punk rock show in the library’s multi-purpose rooms.. 

After growing tired of trekking from the west suburbs of Detroit to Chicago to see live music each weekend, Kitchen moved to Wicker Park in 1995. His background in social work and his passion for literature made him an ideal candidate for the children’s librarian position at the Northtown Branch. When he was offered a promotion at the Daley Branch in 2007, Kitchen moved to Bridgeport—partly because he’s a diehard White Sox fan who jumped at the opportunity to be close to Sox Park—and has played a vital role in the neighborhood’s music and literature communities ever since. 

As head librarian, Kitchen prioritizes sourcing from independent publishers and stocking the library with translated books. He is proud to offer a large selection of books to Bridgeport’s Chinese-speaking community, as well as a smaller section of material for Spanish-speaking residents.

“You can go to any library and get bestsellers. When you come to my branch, I want it to feel more like an experience,” said Kitchen.

Another way that Kitchen integrates the neighborhood into his work is by hosting Punk Rock & Donuts, a series of free matinee shows at the library that feature rock and punk bands. Growing up in the violent Detroit hardcore scene of the 1980s, Kitchen wanted a way to make heavy music accessible and community-driven. His shows draw punk rockers from all over the city—but parents with children, routine library patrons, and older neighbors who are interested in checking out a new event are also regularly in attendance. Coffee and donuts from local coffee shops and bakeries are offered to all attendees while they enjoy the show. 

When Kitchen isn’t at the Daley branch, he can often be found just around the corner at the Co-Prosperity Sphere, where he co-hosts Eye 94, a literature talk show on Lumpen Radio. His work to make Bridgeport’s public library accessible to residents of different interests, ages, and languages is what makes him a stellar community leader; his involvement in Bridgeport’s music and literature scenes displays the passion he has for both his work and the neighborhood. 

You can read some of Kitchen’s original writing in Echoes of a Natural World: Tales of the Strange & Estranged, which is published by First to Knock Books — one of the indie publishers Kitchen supports when selecting books for the Daley Branch. (Nikki Roberts)

Richard J. Daley Branch, 3400 S. Halsted St. Temporarily closed for renovation, more details at chipublib.org. (312) 747-8990.

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Best New Restaurant

Greek Prime

Photo by Gonzalo Guzman

Deciding where to dine out in Bridgeport can be a difficult—but delicious—decision, given the varied cuisine that’s offered across the neighborhood. From the saucy wings at Buffalo Wings & Rings to the bowls of noodles swimming in spicy pork broth at Min’s Noodle House; from the savory breaded steak sandwiches at Gio’s Cafe and Deli to the hearty American breakfasts at Bridgeport Restaurant; sometimes I feel as though I could try a new dish at a different restaurant for every meal and never be forced to repeat myself. 

When it comes to gyros, George’s Gyros has provided Bridgeport residents, visiting Sox fans, and hungry mouths from across the city with gyros and other fast food favorites at a low price point for years. But now, there’s a new gyro spot in town: Greek Prime. 

Greek Prime has been the hype of the neighborhood since it opened in June 2021, and with a large modern menu, excellent customer service, and cozy wooden bar seating, it’s not hard to see why. While George’s will always remain a comfort food favorite when grabbing a quick bite, Greek Prime offers its customers a more authentic selection of homemade Greek dishes, including flaming saganaki cheese, a variety of pita sandwiches, and avgolemono—a traditional Greek soup made with homemade chicken broth, rice, and egg-lemon. Along with traditional staples, the restaurant also offers an interesting selection of modernized dishes like BBQ pulled pork egg rolls, Greek seasoned french fries, and a Greek-style ribeye sandwich. 

For those who are ready to switch from the takeout counter to dining in again, Greek Prime is ready to host guests with a small sidewalk patio, a wood-panelled dining room, and bar seating. 

In a neighborhood full of authentic Chinese, Italian, and Mexican cuisine, a more traditional Greek restaurant with a quaint outdoor patio and cozy indoor seating is a welcome addition to the dining scene. Because of its unique menu,generous portions, and fair prices, Greek Prime is Bridgeport’s Best New Restaurant. (Nikki Roberts)

Greek Prime, 901 W. 35th St. Open daily, 11am-11pm. (773) 565-4690. greekprime.com

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Best Use of Public Space

U.S. Cellular Field Parking Lot

Photo by Gonzalo Guzman

A park, a race course, a bike field, a snowman’s home, a dog’s meadow, a driver’s education practice course—even if a bright red sign in both Chinese and English says otherwise. U.S. Cellular Field, Comiskey Park, Guaranteed Rate Field—whatever you call it—its parking lot isn’t just a place where cars congregate as their owners trek to the stadium to witness both sparks and baseballs fly. It’s not even just for tailgating! The hot, empty asphalt is also the perfect stage for a variety of local activities. 

Throughout the lockdown year, my friend and I would make heavy use of these private-made-public spaces. Besides our time spent circling the area, filling the hours with both small chats and deep conversations, we would run into our neighbors. Young and old, they might be walking their dogs, or unsupervised and doing less-than-appropriate activities, or swinging their arms to get their daily exercise in with their decades-long significant other, or zooming around on their bikes. The same quotidian joy bubbled in each of us in this shared, albeit controlled, freedom. 

In the winter, the parking lot was the perfect foundation for layers of snow. My friend and I would weave ourselves through the gates to set our feet on the not-yet-touched, sparkling canvas—until, inevitably, it would turn back to a well-trodden greige with worrisome patches. Still, when the sun sets or rises, turning our space a sherbet orange, it reminds us that we all live here, truly and fully.  

Maybe our grit reflects larger problems about limited green community space in Chicago’s South and Near South Side neighborhoods—but I think this parking lot is a celebration of our collective imagination, and how, out of ourselves and one another, we are carving a community space. Of a forgotten, of an outskirts, we are the architects. (Mendy Kong)

Guaranteed Rate Field, 333 W. 35th St.

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Best Preschool in an Old Salvation Army Building with a Rooftop Playground that often Smells of Sautéed Onions Due to its Proximity to the Maxwell Street Depot

Bridgeport Child Development Center

What I love most about Bridgeport is that it is a true community. A hardscrabble community of the future, as some might say, but a beautiful, vibrant, diverse collection of interdependent humans, nonetheless. In a city known for its segregation, this diversity must count for something. 

One morning when I lived on Quinn Street, a sweet, somewhat gruff older neighbor stopped me on the sidewalk, and in true Bridgeport fashion, asked where I was going. “I’m late for work.” 

She didn’t pick up on my rush and asked where I worked and what I did. “I work as a preschool teacher at the Bridgeport Child Development Center.” 

“The old Salvation Army? This is before you were born, but when I was a kid, I would go to the dentist there.” She had piqued my curiosity for neighborhood history, but I excused myself to maintain an illusion of punctuality.

At 31st and Normal there is an old brown brick building. If you stand outside, you may hear the sounds of children overhead. Their voices drop from a rooftop playground where there is a small garden, a sensory table, and enough tricycles for children to race in circles. Taking a break from her chalk drawing, a three-year-old once asked me, “Mr. Neil, what’s that smell?” It happens to be the delicious onion and sausage scented air pollution from the Maxwell Street Depot across the street. Inside its front doors is a warm, and well-worn Head Start preschool. The current director, Marybeth Mlikotic, prefers to call the building “historic.”

Next to the time clock hangs a framed resolution from the City Council of Chicago celebrating our school’s tenth anniversary in 1989. It commends the school for helping “bridge the many cultural backgrounds of the children and parents of the Bridgeport community,” and congratulates the co-directors of the center, Mark McHugh and Rosanne DeGregorio.

Thirty-two years later, Rosanne still works for One Hope United, the parent agency of the Child Development Center, as the Director of Program for Early Learning and Child Development. Rosanne is our longest tenured fixture at the school, but she is hardly unique in her decades of service. By the end of August, JoAnn Taitt will have retired after teaching with us for twenty-two years. Our center also participates in a Foster Grandparent Program, where seniors volunteer with children. Sadly, the program has been paused due to the pandemic, But before then, Grandma Nannie Crudup—who turned ninety-nine this year—had been making near daily appearances at the center since the early nineties. 

While things have changed since 1989, our commitment to the families in Bridgeport isn’t one of them. Congruent with the 2020 census data for Bridgeport, the majority of our students are Chinese American, and as such, we make it a point to celebrate our students’ heritage. Multiple dialects of Chinese are spoken in each classroom by teachers and students alike. Festivals and celebrations occur throughout the year, such as our family breakfast to mark the Lunar New Year and weekend events in Chinatown for the Dragon Boat races. We are a center with a focus beyond rote memorization of the alphabet. Instead, we embrace the whole child, and prepare them to become a full and active member of our community. (Neil Joseph Clark)

Bridgeport Child Development Center, 3053 S. Normal Ave. (312) 842-5566. 

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Best Meals to Go

Bridgeport Community Canteen

2020 was a year of changes, but also a year of innovation. Throughout the pandemic, many businesses have had to reinvent themselves to stay afloat and fight against the adversities of this new COVID world. 

In June 2020, the co-owner of Maria’s and Kimski, Ed Marszewski, founded the Community Kitchen and Canteen through the Public Media Institute. The Community Kitchen and Canteen is a food service program that provides complimentary meals to in-need Chicago residents, families, and workers during a year where many struggled during a global pandemic. The program has partnered with eight restaurants, which together have provided over 100,000 meals. At the moment, the community canteen located at Kimski is offering to-go meals every Wednesday. Unfortunately, they had to reduce their operations due to a lack of funding.

As the indoor city restrictions tighten in the City, the Community Kitchen and Canteen is ready to continue serving the community. “We are ready to provide the same service,” Marszewski said. 

If you are in Bridgeport and need a hot meal, stop by Kimski every Wednesday starting at noon (until supplies last), and pay what you can. You can also access over a dozen other mutual aid food distribution programs, kitchens, and food pantries that provide free meals and provisions to the public across the city. (Sofia McDowell)

Kimski, 954-960 W. 31st St. Tuesday–Saturday, 5pm–11pm; Sunday, noon–9pm, kimskichicago.comMore information and locations at communitykitchenchicago.org.

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