- • Best Dedication to Community Gathering
- • Best Old-School Crowdfunding
- • Best Name That States the Obvious
- • Best Food Buying Club
- • Best Place to Be Full
I wish I could give this feeling.
When I think of my beloved South Shore.
Images, sounds, smells flood my mind.
The smell of aquatic life mixes with spring breezes through newly cracked windows, the sound of the South Shore IC line (now Metra) screeching, the golden amber hues that cast their light at sunset, filling every blemish with flattery, only to be outdone by the sun’s ascent at dawn.
The South Shore skyline dotted with Moutoussamy buildings that peer from the background as you zip down Lake Shore Drive as it merges into South Shore Drive.
Stony Island, Yates, Exchange 79th, 75th, 67th, the “Highlands.” All are markers for those who call South Shore home.
But the people, South Shore’s people, are what make it a cornerstone of Chicago, where newly minted “wealth” meets “ain’t we lucky we got ‘em” in one neighborhood. Where activism meets Afrikan artistry meets the black bourgeoisie.
It’s where we turned a country club into a Cultural Center, and are turning a vacant grocery into what will be Chicago’s largest black-owned grocer.
South Shore for me represents the Soul of black folks. That elastic yet ephemeral thing, so much a thing you feel, that you can’t hold, nor give justice to via meager words.
South Shore remains a bastion of artists, businesses, hustlers and everything in between.
For me it was the sounds of funk, disco, and early house I would hear oozing out of courtyard buildings and accenting the alleyways of my youth. You felt, even if you didn’t know, these folks in the “hood” had seen the world, and made that aspiration accessible to those observing.
All this makes South Shore a special place, but in the natural ebb and flows a city and a neighborhood go through, it currently serves as living example of the kinds of divestment happening in many South Side and West Side neighborhoods.
As a forty-two-year-old man who was born into this section of the world, who found my love here, who is raising a young black boy, who chose to invest in and serve these dynamic people, I can see South Shore’s best days are just ahead, as it undergoes another stage in its growth.
I wish I could give you this feeling. I think, as you will find in this best-of, that South Shore has much to offer, and will only grow stronger.
L. Anton Seals, Jr. was born and raised in South Shore, Chicago. He is a father, community servant, entrepreneur, and filmmaker. He is a “community brother at large” working to uplift, and reimagining black space for those who aren’t yet born.
Best Dedication to Community Gathering
South Shore is home to some of the oldest and newest community gardens in the city. The Rainbow Beach Victory Garden was founded in the 1940s and its soil has been worked ever since by generations of South Shore residents and others. It is the last remaining victory garden in the city, and has inspired many to keep their own gardens growing, including Michelle Obama. While many gardens focus on providing traditional vegetable-gardening plots, some, like the garden at 75th Street and Coles Avenue, focus more on the community aspect. This garden features a large table, made from repurposed wood from the old South Shore High School , and a vibrant mural amidst trees and flowers. The most recent addition to South Shore’s garden tradition is the 71st Street and Crandon Avenue Organic Garden, a sign of South Shore’s continued dedication to community gardens. It was voted on as a part of the 5th Ward’s participatory budgeting in 2013, completed earlier this year, and is located, appropriately, adjacent to the alderman’s office. (Carrie Smith)
Rainbow Beach Victory Garden. Rainbow Beach Park, near 79th and S. South Shore Ave.
71st and Crandon Community Garden, 2301 E. 71st St. neighbor-space.org
South Merrill Community Garden, 7000 S. Merrill Ave. neighbor-space.org
75th and Coles Garden, 75th St. and Coles Ave.
Best Old-School Crowdfunding
Black United Fund Illinois
It’s not a hangout spot, or a place to eat—in fact, you aren’t meant to buy anything there at all. But chances are Black United Fund of Illinois (BUFI) has had a hand in an organization or event on the South Side that you’ve enjoyed (they’re also among the partners for several other “bests” on this list). BUFI has been headquartered in South Shore since its founding in 1985, as just the sixteenth chapter of the national Black United Fund organization. Before grassroots funding became a buzzword, BUFI was accepting small donations—direct and deducted from the payroll checks of community members—and investing that money in nonprofit and community-oriented organizations, not to sustain them, but to get their ideas off the ground and to a point where they could sustain themselves. Today more than 700 agencies have received funding as well as administrative support and access to volunteers through the organization. BUFI decided years ago to make a commitment to South Shore, as well as the symbolism of ownership, by buying the building it occupies on 71st Street and Constance Avenue. It now rents the space below its offices to small businesses and services, and offers community meeting spaces. (Carrie Smith)
Black United Fund of Illinois, 1809 E. 71st St. (773) 324-0494. bufi.org
Best Name That States the Obvious
Though it recently moved a bit beyond the neighborhood’s technical southern boundary, That’s-a-Burger has been a South Shore staple for years. It offers burgers of all sorts, from simple cheeseburgers to creations like the “4 N 1,” which combines a patty with cheese, bacon, an egg, and the house-made chili (a popular item on its own), with a side of crispy, lightly-spiced fries included. But there’s a reason turkey burgers are the first burger on the menu. While the humble turkey isn’t everyone’s first thought when it comes to burgers, That’s-a-Burger puts together a turkey burger with a taste that is more than the sum of its parts (I’d recommend it with swiss cheese). Everything is made to order, so the wait can be long—most people either call ahead or place their order and then take care of other shopping—but there’s also plenty of seating, and the wait is worth it. (Carrie Smith)
That’s-a-Burger, 8301 S. Stony Island Ave. Monday–Saturday, 11am–7:30pm. (773) 721-6777.
Best Food Buying Club
Healthy Food Hub
Much has been said and written about South Shore’s status as a food desert since the closing of the Jeffery Plaza Dominick’s in 2013, but little has been said outside the community of the efforts being made by community members to ensure access to fresh, healthy food. The Healthy Food Hub, which predates the issues that have thrown South Shore’s access to produce into the public eye, is a buying club, a co-op in which members, not farmers, decide which items are bought each week. Every Saturday year-round the Hub hosts a market day at the Quarry on 75th Street. On offer are fresh fruits and vegetables, both organic and conventional, with an eye toward shoppers who are both health conscious and on a budget. The market has a close relationship with Black Oaks Farms, as well as other local farmers and growers. You can also find vendors offering dry goods, baked goods, and an array of other items. And if you don’t want to do the cooking yourself, the Market Day Café offers smoothies, salads, stir frys, and burgers for instant gratification. (Carrie Smith)
Healthy Food Hub. The Quarry, 2423 E. 75th St. Saturdays, 11am–3pm. healthyfoodhub.org
Best Place to Be Full
The New Look Restaurant
Started by the father of the late Hadiya Pendleton to honor her memory, this recently remodeled restaurant has become a neighborhood stalwart, most obviously because of the food. It’s simple, it’s good, and there’s a lot of it—not only is this real, hearty soul food, but most dishes come with two or more sides, too. But the real thing to know about The New Look (sometimes called the Next Level—it depends on who you ask, and what mood they’re in) is that, no matter who’s there or what they’re eating, it’s about togetherness, and hand in hand with togetherness comes fun. Whether it’s because of an always-trusty house-made cocktail, a one-time-only drink commemorating the late Prince, or a spontaneous dance-around-the-room session, this is a place where the hours fly by. Bring a family member by for a much-needed catch-up session or show up with your friends to watch the game, whatever game it is—no matter what, you’re almost guaranteed to leave full and smiling. (Jake Bittle)
The New Look Restaurant (aka The Next Level), 2544 E. 83rd St. Tuesday–Sunday, 11am–10pm. (773) 359-2317.