Best Pile of Rocks
Renaissance Park Sculpture
From far away, the stack of gleaming granite boulders is a curiosity, a striking sculpture distinguishing square-shaped Renaissance Park on 79th Street from other urban parks. Close up, you’ll find the boulders are inscribed with names of Black historical figures who excelled in arts, sports, or activism, including local greats Gwendolyn Brooks, Muddy Waters, Jean Baptiste du Sable, and Harold Washington. The boulders are one part of a larger sculptural fountain: water flows down a granite column and weaves through rivulets set into the pavement to the stack of boulders feet away. The Chicago Park District commissioned local sculptor Jerzy Kenar to design the fountain when it created the park in early 2001. The park district’s website says the fountain “symbolizes the strength and energy of the residents of the surrounding neighborhood as well as the African American community in general” and the water represents “a spring of positive change.” The park also includes a small garden, and benches around the park make serene spots for weekend relaxing. (Mari Cohen)
Renaissance Park, 1300 W. 79th St. Daily, 6am—11pm. (312) 747-6562.
Best Homemade Salsa
While the food sampled on a recent visit (the cook-recommended steak taco) was delicious, the main attraction is the delectable salsa verde—a thick, homemade, jalapeño-based sauce that can only serve to improve any food it’s added to. I look forward to multiple returns to Antojitos Durango (literally, “little cravings” from the Mexican state of Durango) to sample the rest of the menu and smother it in as much of the salsa verde as is acceptable. (Sam Stecklow)
Antojitos Durango. 3412 W. 79th St. Monday–Friday, 9am-8pm; Saturday and Sunday, 8am–7pm. (773) 306-1366. antojitosdurango.com
Eat and Run
It is not certain that Eat and Run is the best name for Auburn Gresham’s only nonprofit chicken joint. After all, a large fan stands in the doorway between its snug, scripture-filled waiting area and the more expansive seating area in back, sending out a welcome breeze but also blocking access to the back room. What is certain is that, all mixed seating messages besides, Eat and Run has very good fried chicken.
Eat and Run is a ministry of Gilgal, an international organization with offices in South Africa, North Carolina and Evergreen Park which has opened several nonprofit chicken joints, all by the same name, on the South Side. Beyond fried chicken, this Eat and Run sells soul food, pasta, jerk wings, and other dishes beyond the usual purview of a house of chicken. But these offerings are merely distractions from the chicken—or so said a customer who came in while I was awaiting my order of catfish nuggets and fried cauliflower. He upped the ante and said that Eat and Run has the best chicken in all of Chicago. I apologized for my rookie mistake, and, the next day, I went back and ordered chicken.
He was right. At least, the fried catfish was good, and so was the fried cauliflower, but the half-dark special was outstanding, the batter crisp and thick, very clearly fried in a fresh batch of oil (although, like a wayward cousin of Harold’s, Eat and Run served it up with a slice of whole wheat bread). I did not negotiate the back room, and instead of eating and running, I ran to nearby Foster Park and ate, licking my greasy fingers in the shade of a tree. (Emeline Posner)
Eat and Run, 1733 W. 87th St. Tuesday–Thursday, 11am–9pm; Friday and Saturday, 10:30am–10pm; Sunday, 11am–7pm; Monday, noon–8pm. $4–$12. (773) 429-1812. eatandrunchicken.com
Best Punch with a Side of Brunch
Snake’s Brunch at Cookie’s Cocktail Lounge
Cookie’s cocktails would be “best”-worthy enough on their own. I ordered a pear cocktail after being enticed by its glittering image on a poster above the bar; the mix of pear Grey Goose, St-Germain, sour flavoring, and apple juice was smooth and refreshing. But the swanky bar has something else to offer, too: free brunch, every Saturday starting at 11am, so long as you order two (very affordable) cocktails. The menu varies, but this past Saturday it included rice, eggs, potatoes, jerk chicken, and sausage, cooked by Chef Shon. Every seat in the bar was taken by laughing, talking, brunching groups as eighties hits like “Freaks Come Out at Night” lit up the speakers. If day drinking isn’t your style, Cookie’s regularly hosts other events, like Wednesday game nights. (Mari Cohen)
Cookie’s Cocktail Lounge, 1024 W. 79th St. Saturdays, starting at 11am. Brunch cocktails start at $5; food is free if you buy two drinks. $20 credit card minimum. (773) 783-6700. facebook.com/CookiesCocktailLounge