Back of the Yards | Best of the South Side 2018

Best of Back of the Yards 2018

Tiffany Tan

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Best Library Check-Out Item

Fishing Poles at Sherman Park Library

Built in 1905, with the intention of bringing social services and green space to what was, back then, a crowded immigrant neighborhood, Sherman Park now stands as an almost forgotten oasis. Situated between 52nd Street and Garfield Boulevard, Racine and Loomis, this refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life is perched on the boundary between Back of the Yards and Englewood.

The history of Sherman Park is a who’s who of Chicago royalty. The park is named for John B. Sherman, a founder of the Union Stock Yards, from which Back of the Yards gets its name. (The stockyard gates still stand just two miles north of Sherman Park.) The fieldhouse at the north end of the park was designed by Daniel H. Burnham, the visionary architect who shaped much of Chicago’s skyline, and the park itself was designed by the Olmsted brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, who along with Burnham brought the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition to life.

The jewel of Sherman Park is undeniably the annular lagoon that separates the outer walkways from an interior island of ballfields and soccer pitches. Tree-lined and slow rolling, this central water feature evokes bucolic stream more than urban pond. There is, however, more to the lagoon than meets the eye. “A lot of people don’t know what prizes are in this water,” one local tells me. Rod in hand, and smile on his face, this man is after just such a prize: catfish.

“Monsters!” the fisherman exclaims. “If you find where those catfish are, you’ll have a great time catching them,” he grins, holding his arms wide, “I’ve seen ones bigger than six pounds come out of here.” The Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks the lagoon with catfish and bluegills during the summer months, but carp, crappie, and the occasional bass are also present.

To catch a fish, first you’ll need a rod. Luckily, the Sherman Park Library, located in the park’s southeast corner, will rent you one for free. Since 1997 the “Access to Fishing” program, run by the Urban Fishing Project, has provided rods and reels to a variety of locations across Illinois, including the Sherman Park Library. All you need to rent a rod is an adult library card. The rental includes a rod, extra hooks, bobber, and synthetic bait.

Next time you need a break from the concrete jungle, grab a rod, cast your line, and wait. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to land a monster yourself. (Ian Hodgson)

Sherman Park Library, 5440 S. Racine Ave. Monday and Wednesday, noon–8pm; Tuesday and Thursday, 10am–6pm; Friday and Saturday, 9am–5pm; closed Sunday. (312) 747-0477. chipublib.org

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Best Summer in a Cup

50th and Ashland Elote Stand

Hanna Gregor

Hanna Gregor

There’s something about digging into a good elote and its mesmerizing combination of salty, creamy, and spicy flavors that takes you back to the middle of summer. On the corner of 50th and Ashland, next to an empty lot and a furniture store, sits a modest yellow stand outfitted with corn, mangos, chicharrones de harina, and an assortment of toppings. Despite the other options, the star is clearly the corn—the stand has “Elote” and “Corn” written in large letters on the sides—and, boy, does this corn shine. For just $2.50 you can treat yourself to a cup of corn coated with a generous helping of mayo, butter, and cotija, all topped with ground cayenne. One bite and it’s all golden skies, warm air, children laughing, and chin-dripping-savor-every-last-bite goodness. Disappointment only comes when you reach the end of the cup and realize you don’t have any more cash on you. (Octavia Shaw)

W. 50th Street and S. Ashland Avenue.

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Best Quick Quesadilla

Taqueria La Ciudad

Hanna Gregor

Hanna Gregor

There are many menus, each bearing many worthwhile options, posted at the counter at Taqueria La Ciudad, a Mexican restaurant on the corner of 50th and Ashland. But if you ask around, or if you ask Irene, who is often behind the counter, you’ll know that their quesadillas are the strongest pull. The selections are fairly standard—you can choose between quesadillas with flor de calabaza (squash blossoms), hongo (mushroom), huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn cobs), nopales (cactus), and meat options like chicken and al pastor—but the homemade blue corn tortillas, soft and thick, set the restaurant apart from the rest. Most customers take them to go, but if you have a couple minutes to spare, the service is friendly, the restaurant is warm and comfortably cluttered, and a pitcher of the homemade tamarind juice hits the spot. (Emeline Posner)

Taquería La Ciudad, 5005 S. Ashland Ave. Monday–Saturday, 9:30am–6pm. $5–$10. (773) 416-9861.

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Best Harvest Festival

Star Farm

Emeline Posner

Emeline Posner

“Does anyone want this?” a kid asked, waving a bulbous yellow carrot in the air. It was surely the largest carrot of the harvest at Star Farm, where some thirty community members and gardeners gathered last Friday night to celebrate the end of the growing season. Past rows of corn, kale, watermelons, and more, kids were eagerly pulling up fistfuls of rainbow carrots by the greens as adults mulled about, chatting and dancing. This particular carrot was a hard sell—maybe more raw carrot for snacking than anyone had bargained for on a Friday evening—but the boy flitted off to another group and, after some negotiating, found the carrot a home.

For two years now, Stephanie Dunn has been growing and harvesting at Star Farm, a scattered-site farm and community garden along New City’s 51st Street corridor. Summer-long, Dunn sells shares of vegetables through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and tables at farmers markets in Woodlawn and Back of the Yards. But she also runs a children’s play garden, an incubator, and a training program for kids and adults with developmental disabilities. She runs the farm as an open community space, thinking of the sites as “corner lots”—a play on the concept of corner stores—where residents can congregate, hang out, barbeque, and harvest a couple of vegetables, if they’d like.

The second-ever harvest festival was joyful, filled with arts-and-crafts and music, laughing, dancing, chatting, toddlers’ babbling. Kids darted in between rows of vegetables as the day faded into evening. There is never a quiet moment at the farm. Even at night, Dunn told one of the younger kids, she wonders whether the plants aren’t up to something. (Emeline Posner)

Star Farm, 5030 S. Throop St. (312) 768-9949. starfarmchicago.org

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