Best of the South Side 2018 | South Loop

Best of the South Loop 2018

Jason Schumer

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Jasmine Mithani is an editor at the Weekly. She admittedly lives in one of those new-fangled South Loop high-rises, but tries to atone for it.

You moved to Sloop?” my friend asked me when we met at Overflow Coffee Bar to catch up. I shook my head, indignant. “South Loop,” I corrected. He laughed. “You’ll come around to it eventually, everyone does.”

Several months later, I’ve found “Sloop” slowly working its way into my vocabulary. I’ve begun the process of learning about my new neighborhood, particularly the Near South Side stretching from Roosevelt to Cermak. The area is often overlooked as a place of its own—many young adults only know it as the location of the southern-most Trader Joe’s, or as a transitional zone between Chinatown, Douglas, and downtown. Yet South Loop has its own character, perhaps defined by that very sense of transition. New luxury apartments lie across the street from ninety-year-old buildings repurposed as condos; the entire area is bordered by train tracks—Metra, Amtrak, the “L”—meant to shuttle residents across the North/South divide.

When I think of South Loop as home, two images appear in my mind. One is the abundance of public art seen, most obviously, as murals on State Street and on Wabash Avenue. While walking around I keep discovering new spots of brightly-colored paint, pointing me toward another urban artwork. The other image is a memory I have of standing on the bridge over the 14th Street Amtrak Yard, looking out over a rolling green expanse punctuated by looming steel infrastructure. The sky was stormy, and I paused to take a photo while the sun was peeking from behind the clouds. It was the perfect blend of past and present—the tracks underneath my feet while cars whizzed by behind me on Roosevelt. It is my favorite place in Sloop, where for a moment industrial steel blends with nature, and no humans are in sight.

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Best Sugar Rush

Akhirah’s Praline Candy & Coffee House

Jasmine Mithani

Jasmine Mithani

The late afternoon sun is streaming into Akhirah’s Praline Candy & Coffee House, lighting up the entire shop. All around are decorations evoking New Orleans—tables are strewn with Mardi Gras beads, a Bourbon Street sign hangs near the cash register, and a Café du Monde tin can be seen behind the counter. After consulting the cashier, I order beignets, a rum praline, and a glass of freshly brewed peppermint iced tea. The beignets are prepared to order, and come out still too hot to eat, covered in a mound of powdered sugar. I’m by no means a beignet expert—any fried sweet dough with sugar will more than satisfy me—but the donuts here are exceptional. The praline is a delicious candy, and I resist the urge to buy one, two, three more to take home with me. The tea is perfectly Southern; not too many places have the guts to put in enough sugar to make sweet tea authentic, but Akhirah’s rises to the occasion. I leave satisfied, feeling as though I have been dipped in sugar. Noting the cafe’s early-morning hours as I leave, I look forward to treating myself to beignets and coffee one special day before work. (Jasmine Mithani)

Akhirah’s Praline Candy & Coffee House. 1845 S. State St. Monday–Friday, 6am–7pm; Saturday–Sunday, 8am–6pm. (312) 985-1101.

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Best Bacon-Topped Waffle Fries

Flo & Santos

Honoring the Italian and Polish culinary heritage of Chicago, Flo & Santos serves up the best bacon-topped waffle fries from its location in the South Loop. This enormous sports bar with a patio (beware fans on game day, when they open at 9am) has been around for over five years, offering American cuisine like wings, fries, salads, and pizza—each with a Polish and Italian twist to them—alongside options like pierogi, kielbasa, paczki , cannoli, and ravirogi (their version of ravioli with meat pierogi in vodka sauce).

The cheddar waffle fries are worth the train ride to almost-downtown: wholesome, warm and generously tossed in liquid cheddar cheese. Unlike other joints, where the cheddar cheese tends to be artificial and bland, it’s gooey and full of flavor here. The little flecks of smoked bacon and scallion on the fries are unexpectedly gratifying, topping off a decadent—but justifiable!—treat. Paired with a beer, they create the perfect vibe for unwinding on a weekday. (Manisha AR)

Flo & Santos. 1310 S. Wabash Ave. Monday–Thursday and Sunday, 11:30am–11pm; Thursday, 11:30am–11:30pm; Friday and Saturday, 11:30am–midnight. (312) 566-9817. floandsantos.com

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Best Place to Buy Multicolor Miniature Clothespins

Artist & Craftsman Supply Chicago

Multidisciplinary artists, unite! Artist & Craftsman Supply has us covered. Now in its ninth year, the hole in the wall art shop is geared towards all media. You’ll find everything from concentrated watercolors, foliage clusters for architectural models, and hemp cord in diverse colors like periwinkle. Feel free to get lost in rows upon rows of glitter, or admire the pastel-painted floor that mirrors a nineties-era canvas (anyone remember ZOOM from PBS?). As an added bonus, all employees are artists, so you’re unlikely to find a grumpy cashier that couldn’t care less about your current art project—unlike some chain craft stores. Don’t be afraid to come inside because you don’t consider yourself a “serious artist”; Artist & Craftsman Supply welcomes all people from students to locals. The prices give similar art stores a run for their money, and the cozy atmosphere makes me wish I could start my next art project right there at the shop. (Kristen Simmons)s

Artist & Craftsman Supply Chicago. 828 S. Wabash Ave. Monday–Friday, 9am–8pm; Saturday, 10am–7pm; Sunday, 11am–6pm. (312) 583-9990. artistcraftsman.com

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Best Place To Work—or Play—From Home

Overflow Coffee Bar

“The Overflow” is a coconut milk latté with chocolate and hazelnut flavoring, and is one of the two signature coffees served at Overflow Coffee Bar on the corner of south State Street and west 16th. Opened in 2011 by Brandon and Amanda Neely, the coffee shop is coming close to ten years—a feat easier said than done. From high school kids to business professionals, Overflow has a steady flow of customers.

The chocolate mocha with whipped cream is deeply satisfying. Drinking it while I sit by the tinted glass window allows me to work without getting distracted by the random people on the street who stare into the shop as they stroll by. In addition to coffee and tea, they also serve sandwiches, light and fluffy quiches as well as healthy options like a hummus platter with veggies.

In 2017, Brian Jenkins, whose nonprofit Entrenuity was already a tenant in the building, bought Overflow. Entrenuity incubates and offers support and training to start-ups and small businesses, particularly minority entrepreneurs. This January, Jenkins invited Kari Pendelton to run the space as café manager. A year ago Pendelton founded her own small business called Bakes by Kari while she worked at Ipsento Coffee in Bucktown, from which Overflow now sources its beans.

The coffee business, Pendelton told the Weekly, can be intimidating and alienating. “I love coffee and I love people and I find joy in alleviating them from the intimidation that comes with working in the coffee industry.” Under her leadership, she’s been delighted to do just that for her diverse staff, which is majority women and people of color—both of which there is a lack of in the coffee industry.

When Pendelton joined Overflow, she and her team suggested the Overflow AFTERDARK concert series as a way to engage with their customers. “It was a way to let the customers—old and new—know that we were re-launching the space,” she said. When they first hosted an event, “New Spirit & Soul,” in the space, they invited local jazz musician Sam Trump to perform. Impressed with the turnout, they decided to continue hosting music events in the space and in June, She Livs, a female violin-vocals duo, performed. The next Overflow AFTERDARK, featuring singer-songwriter, Christine Whack will take place September 29. Until then, Overflow is still the right place to get some work done, with or without one of their signature drinks. (Manisha AR)

Overflow Coffee Bar, 1550 S State Street. Monday–Saturday, 7am–8pm; Sunday 8am–6pm. (312) 772-2356. overflowcoffeebar.org

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