- Best Shrimp & Grits You’ve Never Had: Peach’s at Currency Exchange Cafe
- Best Place to Use Your Compass and Find Yourself: Bobolink Meadow
- Best Urban Farm Oasis: Sweet Water Foundation’s Perry Ave Commons
- Best Jerk Chicken Pineapple Bowl: Jerk 48
- Best “Earn and Learn” Bike Workshop: Blackstone Bicycle Works
- Best Place to get the Waa Waa Waa Blues: Johnny Twist Blues Museum
- Best Place to Find Budding Young Leaders: MetroSquash
One single question seemed to loom over this part of town during election season: What exactly is at stake in Washington Park and Woodlawn? One word: progress, and even more progress just around the corner! Okay, fine—that was more like nine words. But with the Obama Library potentially slated to break ground in 2020 and Tiger Woods’s golf course restoration project in Jackson and South Shore Parks gaining steam, stakeholders both inside and outside of this community (far outside, like not even in the Chicago city limits) have been keeping a close watch over the two neighborhoods. These changes may seem to be the long drink of water that a lot of our South Side communities have been in desperate search of for quite a while. But there’s also a lot more buzz these days about the community’s appetite for community benefits agreements and more rent control to keep those who call Washington Park and Woodlawn home actually in their homes.
Some say that progress in the city of Chicago migrates from the north to the south. If you take a look around at all that’s happening in Washington Park and Woodlawn, many would argue that without a doubt it is these South Side neighborhoods’ turn at bat.
Community groups such as Woodlawn Summit and the Washington Park Chamber of Commerce know a lot about the rising interest in the South Side and have formed coalitions led by residents and local business owners to attract and support new businesses and provide amenities for dining and social activities. Many throughout the city have discovered that South Side communities provide spacious homes and apartments for a fraction of the price of properties on the North Side of the city, and that’s a huge draw for those who have recently converted to South Side living. Access to beautiful green spaces and parks, major expressways (Lake Shore Drive and the Dan Ryan), along with the proximity to downtown and Lake Michigan make both Washington Park and Woodlawn wonderful communities to work, live, and play in.
This year’s grueling Chicago aldermanic elections should have given some indication of the greatness tucked away in these South Side communities, too. The 20th Ward, which includes both Washington Park and Woodlawn, said goodbye to embattled Alderman Willie Cochran after more than fifteen candidates duked it out over issues such as safer streets, bringing in employment opportunities, protecting low-income housing, and community investment. Community activist Jeanette Taylor, who anchored her campaign on retaining affordable housing, emerged as the winner. The aldermanic race in the 5th Ward, which includes parts of Woodlawn, included a few contenders, including prominent figures such as Will Calloway, a Black Lives Matter activist most notable for exposing the shooting of Laquan McDonald, and brought issues like police brutality to the forefront. Incumbent Leslie Hairston was able to retain her throne as 5th Ward alderman and usher in her sixth term (after more than twenty years in office!).
But when you see new restaurants (and older restaurants getting new homes), yoga studios, and artist lofts springing up in and around major corridors like Garfield Avenue and Stony Island, it’s enough to make those living and breathing Washington Park and Woodlawn every day smile a little brighter—just not without some concern about what the days, weeks, and years ahead will actually bring.
Erica Mosely is a business management consultant who resides in the Woodlawn neighborhood. She is an active member of her neighborhood’s Nextdoor.com site, and is astounded by the energy and enthusiasm that’s currently being generated throughout her community.
Best Shrimp and Cheese Grits You’ve Never Had
Peach’s at Currency Exchange Cafe
If you need another reason to fall in love with the South Side, bake time into your schedule one of these days to indulge in a meal at Peach’s at Currency Exchange Cafe. This brunch spot is Chef Cliff Rome’s spinoff location from his flagship restaurant, Peach’s in Bronzeville, which opened in 2015. Regulars will be quick to tell you that the restaurant’s shrimp and cheese grits are by far one of the crowd pleasers. Creamy, piping hot grits are made to order, blended to perfection with garlic cheese sauce, and topped with pork bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, and scallions—a hearty dish of comfort food. If you want a little more yummy goodness on your plate, be sure to order the French toast or one of the tasty sides, along with a flavor-infused coffee or drink. If that’s not enough to love, Peach’s at Currency Exchange Cafe’s retro lunch counter space welcomes an abundance of natural light, providing an awesome north-facing view of the bustling city life on Garfield Avenue. Don’t have time to take in a leisurely meal? Stop in for one of Peach’s grab & go sandwiches or desserts with a coffee or tea. Peach’s at Currency Exchange Cafe presents a menu and an ambiance that is welcoming and warm and provides a quick way to retreat from life’s regular hustle and bustle. (Erica Mosely)
Peach’s at Currency Exchange Cafe, 305 E. Garfield Ave. Monday–Saturday, 7am–3pm; closed Sunday. $5.95–$14.95. (312) 300-4471. peachs-exchange.com
Best Place to Use Your Compass and Find Yourself
If you need to find a peaceful and serene space to center yourself in nature, the Bobolink Meadow in Jackson Park just might be your answer. Prior to the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the meadow was simply a lakeshore marsh; later it was filled and used for athletic fields. But in 1982, the Bobolink Meadow, named after an Illinois grassland bird, was repurposed to be a protected space for both wildlife and people. At that time, the more than 170 acres of land were seeded with natural grasses and wildflowers. Now part of the Chicago Park District, the Bobolink Meadow is complete with its own lagoon, prairie, woodland, birding areas, and nature trail. Today, it’s not uncommon to find couples taking an afternoon stroll, folks conducting their own study of nature, and others walking and running. If you want to venture out after getting your fill of the natural beauty and wonder in the meadow, the Garden of the Phoenix, the Jackson Park driving range, Jackson Bark dog park, and the Museum Shores Yacht Club are all just a stone’s throw away. (Erica Mosely)
Bobolink Meadow, 6091 S. Cornell Dr. (312) 742-7529. For volunteer opportunities, visit chicagoparkdistrict.com/communitystewardship. chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/jackson-park-bobolink-meadow-0
Best Urban Farm Oasis
Sweet Water Foundation’s Perry Ave. Commons
Would you believe that Washington Park has delivered a farm to the South Side of Chicago? Well, believe it—it’s true! What was a vacant lot just a few years ago is now a space for the community to engage with urban agriculture, artistic expression, and education. The Sweet Water Foundation describes the Perry Ave. Commons, which spans more than four blocks around 57th and Perry, as “regenerative neighborhood development.” The full city block that now bursts with vegetables as a farm that both feeds and employs local residents is a huge piece of the Commons. At its heart is the Thought Barn, which was raised in September 2017. The frame barn is the first located in the City of Chicago since the Great Chicago Fire, and it provides the community with a visual and performing arts, reflection, and community gathering space. When you’re driving west on 57th Street, just before the Dan Ryan, the farm and all of its sunflowers—and a sudden sense of quiet and calm—just spring up out of nowhere. It’s quite a wonderous, divinely splendid surprise! The Sweet Water Foundation is intent on making an impact outside of the South Side, and it partners with a number of educational and art institutions and organizations to encourage the transformation of other communities across the country. (Erica Mosely)
Perry Ave. Commons, Sweet Water Foundation, 5749 S. Perry Ave. sweetwaterfoundation.com
Best Jerk Chicken Pineapple Bowl
The South Side has seen an influx of Jamaican restaurants over the last ten years or so, and many of them offer the same dinner menu: one meat (jerked, curried, escovitched, or browned), two sides (including rice and peas), and bread. But among the plethora of Caribbean jerk spots, one stands out as a Woodlawn neighborhood favorite. At Jerk 48, a simple carryout Jamaican restaurant, patrons pile in all day long to wait twenty minutes for their order to be ready for pickup. What’s so uniquely delectable and scrumptious about Jerk 48, you ask? You can find much of the same Jamaican fare that’s expected at establishments around town, but Jerk 48 kicks it up several notches. One highlight is the jerk chicken pineapple bowl (half of a pineapple with chunks of jerk chicken and rice—be sure to add shrimp!), but whether you try the bowl, jerk lobster and shrimp alfredo, or jerk lamb chops, you can’t go wrong! Jerk 48’s dishes are packed full of rich flavor, and with premium meats, generous portions, and a consistently good product, Jerk 48 does more than set itself apart from the rest. A typical dinner at Jerk 48 could run you $15, but a host of delicious sides, half orders, and daily specials are also available for you to sink your teeth into. As they say at Jerk 48 and on the block, “On God!” (Erica Mosely)
Jerk 48, 548 E. 67th St. Monday–Thursday, 10am–10pm; Friday–Saturday, 10am–midnight; Sunday, 10am–7 pm. $5.99–$22.99. (773) 420-3416. facebook.com/mainstreetdelingrill
Best “Earn and Learn” Bike Workshop
Blackstone Bicycle Works
I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike… (Queen, “Bicycle Race,” 1978)
At Blackstone Bicycle Works, area youth can ride their bikes and then some! Since 1994, Blackstone Bicycle Works has provided South Side youth with the know-how to assemble and repair bicycles, and helped them develop a solid business acumen to apply in the real world, all as part of a full-service bike shop hosted by the Experimental Station, an incubator of cultural projects and small businesses. [Editor’s note: The South Side Weekly’s offices are located in the Experimental Station, which serves as the Weekly’s fiscal sponsor.] What’s rather cool about Blackstone Bikes’s Earn-a-Bike program is that our people can learn the mechanics of bikes, work in a safe retail setting, and earn a bike of their own! The program issues different colored aprons to participants to signify bike mechanic skills; those who receive black aprons have demonstrated mastery and are eligible for paid internships and externships. As part of its range of youth education programs, Blackstone Bicycle Works has an on-site lab and homework space, provides summer internships and college prep support to participants, and is home to a summer meal program. More than 175 youth participate in Blackstone Bicycle Works each year (with more than a third of youth participating in the program for three to seven years), and the program continues to look for ways to expand its support of our South Side youth. (Erica Mosely)
Blackstone Bicycle Works, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. Tuesday–Friday, 1pm–6pm; Saturday, noon–5pm. (773) 241-5458. experimentalstation.org/blackstone
Best Place to get the Waa Waa Waa Blues
Johnny Twist Blues Museum
One of the best places to spend five dollars in Woodlawn has to be at our own museum of all things related to the Black musical genre, the blues. But at the Johnny Twist Blues Museum, your five dollars will get you much more than a chronology of the blues and an introduction to blues greats around the world. You’ll spend most of your time learning about a living blues legend whom you may not have heard much about before: Mr. Johnny Twist. Yes, Johnny Twist is the owner of the Johnny Twist Blues Museum, and he boasts of jazz enthusiasts visiting his museum from cities around the world. Twist’s contribution to music is his brand of high-energy blues, Rocka Boogie Blues. Twist, who hails from Mississippi, has visited more than forty states during his career, originally playing the piano before moving on to the bass guitar and ultimately the electric guitar. His contemporaries, whom you’ll see in many of the photos that he’s collected throughout the years, include Johnny Nighthawk, Ike Turner, Koko Taylor, Chuck Berry, and Chicago’s own Buddy Guy. Those photos, along with newspaper clippings, concert pluggers (show flyers), and tickets, cover the museum from floor to ceiling and along the decorative displays and walls. The museum even includes a recording studio and a slew of musical DVDs, CDs, and books for sale. Johnny Twist plans to release a double CD with his own blues cuts by the end of the year, so get ready to secure your own copy from Woodlawn’s local (yet renowned) blues royalty. (Erica Mosely)
Johnny Twist Blues Museum, 6455 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Monday–Saturday, 11am–7pm. $5. (872) 731-4607. facebook.com/johnnytwistbluesmuseum
Best Place to Find Budding Young Leaders
People around the United States and even the world lost hope for our country when the Obamas bid their final farewell to the White House in 2016. But fret no more, good people! The next crop of young leaders is hard at work week in and week out at MetroSquash in Woodlawn. Over the last fourteen years, MetroSquash has been engaging area youth (starting with fifth-graders, all the way through college students) to teach them the game of squash and provide them with academic support and enrichment activities. In case you’re wondering what in the world squash is, squash is a London-born sport that’s similar to both racquetball and tennis. Squash provides the physical component of an approach that, as the MetroSquash program model states, aims to produce “healthy adults with economic and social stability.” The program follows through on exactly that by providing alumni with postsecondary and career readiness support. The program can stick its chest out with pride and boast that all of its alumni have secured full-time employment, and many have returned to MetroSquash to invest their time and talents—but more volunteers are always welcome! (Erica Mosely)
MetroSquash, 6100 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Monday–Friday, 9am–7pm; Saturday, 9am–12pm. (773) 241-5150. metrosquash.org