If you stop to get lunch in Hyde Park, it’d be understandable to think Rico Nance owns just about every restaurant in the neighborhood. From the original LiteHouse Whole Food Grill at 55th Street and Hyde Park Boulevard, which opened in 2013, his family of restaurants has radiated outwards. In 2016, Mikkey’s Retro Grill popped up two blocks north on 53rd, with a second location opening in Avalon Park in 2018.
I enjoy food. The second I finish the last bite of my breakfast I’m contemplating what I’m going to have for lunch. I have a liberal palate with no dietary restrictions, and I appreciate most flavor profiles. I can chow down with glee at a she-she poo-poo-laa white linen tablecloth reservations-only restaurant, or get my grub on just fine at the hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, as long as the food and the vibe are good. There are few deal-breakers for me when it comes to a meal, so if I tell you there is a place where I’ve eaten but I won’t be back, you may want to listen. Draw your own conclusions, of course, but here are some of mine.
Last month, a banner unfurled in the windows of a beloved storefront on 57th Street, bearing an announcement that would be a disappointment to some and a relief to others: after a year under new, and failing, management, Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe was shuttering for good.
The University of Chicago announced on January 26 that over the course of this year, the nonprofit South East Chicago Commission (SECC) will gain considerable independence from the university. Much of the SECC’s university funding will be cut, and the university will no longer be able to appoint or approve the organization’s board members. According to both parties, the move reflects the SECC’s need to reevaluate its direction as an organization.
Stacks of shelves, repurposed. In the Hyde Park storefront at the intersection of 57th Street and Harper Avenue that formerly housed Southside Hub of Production, a cultural center, and before that O’Gara & Wilson—Chicago’s oldest bookstore before it moved to Indiana in 2013—now stands 57th Street Wines, the neighborhood’s newest small business: a specialty wine and liquor store. At the shop’s grand opening last Friday, distributors set up tasting tables on the store’s boldly checkered floor tiles (restored from the space’s bookstore days), while customers met and mingled, wine samples in hand. The trio behind the store, owner Steven Lucy and co-workers Bex Behlen and Derrick Westbrook, were present in their semi-formal best, directing customers to shelves not unlike the ones that held volumes of books less than four years ago. This time, their contents concerned neither genre nor author, but red and white .
The weather outside was unseasonably warm, a balmy sixty-four degrees in early November, and the pies inside the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club were even warmer in spirit. Pie has the longstanding reputation of bringing Americans together, perhaps better than any other food. The New York Times, as noted in an op-ed from 1902, even went so far as to attribute the success of the American people to their love of pie. The annual South Side Pie Challenge is a prime example of just how special this food is.
For more than thirty years prior to its departure, Edwardo’s served a lot of spinach and pesto deep dish pizzas in its spot on 57th Street. Then Packed: Dumplings Reimagined rolled in with much fanfare, but evaporated in less time than it takes to steam a dumpling stuffed with locally sourced, in-season produce and humanely raised proteins.