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.
This year, Nance returned to Hyde Park, opening the Soul Shack at 53rd and Kenwood in March. (Appropriately, the restaurant sits on a stretch of Kenwood named Chaka Khan Way.) The April opening of its next-door neighbor, the vegetarian-focused Can’t Believe It’s Not Meat, brings Nance’s roster of restaurants to six.
The Soul Shack, however, has taken off like no other. When it opened in March, co-owner Keisha Rucker told the Defender that they served at least 300 people a day during their first week, while the Crusader reported that wait times peaked at three hours over the first two weeks of operation.
Things had calmed down a bit by the time I visited in late April, but the lunch crowd was still fairly sizable. The menu includes soul food favorites like chicken & waffles ($15) and smothered chicken ($16), as well as some newer dishes like the Soul Roll: yams, collards, and mac & cheese wrapped in a wheat flour skin and deep-fried, producing something like a Southern egg roll ($8–22, depending on the size).
I chose the grilled salmon ($18), which was flaky and flavorful, and also illustrates an interesting aspect of the restaurant. While salmon is on the menu, some traditional staples of soul seafood like shrimp and catfish are conspicuously absent. Rico Nance, the owner, is a Seventh-Day Adventist, a faith tradition that follows the ritual dietary restrictions set forth in the Book of Leviticus. This is also why Soul Shack, like Nance’s other restaurants, is closed to honor the Sabbath from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday.
Back to the food: each entrée comes with two sides, with options including green beans, corn bread, and other soul food mainstays. Prices range from fifteen dollars for the chicken & waffles up to forty-two dollars for the surf & turf (grilled salmon with lamb chops or short ribs), but most entrées fall in the fifteen to twenty-five dollar range. While these prices are a little higher than at Nance’s other restaurants, they are well in line with the norm for Hyde Park, which has seen a boom in moderate-to-pricey restaurants over the past few years, including restaurants like Virtue, Red Fish Bleu Fish, Nella Pizza e Pasta, and Mesler. The food is well-seasoned and the portions are decent, so you definitely get your money’s worth. (Sam Joyce)
Soul Shack, 1368 E. 53rd St. Sunday–Thursday, 11am–9pm; Friday 11am–5:30pm; Saturday 8pm–midnight. $15–42. (773) 891-0126. thesoul53.com
Sam Joyce is a contributing editor at the Weekly and the director of fact-checking. He last wrote for the Weekly about how Chatham is at the center of Chicago’s urban flooding problem.