Is the Southside of Chicago the new food Mecca?
This summer I took a vow to become a tourist in my own city. To explore every crevice, to do all the cliche things out of towners do. To go to the places no one wants to go, and most importantly...to see the side of Chicago that I never get to see from the comfort of my apartment downtown.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the first stop was a tour of the Southside of Chicago. When I first moved into the city, everyone told me to avoid the southside, the media reminded me to avoid Chiraq, and the natives told me to never even imagine venturing into Englewood.
But here I was, nestled in the back of a van with my two sidekicks Dan and Chris, both excited but somewhat nervous at the thought of traveling into the media-marked forbidden land. It was memorial day weekend, and we decided to take the opportunity to experience one of Verlocal’s many city adventures. After an exchange of pleasantries, our guide explained to us the three stops we would be making.
The first was to Pearl’s place, nested in the heart of Bronzeville, this soul food destination was a physical ode to the history of the Blues culture that had once been the heart of the city. When we arrived, we were greeted by the friendly staff and escorted to a buffet that was crowded with the best of American soulfood.
Standing in line felt like walking into the kitchen at a family cookout. Everyone knew each other, and strangers were referred to as "baby", and sweetheart. I quickly learned that this was not the place to ask for small portions, as I got the look of dissaporival when I told the sweet lady that I wanted half a spoon of mac and cheese.
Note to self...dont ask for small portions in a soul food restaurant.
Our second stop took us into the heart of Englewood, one of the rumoured warzones of the city. I looked out the window eager to see any signs of a neighborhood crippled by crime, but saw nothing more than a saturday fair with funnel cakes and brightly colored ferris wheels, mounted by squealing kids.
We arrived shortly at the Garifuna restaurant, a flavor haven that was nestled on the corner of a busy street. The food served here was representative of the Garifuna tribe, originally from the coast of west africa who went on to settle in the Caribbean and South America. Most of the menu was reminiscent of my days spent between Montego Bay and Port- Au- Prince, with the familiar jerk chicken, conch fritters, and sweet crispy plantains all served with a flavorful jerk sauce that rivaled wasabi.
The best part came at the end of the meal when the owner brought over a suspicious looking bottle filled with what looked like wood shavings. The rainforest roots had been soaked in bitters for months on end, and had developed the qualities to aid with digestion. Lets just be clear, this was the Garifuna version of moonshine :-)
Note: try it. You will hate it, but just try it.
By the time we got to the Italian Village for our third stop, I don’t think I even had room left in me to inhale oxygen. We stopped at the famous Mario’s Italian ice spot for a palette cleanser. This historic spot had a line that wrapped around the corner, which was a good sign. At the end of the tour, the guys went on to have a juicy Italian beef sandwich, but I had to tap out and just cheer them on.
This was probably one of the most amazing Chicago experiences that I have had. We always focus on traveling far away from where we call home, but sometimes the best gems are hidden right before our eyes. I have an amazing new perspective of the food scene here in Chicago, and a new found appreciation for the many cultures and personalities that make up the South Side of Chicago.
ABOUT THE TOUR
The tour was a total of four hours, and included all the food, beverages and wine. If you have any last minute guests in town, or just want to see a different side of Chicago that you have never seen...take a look and book here.
If this isn’t the perfect tour for you, take a look at all the other exciting activities happening in your local area through Verlocal.