A June 2003 trip
to Chicago by smmmarti guide
Quote: It took a five year absence to convince me that I am no longer a resident of the city I called home for so long. Nostalgia reigned supreme as I walked down memory lane, jam-packed with cherished memories of enduring Chicago classics and bursting at the seams with new attractions.
Generally, I interpreted the changes in Chicagoland as welcome improvements, evidenced in the startling transformation of Lincoln Park Zoo, the continued revitalization of neighborhoods, and the demise of Cabrini Green, (the wrath of late ‘60’s urban renewal) now replaced by upscale housing and retail centers. The addition of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to Chicago‘s long list of stellar attractions is another bonus to urban children and parents, offering an appreciative nod to the area’s ecological origins. Even Andersonville, a holdout of Swedish-Americans, has changed for the better by embracing diversity and thereby exposing people from many cultures to this delightful urban neighborhood.
It’s not the stunning architecture (although that is unparalleled), or the magnificent lakefront, (although that is a wonder) or the world-class museums and cultural venues, that distinguishes the city. Rather, it is the citizens, descendants of multi-ethnic immigrants holding firmly to their heartland roots. Here, the people with Carl Sandberg’s broad shoulders express their opinions freely, sing the blues with fervor, and fiercely protect their individual heritages while exploring and embracing those of their neighbors.
Chicago is the rooftop bleachers of Waveland Avenue, the neighborhood bars, the family businesses. It is the people who frequent the extensive bike paths of the forest preserves, who play in slow-pitch softball leagues until their hair falls out, and manage to respond to life in a giant metropolis as if it were everyone’s small town square. Residents love Chicago and, if it were not already evident, so do former inhabitants and visitors.
Restaurant | "R.J. Grunt''''s"
R.J.’s successful formula included a full-range salad bar which satisfied the needs born of burgeoning nutritional awareness in the masses. Theirs wasn’t the sort of spread that offered canned peaches and cottage cheese, attempting to pass them off as diet food. This salad bar had four varieties of lettuce, including spinach, (arugula was still a bit too exotic) and everything fresh and exciting, from artichokes and hearts of palm, to sunflower seeds and sesame sticks.
The people loved it! Yet they wouldn’t have been content to simply graze a table of vegetables regardless of how many trips were allowed. So R.J.’s offered some of the city’s best burgers made with a choice of ingredients and wonderfully seasoned curly fries. The portions were huge, the prices were moderate and young couples were pleased on all fronts; she for indulging in a hearty serving of vitamin-packed, complexion-coddling fresh, raw foods, and he for the man-sized burger cooked to his liking. Together, the enjoyed the camaraderie of other like-minded hipsters who hung out happily before or after dinner in the dimly-lit bar watching Chicago sports teams strut their stuff.
As one of the early patrons who helped to support Rick Melman’s estimable restaurant career, I knew Melman was on to something key in the industry even then. He was able to tap into the zeitgeist and give ‘em what they want in the form of delectable food in entertaining surroundings and effectively used the purchasing power of the largest mass of proletariat patrons in history to build a dining empire. Lettuce Entertain You now hosts dozens of restaurants all over the country.
As his patrons aged, moved up the corporate ladder developed more sophisticated tastes, so did Lettuce Entertain You’s expand its repertoire. R.J. Grunt’s might have gone the way of salad bars in general; either totally defunct, or left languishing as a remnant of a by-gone era of dining relegated to back road supper clubs. But thirty years later it’s still going strong and still packing ‘em into the tiny Lincoln Park corner bar/diner. In keeping with the times they’ve added "wraps" to the menu but still offer those terrific burgers, chicken wings, ribs and curly fries.
Everything old is new again eventually and the trend toward "raw" foods may just be the stick in the arm that R.J.’s needs to keep going for another thirty years. What started as an establishment-busting rebel is now a staid institution itself. Take a look at those black and whites lining the walls of the restaurant -- photos of the first cadre of waitresses, circa 1971. The hairdos truly drive home the point of how long R.J.’s has endured. That’s quite an accomplishment itself.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 9, 2003
2056 North Lincoln Park West
Chicago, Illinois 60614
+1 773 929 5363
The old-fashioned ice cream is still sold in a decidedly old-fashioned ice cream parlor on Chicago Avenue, where it first began. The restaurant has been updated over time, but still retains its original charm with details such as cash registers and cupboards that at least simulate antiques. There are two rows of booths and a center aisle of tables that are tended to efficiently by an energetic staff who, if they get "all you can eat" from the ice cream freezers, don’t show it. Perfect teeth, trim figures, they are the types who urge, "go ahead, have THE SCHOONER," (Five dips of ice cream covered with sliced bananas, burgundy cherries, pineapple and strawberry toppings, and roasted pecans)
since they have yet to learn what this sort of indulgence can do to a person.
But at Petersen’s everyone is young again. A section of the restaurant is devoted to candy treats, a mini-ice cream museum and gift shop. On the opposite side is the ice cream parlor itself, where visitors walk up and choose from 30 varieties of home-made ice cream including Mackinac Island Fudge, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, and Cinnamon Caramel Apple. There is a low-fat, low-sugar chocolate option, but eating that would totally defeat the purpose of a place like Petersen’s.
The restaurant has an extensive menu featuring homemade soups of the day (the Plantation Chicken Gumbo is divine), burgers and sandwiches (the 1/2 soup, 1/2 sandwich is a deal at $4.95), and full plate dinners and daily specials like salisbury steak and beef stew with all the trimmings for $6.95. It is Thanksgiving every day at Petersen’s if you order the open faced turkey sandwich (mashed potatoes and gravy included, $5.95) or the gourmet turkey/cranberry sandwich (cold turkey with pecan cream cheese and cranberry relish.) Top it off with either a strawberry shortcake (vanilla ice cream, buttermilk biscuit and whipped cream - just like mom used to make!), or brownie ala mode (yes, with the famous hot fudge sauce) and your annual over-indulgence of calorie laden comfort foods is in the bag!
But who’s counting calories? Imagine how happy you would be to have a Petersen’s sundae in your hand right now. You only live once. Go.
Petersen's Ice Cream
1100 Chicago Avenue
Restaurant | "Ann Sather"
Recently, during a walk through Union Station, noting Ann Sather’s new cinnamon roll stand, my husband admitted that he’d never actually eaten at Ann Sather’s. As a Swedish-American who lived most his life in Chicago, that was a situation that had to immediately change.
Well-known as the best Swedish restaurant in Chicago with five outlets to choose from in some of the city‘s most interesting neighborhoods, perhaps the best place to first experience Ann Sather’s brand of comfort food is in Andersonville, an authentic Swedish-American stronghold in the city at Clark Street and Foster Avenues.
Step inside the small eatery and you are immediately transported to Scandinavia via the wall murals depicting scenes from famous Swedish fairy tales. It resembles a child’s bedroom with tole-painted borders in primary colors. Here, Nils flies away on a goose, there children set sail on a boat toward fantasy adventures.
The long counter with stools is adequate for singular quick bites or coffee fixes. If you prefer to linger, have one of the friendly, relaxed servers show you to an oilcloth draped table. Order one of the signature dishes; giant egg-rich Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, decadent, gooey, cinnamon roll French toast, or an omelet with a choice of three side dishes (apple sauce, hash browns and fresh fruit among them). Breakfast is offered any time of day so there’s no hurry on Sunday mornings to make it in before the menu changes over.
However, dinners are also a draw at Ann Sather’s where homey, family favorites of pot roast, chicken, meatloaf and daily Sunday dinner specials are gobbled up, gravies and all, by otherwise health-conscious Chicagoans. You really should try the meatballs and noodles. It may change your mind about stroganoff.
The statement painted above the door states, "Simple good food that brings back childhood memories," which more than anything explains why this decidedly non-gourmet, calorie-laden and cholesterol-hiking cuisine has continued to draw crowds across Chicago-land for decades.
I was happy to learn that Ann Sather’s ships their goodies to home-sick Chicagoans. Since my husband is now hooked on the cinnamon rolls (the first hit is free, by the way), we will continue to be loyal customers in spite of having given up our citizenship to the great City that works and bakes the best cinnamon buns in the country.
Ann Sather Restaurant
5207 N Clark St
Chicago, Illinois 60640
Three and half million people will visit The Taste this year.
It’s astounding that this mass of humanity meets annually in Chicago to stroll the shores of Lake Michigan through Grant Park, to eat food available in local restaurants any day of the week (for less), to drink beer and listen to free concerts by top name entertainers, to commune with fellow Chicagoans on a rare and glorious summer night.
We wandered through the intense crowds recently on Taste’s opening weekend. It is beyond me how people navigate the tight thoroughfares and eat chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick at the same time. Chicago’s vast variety of ethnic eateries and local favorites are well-represented here with 60+ booths offering everything from gyros to barbecue ribs; fried dough to pizza. Since I’m unable to eat on foot and people-watch simultaneously, I opted for a simple margarita at the Jose Cuervo booth instead, which had an added advantage of taking the edge off the toe-stomping and jostling.
Soon, having had enough of the bustle, we headed toward Buckingham Fountain, enjoying the wide-open spaces and views of Navy Pier to the north and the Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum to the south. A Gospel group rocked at a smaller venue near the fountain. Heading north, picnickers began placing their blankets and baskets for the upcoming Loretta Lynn concert at the Petrillo bandshell, the scene framed perfectly by the famed Chicago skyline.
Inspired by the architecture, we walked across the bridge of the Chicago River, and ambled past the world famous Art Institute, it’s stately lions protecting the world’s largest collection of impressionist art. Looking to spend the last of our tickets ($7.00 for 11 tickets: beer, 7 tickets) we revisited Taste’s crowds a second time (no admission fees) and entered the Miller beer booth just in time for the skies to open up in true Chicago fashion.
Immediately, a mob of people had a sudden need for beer. Also in true Chicago style, workers began chiding, teasing and serenading their new customers huddled together under the little canopy waiting out the cloudburst. People began routinely passing beers and quips to those behind them, as if they were at a Cubs’ game.
Shortly, the rain let up, yet everyone lingered awhile in a sudden, new-found camaraderie that is a quintessential element of gatherings in Chicago. That, better than anything, explains why people subject themselves to teeming hoards sporting cheesecake on a stick. That, better than anything, explains the double entendre implied in the name "A Taste of Chicago."
Taste of Chicago
500 South Columbus Drive (Grant Park)
Chicago, Illinois 60605
We needn’t have. Unbeknownst to us at the time, in 1962 a number of prominent Chicago women, who had also been heart-sickened by the little zoo with promise, had banned together and formed the Chicago Zoo Society. They set about raising funds over the next four decades. Working feverishly behind the scenes, it is a result of their devotion and the generous benefactors, Friends of the Zoo, and magnanimous individuals, that has swung the zoo from rather dismal to its present stellar status as one of the top zoological gardens.
Oh! What they’ve done to the zoo !
Entering the Farm in the Zoo recently, I had to shield my eyes. This children’s attraction, a favorite of my sons when they were young, is almost too pristine (and bright!) to be recognized. It is Disneyland-clean and spit-shined; a dairy operation that self-pasteurizes. Crossing the bridge that affords some of the city’s best views, I noticed dozens of paddle-boats plying the waters. That water? Gasp. It had been pasteurized, too, apparently! Strolling past semi-familiar exhibits, camels, the sea lions, the primate house, I was stuck that everything about the zoo had turned over a new leaf - and sprouted a new flower. Concessions are now varied and enticing; restrooms are pristine. The beautiful prairie-school Cafe Brauer building is once again a popular outdoor dining venue, restored to its former turn-of-the-century elegance.
The zoo is all-round beautiful. The exhibits are top-notch and more extensively developed than ever. The new Regenstein African exhibit presents more than a glimpse at African mammals, it takes visitors on a journey through the life of a young African boy. Better yet, the zoo does more than provide onlookers with views of exotic creatures; it fosters education, environmental awareness, and conservation efforts worldwide.
Most impressive of all, Lincoln Park Zoological Garden is one of the last free major cultural institutions in the country and the only one remaining in Chicago. Even though some funding comes from the Chicago Park District, more than 2/3 of the operating costs are provided by private donations and philanthropy, as are most of the exhibits and acquisitions.
Think of the zoo as Chicago’s gift to itself and its visitors. Accept the gift - freely!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 9, 2003
Lincoln Park Zoo
2001 North Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois 60614
After taking an official tour lead by knowledgeable volunteers at the Oak Park Home and Studio these images, a glimpse into the flamboyant character of a creative genius, will linger.
With an almost compulsive dedication to the principle that form follows function, along with other innovative and original concepts, including the introduction of Japanese art and design, the Prairie school of architecture was established here by Frank Lloyd Wright. At the birthplace of it all, concepts, history, and early examples of the architect’s emerging style are enthusiastically shared with visitors.
America’s best-known and revered architect attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Architecture for one year before he decided he knew enough to design buildings. With his boss’ generous $5,000 loan, he bought a tract of land in the wide open prairies west of Chicago, married the woman who would be mother of their six children, and designed his first home at the ripe age of twenty.
Stories of Wright’s children and a visit to their stupendous playroom reveals how dear family was to Mr. Wright. Touring through the personal home of the man who reinvented an art form is moving; the intimate contact with the fixtures, murals, art glass and furnishings, a rare treat. The German building blocks little Frank toyed with as a child are particularly poignant.
Love of family and personal reminders of the extent of Wright’s contribution to art and architecture easily counterbalances some less seemly aspects of his history. In spite of the generous loan started his illustrious career, Wright famously built bootleg houses - likely as much to halt the proliferation of Victoriana (a style that Wright despised so deeply that he altered his window heights to block the sight of the neighbors’ homes) as anything. Regardless of his motivation, the result of his over-ambition was to be fired from the famous firm of Louis Sullivan.
Clearly, Wright was not only a bold genius at design and innovation, he was also a master of self-promotion and marketing. Sooner or later he would have to emerge independently.
His firm, located beneath the family home, is a stunning example of form and function, as you‘d expect. As creativity ground zero, hotbed of innovation, school for Wright proteges, one almost feels the lingering presence of creative giants in the room today - specters bent over drafting boards, churning out ideas ever new in the form of breathtaking designs.
Examples of Wright’s work is evident all over Oak Park. Following the tour, take map in hand, (sold at various outlets around town) and visit numerous examples under a canopy of giant shade trees. After experiencing the insights gleaned from the tour, it will be easy to imagine Mr. Wright looking back from behind a signature leaded glass window.
Yes, Frank, it’s all about you.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
951 Chicago Avenue
Oak Park, Illinois 60302
If you have lost touch with your sense of wonder at this gift of nature, it’s time to step lively to the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Situated at the northernmost end of Lincoln Park, the new educational center hosts thousands of nature’s beauties from seven different countries in a 28 ft tall greenhouse. Here you will see butterflies you‘ve never imagined, and will be astounded at the variety of colors, sizes and patterns that flicker by.
Not solely a haven for butterflies, children and photographers are particularly fond of the moist, warm shelter. If, during your trek to Costa Rica or Malaysia, you missed your shot, you’ll find the perfect photo op here.
This is the only butterfly breeding lab in North America. Visitors are intrigued by the chrysalis rack, where hundreds of butterflies hang upside down by a cremaster awaiting emergence of their new forms. Children witness the miracle of nature and learn butterfly facts; that butterflies are cold blooded; when their wings are open, they are gathering heat, when closed, they are warm enough. (One area of the shelter is known as "the beach" since so many butterflies gather there for sunbathing.)
Many believe it is good luck for a butterfly to light on your shoulder yet, guests are encouraged to check themselves in the full-length mirror for "passengers" that may unwittingly hitch a ride. (It‘s a cold, unlucky world outside the shelter for butterflies).
The Nature Museum is more than just butterfly fancy. Walk through the wilderness and examine specimens from the extensive collections of the nature museum, develop your own water works, or explore the ecology center "Extreme Green House."
The Nature Museum’s mission is to bring awareness of the area’s natural resources and ecology to the public. As an extension of the Chicago Society of Science, founded in 1857 by my personal local hero, Robert Kennicott, who grew up in Glenview at the Grove, the nature museum serves to connect urban dwellers with their natural world and develop enrichment and educational programs. Although many special events and exhibits are held onsite, there are many more outreach programs offered through the society via schools and clubs.
Currently, a special exhibit called "Magic: the Science of Illusion" is drawing big crowds. Expect a true frenzy when the Jane Goodall and Galapagos exhibits open in September, 2003.
Thrill a child and bring them where astonishment abounds. No kids? Take the one residing in your heart.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 North Cannon Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60614
+1 773 755 5100
At the turn of the last century, Chicago housed the second largest population of Swedes; second only to Stockholm. Swedes were late arrivals on the mass immigration bandwagon, resettling in America more for economic reasons after the "starvation years" following drought and famine in their native land, than the search for religious and political freedom.
It is not surprising that people who wouldn’t take drought for an answer but instead undertook the arduous journey across the ocean, down the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, would become some of the most influential businessmen and developers in the Midwest.
The Andersonville neighborhood was long the epicenter of Swedish-American culture and activities. Today, the neighborhood as undergone many changes, but the Swedish American Museum Center continues to pay loving tribute to the heritage and people who made the community proud.
The center tells the stories of great men of Swedish decent, Wallenberg, who assisted many Jews out of Nazi Germany, and others who fought for American freedom, built railroads and major businesses. An impressive permanent exhibit called, "The Dream of America," chronicles the mass immigration using full-size mannequins with authentic details and expressions to tell a monumental story.
Extensive examples of native artifacts, from glasswork to farm implements, reveal the influences of Swedish culture that have made their way into the American mainstream. A special tribute is made to the women who were schooled in the Swedish-founded Nursing colleges and hospitals forming the backbone of Chicago’s emerging reputation for excellent medical facilities. (One glance at the primitive surgical tools from the mid-century had me falling to my knees in appreciation of the progress medical care has made over the last century.)
The lower level exhibition hall hosts rotating displays of Swedish arts and crafts. The Children’s Museum is a delightful center of imagination where children journey through Swedish history, visit an authentic log cabin, participate in pioneer farm activities and sail on a Viking ship.
The Center also presents special holiday programs, the most popular being Lucia, the festival of lights, and Midsommar Festival complete with maypole dancing in the street. Here you can "Cook with Ingvar," learn Scandanavian dances or folk painting, research your ancestors and even learn to speak Swedish! The Gift Shop sells Scandinavian specialties, books and stunning Orrefors and Kosta Boda glassware.
Regardless of your ancestry, pay a visit, and gain fascinating insight into the people who first settled Andersonville and so heavily influenced the building of Chicago. Their oft-overlooked contributions clearly deserve such merit and recognition.
Swedish American Museum
5211 North Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois 60640
Attraction | "Andersonville"
Sometimes, I even hiked the ten blocks back to Clark street at lunch-time to partake of more homey specialties (red cabbage, meatballs, stuffed peppers) at any of the Swedish restaurants that lined the street. Along the route I’d window-shop the Swedish specialties, rosemaling or glassworks. Residents of all ages walked the streets alongside me, or watered their ubiquitous front porch flower pots, and presented a uniformly cheery and safe environment, unique for a big city neighborhood, Chicago, circa 1974.
For this was a time of distress and unsettling social changes. While other neighborhoods featured riots and looting, over-development and unwelcome new diversity, Andersonville remained true to its roots and was calm, peaceful and inviting. I wondered how long it would be before others discovered this little haven; before the young descendants of Swedish immigrants moved up and on; before elderly citizens passed along and put their houses on the market for new owners.
A few years ago I’d read an article implying the inevitable had happened; that Andersonville was loosing its hold as a Swedish-American hotbed. There were new groups moving in and everyone wondered what the change would bring to the neighborhood.
On a recent visit to Chicago, I made the trek to discover the answer for myself. The changes were immediately evident. The corner bakery was boarded up. Next door, a Middle Eastern grocery thrived, advertising fresh homemade Tabouli for $4.99/pound. (Tabouli for Sweetbuns was a trade I was willing to make.) Across the street two men stood before a Middle Eastern deli, conversing in Arabic. I parked, glanced inside their shop and made a note to revisit; Shawarma, $2.99!
I was reticent to glance down Clark Street, fearing the Ann Sather’s restaurant had also packed up, but thankfully, it was there, same as it ever was.
Next door, the Women and Children First Bookstore , a renown feminist institution in Chicagoland, was hosting none other than Hillary Clinton for a book signing. We took a seat in Ann Sather’s and watched a Gay Rights parade march by peacefully, supported by what appeared to be people of all persuasions and both genders.
After our meal, (same as it ever was) we wandered the streets and found startling antique shops, more Middle Eastern restaurants, even more Swedish delis, coffee bars, health clubs and sushi bars; overall, a delightful, peaceful neighborhood.
Andersonville had changed. But as I left Chicago, I read an article in Chicago Magazine that awarded Andersonville the title of "most walkable neighborhood in Chicago."
In that way, nothing has changed.
Foster And Clark