You probably know by now that the Chicago Humanities Festival is pretty darn great at delivering engaging, thought-provoking programs. But you might not know that we’re also extremely talented in another area – I’m talking about eating. Yes, we tend to demolish in short order any delicious food that makes its way into our office. Leftovers from a lunch meeting at La Madia won’t last more than a minute, and there are at least three people on staff whose baked goods rival any Parisian café.
All this is to say, we won’t blame you if you get hungry before, during, or after one of our upcoming Festival events. In fact, if you’re not drooling by the time you leave Deconstructing Dinner: Molecular Gastronomy, we’re doing something wrong. So while you’re picking out programs and planning your schedule, we hope you also get excited about grabbing a bite to eat and exploring a new neighborhood. To get you started, I’m happy to be your self-appointed guide to the hidden (and not-so-hidden) culinary gems near the UIC Forum (725 W. Roosevelt Road).
We have a full slate of distinguished guests presenting at the UIC Forum on Saturday, November 5th and Sunday, November 6th, from hip hop artist Common to prize-winning author Jonathan Franzen, not to mention an eclectic range of topics on the table, including dating in the digital age, social media and the Arab Spring, technology in both Hollywood and athletics, and amazing feats of memory. How will you get your fill of these enticing offerings and still leave room for lunch?
Lucky for you, options in University Village and nearby neighborhoods abound. If you’re fearful of braving autumn’s chill, take a brisk stroll south down Halsted to Maxwell Street, a cozy cobblestone fairway with informative historical plaques and bronze statues. Stop in at Hashbrowns (731 W. Maxwell Street) if you’re in the mood for all-day breakfast – go for one of the specialty omelets named after Chicago neighborhoods, and be sure to try the eponymous house specialty made with sweet potatoes. Just be aware that while Hashbrowns opens its doors at 6 am, they close at 3 pm.
If you’re heading out for some grub after one of the 3 pm programs, you can still enjoy a tasty meal on Maxwell Street. Stop in at Lalo’s Mexican Restaurant (733 W. Maxwell Street) to get your evening started with an Ultimate Margarita and one of their massive seafood entrees. Ole!
Feel like venturing a little farther afield? The UIC Forum is only a hop, skip, and a jump from the heart of Greektown – and my favorite place for brunch. Meli Café and Juice Bar (301 S. Halsted) is a bright and cheery corner spot with amazingly decadent daily specials and adorable little pots of marmalade. It’s admittedly difficult to narrow down my top recommendations, but you can’t go wrong with Caramel Banana pancakes, the fig and goat cheese omelet, or eggs benedict with honey smoked salmon.
Of course, you might be in the mood for ouzo and flaming cheese served family style. With a plethora of traditional Greek restaurants clustered around Halsted and Adams, the options are endless. Feel like part of the family at Pegasus Restaurant and Taverna, Greek Islands, or Athena Greek Restaurant.
We don’t want the Italians to feel left out! Rest assured, a leisurely meal at Tuscany (1014 W. Taylor Street) in Little Italy will make you feel like you’ve jetted off to the land of villas and Chianti. My colleague assures me that the clam linguini is exquisite – but I have my eye on the pear ravioli. Speaking of colleague recommendations, I’ve also been told that Jubilee Juice & Grill (140 N. Halsted) is the place to go for veggie burgers, fruit smoothies, and waffle fries. I don’t know about you, but I’m never one to turn down French fries.
Just down the road from Tuscany, you can sample heaping portions of noodles and rice at Thai Bowl (1049 W. Taylor Street). Warm up with a steaming bowl of soup or try one of their fiery curries. They aren’t messing around with the chili pepper symbol on the menu.
If all that spicy indulging puts you in the mood for a tall glass of beer, head west to Three Aces (1321 W. Taylor Street). You can join the fun at Sockhop Saturdays, with DJs spinning rock ‘n roll hits from the ‘50s and the ‘60s starting at 10 pm. Yes, it’s a little different than Common, but with deliciously potent American beers on draft – like the 9.8% ABV Three Philosophers from Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York – you’re bound to have a good time. They describe their food as “Italian countryside meets the American farmhouse,” and with options from the mill, sea, barn, and farm (butternut squash soup with blackstrap molasses popcorn and maple-cider agrodolce!), you won’t run out of choices. Plus, I once saw my favorite local celebrity, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat, hanging out drinking a beer here.
A mural in Pilsen
Lastly, the UIC Forum is only a mile from Pilsen. Time for tacos! A local hotspot for nearly fifty years, the staff at Nuevo Leon (1515 W. 18th Street) won’t let you leave hungry. Check out the whole red snapper cooked with fresh garlic and red pimiento sauce, served with rice and salad. Or try a corn tortilla taco with lettuce, cilantro, onions, tomatoes, and one of 9 different fillings.
Personally, I can’t wait to explore everything we’re offering at the Festival – and then discuss these amazing programs over a stupendous meal (or two… or six). Where do you plan to eat before or after catching a Festival program? Let us know your thoughts and please share your recommendations.
Kelsey Rotwein is the Education Fellow at the Chicago Humanities Festival and a graduate student in literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She believes chocolate chip cookies are a food group.
Tags: dining, maxwell, food, halsted, pilsen, university, eating, smoothie, italian, greek, mexican