The Other Hyde Park

I’ve been coming to Chicago for close to thirty years. My mom moved here in the late 80s. Although I have never lived here, it always feels a bit like coming home. Hyde Park, the neighborhood she lives in, is a calm island in the otherwise choppy waters of Chicago’s Southside. It’s has lots of tree-lined streets, parks and red brick buildings. It is home to the University of Chicago’s pretty neo-Gothic campus. If you squint and pretend you could be in… Cambridge? In 1893 the Colombian World’s Exposition was hosted in Hyde Park. On the cusp of American hegemony abroad, it was one of country’s first looks at the exotic outside world. There were exhibits on everything from minerals to people. In fact there was even an exhibit of 60 Canadian Inuit living in a squalid replica of an arctic village. They moved out and sued the fair organizers (The Field Museum has since reconciled its relationship with this group of Inuit.)

Hyde Park has changed in the last 30 years, but then so have I. Like my neighborhood in Seattle, Hyde Park is being gentrified. Harold’s Chicken Shack is gone, as is Cyril’s House of Tikki, where stuffed blow fish used to hang form the ceilings. Now Hyde Park has a Hyatt, a Borders, and fancy looking buildings. It’s a destination now. The outside, globalized, world, a far cry from that of the Colombian Exposition, has invaded. Some things are still here, like Ribs n Bibs, but according to my step dad they are just for effect.

One upside of gentrification is the profusion of good restaurants. I can barely keep up with the restaurant scene in Seattle, so I don’t even try in Chicago, which has become an American gastronomic temple. There are a bunch of new places that have popped up in Hyde Park. You don’t to go downtown anymore to get fancy dining. La Petite Folie is a cute little French place hidden in a strip mall. It has apparently been here for a long time, mom told me, I just never knew, or had my food binoculars pointed elsewhere. I tried the beef daube, or Provençal stew, which is something I cook at Christmas. Theirs was just as good as mine, and that is not meant as a brag on my part but a compliment to both. A little bit of France in Hyde Park, the restaurant felt both worldly and cozy–perfect for a homecoming meal.

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