The boundaries: Winthrop to the east, Ravenswood to the west, Bryn Mawr to the north, and Foster to the south. Andersonville is a neighborhood and not a community area. Therefore, it doesn’t have formal boundaries as designated by the city as do Edgewater and Uptown, the two community areas in which Andersonville lies. Furthermore, the historic district along Clark runs further south than Foster, almost down to Lawrence.
Ethnic make-up: Since it’s not formally defined, the demographics of Andersonville aren’t tracked by the U.S. Census. However, judging from a NY Times website based on a special census from 2005-2009, the neighborhood is about two thirds white, with Asians and Hispanics making up the majority of the remaining one third. (http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/explorer)
Historical populace: Andersonville was founded in the mid-1800s as a Swedish immigrant neighborhood, and that heritage remains in the shops, restaurants, and taverns. Today, it has become a very trendy neighborhood, especially with young professionals and the gay/lesbian community. There is also a Middle Eastern influence prevalent in the community.
Getting there: There’s no direct route to Andersonville by “L” train. You can take the Red Line to Bryn Mawr, Berwyn, or Argyle. Then just head due west about one-half mile to Clark and you’re in the heart of the historic business district. Otherwise, you can take the Ravenswood Metra, but it’s close to a mile walk northeast once you get there. If taking the bus, the Clark Bus and Foster Bus are your best bets. You may be able to find parking on side streets, but in the evening the neighborhood is pretty crowded and you may need to walk a bit after parking in a residential area.
It was a cold, wet day in mid-December, and yet the streets were still alive with people, young and old. The Swedish influence of decades past still remains through a handful of Swedish taverns and restaurants along Clark Street, and the gold cross with blue background painted on a water tower overhead. However, it’s not just the Swedes who have left their mark in this community. A modern Middle Eastern influence is prevalent as well. One outstanding example is Taste of Lebanon, located across the street from a Middle Eastern grocery store, where we stopped in for a late lunch.
Taste of Lebanon (1509 W. Foster Ave.)
With so many unique restaurants and diners in Andersonville, we chose a tiny little joint that has established itself among the very best in yelp’s ratings of dining in Andersonville. It was 2:30, that no-man’s land between lunch and dinner, yet we just snuck into the last seats available in the dining area. The space is hardly extravagant (save for some beautiful photos of Beirut on the somewhat decrepit white walls) but this didn’t stop patrons from coming in and out.
The menu is limited to the basics, but when you do the basics so well, why do more than necessary? I got a vegetarian combination platter (no, I’m not a vegetarian, but this platter was intriguing enough). The platter was substantial enough to serve as a whole meal. Each component was simple but fresh and delicious. Along with a standard set of vegetables (cucumber, tomato, lettuce), came falafel, hummus, and pita bread. I thought the extras, homemade pickle, olives, and olive oil they drizzled on the hummus, made the whole meal. Apparently this place is famous for its falafel, with good reason. It was crunchy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside, my best Falafel fix since NYC. Happy to find this place here as I have always said that Chicago doesn’t compare to New York on falafel.
While Laura went with the veggies, I went with the meat. I chose the chicken shawarma wrap (doctor says I need to eat less red meat…fine). For the uninitiated, shawarma is kind of like a gyro, shaved meat topped with veggies and a tahini sauce (for the sake of time, it’s like a lighter hummus, but man is it tasty). Either way, it was very good, and while the portion LOOKED small, misleadingly it was very filling. To top off the meal, we ordered a piece of baklava for only a buck. Awesome. Just enough honey, crisp filo, enough nutty crunch. A great way to finish lunch.
Anything Else We Missed:
Although it was fast food, the young lady at the register was very polite and brought our food to the table. It was fast and inexpensive (about $15 for everything including beverages…no, not that kind, just a couple Cokes, but we’re getting there…). Also, there was no pressure to get out quick, and we were able to relax during and after our meal. Is it worth the trip? Absolutely if you want a delicious, ethnic, and affordable lunch/dinner/dunch. It’s at the southwest corner of Clark and Foster, so give it a shot if you’re in Andersonville.
Hopleaf Bar (5148 N. Clark St.)
So if you really love beer, and you live in Chicago, you’ve been to the Hopleaf. If not, it’s in your interest to go there before having your next conversation about your favorite microbrew. From the outside, the bar is very unassuming. We stopped in at 3:30 on Saturday to an eclectic mix of guests: young and old, trendy and blue collar, definitely a diverse crowd. At this juncture, only the front bar was open, although the restaurant area in the back opened up shortly afterward. We grabbed a table for two by the window.
I loved the atmosphere of this bar, which seemed more like a relaxed neighborhood gastropub – the food looked really good too. It was dark, cozy, and had a good crowd on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Everyone was lazily enjoying unique beers, some singles at the bar and other groups of friends. I liked the actual “Hop leaf” décor that hung on the left side of the bar: an appropriate, nice touch! The selection of beer at this place is astounding. It has a professional, modern feel, and it makes you want to revel in the particulars of all sorts of local and regional beers. The staff would slip by and pick up empties, absolutely without the implication that we should vacate our prime seating, but instead with the feel that they were tidying up their own living room. Being relatively out-of-the way, this place was a nice change of pace compared to other bars with great selections of beer but a more homogenous, collegey set of drinkers. I like a good diamond in the rough feel, and I love all the beer options that went with it.
This was my second foray into this establishment. They have a small, but comfortable beer garden in the back. The food here is also good, with a solid brisket sandwich. But of course, the main attraction is the beer with dozens of choices on tap (nevermind the many, many more in bottle-form). Although the bar was bustling in the late afternoon, I never had a problem getting a drink. The servers were well-informed, offering suggestions, and were polite and attentive even though there were only two working at the time. A real highlight was the mead (I actually had two options), but I went with the Polish variety which the bartender described as “more complex” than the other option. Dziekuje! They say that if you spent one minute staring at every piece of art on display at the Louvre, you’d be there for three years. It’s kind of like that at the Hopleaf. You’re going to have to keep going back to try all the beer they have to offer.
Anything Else We Missed:
If you want to dine there, your two best bets are to: a) get there nice and early, b) make a reservation. Even in the late afternoon it was pretty crowded. Oh yeah, and they offer Goose Island Green Line. It was only $3.50 from the tap when we were there. Also, the Goose doesn’t make it in bottle-form, so you’re only going to get it at establishments like this. Plus, it’s apparently a “green” beer made from sustainable and local ingredients. Good, now maybe Al Gore will stop banging on my door at 1:00a.m. because I left the Christmas tree plugged-in.
Andersonville: The Final Tally
There’s a reason this is one of the hottest neighborhoods in Chicago for young professionals. There’s plenty of nightlife, boutiques, restaurants and the standards are there but limited (Potbelly, Starbucks, etc.). It’s also not as expensive as living in say Lincoln Park or even Lakeview. The kicker, there’s not great access from the L. You can take the Red Line or the Brown Line, but you’re going to be walking for a good three-quarters mile at least, and that depends where you’re going. Also, it’s mostly located along the strip of Clark from Bryn Mawr to Foster. There are limited amenities on the cross streets, the same goes for the stretch along Ashland. Still, it’s a great neighborhood to visit if you can find parking or don’t mind hopping on the bus. Either way, it’s certainly worth an evening, and being there even on a chilly afternoon in December, Andersonville shows why it’s one of Chicago’s hottest neighborhoods.