"Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

-excerpt from the poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg (1916)

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Skyline from a Near West Side highrise

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hyde Park

The Breakdown
It was cold, it was wet, yet you could STILL
smell some serious BBQ from two blocks away.
The boundaries: Unlike our previous entries, the neighborhood of Hyde Park and the Community Area of Hyde Park are essentially the same.  Therefore, Hyde Park has formal boundaries as designated by the city.  The northern border is 51st Street (also known as East Hyde Park Boulevard), and the southern border is the Midway Plaisance that runs between 59th Street and 60th Street.  To the east, we have Lake Michigan, and the western border is Washington Park.  The majority of businesses are located on the strip of 53rd and 55th Streets.

Population make-up: Hyde Park is a very diverse section of Chicago.  The 2000 census breaks down the demographics as 46% white, 38% black, 11% Asian, and 4% Hispanic.  In terms of population and median income, Hyde Park is about middle-of-the-pack when compared to the other 76 Chicago community areas.  However, it is the 17th most dense community area, partially reflected by some impressive lakefront high-rises.

A brief history: Hyde Park was an independent township founded in the 1850s, and as Chicago grew southward, it was annexed just before the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.  Hyde Park was the host of this World’s Fair, which introduced to the world (among other things) the Ferris Wheel.  The lone remaining building from the Columbian Exposition is currently the Museum of Science & Industry.  In the 1920s, the University of Chicago was founded.  It is today one of the nation’s top universities.  Like many neighborhoods in Chicago, Hyde Park saw substantial economic decline shortly after World War II.  Significant community commitment and federal investment prevented the neighborhood from falling into poverty.  Much as it was at that time, Hyde Park remains to this day a wonderfully diverse, charming, and unique neighborhood.

Getting there: If you’re taking public transportation, your best bet is the Metra.  There are three Hyde Park stops: 51st/53rd Streets (Hyde Park), 55th-56th-57th Street, and 59th Street.  You COULD take the Green line to 51st or Garfield, but then you’re going to have to walk over a half mile east through/around Washington Park.  There are north-south buses down Cottage Grove Avenue, Woodlawn Avenue (through the heart of Hyde Park), and Lake Park Avenue.  There are also east-west buses down 51st Street and 55th Street.

Rajun Cajun (1459 E. 53rd Street)
Is it Indian?  Is it Soul Food?  Is it fast food?  Well, it's all three.  And if you can find me another place where you can get saag paneer curry with collard greens or fried chicken with basmati rice, and all within 30 seconds of ordering, then I applaud you sir (or madam).  Don't let the fact that this is fast food fool you either.  This stuff is GREAT!  So if you stumble upon this tiny little establishment about 1 and 1/2 blocks west of Lake Park Avenue on 53rd, stop in and give Rajun Cajun a try.
Copious Amount of Indian Food 1, Laura 0
Michael's Take: So I went with the lamb curry platter.  It comes with the following: a bowl of the curry, potato-filled samosa, two pieces of naan, and a vegetarian side (thanks to a helpful suggestion I went with an eggplant and potato combo - so I forget the name, I'm still an amateur when it comes to Indian food).  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the basmati rice too.  The curry was spectacular.  The chunks were tender, fatless, and the curry sauce was just spicy enough to leave substantive heat after each bite without being sweat-inducing.  The eggplant and potato was rich and filling, while the samosa was very lightly crisp on the outside with soft potato on the inside.  The only letdown was the naan which was dry, but otherwise a naan-issue (high-fives self).  As you can tell from the photo, the result was a couple belt-notches loosened.  Along with a Coke, this ran me $11.  Considering the surprisingly high quality (yes, I may be an amateur, but I've had bad Indian food too) and quantity, this is plenty reasonable.
Laura's Take: This meal was exactly what I needed to sit down to after getting drenched in the rainI liked how spicy the chicken curry was; I feel like a lot of places are afraid to really go for it these days.  The samosa was great great great - I'd go back again and order three.  All the accoutrements were available: naan, dipping sauces, rice.  The combo meals were a ton of food, so be prepared to really eat.  Alternatively you can order individual side dishes of any and all of the same stuff.  I had a mango lassi, a yogurt drink, that was so fresh it was OUT OF this world, and perfect with all the rich, spicy, flavorful food.  Lastly, I would just like to point out the utter lack of rhyme or reason in naming this very, very Indian establishment "Rajun Cajun".
Anything Else We Missed: Service was VERY pleasant.  We were greeted with "Happy New Year!"  Unsure of what sides to get, both servers made suggestions that we ended up being satisfied with.  Also, I left my tray of food at the counter to set my umbrella down.  As I came back to the counter, one of our servers was bringing the tray to my table.  This is the sort of thing you don't expect from fast food.  Admittedly we didn't try the fried chicken, but with so many great Indian flavors to choose from, how can you blame us?  Definitely give Rajun Cajun a try if you're in the neighborhood and especially if you're in the mood for something quick and tasty.

The University of Chicago
OK, so we're not going to spend a lot of time on this one for a few reasons: a) We didn't stay that long; b) We originally wanted to go to the on-campus pub and to our dismay (and later logical deduction considering it was Winter Break) it was closed; c) There's just too much to see to lump it in here.  So ideally, expect the U of C to potentially have its own neighborhood entry in the future.
My senior year of high school, I designed a miniature bridge
made entirely out of uncooked fettuccine noodles.  It only
lasted a few hours before it broke, but it was my masterpiece.
Oh yeah, and Frank Lloyd Wright did a bunch of these.
Michael's Take: From our brief stay, the campus is really rather stunning.  Here is one of the country's (and world's for that matter) supreme institutions of higher learning and the architecture just hits you right away.  Also being a Big 10 grad (CHIIIEEEEF!), you've got to appreciate one of the originals.  The tradition is amazing, starting with the fact that it was founded by John D. Rockefeller and that graduating from it gives you about a 50/50 shot at winning a Nobel Prize.  Oh, and we were parked across the street from Robie House, arguably the most famous work designed by arguably the greatest architect in the history of the United States, Frank Lloyd Wright.  Yeah, this place reeks of greatness.
Laura's Take: The architecture at U Chicago is imposing. It inspires all of the awe that this school would have you feel whilst wandering its famed campus.  This is not a place built to foster a warm atmosphere... if you have ever felt intimidated by your surroundings, you might get a little whiff of that here.  On the other hand, two students we encountered were pretty much the opposite of cold and helped us immensely on an otherwise deserted campus.  We will have to go back and probe these details further when campus opens.  And by that I mean when we can crash their Pub.
Anything Else We Missed: Oh we WILL be back, U of C.  Don't think that the University of Chicago Pub is safe from our clutches either.
The Rockefeller Chapel, because when YOU do something awesome like founding
a prestigious university then YOU get to have your name on a really tall building.

Seven Ten Lanes (1055 E. 55th Street)
Spare Time Events runs a few taverns in Chicago that feature bowling (think Seven Ten Lounge in Lincoln Park and Southport Lanes in Lakeview).  We just stopped here for a beverage before finishing our brief tour of Hyde Park.  It's on a quiet stretch of 55th Street between Cottage Grove Avenue and Woodlawn Avenue.
Michael's Take: Overall it's a nice place to grab a brew, maybe shoot some pool or bowl a little, but don't expect to have your socks knocked off.  They did have a few nice beers on tap, and I went with a Bell's, while the lady went with a Goose Island.  It seems like a nice trendy place for a University of Chicago student to get away, but didn't have a lot of local flavor.  I think this is a better place to go with a group than just a couple people.
Laura's Take: Seven Ten Lanes gets points just for being there.  Why is there such a lack of bars in this neighborhood?  In Hyde Park, the feel is more relaxed and suburban in an urban kind of way, and you get a little of that here.  I wouldn't go out of my way, but when we were driven in by necessity it did the trick.  I would, however, go out of my way to see Kimbark Beverage Shoppe on 53rd St.  Lines were forming way back into the aisles (around the sample stations) and they had techno music on. Loud.  And I'm pretty sure that everyone was enjoying it.
Anything Else We Missed: Sorry we don't have too much to report on this one.  We didn't go bowling so I can't speculate the price per game, but there were a few people having a blast in there.  The place was prepping for a New Year's party.  The staff was pleasant, and as silly as it sounds, it's always nice to be welcomed when you walk in and later told to "have a great evening" when you leave.  Seems so basic, yet becoming more of a lost art (kinda like giving the "thanks" wave when somebody lets you in to their lane during rush hour).

Hyde Park: The Final Tally
DO go to Hyde Park if you want to experience a decidedly diverse, beautifully tree-lined community with stately rowhouses and single-family homes.  There's a wonderful vintage, authentic feel here that makes you proud to be from Chicago. Do NOT go to Hyde Park if you thrive on the Wrigleyville nightlife scene.  DO go to Hyde Park if you want to experience the splendor of classic architecture, a vintage Chicago neighborhood feel, and academic excellence at the University of Chicago.  Do NOT go to Hyde Park if you want to frolic on the Obama family lawn.   For one, the block is barricaded to all but residents of the street, and the Secret Service will not endear themselves to "tourists".  Secondly, because the Obama home is technically in the neighborhood of Kenmore and THAT, my friend, would be cheating.  DO go to Hyde Park because if it wasn't for all the media attention that regards all things Obama, this quiet community would truly be a hidden gem.

A wet, yet unseasonably warm New Year's Eve day in Hyde Park.

Hyde Park from above.  No thank YOU, Google Earth.


  1. Ok ouch....sorry to correct u but obamA's house is located in the neighborhood of KENWOOD...not Kenmore, which is a street on the northside. You missed many hot. Spots like the tiki lounge and jimmy's for local bars. Also not a mention of the 57th street business district is huge omission. I realize u cannot touch on everything.... but the above plus "the point" and the japanese garden are also must sees. I still enjoy ur blog, as a new follower, but hyde park deserves another look.

  2. Edgerz, thank you for your comments. First of all, you're right, Kenmore is a street and Kenwood is the neighborhood, apologies for the error. Secondly, our trip to Hyde Park was unfortunately limited due to mostly bad weather (it was cold and pouring on New Year's Eve). We would LOVE to go back to Hyde Park and plan on doing so in the future. That way, we'll hopefully have a (slightly) more comprehensive look at the neighborhood. In all honesty, this was a new area for us, and look forward to visiting the places you suggest.

    That being said, we really appreciate you reading our blog, and hope you keep following it. We're always open to suggestions, and are grateful for any comments we get. Thanks again!

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