"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, May 15, 2013

Avondale


The Breakdown
Belmont Avenue serves as the main artery through Avondale.
An overview: It’s easy to say one neighborhood or another is the “next hot Chicago neighborhood”. Hell, we’ve even alluded to it in previous posts.  But if you had to put your money down on the next haven for young professionals, hipsters that are neither young nor professional, small plate restaurants featuring twelve kinds of pork belly, and the latest 200+ microbrew tavern that seats 12 comfortably, Avondale is your best bet.  We say all the aforementioned in jest, we love all those things (even the hipsters), and Avondale is starting to get them.  It’s essentially the one remaining north side neighborhood that hasn’t truly gentrified, but it’s well on its way.

Avondale the look and feel of a Logan Square or Humboldt Park, historic beauty and urban grit living side-by-side.  It’s diverse, featuring a predominantly Hispanic contingent, but also carrying a growing young white population mixed with an older European populace.  Avondale’s residential streets are also an interesting blend of housing stock.  You will often find a North Side-esque two-flat next door to a South Side-esque bungalow.

It’s not yet made to be on a postcard, but Avondale has its charms.  The neighborhood is certainly accessible via public transit, which will help it grow as a destination for young residents and visitors alike.  And even if you haven’t heard of Avondale, there’s a good chance that you’ve been at an establishment there…and were told that you were in Logan Square.  As you’ll see below though, a handful of Chicago favorites are located in Avondale.  So now you have no excuse to not visit, even though you now realize you probably already have.

Note: Just…can’t…help…but feel like we’re missing something.  Ahhhhh yes, Hot Doug’s!  Yes, Hot Doug’s is in Avondale.  No, we did not review it for this blog for the simple fact that it’s been a long while since we’ve eaten there, and we did not want to have to wait in line two hours like last time to write this entry.  That being said, our feelings are wildly mixed between “totally not worth it” (Laura) and “TOTALLY worth it…if you’re willing to wait in line for two hours” (Michael).  Let your tolerance for lines make the decision for you.


The boundaries: For the sake of this entry, Avondale refers to both the neighborhood as well as the community area.  The northern boundary of Avondale is Addison Street, with Diversey Avenue making the southern border, and the Chicago River makes up the eastern border.  To the west, it gets just a scosh tricky.  South of Addison it’s Pulaski Road until you hit Belmont Avenue.  From Belmont it juts west to the railroad tracks just west of Kildare Avenue.  The western border follows the tracks all the way to Diversey.

Despite recent gentrification, Avondale retains a
predominantly Hispanic influence.
Population make-up:  In 2010, Avondale had 39,262 residents, down 8.9% from its 2000 population of 43,083.  As of 2010, the racial breakdown was: 64.4% Hispanic, 28.4% White, 3.0% Asian, and 2.5% Black.  Avondale ranks 33rd out of 77 community areas in terms of median household income at $46,519, just behind the Chicago median of $46,877.

A brief history: Like its sister neighborhood to the north, Irving Park, Avondale began growing initially as a suburb of Chicago, before being annexed in 1889.  Access to rail, along with immediate proximity to numerous industrial jobs, spurred population growth shortly thereafter.  This made Avondale very attractive to European settlers, particularly Poles, after World War I.

Avondale remained a mostly blue collar, Polish-dominated neighborhood until the 1990s, when a large contingent of Hispanics began moving into the area, making up the largest ethnic contingent within the neighborhood today.  Avondale still holds physical and demographic reminders of its Polish past, harboring two smaller Polish neighborhoods, Jackowo and Wacławowo.

Avondale boasts some new construction, but many of
the streets still have older, yet well-maintained, housing.
Much of Avondale’s geography is often considered Logan Square due to similarities in demographics.  Despite its strong working-class history, with easy access to the L, and the growing demand of surrounding neighborhoods, Avondale is on the cusp of substantial reinvestment and gentrification.

Getting there: The Blue Line is a great option.  The Belmont stop will put you right in the middle of Avondale.  However, the stop at Addison will drop you off at the northern tip of the neighborhood as well.  Also, further south, the Logan Square stop is only a block or two from Diversey, the southern edge of Avondale.

Via bus, you best east-west options are: Addison (152), Belmont (77), and Diversey (76).  Going north-south, you can always hop on the following: Pulaski (53), Kimball (82), and California (52).  You can also rock the Milwaukee bus (56) going northwest-southeast through a sizeable portion of Avondale.


Kuma’s Corner (2900 W. Belmont Avenue)
Love that building.
What can we say about Kuma’s Corner that hasn’t already been said?  The burgers are really THAT damn good.  The wait…legitimate.  The music is SO metal.  The parking…limited.  Sometimes you just want a burger.  Sometimes you REALLY want a BURGER.  Kuma’s has the goods, and if you have the patience, it delivers.

Michael’s Take: OK so Kuma’s is a little loud and a lot cramped.  But how many people have told you, “oh man, Kuma’s, you gotta go.  GREAT ambiance!”  Maybe a few huge Pantera fans but that’s about it.  No, it’s all about the burgers.  I got the Plague Bringer which is topped with crispy tortilla strips, savory garlic mayo, spicy jalapeños, housemade hot sauce, and attitude.  It’s really amazing when you can get that many flavorful toppings and yet they never detract from the A-lister, this one being a juicy medium-rare beef burger.  Kuma’s has become one of those must-do Chicago things, and for good reason: simple yet outstanding food mixed with lots of character.


Love those BURGERS.
Laura’s Take: Ummmmmm, so Best. Freaking. Hamburger. I. Have. Ever. Had. End of story. 
Now I do understand all the hype. My words of advice would be to actually plan on spending at least 45 minutes in a bar (elsewhere, unless you love standing in a crowd with centimeters of personal space) after you put your name on the list. They will give your table away if you're not there when they call you, but our strategy was to come back about 15 min before they said it would be ready. This worked out perfectly. Next, I would say to plan this out so you can go at least 2 hours without food after you enter the place. Because on top of the time to get a table, the food was not fast coming out. Oh, and you may want to bring earplugs if you don't want heavy metal blasting in your ears, and potentially a mask too, if you don't want to inhale a forest fire's worth of ash from the grill. Still, I would go back. That's how good the burger was. I got the Goatsnake - goat cheese, corn, lemon vinaigrette, and fried red onions. It was everything I ever could have wanted in a burger- and way more. This burger literally opened up a whole new awareness for me in what a burger can possibly aspire to. The house made potato chips with it... they were so good I saved the leftovers.

Anything Else We Missed: Kuma’s has a brand-spanking-new location in…Lake View?  Well, Lake View can be pretty metal, right?  Initial buzz is that the lines aren’t any shorter in the location near the lake, and that the menu remains the same.  Either location, if you have time and an appetite, there’s now double the Kuma’s to satisfy your red meat craving.

Scuse me...pardon me...oooh...sorry...just gonna...excuse...


Yeah, that's me (Michael) in the reflection.
We already covered Revolution’s original location in Logan Square back in 2011.  The demand for Eugene Porter and Cross of Gold could not be contained within one brewpub.  So now when you see cans and bottles of Revolution beer in your local liquor store, you’ll know it came from Avondale.  Just last year, Revolution expanded into a modest industrial warehouse along Kedzie Avenue to ensure that you didn’t have to head up to Logan Square to get one of their spectacular microbrews.  Also, fear not, for it’s not just production here.  The new location features a substantially sized tap room.  Make no mistake though, more space just means more room for more people to buy more beer.  Be prepared to battle for a seat up at the bar.

Michael’s Take: I love what Revolution’s done with their new brewery.  The place is spotless (let’s hope it stays that way).  While you can get your classics like the Anti-Hero IPA and the Bottom Up Wit all the time, they also have some revolving brews that you might not otherwise be able to get at the store.  Service was polite, but the day we went was astonishingly crowded (due to tours as well as walk-ins like us), so we had to wait several minutes to get a beer.  Nonetheless, it’s definitely worth checking out the tap room.  Also, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate parking for visitors, but street parking is available a block or two east of the brewery.  It’s in a residential neighborhood though, so please be respectful.  Better yet, the Belmont Blue Line station is less than a 10-minute walk southwest of the brewery, so try to be responsible before settling on being merely respectful.

Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenneger reprising their roles
from the movie "Twins".
Laura’s Take: Revolution clearly knows it's hot right now.  This place was built to hold the masses and accommodate allllllll of their drink orders as fast as possible. There was a laid back brewery vibe that's still different from a bar, though, so don't expect the bartenders to come running to get you taken care of. The venue was sorta industrial warehouse style, with lofty ceilings and plenty of picnic table space just adjacent to the machinery that makes up the guts of beer production. A gargantuan American flag on the wall is one of the few embellishments in the space, and it really works. Being a huge Belgian and saison fan, I went with the Coup d'Etat French-style Saison. Solid microbrew. Places like this really make Chicago go around. If you're not into the buzzing crowds of 20- and 30-somethings, mixing bachelor parties with bros, homebrewers, Northside newbie parents and all the rest, try to avoid the weekend afternoons.

Anything Else We Missed: Tours.  Oh there are tours: Wednesday through Friday at 6pm, and on Saturdays at 4pm, 5pm, and 6pm.  However, they do not take reservations and they’re first-come first-served.  Oh, and they fill up FAST.  We were there just before 4pm on a Saturday.  Within 5 minutes of our arrival, they had completely filled ALL THREE TOURS.  The tap room is open from Wednesday through Saturday starting at 2pm…that might be the best time to get there to make a later tour.

These cats love their beer.


Yusho (2853 N. Kedzie Avenue)
The guy who lives next to Yusho
is one lucky dude.
It’s almost impossible to find Executive Chef Matthias Merges’s name without hearing “Charlie Trotter alum”.  Welp, there you have it.  But to his credit, he’s trying to make his own stamp on Chicago’s culinary scene, creating a Japanese yakatori-style (read: street food, often chicken) hot spot that sits just north of Logan Square.  The dinner menu is a collection of fanciful small plates, but we and some friends dropped in for something else special: Sunday Noodles!

Michael’s Take: Sunday noodles is one of the supreme “affordable fine dining meets simple-yet-fun” deals in Chicago.  For $20 you get a bowl of ramen (not talking Maruchan here), a house-made cocktail, and a dessert.  I opted for grilled shrimp ramen with seriously plump prawns in a rich broth with just enough heat.  I could have just drank the broth in a cup and been happy.  You also get kimchi, that delightfully polarizing, spicy Korean cole slaw-like product, and some bamboo shoots.  Soup and a cocktail might not sound filling, but you’d be surprised how satisfied you’ll be after polishing off a full bowl.  For dessert, a hazelnut ice cream with an oatmeal crumble and caramel sauce was a lightly decadent way to cap off the lunch.  There are about 4-5 types of ramen that consistently remain on the menu, but cocktails seem to be spontaneous.  For just $20 before tip, that’s all the more reason to go back again.

Pork Belly...it even tops Top Ramen.
Laura’s Take: Yum yum yummmm! Food at Yusho has a few notches on what you might get at a lot of go-to brunch places. That, and the restaurant is beautifully styled. It just made me feel good to be there. I had the pork belly ramen as part of the $20 noodles Sunday deal. It was every bit as wonderful as you would think it would be coming from a semi- celebrity chef (Matthias Merges) focusing on this type of cuisine. There was actually some type of vegetable thing in my dish that waved in the heat rising from the broth and looked like it was alive. Those little touches are what set Yusho above and out of the ordinary for me. Our meal came with a house cocktail which, that day, was tequila-based. By the time we had our humongous bowl of homemade ice cream to finish the meal, I was really full.

Anything Else We Missed: If you get there early enough on Sunday, you can just go for cocktails, or even a nice little coffee/tea selection.  In keeping with its Japanese theme, the bar offers about eight different kinds of sake as well.




Square Bar & Grill (2849 W. Belmont Avenue)
At the former location of "Trapezoid Bar & Grill".
Hard to say if this is a hidden gem or not, but if you haven’t heard of Square Bar & Grill, then yes, it is a hidden gem.  Just across the street from Kuma’s Corner, here’s a great place for a pre or post-meal beverage.  Or maybe you don’t want to wait for Kuma’s, then stay and get some food here instead!  This small establishment is a great find for attentive service and a terrific beer selection.

Michael’s Take: I’ll admit (embarrassed face), we came here to kill some time before heading over to Kuma’s.  We’re glad we came.  If you’re driving and don’t keep your eyes open, you might miss it.  Also, you may need to park a few blocks away due to the limited street parking.  Either way, this is worth a trip on it’s own, and not just cuz you’re in the neighborhood to grab a burger across the street.  The beer list on tap and in bottle is surprisingly extensive.  A Goose Island Night Stalker (imperial stout…richer than Warren Buffet) was a great find on-tap, and definitely made the rest of my experience much more chill.  If I was in the neighborhood, for ANY reason, I’d stop by here for a beer or two.  Also, our server was very attentive and helpful.


Laura’s Take: Despite being just a way to kill time to start with, I really enjoyed Square Bar! When I started to really take in my surroundings, I realized how cool it was there. It seemed like a great neighborhood place, but with just a little bit more of an edge than you would find in Lakeview. Nobody was trying too hard and there were a variety of neighborhood people there to spend part of their Saturday. Plus, as soon as I saw Matilda on tap, I quickly became a happy camper.

Anything Else We Missed: THE FOOD!  A strong brunch menu highlights crepes, pancakes, and biscuits & gravy.  Later in the day, pizza, sandwiches, and burgers are solid offerings.  The Volcano Burger features jalapeños, bacon, and pepper jack cheese.  There’s also cheese stuffed INTO the beef, and it’s all on a pretzel bun.  Mercy.

Just some Bells, some Goose Island, some Three Floyds, so nothin' to see here...


Small Bar (2956 N. Albany Avenue)
Eat?  Hey, you're not the boss of me, dude.
The quintessential Midwest neighborhood tavern.  Occupying a non-descript corner of Albany and Wellington, Small Bar wouldn’t be out of place in Milwaukee or St. Louis either.  No worries if you’re not from the neighborhood, all comers are welcome.  A top-notch beer list (if you time it right, yes, you can get Zombie Dust) complements some serious cocktails as well.

Michael’s Take: Your classic no-frills bar, but with a dynamite beer selection.  Small Bar fits its small space nicely.  Besides the mind-blowing beer list, draft and bottle, our server was incredibly polite and attentive.  It definitely caters to the growing Avondale hipster crowd, as well as the spillover from Logan Square, but all comers are welcome.  Although we didn’t this time, you can order a burger or sandwich from their tiny yet efficient kitchen as well.  As Avondale continues to grow, expect your opportunity to grab a seat at this spot to get slightly more difficult.

Laura’s Take: Come to Small Bar if you are looking for a low-key, chill experience with a truly extraordinary beer selection. Your beer list here is really pretty special and you will definitely enjoy it if you like to see something different when you peruse the menu. I had a great time here feeling tucked away in a comfy corner of Avondale. I indulged in a banana bread beer which I will order like a dessert when I can find it on a menu. What you see is what you get at Small Bar.

Anything Else We Missed: Small Bar also has another location in the Ukrainian Village (2049 W. Division Street).  However, the Avondale location (which they call the “Logan Square Location” – trust us, it’s Avondale) is the original.  Also, the draft beer list is updated frequently and new additions can be found on their website.

We call it "mood lighting".


Avondale: The Final Tally
Turrets bookending a quiet residential slice of Troy Street.
Hot Doug’s.  Kuma’s Corner.  Revolution Brewery.  Yusho.  Avondale is that neighborhood you didn’t realize that had all the amenities that it does.  It’s also an outstanding place to invest (good call on this one, Molly).  The current median housing price in Avondale is at $195,000.  Compare that to other non-lakefront nearby community areas such as Logan Square ($310,000); West Town ($335,000); and North Center ($430,000).  That’s a pretty doggone good deal.  Also, in the past year, the median household price change has increased an impressive 30%.

Over the past couple years, people have talked up the next hot neighborhood for gentrification (good thing?) in Chicago.  Among the nominees are usually Bridgeport, Pilsen, and Albany Park.  But with its access to public transportation, adjacency to other trendy neighborhoods, and already burgeoning young population, Avondale is primed to truly explode in the next few years.  And as you can see, the seeds have already been sewn for investment in the community.  Now is a perfect time to go see both the present, and the future, of this fascinating neighborhood.


Just SOME of the places to check out in Avondale

Grilled shrimp ramen at Yusho
Sleek bar for some bevs at Yusho



Hip buildings and hip people abound


Inside SQUARE Bar & Grill
Inside SMALL Bar






Burgermeister Meisterburger in the zone at Kuma's Corner

Lookie lookie what we found
outside Revolution Brewery
Nondescript exterior, flavorful interior
at Revolution Brewery









Avondale (magenta) is a quick Blue Line ride from the Loop (blue)

10 comments:

  1. Avondale is cool, but still sore that they beat Rogers Park for the Curbed Cub of 2012.

    Those pictures are making me crave BEER!

    Nice article.

    Segunda Vuelta's signage is looking much better nowadays.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Philip! Sorry Rogers Park lost, but we'll try to cheer you up by visiting it sometime soon. Any places you suggest? If you're craving beer, try The Beer Temple, right across the street from Segunda Vuelta. Beautiful little liquor store with a terrific beer selection.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you - this is a nice write up on Avondale. Consider visiting the lovely "North Hermosa" area, west of Avondale, bounded by Belmont, Pulaski and the two sets of train tracks. Quirky neighbors with a growing community of artists and musicians. A great, safe residential corner of the city, with some really great housing deals right now (but not for long)! Have lived there for years - and plan to stay, especially now that great food/drink is creeping up Milwaukee and down Belmont!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great post! Just moved to the area with my wife from the Ravenswood/Lincoln Square area and we love it here because it feels much more like a community, and is also much more diverse.

    We also feel conflicted in that we want more people to know how great Avondale is, but we don't want it to be ruined by an influx of pretentious hipsters and yuppie types who would likely want to whitewash the neighborhood.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Anonymous duo! Appreciate the input and glad you enjoyed the entry. Avondale is a great little hidden gem.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Avondale technical extends a little more East than your map shows. It goes past Western on Diversey all the way to the River and up to Belmont along the river... There is a little community along the river there that has technically be annexed by Avondale and is a little more high-end than the rest of the neighborhood.

    ReplyDelete
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    . I really want to be able to check everything out, but i have to be honest that i am a bit worried about the crime there, is it better in Avondale?

    ReplyDelete
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