Tag Archives: Local Chicago

Before the Planting Begins


The Peterson Garden Project has rapidly come to  life. The interesting thing is: we haven’t even planted yet. So what’s going on?        

I joined the project for a few reasons. I love fresh food, and want to learn to grow my own. Plus the benefits of growing food locally have a significant impact on a city’s sustainable development, and that’s important to me. I also love gardening—it’s swiftly becoming my favorite hobby.        

What I didn’t see coming was the incredible community impact of the garden.     
While helping to plan and promote the project, I’ve met an amazing group of people, all drawn to the community garden project for different reasons. From LaManda, the project’s founder, I’ve learned about Chicago’s Victory Garden legacy. But more importantly: I’ve seen the catalytic affect her inspiration and leadership have on a project. This isn’t just a garden for LaManda: it’s a life mission. And she’s looking for accomplices.        

From there, the cast of gardeners grows. From the young dancer who has a passion for baking pastries, to the ice-skating grant-writer looking to share her incredible knowledge of growing and cooking food, this garden is bringing people together.        

Entrepreneurs. Artists. People looking for a new career path—they’re all here. And: they’re mainly my neighbors. I had the pleasure of meeting John and Eileen, who have lived in my neighborhood—Arcadia Terrace, for the record—for 50 years. They’ve never grown vegetables before, but when they got the flyer for the Peterson Garden Project, they figured: why not?     
It’s never too late to learn to grow your own vegetables. And it’s not too late to plant them this year, either. Come on over and join in on the fun; volunteers are always welcome at The Peterson Garden Project.  

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Ode to the Neighborhood Bar

All cities have vices. New York has impatience. LA has superficiality. Chicago? It’s a city that drinks. Lots. And the up side of that is: we have spectacular neighborhood bars.

What makes a neighborhood bar? It’s small. The bartenders know the patrons. They don’t serve food or mixed drinks that are too fancy. But: everything is delicious. Neighborhood bars are where you’ll find true Chicago, not the fakely-polished, overly-peppy craziness of River North or Rush Street. You will see real Chicagoans from every walk of life at neighborhood bars. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

First, the friendliest bar in the world: The Whirlaway. Maria and Sergio, the owners, know their neighbors and serve them mighty fine drinks. If you live nearby and invite them to a barbeque, they’ll come. And on Tuesdays, Maria cooks up food for everyone that stops by. The Whirlaway is not fancy in any way, and that makes it all the more loveable.

Lately, I’ve been loving the Fireside. It’s almost too big to be a neighborhood bar, but somehow, it manages its scale well. They have an enormous menu, so you can offset your drinking with good bar food. They also have an above-average assortment of beer on tap. You can play darts here, watch sports, or even sit outside on a year-round patio with sparkly lights. And if you’re a night owl, you can stay here until 4 a.m.

The quintessential Chicago neighborhood bar must be the Charleston. It’s in Bucktown, and it was there long before Bucktown became hip. I remember hearing someone play the fiddle at the Charleson back in the early 1990’s. It’s friendly, out-of-the-way, and just a great place to hang out and drink. I’m not sure why, but it seems to attract lots of architects. Every Chicago neighborhood has a great local bar. That’s where you really get to know this city.

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Eating Chicago

There’s a fairly awful festival in Chicago each summer called “Taste of Chicago.” It’s not good for a number of reasons (crowds, port-o-potties… need I go on?). The truth is: you’ve got to loosen your belt to get to know this city. There’s no wading, tasting, nibbling, or pussy-footing around. You’ve got to eat your way through.

This is nearly a religious topic for me. From Wolfy’s to Alinea, there is delight in culinary Chicago. And with that, I’ll start at the beginning. The Chicago Hot Dog.

First, a confession. I hate hot dogs. They don’t taste good most ways. And that is the beginning of the beauty of the Chicago Hot Dog.

Properly served, here’s what it is: a hot dog topped with mustard (duh–can you eat them without it?), raw onions (diced), cucumbers (sliced, halved), pickle spear, pickle relish, tomatoes (sliced, halved), optional sport peppers, and celery salt. All of this comes cuddled up in a poppy seed bun. It is glorious.

And yes: clearly one of the appeals for me is that it is very difficult to taste the actual hot dog.

So: where to get one? Wiener Circle. Wolfy’s. Hot Doug’s. Superdawg. Gold Coast Dogs. This is our native food, people. You will be blessed if you have the honor of eating one.

Image credit: Vienna Beef

Image credit: Vienna Beef

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