Long perceived by outsiders as a neighborhood of modest means and a loud reputation, there's also no denying that politics always plays an important role in Bridgeport. The locals like to talk about their "clout" as much as folks from Maine enjoy dishing about lobsters. The powerful 11th Ward Democratic Organization has been the birthing ground for five Bridgeport mayors (Kelly, Kennelly, R.J. Daley, Bilandic and R.M. Daley) who have ruled the roost in Chicago for 60 of the last 100 years.
Irish immigrants flocked to Bridgeport in the second half of the 19th century, forming the core of the area. As former Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, Jr. once said, "Bridgeport was a semi-legendary, all-Irish segment of the South division, where men were men, and boys either hellions or early candidates for the last rites of the Church." Soon after the Irish established roots in the area, Italian immigrants followed; both remain prominent in the Bridgeport area today. There are enough food and pub attractions to keep you busy for a while, but a tour of Bridgeport isn't complete without a tour of the curbsides: Chairs hold court on the street in front of houses on snowy days to reserve parking spots. This is serious stuff, dude.
For a good, rowdy night in the 'Port, Puffers is tough to beat. With a wide selection of beers and live music on the weekends, this joint is always ready to supply a good time. But for a truly authentic time, check out these must-see taverns:
No trip to Bridgeport should be had without a stop in Schaller's Pump to hoist a few cold ones. Set directly across the street from the 11th Ward Democratic offices, Schaller's has been kicking out shots and beers since 1881. Jack Shaller, still spry and witty at 82 years of age, is often on hand to share a story with you; if he's not there, his daughter Kim will be more than happy to set you up with a beverage of choice and a tale to go with it. If you're in the mood for food, Schaller's will fill the bill. Always-solid daily specials run the gamut from corned beef hash to prime rib. Opt for chicken wings as a tasty appetizer, and just for kicks, no matter what time of day it is, go for the hashbrown potatoes, a deliciously huge helping served pancake style.
If you plan to take in a Sox game, be certain you make a pre or post-game stop at Shinnick's for some icy-cold beverages. Just a few stone throws from the Cell, Shinnick's offers up a lively atmosphere where locals and Sox visitors from all across the city can share their woes about the team's newest rendition. Shinnick's is for serious Sox fans only.
Jimbo's is another watering hole just a few steps from Sox Park. Though this isn't technically in the Port proper, it's close enough. And yes, just outside of Jimbo's is where ESPN sports guy Bill Simonson got knuckled up after a game a few years back. Oh well, too bad for him. It simply became another story to add to the neighborhood's lore. Locals frequent Jimbo's as do students from nearby Illinois Institute of Technology.
Bridgeport may not be the king of white tablecloth dining, but it does have several gems, most of which can be found on the side streets of this neighborhood. Bring on the eats at:
Owners Giovanni Liuzzo and Ignaciao Bautista have much to crow about: They've put together a tremendous menu in this out-of-the-way prize. The seating area probably rivals the square footage of your own front room, but that's part of its charm. Open for lunch and dinner, the standard menu features great finds like the chicken vesuvio sandwich with a great garlic sauce and peas falling off the bun with every bite, as well as top-notch linguine and clams. Tear yourself away from the menu to check the specials, where you might find items such as swordfish vesuvio or pork chop peppercorn with broccoli. Gio's isn't about fancy, it's about good food…and it works. BYOB.
Cobblestones Bar and Grill
This cozy restaurant features a handsome, dark wooden bar and a high ceiling that gives it the feel of yesteryear. If you are a fan of the teeming-with-New-Orleans-goodness muffaletta sandwich (or interested in trying one), Cobblestones is a must. The roast beef and cheese muffaletta with giardiniera is so good it will have you talking about it for days…even to yourself. The sausage and peppers meal is always strong, and make sure you gobble up plenty of hot bread sticks as you await your meal. Snatch a bowl of chicken gumbo whenever it's offered, and if you see the crawfish tails in creole sauce on the special's sheet, go for it. It's outstanding.
This bright, homey cafe features lunches daily from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday from 5-9 p.m. This is a friendly joint where chef/owner David Samber and his staff make you feel at home. The specials change daily, so call in advance to see if the items offered meet with your approval. The pasta dishes are excellent, as are the red snapper and the roast rack of pork. Many of the meals come offer veggies grilled to perfection, the perfect accent to the main dish. BYOB.
Feel like parking your ass in a restaurant booth where many a mayor has started his day? Then Ramova Grill is the place for you. Located just off the corner of 35th and Halsted, you'll see the cook standing in the window as you near this joint. Beside him teeter mounds of eggs stacked tall in the corner. Ramova puts together a good, basic breakfast spread with a solid corned beef hash to go along with it. You'll feel the history here as you nibble on your eggs and toast. The chili is also a solid lunch buy.
Looking for quick eats? Forgo McDonald's. Bridgeport tacks "fabulous" onto its fast food:
Calling all hot dogs. O'Malley's offers a dressed-to-kill dog that will always shake hands with your taste buds. This is a seasonal joint so look elsewhere if you're in the area and there's snow on the ground. Two hot dog ladies in the neighborhood also serve scrumdillicious dogs from their carts that make a great stop after a Sox game. Kathy DeCarlo drops her cart on the corner of 37th and Parnell when the good weather moves in, and Bev Kolpak's cart is just outside of her garage, off the corner of 38th and Union. The dogs offered by both of these ladies are the goods, though DeCarlo offers a few more extras if you're in the mood for a dog with fireworks.
Parnell Foods is the perfect place to stop for a soup and a sandwich if you're on the go; the beef noodle soup and Italian sub top the list. On the corner of 32nd and May, La Milanese serves one of the best breaded steaks in the city. You'll be foaming at the mouth as you watch the counter guy fold the steak into thirds, push it onto your bread, drench it in red sauce, and add the extras to your liking. Ricobene's also offers a solid breaded steak to go along with other good buys like Italian beef and pizza.