Just a few short years ago, words like "run down" and "dangerous" were frequent catchwords when describing the historic Bronzeville neighborhood. Those people lacked vision. Indeed, the area did have more than its fare share of abandoned buildings, crime and destitution. But it also had history: turn-of-the-century mansions; the legacies Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright and other great African-American artists, athletes and businessmen. Much like New York's Harlem, Bronzeville was a key part of black Chicago's intellectual and social resurgence in the first half of the 20th century. Yes, Bronzeville was hurting, but it was not dead. All the community needed was a few visionaries. Those seers have arrived, and the area is on the road to recapturing the magic of its glory days while blazing a trail for a new generation.
Best of the nightlife
The beautiful people come here, perfectly coifed in their precise outfits. But don't be intimidated: The atmosphere is relaxed and unpretentious. A retro combo of brown and blue set the stage for a modern dining experience. Soul or Caribbean-influenced entrees carry a bit of a kick (spice that is). Tasty dishes, such as the shrimp appetizer and the stuffed catfish, leave you wanting more.
The portions are on the small side, and Blu 47 isn't the spot for a cheap date, but it doesn't break the bank, either. Dinner for two, including an appetizer and a drink apiece totaled an ambiance-is-worth-the-price $55. Usually packed, service can be slow, but the wait stuff does make sure you're not wanting for drinks while you wait for your dinner. Here, those factors just contribute to a "perfect date spot" categorization: flattering lighting, small portions so you don't stuff yourself, plenty of time for uninterrupted conversation and plenty of things to look at and talk about.
Good for groups
The mayor of Indianapolis can testify first-hand to the silky perfection of Abundance's caramel cake; Mayor Daley included it in the wager between the two cities during the hype leading up to Super Bowl XLI. He also wagered a load of Abundance's pastries and danishes during the Cubs' most recent playoff flameout.
The short-term hits against Abundance's ledger invariably lead to long-term business gains from customers flocking from throughout the city for its offerings. The bakery lives up to its name, offering an abundance of pastries, cookies, tarts, danishes, cakes, pies and other baked goods. The sweet potato pie is among the best in the city and a popular purchase during the holidays. Other must-buys here include a mouth-watering peach cobbler, a cheese Danish that was born to pair with a cup of hot coffee (which you can also buy) and some of the silkiest red velvet cake you'll ever find. Just step in and carry out.
Fresh, tasty sushi from a hole-in-the-wall on the South Side? My shoes were on before my friend had even told me its name. Luckily, she'd been there beforeóDe Rice is hard to find without an address in hand and plenty of patience at the wheel. But the hunt is worth it. The squeaky-clean interior has almost no seating, but with a menu that runs from delicate sashimi to hearty platters of Chinese fried rice, this is a great takeout joint for anyone with an itch for Asian.
Start with plump, overstuffed crab rangoon, juicy chicken and beef kebobs and seaweed rolls stuffed with scallops, dried shrimp and egg. The menu is filled with small and large portions of Chinese standards like black pepper beef, shrimp with lobster sauce, and Cantonese roast duck (about $6-$11 per entree). Surprisingly, De Rice doesn't falter on either Chinese or Japanese noshes. The hefty Chinese plates are non-greasy and studded with fresh veggies; the Japanese options are delicate and delicious. Try a monster maki, like the Hawaiian ($11.50), filled with freshwater eel, mango, crab and smelt eggs, or the Salmon Lover, a double-whammy of raw salmon and cream cheese wrapped in smoked salmon. More run-of-the-mill rolls are available for as low as $3.75. Crunchy almond cookies are the only dessert offered, but after loading up on cross-continental entrees, skipping the sweets is almost required.
Where to chill
Spoken Word Cafe
Located just under Blu 47, the Spoken Word Cafe is the perfect place for a mellow catch-up session with friends. This cool spot features a stage for live music and spoken word performances; on any give night, visitors can be treated to the latest in underground hip-hop, smooth jazz and soul, or hear established or up-and-coming poets do their thing. It's not a place that requires you to dress up; the vibe is so chill that you can wear whatever suits your fancy and you'll fit right in. At Spoken Word, you can order up a sinful desert and a hot cup of coffee (or tea, if you prefer), kick back and really talk; something that you can't do at most bars or "hot spots" in the city. Planning a party? Look no further. The cafe does private events.
Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center
Monica Haslip, Black Pearl's founder, established the organization in the basement of her Bronzeville mansion ten years ago. Her mission? To provide a safe after-school haven for young children while helping them develop their artistic talents and teaching them to market their work. Today Black Pearl makes its home in the 40,000-square-foot Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center, located in the Kenwood area, which lies just outside of Bronzeville.
The cultural center houses Black Pearl, but also provides Chicagoans with artistic and cultural experiences while staying true to its original goal of training youth in arts and entrepreneurship. Black Pearl's nonprofit workshop instructs students in a variety of media, including sculpture, ceramics, papermaking and furniture design and building. Student work is on display and for sale. The center also hosts an artist-in-residence program, where local creatives share their work with the community. A must-see destination for all Chicagoans, the center is splendidly rich in color and life and truly anchors the corner it now calls home.
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