Chicago's South Side, once a breeding ground for all manner of artists—novelist Upton Sinclair, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, gospel singer Thomas A. Dorsey and bluesman Muddy Waters, to name a few—is now a harvest town for some of Chicago's best cooks. And when it comes to comfort food, the area can only be matched by the deepest southern states. If you only have one day to experience it all, here's our menu:
Breakfast: 5 Loaves Eatery
You'll need some early morning sustenance to kick off your adventure, so this recently re-opened restaurant should be first on your itinerary. You'll find plenty of breakfast favorites here, from stacks of buttermilk pancakes to southern-style grits. Even the simple staples stand out. Take for example, the restaurant's oatmeal, served with a heaping spoonful of brown sugar, a hefty pour of cream, a fistful of raisins and a side of toast. 5 Loaves also has a few uncommon breakfast items, like the popular turkey cristo with American and Swiss cheeses. Not only is the thing battered and fried with powdered sugar, but it also comes out with a side of honey; talk about a sweet sandwich. The French toast platter, served alongside two eggs (any way you like 'em), meat and potates, is another crowd-pleaser. If you can swing it, stop in on a Soulful Sunday. That's when they do it family-style with a smorgasboard of meat, fish, veggies, candied yams, mac n' cheese, beans n' rice, coleslaw and homemade cornbread, all you can eat for $12.95.
Lunch: Soul Vegetarian East
Comfort food typically means some combination of meat and potatoes, especially during the Midwest's temperamental winters. Soul Vegetarian East, however, is changing all that with hearty vegan and vegetarian-friendly dishes like barbecue-slathered sandwiches, stir-fried tofu and baskets brimming with battered mushrooms, battered cauliflower and seasoned fries. Be sure to balance out all those collard greens with a side of the restaurant's grilled cornbread. And, no matter how stuffed silly you are after entrees, don't skip out on a thick slice of the lemon meringue pie.
Dinner: Harold's Chicken Shack
It would be a near crime to head over to the South Side without a visit to this historic Chicago staple. Since its opening in 1950, Harold's has branched out and now has a smattering of other locations, but there's something to be said for getting the stuff straight from the source. The standard here is a half or quarter chicken (white or dark, it's your call), fries, bread, coleslaw and a side of Harold's hot sauce. If you're feelin' edgy, go for the livers and gizzards. Harold's also serves shrimp (fried, of course), and catfish. You may end up eating your greasy goodies near the curb, as the place has limited seating, but there are a few tables and a counter for noshing. This Washington Park spot is also close to the University of Chicago, so you can check out the campus while you're in the area.
Dessert: Original Rainbow Cone
There's always room for ice cream, especially the quirky kind that comes from this landmark spot. The Original Rainbow Cone doesn't bother with all the modern fluff and fancy stuff (read: mix-ins and commercial jingles) like many chain spots. And it doesn't need to, because the signature flavors here are sweet enough to stand alone. They also stand quite well when stacked layer-to-layer in the famous Rainbow Cone, which includes chocolate, pistachio, strawberry and Palmer House (a cherry-nut mix) ice creams, and a scoop of orange sherbet for good, fruity measure. The shop also has a couple featured flavors to tempt your inner-child-- bubble gum or cookie dough, anyone? More mature types will appreciate decadent choices like black walnut, New York vanilla and butter pecan. Be sure to head over before the snow hits; Rainbow operates on a seasonal basis and you'll be out of luck come December.