Much more than merely The University of Chicago's backyard, Hyde Park is a cultural gem on Chicago's south side, with prime views of the city skyline and lots to see, do - and eat. From modern chef-driven restaurants and splashy Asian eateries to authentic Middle Eastern fare, it's easy and delicious to eat your way around Hyde Park, which is handily accessible via the Metra or several southbound bus routes from downtown.
Hyde Park, hinting that this south side enclave could quickly become the hot new ‘hood in Chicago. The first big debut of the bunch was A10 (pictured above), a stellar European-inspired concept from Matthias Merges, a longtime Charlie Trotter's alum who owns Yusho and Billy Sunday in Logan Square. His dinner, lunch, and brunch menus feature the likes of meatball soup, salted cod croquettes, wood-fired snails, pizzas, pastas, olive oil doughnuts, and cannoli soft-serve. That's right, soft-serve ice cream flecked with cannoli bits, pistachios, and salted caramel. Check out A10 for Chicago Restaurant Week until February 6 and try their CRW Menu.
Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe is to Hyde Park as Central Perk is to New York City as seen through the eyes of Friends. With two cozy outposts in the neighborhood, you're never far from a little Z&H pick-me-up. The cafes peddle fresh sandwiches, salads, soups, and other essential coffee shop fare, along with grocery provisions such as pastas, sauces, oils, breads, pastries, and international goods. If you're eating in, you can play it safe with a roast beef and blue cheese sandwich, or go exotic with the Durand Durand, an ostrich pâté creation layered with stone-ground mustard, mixed greens, red onions, and pickles.
If it's classic French cuisine you crave, you can't go wrong with La Petite Folie, a little taste of Paris on the shores of Lake Michigan. Although French at heart, the restaurant adheres to Chicago seasons by altering its menu to reflect local ingredient availability. Currently, the menu skews heartier with items such as Alsatian onion tart, spinach salad with smoked duck, chicken crêpes, and duck mousse splashed with sweet Sauternes. To finish, there's apple tarte Tatin, pumpkin mousse torte, and other French confections. Wash it all down with something off the all-French wine list.
Part restaurant, part deli, part bakery, and all awesome, Medici is a longtime haven in Hyde Park. When it originally opened more than 50 years ago, Medici was a gallery and coffee house, but over time it grew to become one of the largest restaurants in the neighborhood, with a new location and an expanded space that allotted for a bakery and delicatessen component. The all-day restaurant specializes in eclectic comfort foods, from marshmallow fluff breakfast sandwiches and eggs espresso (eggs scrambled by the espresso machine) to guacamole, chili cheddar fries, Moroccan stew, and Reuben sandwiches. There really is something for everyone and every appetite at Medici.
The Nile transports guests on a falafel-filled tour of the Middle East via Hyde Park. The menu at this casual neighborhood standby is authentic Middle Eastern, with well-prepared versions of favorites such as chicken shawarma, lamb shawarma, shish kabab, kifta kabab, falafel, stuffed grape leaves, red lentil soup, and other soulful items. Don't miss some of the less familiar dishes, such as maklouba, a medley of eggplant, cauliflower, carrots, chickpeas, and rice topped with pine nuts.
Asian-inspired global cuisine is the bill of fare at Chant. This swanky, stylish spot hops all over the world with small plates such as Thai hummus, avocado rolls, and lobster rangoon. Large plates offer the likes of Pekin duck tacos, pineapple curry shrimp, sesame polenta, and fried chicken with black bean chili cornbread. For dessert, the stunner is the chocolate fondant, a flourless chocolate cake served with a cookie tuile cone, raspberry cream, and cactus apple coulis. Come thirsty too, because Chant boasts some en-chant-ing cocktails.
Hyde Park's food scene is only getting hotter. Still to come this year is an outpost of Merges' Japanese restaurant, Yusho, a location of suburban-based Sugar Hills Bakery, and The Promontory, the next restaurant from the folks behind feverishly popular Longman & Eagle.
Photos: A10, Zaleski & Horvath MarketCafe, La Petite Folie, Medici, Chant