One might as well just state the obvious: Hyde Park restaurants suck. This observation is not qualified with any real culinary justification (although it isn’t hard to do, really); it’s qualified on a moral basis. Last Saturday, the Hyde Park Transitional Housing Project hosted its third annual Taste of Hyde Park at the United Church of Hyde Park, a fundraiser for their program that finds housing for homeless families. The Taste of Hyde Park, inspired by an idea from Hyde Park Transitional Project board member Rita Glass, seemed logical; the concept that local Hyde Park businesses could be solicited to benefit a local neighborhood cause was reasonable enough. It’s too bad the realization of such an idea was so poorly received. Something so easily accomplished was so tragically underdone.
The Taste of Hyde Park’s buffet, spanning across three collapsible tables, was comprised of a strange hodgepodge of some of Hyde Park’s worst food: chips and salsa from Seven Ten Lanes, refried beans and rice from Maravillas, ham sandwiches from Jimmy John’s, peach cobbler from Valois, and donut holes from Dunkin’ Donuts. The selection of such foods was so blatantly mediocre that the sheer display of the buffet suggested an unwillingness to be involved and an ultimately tightfisted output on the part of the participating restaurants. For such an honorable cause, one would expect Hyde Park’s restaurant to at least donate something from their entrÃ©e menus.
That evening A. Anne Holcomb, another board member of the Hyde Park Transitional Project, noted that the diversity of cultures represented in the restaurants in the neighborhood is of worthy significance. Holcomb’s observation isn’t disputed, in that such a large showing of culinary breadth is hardly found in any other part of the city. Name any other neighborhood in Chicago that has Caribbean food and soul food separated by a stretch of bridge five yards long. Or a Korean restaurant two doors away from a Middle Eastern restaurant. Hyde Park is considerably heterogeneous–a wide selection representing at least a quarter of the UN Council participants. But at the Taste of Hyde Park, the foremost complaint comes from the stinginess and unoriginality of the restaurants in the area. For a cause that provides rent and mentoring services for struggling families on the South Side, one would expect nothing but overflowing generosity. The Taste of Hyde Park is like the aftertaste of the complimentary saltine served with a small cup of soup: salty and sadly unsatisfying.