Best of the South Side 2009: South Shore and Woodlawn

South of Hyde Park stretch two lakefront neighborhoods with very different histories. Woodlawn was once a prosperous neighborhood, helped along by the World’s Fair of 1893 and the El tracks that connected it to downtown. In the 1940s and ’50s, integration brought a sudden demographic shift, and after the 1968 riots that raged across the West Side, the remaining white-owned businesses decamped for the suburbs. The neighborhood’s further decline lead to a rash of insurance arsons in the ’70s and ’80s, and 63rd Street, once one of the city’s major retail corridors outside the Loop, became a patchwork of empty lots. Today it’s on an upwards trend, with new housing developments, University of Chicago campus buildings, and a new coffee lounge opening soon at 63rd and Woodlawn Avenue. Across 67th Street is South Shore, a middle-class neighborhood centered along 71st Street and blessed with two lakefront attractions, Rainbow Beach and the South Shore Cultural Center, a former country club bought by the Park District for public use.

best corned beef
A.P. Deli
It’s no secret what A.P. Deli’s specialty is: Printed all over the store’s outside and inside, even on the receipt, is “Chicago’s #1 corned beef.” Begun in 1984 as a small grocery and liquor store in the far south neighborhood of Roseland that offered sandwiches on the side, the deli now has four branches across the South Side and several in the suburbs. The location at 75th and Chappel isn’t pretty; the grungy exterior, the clear plastic shields separating customers and employees, and the lack of seating cast doubt on the website’s claim that people come “from all over Chicago” to get their corned beef fix. But if they don’t, maybe they should: A.P. knows its specialty well. About half of the menu works out to corned beef under various names (“Big Beef,” “Pound N-Half”) or related sandwiches like Reubens, but the original is probably the best. Make sure to ask for onions, mustard, rye bread, and anything else you want on top, or you’ll get a plain hunk of salted beef in bland bread. But even that might be worth the trip. 2025 E. 75th St. Sunday-Friday, 10am-11pm; Saturday, 10am-midnight. (Sam Feldman)

best sugar rush
Give Me Some Sugah
If you’re looking for a sugar-free meal, this isn’t your kind of bakery. Other than a few breakfast items like muffins and scones, the three-page menu is made up almost entirely of mouthwatering desserts, from pineapple upside-down cakes to chocolate cream pies. Other than the Shawn Michelle’s ice cream, everything on the menu is made on-site, and proprietor Lenore Lindsey isn’t afraid to get creative: Her lime bar manages to condense all the goodness of an entire key lime pie into a surprisingly small volume, and her potato chip cookie is about ten times better than it sounds. If you don’t see the dessert you want on the menu, let her know and she’ll probably make it for you. 2234 E. 71st St. Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-7:30pm. (Sam Feldman)

best multitasking space
Experimental Station
There isn’t really one word for what the Experimental Station is. The nonprofit organization that now occupies the building was born from the ashes of a 2001 fire that destroyed a complex used by artist Dan Peterman for his socially conscious art projects. Today it’s used for a range of purposes, which in the past year have included performances by the Hyde Park Community Players, a monthly film series, King Ludd’s Midway Arcade, and the 61st Street Farmers Market. Aside from these periodic attractions, the Experimental Station includes the Backstory Cafe, which offers free Wi-Fi and serves sandwiches, soups, and Metropolis coffee, and Blackstone Bicycle Works, which not only does bike sales and repairs but also summer and after-school programs that teach neighborhood kids how to work on bikes. This Saturday, September 26, is a good day to check out the Experimental Station, since it’s one of the venues for the third annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival. 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. (773)241-5458. (Sam Feldman)

best jamaican
Three J’s
The restaurant Three J’s (standing for Jammin’ Jamaican Jerk) is not fine dining, but the place is a step above Boston Market at the prices of Harold’s Chicken Shack. Don’t be deterred by the modest interior, which looks not unlike a typical burger joint–what the place lacks in décor is made up for in its delicious Jamaican fare. Three J’s eponymous jerk chicken is savory with a home-cooked taste, avoiding excessive greasiness. Their ox tails, an exotic and worthwhile dish, are covered in a creamy gravy over a bed of rice. In both dishes the meat is incredibly tender and slides easily off the bone. Fish and shrimp dishes are sometimes available, but vegetarians should avoid the place unless they desire a meal made up of sides: potatoes either mashed or sweet, steamed and buttery greens, and white bread as dense as pound cake, perfect for wiping your plate clean. Service is slow, but friendly. 1713 E. 75th St. Monday-Thurday, 6am-11pm; Friday-Saturday, 6am-midnight; Sunday, 7am-9pm. (773)667-1360 (Chris Havlin)

best comfort food
Around since immigrant laborers needed lunch in the 1930s, Daley’s has weathered the massive changes to Woodlawn it has seen pass. Not only does its lengthy history give it a perspective few institutions on the South Side can match, it also gives Daley’s solid recipes for everything from pancakes to hamburgers. The history is as thick as the grease; it’s also as thick as the ties that bind Woodlawn together. 6307 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Monday-Sunday, 7am-10pm. (773)643-6670 (John Thompson)

best café with a view
My Soul Cafe
Tucked away at the corner of 72nd and Exchange, this café serves good coffee and better than average sandwiches, as well as organic tea and cold drinks. The prices aren’t bad, either, and with a purchase you can use the store’s free Wi-Fi and fax machine/copier. They even rent out laptops. Best of all, perhaps, is the view out the front window: the Metra trains majestically rushing by on Exchange Avenue. 7201 S. Exchange Ave. Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm; Sat, 8am-5pm. (773)336-8592 (Sam Feldman)

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