Maggie Sivit

Originally dubbed “Beverly Hills” in reference to a massive prehistoric ridge that spans it, the neighborhood has always been home to more upwardly mobile middle class families than California-style celebrities. Those weary of the bustling city have taken refuge in this burgeoning suburban community wedged between 87th and 107th Streets since the 1890s, starting with waves of English, then Irish, and finally African Americans. Today, while the outskirts of the neighborhood are home to commercial development, a continuous stream of traffic, and sun-baked sidewalks, the heart of Beverly continues to provide a respite from Chicago’s harsh urban scenery.  The pleasant clang of an approaching Metra train, brick buildings, tree-lined avenues, and soaring church steeples create quaint vistas straight from old-fashioned family sitcoms. Boasting many architectural gems, Beverly possesses a bevy of Frank Lloyd Wright homes, numerous examples of prairie-style architecture, and a 19th century replica of an Irish castle. Properties terminate in sloping, manicured lawns and the air is permeated by a quiet hum of lawnmowers and rustling leaves. In spite of the idyllic scenery, Beverly still has had its share of community strife. The installation of cul-de-sacs in the mid 90s restricted entry into the neighborhood to three locations, viewed by some as an effort to create a racially and economically gated community. Yet Beverly continues to change. A special clause in Chicago city contracts encourages employees to live within Chicago’s limits; Beverly has become a haven for cops trying to maintain their pensions as a result. But the hard-working spirit that established Beverly still persists, borne out in a down-to-earth community that is proud of its roots.

Best Hats
In a smoke-gray building off Western Avenue, Optimo is redefining the nearly extinct craft of hatmaking. The store, with a dark wood interior, old sewing machines and vintage hat forms, offers a wealth of timeless designs including the classic Fedora, the flat-top pork pie, the 47th Street, and the Montecristi Panama hat. Owner Graham Thompson, a former apprentice of famed South Side hatter Johnny Tyrus, uses techniques that belong to a tradition dating back to the 1930s. A back wall sweeps up two stories, dotted with beauties of all shapes and materials. Optimo does not actively market itself but instead relies on the reputation of its craftsmanship. Incidentally, word has spread and Optimo hats have graced the crowns of local South Side dandies, international patrons, and celebrities such as Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. But gentlemen must be prepared to shell out for gentlemen’s prices: most hats are in the $500 range. Quality is classy, though, and to that we can tip our hat.  10215 S. Western Ave. Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm. (773)298-1031 (Anna Fixsen)

Best Blueberry Pancakes
Beverly Bakery
With friendly service and damn good breakfast, Beverly Bakery gives off a small-town vibe that’s rare in the big city. Here, slow moving fans rotate above diners digging into heaps of pancakes, and the clink of dishes nearly drowns out the old timers chattering over cups of coffee. A large display case sits adjacent to the cash register, stuffed with goodies like buttery croissants, doughnuts, cupcakes, and gooey caramel rolls. The tasty omelets, hashbrowns, and what the menu boasts as “the best blueberry pancakes on the South Side” keep Beverly Bakery packed on weekends. The bakery also doubles as a coffee roastery. Gourmet blends of coffee are imported from 21 different spots around the globe and roasted in-house. Patrons can even have coffee roasted to their specifications. The Chiapas blend ice coffee and a fluffy almond scone make for an especially satisfying summer’s second breakfast, further justifying that this is where Beverly goes for breakfast again and again. 10528 S. Western Ave. Tuesday-Friday, 7am-2pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8am-2pm. (773)238-5580. (Anna Fixsen)

Best Take-Out Vegan
Sistah’s Vegan
Sistah’s Vegan is easy to miss, plunked next-door to a shrimp and chicken shack in a strip of low-lying white buildings. A glass door ushers patrons into this pocket-sized eatery where reggae music bounces off the walls. While the décor–bright yellow walls punctuated here and there by African diaspora art–can be described as spartan, the spectrum of flavors in its vegan fare is anything but scant. Sistah’s dishes up favorites such as enchiladas, homemade lasagna, and barbecue seitan at reasonable prices (the most expensive item on the menu is $8.95). Fried seitan bites proved crisp and delicious, while celery sticks and vegan dipping sauces made a tasty side dish. Washing it all down with organic ginger beer offered a perfect ending to the meal. Sistah’s also offers dirt-cheap daily specials including $1 tacos on Mondays and $5 personal vegan pizzas on Fridays. While mostly designed for carry-out, customers can sit at small tables, and munch on country fries or tofu bites while watching planes from Midway Airport gain altitude over 95th Street. 2239 W. 95th St. Monday, 3:30pm-7:30pm; Tuesday-Saturday, 12pm-8:30pm. (773)445-4788 (Anna Fixsen)

Best First Date
Café 103
Tucked in scenic downtown Beverly, Café 103 is a little gem of a BYOB.  Serving contemporary American fare in a cozy yet chic atmosphere, the restaurant draws crowds from even the far North Side. Quaint Americana décor and earthy burgundy tones make the space warm and welcoming. The joint is small, but it features a diverse and delectable menu. For lunch, Café 103 offers a variety of gourmet sandwiches and salads. A highlight from their dinner menu is the grilled rack of lamb accompanied by ladolemono couscous with feta, roasted garlic, and spinach. A vegetarian-friendly fettuccini á la nage is served with roasted red peppers, summer corn, fresh tomato, thyme, and parmesan. Themed dinners spice up the midweek cooking slump, so instead of ordering Chinese takeout or heating up leftovers, you can have tapas on Tuesday and burgers on Wednesday. While their prices are a little on the steep side–their red snapper will have you out 27 bucks and they charge a $5 corking fee–the quality of food, the intimate space, and idyllic location make it the perfect spot for an impressive date, first or five hundredth. 1909 W. 103rd St. Tuesday-Saturday, lunch served 11am – 4pm; dinner served 5pm – 10pm (773)238-5115. (Anna Fixsen)

Best Way to Lose the Lovehandles
Running Excels
With the Chicago marathon around the corner, it might be time for some new kicks. Running Excels is the only shop of its kind on the South Side that fits both casual joggers and seasoned racers with the best in running gear.  The store is stuffed with racks of light runners’ singlets, socks, energy goo, and a wall of shoes. The workers have dozens of marathons under their belts and the knowledge to answer any running-related questions. The shop carries a wide range of sneakers, from racing flats to cross country spikes. Running Excels will conduct a stride analysis on treadmills in-store to identify one’s foot type and recommend the best footwear to ensure a proper fit. Less tangible prizes like a whittled waist line and companionship can be acquired through the store’s running club: groups meet several times a week for brisk morning jogs. And whether you run for pleasure or only when pursued, the cheery staff at Running Excels will give you ample motivation to break into a trot as soon as the glass front door shuts from behind. 10328 S. Western Ave. Monday-Friday, 10am-7pm; Saturday, 10am – 6pm; Sunday, 11am-5pm. (773)629-8587.  (Anna Fixsen)