City Portrait

Finding the Southern Charm in Chicago

Where to find the best of Chicago’s Southern side and more

photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki

Shrimp and grits at Big Jones.

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Big Jones 
Historical Southern dishes get a respectful yet creative take from Chef Paul Fehribach, who plumbs vintage cookbooks and uses heirloom crops and practically every part of the pig to create the menu for his comfortable Andersonville restaurant. Dishes range from Lowcountry to “Floribbean” to Creole and cross eras, such as a prix fixe dinner celebrating Gullah home cooking circa 1970. 5347 N. Clark St.; bigjoneschicago.com

 

Big Star
This Wicker Park joint draws a young crowd hip to its honky-tonk vibe and respectful attitude toward brown liquor (the bar sources its own barrels straight from Kentucky). But don’t forget the chow—riffs on Mexican street food such as pork belly tacos and tostadas topped with golden beets. It’s quality you’d expect from Paul Kahan, the chef behind top Chicago restaurants Blackbird, avec, and the Publican. 1531 N. Damen Ave.; bigstarchicago.com

 

Carriage House
Lowcountry food gets an invigorating reinterpretation from Chef Mark Steuer at his new Wicker Park restaurant. While the main ingredients might be familiar (green tomatoes, quail, grouper), it’s what Steuer does with them that makes the dishes memorably his. Watch flavor sparks fly when a sensually slow-cooked pork shoulder meets up with nubbly grits, crunchy celery bits, and tangy pickled peppers. 1700 W. Division St.; carriagehousechicago.com

 

Fred’s at Barneys New York
Given all the names bandied about the Gold Coast branch of the famous retail store, you’d think the bar here would be named for its popular mixologist, Clarence Mills. It should be. In addition to crafting superlative drinks, many of his own creation, Mills has that inner eye all great bartenders have and will leave you alone if you want. But strike up a conversation and he’s a beguiling raconteur. 15 E. Oak St.; barneys.com

A half slab of ribs at Honey 1 BBQ.

photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki

A half slab of ribs at Honey 1 BBQ.

 

Honey 1 BBQ
Rib tips are those little pieces of cartilage, fat, and meat that often get trimmed off a rack of spare ribs. Chicagoans love ’em. At this urban barbecue outpost, owner and Arkansas native Robert Adams, Sr., serves some of the best tips in the city out of a wood-fired aquarium tank smoker. Order some crispy-skinned hot links on the side. 2241 N. Western Ave.; honey1bbq.com

 

MacArthur’s
A favorite of President Obama’s, this restaurant in the far western neighborhood of Austin is worth the trip for its Southern standards. Fried chicken, mac and cheese, greens, and barbecued turkey legs all deserve some love, but the real star is the meat loaf in tomato sauce. Simple and extraordinary. 5412 W. Madison St.; macarthursrestaurant.com

 

The Purple Pig
Rustic South meets rustic Italian at this bustling pocket-size bistro on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile shopping corridor. Pork, charcuterie, and vino shine at this small-plates joint, which is headed up by Jimmy Bannos, Jr., whose dad operates the Cajun-accented Heaven on Seven nearby. 500 N. Michigan Ave.; thepurplepigchicago.com

A maple bacon Manhattan at the Southern.

photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki

A maple bacon Manhattan at the Southern.

 

The Southern
“Kickass Bar + Comfort Food” is the slogan of Georgia-born chef Cary Taylor’s Bucktown restaurant. Drop in on a Sunday morning and you’ll find tables packed with diners eager for such brunch fare as Charleston Benedict (crab cakes topped with poached eggs), and crispy fried chicken posed in tasso-rosemary gravy. 1840 W. North Ave.; thesouthernchicago.com

 

Table Fifty-Two
Art Smith famously cooked for Oprah and the governor of Florida, his home state, yet you get not a whiff of his star wattage in the cozy intimacy of this charming Gold Coast carriage house restaurant. Comfort, not celebrity, seasons a well-executed menu of Southern faves. A must-do: Smith’s intense twelve-layer chocolate cake. 52 W. Elm St.; tablefifty-two.com

 

XOCO 
Any visit to Chicago should include a stop at one of three side-by-side River North restaurants owned by Oklahoma-born Rick Bayless, who helped change the American view of Mexican food through his cookbooks and television shows. XOCO’s quick-service format makes it a snap to visit, and the menu of contemporary street foods, sandwiches, and meal-size soups is as delicious in its own way as the casual fare at Frontera Grill or the fine-dining Topolobampo. 449 N. Clark St.; rickbayless.com

 

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Art Institute of Chicago
You could spend a whole weekend at the Art Institute and still not see a fraction of its treasures. Located next to Millennium Park, the museum is home to world-class painting, sculpture, drawing, and decorative objects. This spring (February 20 through May 12) brings its first major Picasso exhibit in almost thirty years, Picasso and Chicago, which pulls together some 250 of the artist’s paintings, sculpture, prints, and drawings. 
111 S. Michigan Ave.; artic.edu

 

Chicago River
Chicago is famous for its architecture and its waterfront. But water doesn’t mean just Lake Michigan. The Chicago River runs through the center of the city. A multimillion-dollar work in progress, the Chicago Riverwalk stretches along the river’s south bank, where you can stroll unimpeded from State Street to Lake Michigan in a park-like setting that offers dramatic vistas. Rather take it all in by boat? Book an architectural river tour (mid-April through mid-November) with Chicago’s First Lady Cruises in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Trained guides give you the lowdown on more than fifty buildings. architecture.org

Live jazz fills the air at the Green Mill.

photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki

Live jazz fills the air at the Green Mill.

 

Green Mill Jazz Club
Hot jazz, cold drinks, and an authentically retro forties vibe are the hallmarks of this century-old hangout, where you can chill in a cozy banquette while listening to some of Chicago’s best musicians. Watching over it all: a statue of Ceres, goddess of the harvest, renamed Stella by Starlight by the performers. 4802 N. Broadway Ave.; greenmilljazz.com

 

Theater 
Used to be boys and girls with stars in their eyes hoofed it off to Broadway. No more. Chicago is “second city” to none when it comes to the stage. Two of the biggest names are the Goodman Theatre, whose longtime artistic director, Robert Falls, is known for his bold staging of classics; and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, whose in-your-face style has come to epitomize Chicago theater. But don’t overlook the many mid- and small-size companies, including TimeLine Theatre Company, noted for the historical focus of its productions, and the Lookingglass Theatre Company, which mounts its shows in the landmark Water Tower Water Works building.

Window-shopping at Haberdash.

photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki

Window-shopping at Haberdash.

WHERE TO SHOP

Haberdash
At its two River North stores, Haberdash celebrates American and heritage menswear brands without the staid fustiness of classic business gear. Haberdash Bespoke stocks urbane clothing for those fortunate enough to wear a suit only when they want to. Bolder and more casual is Haberdash EDC, which stands for “everyday carry,” meaning items essential for daily living. In Haberdash’s case, the essentials include an on-site barber and apothecary. 607 N. State St., 611 N. State St.; haberdashmen.com

 

Ikram
Owner Ikram Goldman has garnered international attention and a roster of celebrity clients through her thoughtfully edited collection of women’s clothing and accessories from American, European, and Japanese designers. But there’s more to shopping in this red-sheathed Gold Coast store. Ikram offers a handsome café, a small art gallery, and a selection of distinctive home furnishings and gifts. 15 E. Huron St.; ikram.com

Optimo hatmaker Graham Thompson and his handiwork.

photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki

Optimo hatmaker Graham Thompson and his handiwork.

 

Optimo
Graham Thompson loved hats so much he started learning to make them the old-fashioned way at age sixteen. Twenty-five years later, his workshop in Beverly produces traditional styles—fedoras, porkpies, bowlers, and straws. These hats are wearable art and priced accordingly. But for quality, durability, and a punch of style, his two shops are where to get your topper. 10215 S. Western Ave., 320 S. Dearborn St.; optimohats.com

 

Scout
Owner Larry Vodak scours “cornfields to flea markets” to create the ever-changing collection at his “urban antique” shop in Andersonville. You’ll find clever lamps made from found objects by Chicago designer Ted Harris, or a rustic Indiana farm table adorned with an unrolled vintage coffee can. What won’t you find?  “I said if I ever sell candles here,” Vodak declares, “shut me down.” 5221 N. Clark St.; scoutchicago.com

 

WHERE TO SLEEP

 

Four Seasons Hotel Chicago
Forty stories up, somewhere between the Palmolive building’s spire and the observation deck of the John Hancock Tower, Chicago life gets luxuriously fundamental, all sky and lake and comfy king-size bed. But the serene 1940s French-accented guest rooms are just part of the story at this 345-room hotel. Following a recent renovation, the seventh floor, home to the lobby, now houses a collection of more than a hundred pieces of modern art from such worthies as Warhol, Matisse, Picasso, Julian Opie, and David Kent. And check out the spa’s 50-foot indoor pool. 120 E. Delaware Pl.; fourseasons.com/chicagofs

 

Public
If it takes a celebrity to understand celebrity, there’s a perfect match in superstar hotelier Ian Schrager and this historic Gold Coast hotel, formerly known as the Ambassador East, and its renowned Pump Room restaurant. The hotel reopened in 2011 after a head-to-toe makeover that acknowledges the past while grooving to the desires of modern travelers. And as the giant lobby clock that runs backward shows, it’s all done with style and wit. And, for downtown Chicago at least, a relatively affordable price. 1301 N. State Pkwy.; publichotels.com/chicago


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