A Week in Avondale by Rob Reid

Although Avondale is today considered one of Chicago’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, it has always been home to an ever-changing kaleidoscope of ethnic groups migrating within Chicago and to Chicago from across the world. There may be perhaps no more enjoyable way to acquaint yourself with Avondale’s tremendous diversity than by sampling its food, visiting its shops, and observing its vibrant live music scene. While there’s always another new restaurant to try and several competing options for entertainment any night of the week, this guide presents a sample seven day itinerary highlighting experiences that makes Avondale different from any other neighborhood in Chicago.

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Monday: Breakfast at Belmont Snack Shop
Predating the 1970 opening of the CTA Blue Line stop at Belmont and the demolition of the iconic I.S. Berlin Press clock tower in 1976, the Belmont Snack Shop has maintained a steady presence just west of the busy intersection of Belmont and Kimball for half a century. This 24-hour greasy spoon, offering up the expected diner staples (as well as some forgotten classics such as Pigs in a Blanket), is a good place to catch the news- either by watching the small flat TV screen behind the counter, poring over the pages of the Sun-Times, or chatting with the regulars at the counter. One of the more unusual menu options is the Horseshoe Sandwich- a Springfield Illinois classic featuring two half pound patties on Texas toast, covered in fries and cheese sauce. If you’d prefer not to murder yourself with calories, some healthier options are available- just ask for turkey sausage or an egg-white omelette.

Belmont Snack Shop
3407 W. Belmont
Monday – Sunday, 24 hours
(773) 293-6100

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Tuesday: Lunch at Amani Cafe
According to cookbook writer Paula Wolfert, one of the four key elements of a great national cuisine is a nation’s “domination by foreign powers, and the culinary secrets it has brought back from its own imperialist adventures.” Without delving into the complex history of Russian-Turkish relations in Central Asia, it’s possible to taste the eclectic results in the menu offerings at this neighborhood restaurant catering primarily to Kazakh and Uzbek immigrants.

Formerly known as Chill Cafe, Amani Cafe has a nondescript exterior, a bright, office-like interior, and an ever-changing menu board handwritten in Russian Cyrillic. However, there’s always someone on hand to translate the day’s menu options- including standards such as lamb soup, chicken cutlets, kebabs, a turnover-like pastry known as samsa (filled with chicken, beef, or cheese), manti (a pierogi-like meat dumpling), as well as some rotating specialties including chicken & mushrooms, goulash, and lagman (a delicious soup with lamb and thick noodles). Though closer to the kind of paradise a meat eater might envision, some vegetarian options include the carrot and kimchi-based salads in the fridge alongside Central Asian sodas and pastries.

Amani Cafe
2949 W Belmont Ave
Monday- Saturday 10 AM – 12 AM
(650) 215-3852

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Irish Session at Chief O’Neill’s
Paying tribute to former Chicago police superintendent Daniel Francis O’Neill – an underappreciated turn-of-the-century hero of traditional Irish music, who gathered and published the largest collection of Irish music known at the time – this Irish pub serves up traditional fare from the Emerald Isle, as well as modern craft brews from breweries such as Avondale’s Revolution Brewing. While featuring a warm interior typical of Irish pubs, this restaurant’s seasonal highlights include a fireplace for the cold months and perhaps Chicago’s best lawn patio during the warmer months.

Tuesday evenings are a good time to visit, as Sean Cleland (the founder of Chicago’s Irish Music School) leads a session of traditional Irish music. Occasionally joined by co-owner and piper Brendan McKinney, this session begins at 8 pm every week. On weekends, Chief O’Neill’s also regularly hosts touring and local Irish bands and occasional theatrical productions.

Chief O’Neill’s Pub
3471 N. Elston
Open 7 days
Irish sessions on Sunday and Tuesday evenings
(773) 583-3066

red apple

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Wednesday: Lunch Buffet at Red Apple
Though much of Avondale’s Polish population has long since migrated to the north and west, the commercial stretch of Milwaukee Avenue from Central Park to Belmont retains a predominantly Polish flair. If you’re new to Polish cuisine, or have an enormous appetite, one of the best ways to sample just about every type of food under the Polish sun is to visit the daily buffet at Red Apple.

Your worthy-of-kings feast can include (amongst countless other options) pierogis, potato pancakes, roast chicken, turkey legs, carve-it-yourself roast beef or ham, kielbasa, boiled potatoes, fish (such as tilapia and pollock), a salad bar, fresh fruit, rye bread, and deserts such as blintzes, apple pancakes, and szarlotka (polish apple cake). Though it’s a self-serve buffet, a waitress offers daily soup specials possibly including Ukranian borscht, dill pickle soup, or chicken noodle soup. While it is theoretically possible to eat in moderation here, that is very difficult for any mortal human to do.

Red Apple (Czerwone Jabluszko)
3121 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Monday-Sunday 11 AM – 9 PM
(773) 588-5781

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Open Mic at Moe’s
Named after owner Maureen Clancy, Moe’s Tavern is Avondale’s home for live music- featuring local and touring acts on weekends, open mics on Wednesdays and Sundays, and a blues/funk/soul jam on Thursdays. Featuring an excellent sound system as well as a house drum kit and Hammond B3 organ as permanent stage fixtures, this venue hosts one of the city’s most eclectic open mics where regulars and newcomers form spontaneous collaborations on original and cover tunes. A true neighborhood tavern, Moe’s caters to a broad range of locals, and features a foosball table, pool table, and dart boards. Drinks come as cheap as the $1.50 Old Milwaukee, but there’s also a good selection of craft beers.

Moe’s Tavern
2937 N. Milwaukee
Monday – Friday 3 PM to 2 AM
Saturday 3 PM to 3 AM
Sunday 1 PM to 2 AM
(773) 227-2937

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Thursday: Lunch at the Snack Corner in Joong Boo Market
Tucked away in the back of Joong Boo Market, the Snack Corner serves up authentic Korean meals. The 20+-item menu board can be a bit intimidating, especially if you notice other customers ordering mysterious soups that are served so hot that you see boiling bubbles leap from the bowls. But, if you’re unfamiliar with Korean food, a good place to start is with the Bi Bim Bop, a Korean signature dish white rice topped with a mix of sauteed vegetables, mild chili pepper paste, and a fried egg. It’s a tasty and healthy choice, but it tastes even better if you ask to add sliced beef.

Once you’ve addressed your hunger, it’s worth exploring the surrounding market where you can find some remarkable values on Asian produce, meats, noodles, and cookware.

Joong Boo Market
3333 N. Kimball
Open 7 days
(773) 478-5566

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Friday: Lunch at Frank & Mary’s
Neighborhood taverns have become an endangered species in Chicago over the past few decades, and this watering hole certainly saw busier days when the factories lining Elston Avenue were still bustling. But Frank and Mary Stark have been pouring beers at this joint for over four decades at a location that’s served alcohol dating back at least to Prohibition. Offering a couple of German beers and Avondale-brewed Revolution on tap, the real highlight here is the home cooked lunch prepared by Mary on weekdays. Each day features a couple of different specials- including meatloaf on Wednesdays and corned beef and cabbage on Thursdays. Following an old tradition better preserved in Wisconsin than in Chicago, Friday is fish fry day.

Frank & Mary’s Tavern
2905 N. Elston Ave
Lunch on Monday through Friday from 11-2
Open Monday-Saturday, Sunday for Bears games only
(773) 463-8179

kurowski
Saturday: Grocery Shopping at Kurowski’s Sausage Shop
If you’re new to Avondale, it might not occur to you to do your grocery shopping at a sausage shop. But you can pick up everything you need for the week at this small but crowded shop, which otherwise rivals upscale grocers or specialty stores but without the steep price tag. If you’re not Polish, you’ll inevitably learn something new. For example, you can’t come here looking simply for sausage, pickles, and mustard… you’ll have to choose what kind of sausage, pickles, and mustard you want, amongst many varieties of each. Timeout Chicago has a good primer on sausage varieties http://www.timeout.com/chicago/restaurants/thirteen-kinds-of-polish-sausage, many of which you’ll find here- including the dry myśliwska and the smoky weselna.

There’s also a decent selection of fresh produce (with a focus on Polish favorites such as beets and red cabbage), several types of bread (mostly rye) from local Polish bakeries, a wide variety of juices (including pine, currant, cherry, and other unusual options), smoked fish, Polish-language newspapers, tea, layered cakes, shelves of chocolate candies, and pint-sized plastic bins of fresh Polish soup. In other words, everything you need to eat like a Polish person seven days a week.

Kurowski’s Sausage Shop
2976 N. Milwaukee Avenue
(773) 645-1692

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Polka Dance at Podlasie
Aside from the jukebox, this cavernous Polish bar is pretty quiet on most weeknights. But on Saturday nights, it springs to life as the lights come on in the tinsel-adorned dining/dancing room and a small polka band featuring a synth and a saxophone graces the stage for what may be polka’s last stand in Chicago. Most of the younger generations of Polish-Americans tend to party further west in neighborhoods such as Portage Park. But the well-dressed seniors arriving at this Avondale icon as late as midnight, often sharing half bottles of vodka, and always dancing the night away, will live forever.

Podlasie Club
2918 N. Central Park Avenue
Polka typically begins at 8:30 PM on Saturdays
(773) 276-0841

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Sunday: Mass at St. Hyacinth Basilica
After a week of dining, drinking, and dancing in Avondale, you may need to redeem yourself of your sins with a visit to St. Hyacinth Basilica, where you can join as many as 2,000 sinners (or more if you count standing room) for the Sunday services. Depending on the magnitude of your sins, you can also return every day of the week for masses in Polish or English.

An excellent example of the “Polish Cathedral” style of architecture, this landmark is worth visiting even if you’re not a practicing Catholic. Featuring stained glass windows, massive bronze doors, and a painted dome, this 1921 building has long anchored a Polish population drawn here largely by the parish’s previous structure built a few blocks away in 1894. Outside the church, a monument pays tribute to parishioners who fought in the so-called “Blue Army,” a force of over 20,000 Polish-Americans who fought in World War I to help Poland regain its independence.

St. Hyacinth Basilica
3636 W. Wolfram Street
(773) 342-3636

This article has 2 comments

  1. Rob Reply

    Hi Joseph,
    I know there was a significant Jewish population along Milwaukee Avenue in Avondale about a century ago, but don’t know of any synagogues. That might be a good question to post on the forum at forgottenchicago.com.

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