Namesake of Edna's Restaurant passes away

June 11, 2010 4:02:28 PM PDT
One of Chicago's legendary soul food pioneers died Friday morning. Edna Stewart, 72, was the matriarch of her namesake West Side restaurant, Edna's at 3175 West Madison Street. She died from complications of ovarian cancer, according to her older sister, Alice McCommon.

"She was a beautiful person. I loved her a lot," said Lilly Joiner, Edna's manger.

Stewart's restaurant has been a fixture on the West Side for 43 years. Known for its soul food, it was a meeting place for hungry, but broke, Civil Rights leaders. Edna, herself, served Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"From the early days when Martin Luther King, when he would come to Chicago and have their secret meetings in the restaurant. My mother and grandfather weren't concerned that they didn't have any money. She fed them," said Marguerite Banks, Stewart's daughter.

The restaurant became the West Side nerve center for African American politics.

"She worried about the violence. She worried about the development in the community," said Tommy Brewer.

Nearly every politician has made Edna's a must-stop on the campaign trail, if not to shake hands, then at least to try some of her home-cooking. The sign out front proudly proclaims they make "The Best Biscuits on Earth," and it isn't that far of a stretch. ABC7's Food Critic Steve Dolinsky says Stewart's biscuits are simultaneously soft, buttery and flaky. Her fried chicken and dumplings, collards and mac & cheese were among the best in the city and attracted both loyal neighborhood residents as well as visiting celebrities.

Stewart was admitted to Rush Hospital in Oak Park about three weeks ago. After complications from surgery, she opted to be surrounded by family for the past week rather than undergo further operations.

Stewart celebrated her 72nd birthday just this past Sunday, June 6. "Her mind was functioning beautifully, and although she was sick, she knew everyone who walked in the door and she really maintained her sense of humor," McCommon said.

The restaurant remains open Friday, but McCommon says she's not sure if the business will stay open.


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