There's a restaurant group that is trying to change that reputation, by opening fast-casual restaurants in those same neighborhoods and with a much healthier approach.
If Rich Melman could do it on the North Side, why can't Quentin Love do it on the South and West Sides? The Chicago native doesn't offer beef or pork on his menus, and over the past year, he's assembled an impressive little collection of restaurants and bakeries. The key to success seems to be increased buying power, but also offering the community some healthier options for which it is thankful for especially this time of year.
In the Chatham neighborhood on the city's South Side, soul food dominates. Captain's Hard Time and Izola's are two pioneers along 79th Street. But there is another kind of restaurant taking root here, and it's called Quench.
"It's a no-beef, no-pork concept," said I Love Food Group founder Quentin Love. "Chicken, turkey, fish and vegetarian is our menu. We started off with five items. Now we have over 70 items on the menu, and we're helping the communities all over."
There are now a half-dozen Quench locations on the city's South and West Sides, plus a few other ancillary businesses, like the Brown Sugar Bakery, which have joined forces beneath the umbrella of the I Love Food Group. They've consolidated their buying power and brain power.
Vegetables are a priority, and they're all over the menu at Quench. In burritos, ground turkey is the star, as it is in a juicy, two-fisted burger. Catfish can be fried, but there's also sauteed tilapia -- a healthier option -- served with sauteed spinach and Cajun 'dirty' rice. Love says he's simply trying to fill a niche that's long-been forgotten in his neighborhood.
"There's not only a need for good food, there's a need for transitional food, meaning, making a transition for not a vegetarian diet, but right in the middle," said Love. "Getting away from things that create diabetes and a lot of issues in the black communities, we're trying to help balance that out."
This time of year, turkey and mashed potatoes are obviously common, but Love's customers know that this isn't just pandering to the season; they realize they can eat this way all year long if they so choose.
"So whatever that you'd have in the beef or the pork format, we have it into a different, healthier equivalent," Love said.
There are currently seven Quench locations in the city, including a brand new one in Calumet City.
In addition to the Brown Sugar Bakery, some of the other members of the I Love Food Group include Five Loaves Breakfast Cafe on 75th Street, Brother Tim's Vegetarian on 87th Street, and Soul Xpress on 71st Street.
I Love Food Group
4653 S. Michigan Ave.
5815 W. Madison Ave.
915 W. 87th St.
2236 E. 71st St.
616 E. 79th St.
4049 W. 79th St.
678 River Oaks Dr.
Other I Love Food Group restaurants:
5 Loaves Breakfast Cafe
405 E. 75th St.
Brother Tim's Vegetarian Fast Food
1711 E. 87th St.
Brown Sugar Bakery
328 E. 75th St.
2236 E. 71st St.