Hyde Park welcomes 2 new hotspots

CHICAGO Times are changing however, as two new options have sprung up near 53rd Street.

Hyde Park is known for the university, the hospital and a senator named Obama. And for years, it's been known for Valois' Cafeteria, Ribs 'N Bibs or the Dixie Kitchen. But two new options - just a block apart - have completely changed the dining landscape in the neighborhood.

Up until a few months ago, the only Asian option in Hyde Park was a hole-in-the-wall noodle joint. But with Chant now offering an upscale, pan-Asian menu with a full bar to boot, the local options have improved significantly.

"Hyde Park is a wonderful, wonderful neighborhood; it's historic, neighbor with family oriented. It has wonderful museums; now we have good restaurants to go with it," said Pattie Kidwell, Chant.

Most entrees are in the low, to mid-teens, including a sesame-crusted salmon filet, which arrives resting on a bed of crunchy napa cabbage and red peppers; it's surrounded by a white wine-and-soy-butter sauce. Curry chicken is loaded with vegetables and runs less than ten bucks; even meat-and-potatoes gets an Asian twist: the filet is crusted in Asian peppercorns, and with a side of bok choy. Its accent is a red wine-sake sauce.

Just a block north, Park 52 has completely changed the local dining landscape. Restaurateur Jerry Kleiner - known for his investments on West Randolph and South Wabash - has spent the past two years gambling that Hyde Park is ready for his red curtains, wrought iron and over-sized lighting fixtures.

"Realistically, its taken maybe eight, nine months to paint this place. I wasn't happy with the colors, where it was goin', the look, the feel of it, so until the place is really synergetic, I can't open," said Kleiner.

The food is pretty straight-forward: starters like crunchy shrimp with cool avocado, or plump scallops holding up sauteed greens and cauliflower; even the finger-friendly barbequed ribs had a nice kick to them. More substantial entrees include roasted whitefish hovering over a fried potato stack with sauteed spinach. Or a requisite grilled flat iron steak - cooked perfectly medium rare, by the way - with a ridiculously huge mound of curly fries. Kleiner says with construction behind him, Hyde Park is more than ready for a hipper dining option.

"I think it's ready; it needed something like this, comfort, casual, American cuisine that everybody could identify and understand. I didn't want to be too over-the-top, I think price-points are everything, you just want to come into this community nicely," said Kleiner.

Another benefit to Park 52's location: it's right next door to the new Checkerboard Lounge, for a side order of blues or jazz.

1509 E. 53rd St.

Park 52
5201 S. Harper Ave.

Also worth visiting:
The Checker Board Lounge
5201 S. Harper Ave.

Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop
5225 S. Harper Ave. # A

Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen
1206 E. 53rd St.

The Medici on 57th
1327 E. 57th St.

Ribs n' Bibs
5300 S. Dorchester Ave.

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