Hyde Park welcomes 2 new hotspots

June 2, 2008 8:47:17 AM PDT
Hyde Park churns out plenty of Nobel prizes. But when it comes to noteworthy restaurants, the last few years have been lacking. 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.