Comfort food, blues at BYOB restaurant

May 14, 2010 (CHICAGO)

It's not a buffet like MacArthur's and it's not old-school like Izola's, but Dee's Place in Wicker Park is trying to capture the essence of soul food, and the music that was inspired by it, in perfect harmony.

There is comfort galore at the tiny new Dee's Place in Wicker Park from the food on the plate to the tunes on the stage.

"My mom's name is Doris, my fiance's name is Denise, so it's named after the two people I love so much - my mom and my fiance. We decided that there's no soul food up here - nothing like we like to eat - so we decided to open something up that we enjoy," said Kareem Abdullah, owner of Dee's Place.

What they enjoy are the classics: seasoned chicken, dredged in a cornmeal-flour combination then fried until crisp.. served with homey sides of slow-cooked greens embedded with turkey bones and a hearty bowl of red beans and rice with a special guest: roasted ham hocks. Fried catfish is another winner, especially when it's paired with mildly spicy jambalaya rice and then a generous scoop of comfy mac and cheese. Abdullah says as much as the food is important here, so is the music. With giant photos courtesy of the Chicago Blues Museum, and live music four nights a week, he's trying to evoke a certain mood.

"We're trying to do like a 40s Harlem Renaissance-type of thing, all the way up to the 70s Soul, and just give 'em a little bit of our soul and soul spirit around here, along with good soul food and have a good party and a good time while you're here," Abdullah said.

Back to the food.. dessert is a no-brainer: cobbler or banana pudding. Abdullah says his Mississippi-born grandparents inspired his recipes, and he's hoping to bring that tradition to a North Side neighborhood that's never seen these kinds of dishes.

"We grew up eating this stuff, this was the favorite of most African American families and we just decided that everyone loved it and it needs to be somewhere different," said Abdullah.

Dee's has live music Thursdays through Sundays and is BYOB.

Dee's Place
2114 W. Division St.

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