New Bronzeville restaurants lift up neighborhood

February 12, 2011 11:34:55 AM PST
February is Black History Month, and while historians tend to focus on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s on the West Side, ABC7's Hungry Hound says it's the South Side that really laid the foundation for African-Americans in Chicago.

The Great Migration lured African-Americans to Chicago, and for many of them, it meant settling in Bronzeville. The area has been undergoing a renaissance of sorts, along with Kenwood and Hyde Park and that means new restaurants.

Club Sol and the Magic Carpet Studio may be long gone, but the images of a rapidly-growing community on the South Side endure. Curators like Joy Bivins, at the Chicago History Museum, say the Great Migration helped build Chicago.

"The Great Migration is the process whereby Southern African-Americans left that region of the country for Northern, urban, industrial areas. Most of the time leaving because of the stifling, constrictions of Jim Crow but also because there were jobs," Bivins said. "Bronzeville is a title that came around in about the 1930s, or in 1930, and it was a way for that community to identify itself as something other than the blackbelt."

And today, Bronzeville is loosely defined as 35th to 51st streets, with Cottage Grove and the Dan Ryan as the East-West borders. Bivins says more recently, the neighborhood is poised for a comeback.

"So over the last two decades people have really kind of been pouring capital into that, into those neighborhoods and really trying to revive it into its former glory," Bivins said.

Live music is one of the attractions at the new Le Fleur de Lis along 43rd Street. The owners are also hoping to lure in residents with their gumbo, po' boys and jambalaya.

"Being from New Orleans and you know Louie Armstrong, you know, is a very big part of our culture there, so I just said it was an easy fit to bring the blues and jazz back to Bronzeville," said Le Fleur de Lis owner Allen Rochelle.

Closer to the lake, Norman's Bistro is trying to attract both Kenwood and Hyde Park residents with food and service rarely seen in the area.

"I'm a lifelong resident of this community and all of my life I have yet to see such an establishment in the area," said Norman Bolden, owner of Norman's Bistro.

The global garden salad is chockablock with corn, mushrooms, roasted peppers and feta cheese while the chicken pot pie is pure homey comfort, served over a warm biscuit. Jerk baby back ribs adhere to the Chicago-style sweeter sauce camp, but if you want dessert, save room for the sweet potato dream: it's creamy, dense and absolutely shareable. Bolden says he's just trying to bring back a sense of the community that once was, and he hopes, can be again.

"I'm a firm believer that you can't sit around and wait for someone to build a community that you love and is passionate about," Bolden said.

One more new option along 43rd Street is Bronzeville Coffee & Tea, where you can satisfy a craving for caffeine anytime of day.

Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark St.

Norman's Bistro
1001 E. 43rd St.

Le Fleur de Lis Chicago
301 E. 43rd St.

Bronzeville Coffee & Tea
528 E. 43rd St.