Bridgeport's burgeoning food scene

February 25, 2011 8:28:47 PM PST
Bridgeport's reputation has always been more political than culinary. But the neighborhood is experiencing some rapid progress, in both the food and drink department.

From breakfast, through lunch and well past dinner, there's something in the area for everyone.

Now that Mayor Daley will have some more free time on his hands, he might want to head back to the old neighborhood to see how things have changed. While favorites like Healthy Food Lithuanian have gone, there are plenty of newcomers offering northern Chinese, in-house roasted coffee, Middle Eastern spreads, even a late-night cocktail lounge catering to a diverse clientele.

Any exploration of Bridgeport's burgeoning food scene has to begin with Nana, and the nana here is Maria Solis, who raised her kids above the restaurant. There are deep Salvadorean influences here, such as cheese-stuffed pupusas, topped with homemade chorizo sausage, poached eggs and poblano sauce; the juicer runs non-stop, offering healthy choices and just about everything on the menu is organic or locally-sourced; the restaurant also serves dinner.

A few blocks away, Middle Eastern spreads and grilled shawarma are the norm at Zaytune, a first-time effort from a relative newcomer to the restaurant business.

"I think it's a great neighborhood to start. The White Sox are here, and there's a lot of art people in the area and I think it's ready to be introduced to some new cuisine," said Zaytune owner Daniel Sarkiss.

Chunky baba gannoush joins homemade lavash, or flatbread, which is nice for scooping the dips; char-grilled shawarma, lentil soup and baklava round out the items made from scratch. Speaking of handmade, you can have meticulous baristas prepare your coffee by hand just a few doors away, at the Bridgeport Coffeehouse, the neighborhood's caffeine headquarters.

"We post roast, we create a blend of beans. So we take from two to three single origins, and depending on the flavor profile we blend it and come up with a standard blend," said Barista Cely Garcia.

There's also a small number of soups and sandwiches on hand, plus thick and intense smoothies. The coffeehouse has clearly become a focal point for the neighborhood.

"I've been here for about seven years now, so yeah I've seen the transformation. I think this place itself has geared a lot of the diversity, the merging of diversity," Garcia said.

Across the street, Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar has recently undergone a major transformation from its humble roots.

"It's more of a boutique liquor store in the sense that we offer different small farm wines, we also of course offer liquor and whiskeys and bourbons and vodkas, but we have over 300 American craft beers available," said Maria's owner Ed Marszewski.

Walk past the store up front, behind a thick, heavy door, and enter a speakeasy of sorts, complete with hand-crafted cocktails and a vast selection of domestic and imported brews. Marszewski says he's just trying to reflect the diversity of his 'hood, which has changed quite a bit from the good ol' days of just the Daley clan.

"It's, I think, one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Chicago. And I think demographically and economically the different groups of people here kind of blend together now," he said.

Another new option along 31st Street: Han 202, which features a five-course dinner each night for just $25.

Two more businesses poised to open soon: the Pleasant House Bakery and the Bridgeport Pasty Company, which will feature the prized Cornish pie from Michigan's Upper Peninsula.