Monday, December 2, 2013

Old and new haunts in Lincoln Square, Chicago

We spent a lot of our time in Chicago this Thanksgiving in Lincoln Square, at Western and Lawrence. With a stop on the brown line and therefore easy access to most of the city, this neighborhood has seen a comeback in recent years, sporting new, hip restaurants in addition to the old favorites. For me it was a trip down memory lane, as I lived there with my family until about the second grade. It was on day two up north that an errand brought us past that home, and a few days later we walked past my old elementary school; same brick box of a building from my childhood, but the endless asphalt has been replaced with gardens, playgrounds and other friendly spaces. The same applies to the neighborhood as a whole, things have changed, but they also haven’t changed at all.

My grandmother still lives in the same house within walking distance from our old apartment. We stayed there, enjoying countless stories read aloud, home cooked meals (and pīrāgi!), and the extra time to catch up after a long absence from Chicago. Although the weather was cold it didn’t keep us indoors, and between errands and long walks we really covered some ground. Lincoln Square is an established neighborhood, with dozens of ethnic restaurants and stores dotting Western, Foster and Lincoln. I was happy to see our favorite pastry shop is still open, and the baklava was just as delicious as I remember it. Hellas Pastry Shop at 2627 Lawrence Ave. has been open 50+ years, and although the wedding cakes I remember peeking up at in wonder twenty years ago weren’t in evidence, the quality and service hasn’t changed one bit. Stop in, and if the sweet honey pastry baklava isn't your thing, try the spinach spanakopita!

Part of the neighborhood for forty years, the Chicago Brauhaus is also still there, as is Café Selmarie (which I waxed poetic on in the post Pies, Mittens and Snowmen. Originally a single storefront, Selmarie has now taken over three or four, and sports outdoor seating during the summer months. Complimenting these old favorites are new trendy spots like Elizabeth Restaurant, which doesn’t take reservations but 'sells tickets' (home of “New Gatherer Cuisine”…), and Goosefoot, an “artful blend of French technique with modern vision crafted from small artisan farm products.” Needless to say the boys and I didn’t hit these hotspots, although we did venture east the day before Thanksgiving to brave the lines at Swedish Bakery on North Clark Street (technically this qualifies as Andersonville, not Lincoln Square, but it is close enough to be well worth the trip). To complete the ethnic food experience, we ordered takeout from my favorite Thai restaurant, Opart Thai (located on Western next to the el stop). Despite the competition for that “favorite” label from a local spot here in Greenville and a lucky stop in Greensborough NC, Opart Thai for me has long been the defining taste of what Thai cuisine should be.

Despite the conclusions this post might lead you to (that we spent our Thanksgiving eating), there was much time spent with family and friends that didn’t involve that excellent pastime that pairs so well with the holidays. One morning we caught up with an old friend of mine whose children go to the very same elementary school I already mentioned, and on another we headed north to do some shopping. If only I had a few extra days, I might have had the opportunity to stop in at the longtime Lincoln Square resident Timeless Toys, or newer addition Marbles: The Brain Store, to take care of some Christmas shopping. And the whiff of fragrance that drifted out the door of Merz Apothecary sufficed to evoke memories of visits to buy bath salts and perfumes as a very little girl pulling on the hand of my mother.

Mikus and Winnemac Park
I would be remiss not to mention a few other highlights of Lincoln Square: Winnemac Park and Welles Park have long been favorites for kids (starting with my mother, aunts and uncle, including my cousins and siblings, and now my two boys!), and cultural centers such as Old Town School of Folk Music and Sulzer Regional Library are famous city-wide. We could have easily spent two or three weeks here, not just the one. Of course other parts of the city held draw for us too, including the Latvian School of Chicago, my parents’ home and the Thanksgiving destination in nearby North Mayfair, but this visit it was Lincoln Square that tugged at the heartstrings. Greenville is a great town, but Chicago is my hometown…


  1. What a fun trip back. Thanks for the tour of your Chicago neighborhood. That first picture is adorable, btw!

  2. What a nice post! Yes - our family have been customers of Hellas Greek Bakery, Merz Apoteka, and Opart Thai for more than 25 years... Opart shares a birth year with your sister Anna, and for a while we ate carry-out from there EVERY Saturday after Latvian School (they knew us by name and also our favorites)! Yes, Lincoln Square has gotten "hipper" and "crunchier", but for each new resident there for sure is an older one, like your grandmother, who moved into her 100+ year old home in 1960... And though some of the places that I remember (yup, I grew up there, too), like Meyer's Delicatessen, Heinemann's Bakery, the dime store, Miomir's Serbian Restaurant are gone, others, like Salamander Shoes, and Grecian Taverna (renamed, but the same) are still there. And you can still marvel at the murals in the "old" library - which is now a cool venue and school - The Old Town School of Folk Music. And Lincoln Square was one of only two or three Chicago neighborhoods where homes didn't lose value during the recent great recession...Yea, Lincoln Square!


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