Love, and respect, at first bite

These restaurants define our community in these hard days

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

My love affair with restaurants began in earnest when I moved to Chicago nearly 25 years ago. I hailed from the Wisconsin suburbs where casseroles, fish frys and grilled sausages were common fare. While I still hold a special place in my heart for a Midwestern supper club relish tray, I was utterly transformed by city cuisine.

After mere months in the city, I was savoring haute cuisine and blue-plate specials with equal delight. I started saving money for indulgent meals in the same way most people save up for a well-deserved vacation. I could slurp a corner store horchata, a boba tea in Chinatown or pre-prohibition style cocktail served up by a hipster mixologist with equal exuberance. Today, I love watching the evolution of a world-class chef just as much as I adore discovering local artisans. 

After moving to Oak Park 20 years ago I managed to make a career out of both cooking and writing about things other people cook for me. And cooks have deep respect and appreciation for other cooks. If you love food, you know the value of restaurants -- In Oak Park we have our own quirky array of establishments and food artisans who craft just about anything you may be craving.

Thanks to Oak Park Eats, I have had the opportunity to become especially close with our local food scene and the people behind the restaurants we adore. 

We've covered a long-established diner known for being especially kind to local high school students and followed a booming bagel business from the first bake forward. I followed reader tips to discover a woman who churns out unforgettable Malawian samosas in her Berwyn kitchen and a mega talented bread baker who pays the taxes on his bungalow by selling sourdough subscriptions. In our local restaurants we've eaten memorable tacos, croissants, empanadas, cupcakes, soup dumplings, smoked brisket and a deceptively complex roasted cauliflower and farro dish studded with carrots, almonds, and a smattering of hibiscus-arbol reduction crafted by  Chef Armando Gonzalez of Amerikas—among many more.

Over the years and with each bite it has become increasingly clear that local restaurants and food artisans, especially fiercely independent ones, help to define our community's personality. The chefs, cooks, servers and managers behind our local eateries are relentlessly nimble and brimming with both grit and determination. Even during these very uncertain times restaurants have remained generous in spirit, collaborative and deeply committed to doing what they love --bringing varied fare to our Oak Park and River Forest community.

As readers and eaters we need to remain steadfast in our commitment to support the passionate people behind our local restaurants — the character of our community depends on it.


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Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: August 2nd, 2020 5:01 PM

Melissa you are a fantastic force in the culture and cuisine of our community My decades in Oak Park have been bettered by m your voice and every forkful I've been blessed with from your creative, energetic heart

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