We encounter everything from a perfect Guinness to granny-made samosas in the first of our neighborhood nosh series.
About ten miles directly west of downtown Chicago, you’ll find Forest Park. The working-class village (called Harlem until 1907) has about 16,000 residents, but even more are buried in its many cemeteries—earning it the nickname “City of Cemeteries.”
Take the Forest Park Blue Line to its end, walk a couple blocks north and you’ll hit Madison Street, the heart of the neighborhood. There you’ll spot the hokey green leprechaun sign of 1) Horan’s Snug (7218 W Madison St, 708-366-5190), the best of no less than seven Irish pubs in a half mile. After an exhaustive freshness taste test of every Guinness on this street, we’d say that the sprightliest dark ones are served here. Drink one with corned beef and fries for old-school satisfaction. (Caution: Pick your seat carefully; some regulars have their favorite spots.)
If you’re in the mood for Italian (and not the boring red-sauce version), head to 2) La Piazza (410 Circle Ave, 708-366-4010). Chef Gaetano Di Benedetto wins his legion of regulars with a number of neo-Italian creations like lamb prosciutto, butternut-squash gnocchi and fettuccine with lobster tails. Ask the chef to feed you what he thinks is best and he will, grandly. Whatever you order, nosh on some of Di Benedetto’s focaccia, baked fresh and fabulous. Downstairs is a casbah-type jazz lounge, with private nooks for cocktails and canoodling, as well as an abbreviated menu.
The green awnings across the street belong to 3) Todd & Holland (7311 W Madison St, 800-747-8327), quite possibly the Midwest’s most expansive tea emporium, featuring hundreds of variations on Camellia sinensis. Owner Bill Todd talks about tea for as long as you want to listen, explaining the nuances of the world’s most popular beverage (after water). Todd has stupendous pu-ers, lively Darjeelings, triple bergamot–infused Earl Grey, and there’s always several brewed for sampling.
Nearby is the legendary bar-cum-restaurant 4) Jimmy’s Place (7411 W Madison St, 708-771-7476), where you’ll find perfectly crafted martinis and braciola (Italian-style stuffed beef rolls) that might just be the best you’ve ever tasted. Bread is freshly baked, and gnocchi and cannoli are prepared in-house. Say hi to Jimmy; he’s the gregarious guy in the baseball cap tending bar.
If you need a break from eating and drinking and you like history and mystery stories (particularly historical mysteries), 5) Centuries & Sleuths (7419 W Madison St, 708-771-7243) sucks you in with its luminous collection of books and oddball arcana. Genial owner Augie Alesky puts on live performances of the old Steve Allen routine “Meeting of the Minds,” and has even hosted Allen, Peter Ustinov and others in his shop.
A few doors down, 6) Priya Grocery (7444 W Madison St, 708-771-1745) used to have a sign in front that read pakistani-indian, but on September 12, 2001, the owners painted over Pakistani to avoid being hassled by half-wits. Nonetheless, the samosas—brought in fresh by a local granny who emigrated from India—are excellent, flaky and only 60 cents (if they’re not on the counter, check the cooler).
To pick up hard-to-find African ingredients to haul back for home cooking, stop in 7) Kejetia Supermarket (7608 W Madison St, 708-366-8195). It’s the place to get bitter leaves, kenkey powder, bone-in goat cubes, cow skin and shito, the unfortunately named Ghanaian condiment. Slurp a stunning Jamaican ginger ale for a lot of zing and good mojo while you browse.
To end your stroll, tuck into some outstanding Thai chow at 8) Yum Thai (7748 Madison St, 708-366-8888). Politely decline the standard menu and request the Thai menu (there’s an English-language translation) to order things you’ve never had before, like deep-fried quails or an eggplant curry with acacia leaf and snails. It’s BYOB, and with any foresight, you’ll have picked up some beverages on the way (next door to mostly “dry” Oak Park, Forest Park flaunts its wetness with many liquor sources). Go ahead and have another; the Blue Line is the designated driver for this global day trip.