Black Lives Matter, Two Chicagos Converge
Sunday night marked 48 hours of remarkable and heart-lifting peaceful protest. It also marked 48 hours of firecrackers, gunshots, panicked community board posts, blazing Snapchat heat maps of looting activity, and incessant sirens, their doppler effect blare, bending toward, rather than away from, as is often the case, the border of Avondale and Logan Square, where I live.
It was late, and I was standing in the gangway between my house and the three flat next door, checking to make sure I’d locked our back storage area. I noticed an unmarked cop car rolling by in front. It started to slow down. Though this was MY house, lurking in between the spaces between residences late at night after a day of unrest in our city, I reasoned I appeared like a shady character, which of course, is absurd. Why should any American on their own property focusing on the safety of their own home ever have to justify what they look like or what they’re wearing or what they’re doing in a fair and equitable society? But that is exactly what we don’t live in. As President Obama once said, there are two Americas. There are also, as we know, two Chicagos, and for so long I’d lived in the one where fear for my liberty was a fuzzy afterthought.
But, now, for maybe the first time in my decades of privileged life, I was scared of cops. However rational it was, I was legitimately threatened by my environment. I tiptoed toward the front of the house and I heard some rustling noises. I’ve seen far too many Michael Bay movies, and was like, OMG, what if the cops stopped down the block and were creeping up on me and my property with guns? What if they mistook me for a looter and shot me?
I don’t mean for this to sound like some white man’s fantasy shit. What I’m trying to say, is that for a couple days, my neighborhood felt less like the sanctuary it has been for so long, and a lot like the police state in the The Hunger Games. It induced a level of fear and stress that I don’t know that I’ve felt in a sustained way for very long.
This however, sadly, is often a way of life for the other Chicago. That bullets fly like April rain means so many transactions are normalized between thick panes of glass. A walk to school could be a death sentence, or at least a three-hour multi-bus and El-train ride affair. Every passing cop car is at best, a sinking in the stomach, and at worst, a man on your neck and certain death, often for nothing but the color of your skin and the circumstance of chance and location.
I could barely handle two minutes of this stress. That so many in our community are living with a metaphorical, and in some case, literal boot on their backs from the cradle to the grave is heartbreaking. It is also astounding and inspirational, that despite the fatigue of centuries rooted in the slave trade and persistent systematic persecution thereafter, that there are still even black lives to matter. That a group of people with so much stacked against and upon them has continued to rise each day, each decade, and each millennia to push forward to eke out justice may be one the most beautiful measures of the power of humanity.
Placation and incremental steps do not honor those who have fought this fight on the daily. This is the moment for a gigantic leap. I recognize that even in telling my story, I am taking up space for the stories that are much more important than mine. This is why, despite the fact that my continuing adventures of testing how much good food one man can eat in a lifetime have gone on this week – frankly more than ever due to stress-eating, I have not posted about any of it. There is plenty of time for that.
In the meantime, I’m going to donate some of the funds from this newsletter to black-owned restaurants and take this moment to highlight some of my favorite black owned and/or led restaurants in Chicago. This is not a measure induced by the moment. I have always tried to highlight independent businesses run by people of color, but like so many, I can do better, and I should do it more and forever, for, therein lies some success for what is being sought.
Everyone out there take care of yourselves and be safe.
Old Fashioned Donuts – In my opinion this is the best donut shop in Chicago. Yes, it’s better than the bougie $5 gourmet donut shops. Even if you don’t agree, you will agree that the apple fritter which is bigger than The Rock’s right bicep is the best apple fritter in Chicago. You know how most fritters have like one apple chunk or maybe none? This one seems to have like a whole apple baked in to its fried and sugar-lacquered crust. Also, OFD recently experienced some damage to their front window. You can donate here to help them out.
Nita’s Gumbo – The signature bowl brimming with chocolate-colored roux and plump hunks of chicken is great, but I love the seafood version stuffed with shrimp, crab, and scallops.
Haire’s Gulf Shrimp – This is one of the first places I highlighted in the takeout and delivery guide when the pandemic started, but it deserves a second and third mention because it definitively serves the best fried shrimp in Chicago. Also, did you notice the theme? Best donuts, best shrimp – legit best, not best because they’re people of color owned businesses, but, best by any measure.
Jimmy Jamm’s Sweet Potato Café – You know that scene in Forrest Gump, where Bubba talks about all the shrimp stuff he’s gonna serve at his shrimp restaurant? Jimmy Jamm’s is like that except with sweet potatoes. You want the pie.
Lem’s BBQ – Some of best rib tips and links in the biz.
Garifuna Flava – Conch fritters, Belizean stew, jerk chicken, and whole red snapper, this is the definitive taste of the Caribbean in Chicago.
Ina Mae Tavern – Chef Jup’s beignets are better than anything in NOLA, and his po’ boys are are the best in Chicago.
Kikko – Right now, the restaurant is closed, but chef Mariya Russell, the first African American female chef to earn a Michelin-star, helms one of the best restaurants in Chicago. She’s also serving some the best sushi-type bites in the city. Don’t sleep on the Japanese milk bread dessert.
Virtue - During the pandemic this restaurant has transformed to selflessly cook for front line workers. When it reopens you’ll be rewarded with the great cuisine of chef Erick Williams who is responsible for a lot of the sustained success of the legendary but now defunct MK.
Luella’s Southern Kitchen – Love the gumbo, fried chicken, waffles, shrimp and grits..
Pearl’s Place – The epicenter of soul food in Chicago. Grits, ham hocks, short ribs, turkey and baked mac and cheese will comfort you for days.
If you’re looking to donate to help Black-owned restaurants, check out The Black-Owned Restaurant Relief fund.