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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, March 5

Gapers Block

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Alice / November 20, 2003 9:25 AM

Okay, I'm game for this one. I would like to nominate the Pickwick Theater in Park Ridge as one of my favorite suburban gems. This landmark 75-year old theater is still a wonderful place to see a movie in a real theater. Sometimes it's hard to remember a time when you didn't have to go to a multiplex to se a film so the Pickwick can be a real treat.

Shylo / November 20, 2003 9:45 AM

Ok, I'll say it. I know you're all thinking it, but want to look too cool for school: Woodfield Mall! Word to your mother.

Brenda / November 20, 2003 10:10 AM

Bittersweet on Belmont. Best flourless chocolate cake in the world. Better even than... you know...

Wendy / November 20, 2003 10:18 AM

In the suburbs: the Come Back Inn in Melrose Park. It's got fireplaces and peanut shells like Moody's Pub, and stuffed bears and moose-head trophies like an episode of Twin Peaks.

In the city: the little trail that runs along the Chicago River in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. You'll have to find it for yourself.

Naz / November 20, 2003 10:56 AM

In the burbs: IKEA's food court. Cheap and hearty and even mildly healthy. I think the more jaded and cyncical of our generation overlook the IKEA food court in favour of crap like Bennigan's or whatever crappy chain is out there in Woodfield.

In the city: not really hidden gems but I do like the Handlebar and Letizia's Natural Bakery/Cafe.

Carly / November 20, 2003 11:19 AM

Suburbs: The drive-in in McHenry

City: Sunshine Cafe (though less and less hidden)

Craig / November 20, 2003 11:38 AM

Suburban gems:

-The Pita Inn Food Complex on Dempster Rd inna the Skokie!
-Joe Caputo and Sons Italian Grocery on Oakton Blvd. in Des Plaines!
-The finger of land on Northwestern University's campus that extends into Lake Michigan and affords an excellent view of downtown Chicago.

"Urban" gem:

-Gulliver's Restaurant on Howard Ave-- best Chicago-Style Pizza I've had since moving here. Biggest collection of original Art Noveau chandeliers and other architectural elements in the world (they claim). IMPRESSIVELY TACKY!
-Roger's Park Fruit Market. Sure there's a Dominick's next door, but you'll pay twice as much and won't have access to tomatillos, ginger root, and fresh chicharrones in the same 500 square feet.
-The beer garden at Moody's Pub. Nuff said.

Tara / November 20, 2003 11:40 AM

In the suburbs, the footbridge off of Pine Avenue in Riverside.

In the city, the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Find the iguana.

stephen / November 20, 2003 11:55 AM

> La Creperie on Clark
> El Cid on Milwaukee
> the guys selling good produce out of the back of their trucks on Milwaukee
> Get Me High Lounge, about 3 years ago
> Margie's on ice cream this side of Italy.
> Cafe LaGuardia, on Armitage near Damen..truly swank Cuban goodness.
> Stanley's Produce on North ave+Elston, if you're too skittish to deal with the guys in the trucks.
> The galleries on Milwaukee and in Westgate

> The bike path to and including the Chicago Botanic Gardens. I'm sure there's tons of other stuff but the burbs just ain't my bag.

Andrew / November 20, 2003 12:08 PM

-Kelsey's Roadhouse in Barrington
-Around the Clock in Crystal Lake.
-Tore & Luke's in Palatine

-Pause Cafe at the Berwyn red line stop
-Billy Goat Tavern *under* Michigan Ave. for lunch.
-Cuneen's bar on Devon

miss ellen / November 20, 2003 12:42 PM


- clearwater theatre in west dundee (reminds me of my old love, the canopy club, down in urbana)
- old western ave in blue island (maple tree inn, mario's, etc.)


- brazillian night @ cafe laguardia (expanding on stephen's list), last wed of every month
- garfield park conservatory
- drinks @ top of the cock during $10 you can spend ;)

+mojan. / November 20, 2003 1:58 PM

Bookman's Alley in Evanston is a true "hidden" gem. Walking into that place is like walking into another era, a parallel world, or a scene from Harry Potter.

stephen / November 20, 2003 2:32 PM

Awesome. See, these are the topics I like, where one can discover things about this city that's entirely new. Or even things about the suburbs. I didn't even know about brazilian night, either! Supreme!

Ramsin / November 20, 2003 2:34 PM

"hidden gems" is pretty relative. here are some places I like:

> Marino's Pizza in Elk Grove Village
> That cafe in Oak Park, right off the Blue Line. I don't know, on the east side of the street? About a block south?

I don't think these are "hidden gems," but they never get much business, so what the hey:
> Dante's on Hubbard and Racine
> Abu Nawas--an Assyrian restaurant on Clark and Belden
And these get business, but sporadically:
> Sweet Maple Cafe on Taylor Street
> Wednesday Elvis Nights at Rock-a-Tiki on Division and Damen

Murgatroit / November 20, 2003 4:06 PM

in the burbs -
Waukegan - Quonset has the best pizza
Lake forest - Red Lantern the best burgers
Beach Park - Sisolak's Golf-o-Rama (best damn mini-golf this side of Augusta National)

in the city
the newly opened Rockland cafe at Rockwell and Leland
the amazing art collection at Big Chicks

lacey / November 20, 2003 4:07 PM

I enjoy a thai place called Cozy in evanston. There is this ever-expanding "Thai action hero" theme to the whole place, and last time I was there there was a full-sized statue of Elvis right inside the door. And it's cheap as all getout with fantastic food to boot.

tony / November 21, 2003 12:42 AM

In the city, go to the Magic Hedge, in Montrose Park. It's a well-known spot for birdwatching but not many other people know about it. Migrating birds use it as a "rest stop" on their way to their destinations. It's also a great refuge away from the city; it's about as far into the lake as you can get while still remaining on land (to see how far you are, walk to the end of Fishhook Pier).

(Trivia: Montrose Point was home to a Nike missile site in the '50s and contributed to a spooky ghost story.)

There [was] a letterbox to be found here. For more truly hidden gems around Chicagoland, hit up and search for boxes in Illinois. Great excuse to amble about away from the beaten path...

Kate / November 21, 2003 9:22 AM

There are some wonderful recommendations here, but I'm sort of surprised at how many of these gems are restaurants and other such institutions rather than buildings and public art. (That said, I'd second a lot of these nominations, like Moody's beer garden.)

My favorite underappreciated piece of public art in Chicago is a 1963 bronze sculpture by Nehemia Azaz which is over the door of the Loop Synagogue at 16 South Clark. It's called "Hands of Peace." Go stand under it sometime and look up through the calligraphic outline of the colossal hands to read the blessing on the wall in a wonderful jumble of English and Hebrew characters.

Speaking of Chicago and public art (and I consider architecture a form of public art), I was talking to an architectural historian yesterday and told her about one of the many things I love about Chicago: the fact that Chicagoans of all stripes are surprisingly well informed about the history and architectural significance of the buildings among which they live, to the point that Chicago architecture is a bit of a cliche in Chicago (and maybe that's why nobody is bringing up architectural "hidden gems"). Anyway, she told me that until recently the Chicago public school system had a curriculum of civic history that was taught through a history of the city's architecture and public monuments, which is why everybody knew a little bit about Sullivan and Wright and the rest of those guys. I think this is a fantastic way of teaching children about their city.

Andrew / November 21, 2003 10:17 AM

Good point, Kate. Some of my favorite hidden architectural gems:
- The Rookery, 209 S. LaSalle. You could walk right past it and have no idea, but what a beautiful interior.
- Museum of Decorative Arts, 4611 N. Lincoln. One of the lesser known Sullivan works, but a beautifully preserved green pictureframe of his work -- you'll see what I mean when you go there (they're a great place for gifts, too.)

lacey / November 21, 2003 11:15 AM

Ah yes, and one cannot forget the Louis Sullivan stock exchange room at the Art Inst. But maybe it's just me that thinks that place is "hidden."

brian / November 21, 2003 11:37 AM

The Lucky Platter on Main Street in Evanston. Kitschy decor and great comfort food. Tucked away in a lesser-known section of Evanston.

Mike Aparicio / November 21, 2003 12:08 PM

Rinconcito Sudamericano on Armitage and Damen has excellent Peruvian food. Even better than places I've been in Peru! I recommend the Lomo Saltado.

brian / November 21, 2003 12:09 PM

The Hala Kahiki is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

There are two hidden gems that haven't been covered (though it's quite an impressive list). One is going to the Planetarium after dark in the summer and looking at the water. The sky's an odd shade of pink, downtown's staring back at you, and the water is right there.

The other hidden gem is that 24 hour diner on the corner where you can usually count on some bad coffee and a burger, some surly waittress and an amazing collection of locals. You know the one. Cos they're everywhere - maybe they have different names, but in Chicago, they're all sorta the same.

Haydn / November 21, 2003 12:20 PM

one of the last few neighborhood arcades, Dennis Place for Games on either Belmont in Lakeview or Clark in Rogers Park.
The Farwell Avenue pier.
The Oasis on Sheridan. maybe just another 4 a.m. sports bar but one with a varied crowd (more Loyola during term, more neighborhood otherwise).

the decrepit "bunny hutch" mini-golf course just over the border in Lincolnwood.
also a fan of the lucky platter and its neighbor, Cafe Express in Main Street in Evanston.
someone already mentioned this as well but the Maple Tree Inn is definitely worth the trip to Blue Island.

Craig / November 21, 2003 12:30 PM

Re: Lucky Platter

Good call-- Their sweet potato fries make the meal.

Re: Dennis's Place for Games

Does that place's sign just SCREAM gay male innuendos, or is it just me? Wait, don't answer that.

Andrew / November 21, 2003 12:42 PM

Craig, it might help to know that both Dennis' Place for Games locations -- on Belmont and on Clark in Rogers Park -- are big gang hangouts.
Which, of course, only strengthens the innuendo.

John / November 22, 2003 8:58 AM

Louis Sullivan's beautiful tombstone at Graceland Cemetery. The outlines of skyscrapers are carved into the sides of the rock and people put pennies on the ledges.

Paul / November 22, 2003 10:19 AM

I love the fact that so many Evanston gems are being named here.

If you're on your way to Lucky Platter make sure you check out the City Newstand on Chicago and Main to peruse just about every magazine on the planet.

Also in Evanston, go down into the basement of Dave's Rock Shop, also on Main, to see their Prehistoric Life Museum.

As for the city, my favorite hidden treasure used to be the Coelacanth, at the Field. Housed in a big wooden and glass case, in the basement, down an empty hallway that didn't look like you were allowed to go. I think they may have moved it to a more prominent place now.

LD / November 23, 2003 12:30 PM

In Des Plaines: The Choo-Choo grill. The food is nothing spectacular but sit at the counter and your lunch will arrive on a mini-train from the kitchen.

In the city: Not that hidden, but the Middle East Bakery on Foster/Clark has all kinds of goodies...spices, dried fruit and amazing sesame loaves of bread that are so fresh, there's steam on the bag.--and cheap!

Benjy / November 23, 2003 3:04 PM

City: Torajiro Sushi on Diversey near Sheridan. Great sushi and super reasonable.

Suburbs: Once Upon a Bagel, in Highland Park. Hands down best bagels in town.

Pete / November 24, 2003 10:00 AM

Svea Restaurant in Andersonville. I've been going there for fifteen years, and have only eaten one thing: Swedish pancakes with lingonberries (no syrup needed!), toasted limpa with butter, and jet-black coffee. To die (and live) for.

The Rookery, "hidden"? In whose universe?

Haydn / November 24, 2003 11:47 AM

Re: Dennis's sign

The funny thing about that sign is that there IS a Dennis, of some vague Eastern-European (I think) extraction, who looks exactly like the guy in the sign plus 25 years and is probably 5 feet tall.
And yes, it is slightly shady. I was playing NBA Jam against some guy there 10 years ago when he briefly paused to reach into his mouth, pull out a bag of crack and make a sale.

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