Winter in Chicago is brutal. It means downy puffer coats, fleece lined leggings, boots that are ugly but warm, and hats that flatten your hair to an unrecognizable mess. The key, I’ve found, to making it through these bleak winter months, is to live near a fun neighborhood: one filled with sweet cafes, aroma-filled restaurants, and local pubs. Places you can get to without having to trek too far through the snow!
Welcome to Little Italy, one of Chicago least known – but definitely one of its coziest – little corners!
This past week, I invited two friends to come explore with me while I photographed some of my favorite nooks, crannies, and hand-painted signs. Most of Little Italy is located off Taylor Street, between Ashland Avenue and Halstead Street. While the area obviously boasts of many Italian Restaurants, there are also a good number of other ethnic foods available as well: Thai, Chinese, Indian, Sushi, Mexican, and good ol’ fashioned American food can all be found within a span of several blocks. Among other shops, there’s also a tiny Italian bakery, a delicious Italian deli full of imported wines, meats, and pastas, a hair salon, a local hardware store, a wine emporium, a vintage thrift store, and Chicago-renowned gelato shop that’s only open in the warmer months.
Stax Cafe: It was such a cold day that we didn’t get too far before seeking refuge in one of my favorite brunch spots, Stax. This restaurant is ideal spot for breakfasting with friends, as they have big tables, a relaxed atmosphere, and a noise level that – even at its most packed – still allows you to have good conversations without shouting. The menu flaunts endless, delicious choices, as well as a variety of freshly squeezed juices! On weekend mornings the wait can be a little bit long, with a line that starts outside, but I’ve never had to wait longer than a half hour and have always found that to be the perfect excuse to take a short, pre-breakfast walk.
The Italian food options are numerous, but my favorite thus far is definitely Davanti Enoteca, an intimate little wine bar and restaurant found on the corner of Taylor Street and Loomis. While the prices are a bit on the higher side (making it perfect for that special date night!), the food is to die for: the kind that melts on your tongue and leaves you feeling perfectly satisfied. Not stuffed, mind you, like those cheap Italian places that throw endless plates of thick pasta at you – just perfectly, wonderfully content. The waiters recommend sharing food in a tapas fashion. In my opinion, this makes the experience even more fun, since I love being able to taste a little bit of everything. I’ve only been here once, but I’m already craving another go!
One of the many reasons I love living in the Little Italy area is because of all the green space. I have a special soft spot for Arrigo Park, found just a block north of Taylor Street. While it looks a little desolate with its current coat of snow, this park hums with activity during warmer months: children playing, students throwing around frisbees, dogs lounging with their owners, and me basking in the sun with a well-worn Harry Potter book in hand. The Sear’s Tower can always be seen in the distance and depending on which way the wind is blowing, you can even smell the chocolate factory in the River North District.
A tour wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some of the beautiful Catholic churches in the neighborhood. Much like my experience of Italy itself, this Little Italy neighborhood in Chicago rings with church bells throughout the day.
Our Lady of Pompeii is the original Catholic church in the area and still has a very distinctly Italian congregation. My husband and I attended mass at this church while we were dating and I would laugh about how it had a “Godfather-esque” feel to it – everyone knew each other and seemed to live within walking distance, Mass would occasionally and without notice be in Italian, National Italian holidays held precedence over church feast days, and the few times the priest would mention other nationalities, he’d always give us a shout-out as the “token Lithuanians.”
Within a block of Our Lady of Pompeii is Notre Dame, another beautiful and historical church. Seeing the dome of this church rise above the trees when I’m walking down Loomis Street and hearing its bells toll make me miss my days of studying abroad in Tuscany.
(Just in case you’re wondering why these two photos have beautiful bright blue skies, it’s because I forgot to photograph the churches during our original walk and then – go figure! the weather was gorgeous when I went out to shoot them the next day!)
Have you every visited Chicago’s Little Italy? What are your favorite restaurants and shops?
This is a guest post by Giedre of Walking Dot Photography. She is a portrait photographer and blogger based out of Chicago, Illinois. Giedre carries a Canon, shoots obsessively, and always writes about it afterwards!