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Down-Home Cookin'

Southern and soul food restaurants

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Army & Lou's

422 E. 75th | 773-483-3100

$

BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SUNDAY-MONDAY, WEDNESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED TUESDAY

A favorite of Mayor Harold Washington back in the day, Army & Lou's has been dishing up well-executed southern and soul food for more than 60 years. For starters there's Louisiana gumbo; in the bread basket are yeasty homemade biscuits, fresh, flaky, and warm. Steak, chicken, and chops come smothered with gravy and served with corn bread: quintessential comfort food. The fried chicken has light, deliciously crispy breading; pieces are so meaty that half a chicken makes a very filling entree. It's worth ordering a few extra sides, though: greens are tender but not overcooked, sweet potatoes carry a hint of clove, and pickled beets and onions provide a tart contrast. Sweet potato pie and peach cobbler are made, our waitress told us, by a "little old lady from the neighborhood"—which is pretty much how they taste. —David Hammond

Big Jones

5347 N. Clark | 773-275-5725

$$$

LUNCH: MONDAY-FRIDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH

Paul Fehribach, former chef at Schubas' Harmony Grill, has taken the space long home to trapped-in-amber Augie's diner and turned it into an airy dining room distinguished by floor-to-ceiling windows and wrought-iron chandeliers. Like those chandeliers, the menu gives a little wave to the French Quarter. The cocktail list is full of daiquiris, hurricanes, and nicely balanced Sazeracs—including one with absinthe—and the menu includes crawfish-boudin croquettes and a rich and smoky gumbo with chicken and andouille. I didn't try the sandwiches but I wish I had: at a neighboring table a sizable Tallgrass beef burger with fontina and aioli was provoking groans of happiness. And the fresh, clean flavors of a simple house salad got my friend to sit up and take notice. All in all Big Jones seems to be striving to fuse the accoutrements of upscale dining with the down-home soul of country cooking. When it works, the results are stellar, both sophisticated and bone-deep satisfying. —Martha Bayne

BJ's Market & Bakery

8734 S. Stony Island | 773-374-4700

$

Lunch, Dinner: seven days

BJ's Market & Bakery, the flagship of John Meyers's miniempire, lays out honest food at an honest price—no fancy-pants frills, just down-home cooking you order at the counter and bring to your seat. Lightly breaded wings are the only fried chicken on the menu. Instead BJ's specializes in spice-rubbed smoked rotisserie chicken; moist and flavorful, it's a real deal. Greens, cooked with smoked turkey leg, have great tooth; black-eyed peas, simple and good, weren't cooked beyond recognition; even the green beans had subtle seasoning that goosed them up a notch. Sweet potato fries make a good combo with BJ's signature mustard-fried catfish, and there's house-made banana pudding and peach cobbler. On Sundays a big crowd rubs shoulders at the long buffet. —David Hammond

Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles

3947 S. King | 773-536-3300

$$

BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED

Decent enough fried chicken and waffles with syrup couldn't be simpler, though a myriad of combinations—legs and waffles, thighs and waffles, quarter chicken or half—fill one side of the menu, adding pointless confusion. On the other side there's a relatively small lineup of typical soul sides—mac 'n' cheese was very good, greens were undercooked—and a long list of pretty nonalcoholic concoctions (a "sunset" is lemonade topped with iced tea). —Mike Sula

Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe & Voodoo Lounge

6501 W. 79th, Burbank | 708-229-8700

$$

BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: every night TILL 2

Chuck Pine spent two and a half years at Topolobampo under the tutelage of Rick Bayless before striking out on his own, opening a small barbecue shack in the meat-and-potatoes parking lot of south-suburban Burbank. Beginning in 1997 with the occasional pot of gumbo, his Mexican and southern specials have eclipsed the barbecue. Pine wants to show his customers the great variety within Mexican and deep south cooking, at prices much lower and in an atmosphere more casual than at other shops around town started by Bayless's flock. Pine continually travels, studying Cajun, Creole, and Mexican regional cooking styles. Cinco de Mayo and Mardi Gras are the best times to visit, when month-long blowouts warrant daily specials like a trio of homemade chorizos and chiles en nogada—poblanos stuffed with meat and fruit, covered in walnut sauce and grapes. Pine always throws a few curveballs in as well: paella, say, or strawberry salad, or Creole-Italian dishes like lasagna with andouille. Normally when restaurants try to do so many different things they do none of them well, but Pine cooks by his whims consistently well. Now in a new location, he's offering live music and a bar menu available up to an hour before closing. —Mike Sula

Daley's Restaurant

809 E. 63rd | 773-643-6670

$

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner: seven days

Daley's is one of the oldest existing restaurants in the city, if not the oldest, though ask any waitress exactly how old and you'll get a different answer every time—usually something like "A long time, baby." The previous owner, Nick Kyros, says an Irishman opened the place in 1892 and ran it until his father took over in 1918; now he's turned it over to his son Michael and co-owner Nick Zar. Today the majority of his employees and customers are neighborhood folks who pack in for massive portions of mostly solid, sometimes-from-scratch soul food at practically historical prices. It's not hard to eat incredibly well, though you have to be selective. The biscuits are light and fluffy, but the mashed potatoes are instant. The chicken gumbo is tangy and thick but mined with canned green beans. One serving of smothered chicken can look like it was fed on steroids while another looks starved. The beefy, cheesy patty melt is a sure thing, as is a side of cabbage with bits of ham, and just about anything can be livened up with the bottle of spicy red pepper vinegar on each table. Nobody stays alive for more than a century without doing something right. —Mike Sula

Edna's

3175 W. Madison | 773-638-7079

$$

BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED MONDAY

Fried chicken at Edna's is cooked to order, juicy, crunchy, salty, and fresh, the kind of bird I dream about. Side dishes are a greatest hits of southern lovin': fresh-baked short biscuits, pickled beets, mac 'n' cheese, collard greens with optional onion and tomato on top. When Edna dropped by my table to say hello, I told her that I'd been here for a 6 AM breakfast with a crowd of white people a few years ago. "I remember you all," she crowed. "Welcome back!" She vanished into the kitchen, and one by one, unbeckoned, more side dishes came out—we sampled nine out of the ten on the menu that afternoon. A longtime regular looked over as I picked at my sweet potatoes: "You stuffed? Edna, she stuffs you, that's how she gets you," she said. "Now you're hooked, just like me." —Seth Zurer

Feed

2803 W. Chicago | 773-489-4600

$

BREAKFAST: MONDAY-FRIDAY; LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | SATURDAY & SUNDAY BRUNCH | BYO | RESERVATIONS NOT ACCEPTED | cash only

Feed is the project of Donna Knezek, one of the original owners of Leo's Lunchroom and a founder of Bite. It's a shack with a chalkboard menu that begins 1/4 chicken, 1/2 chicken, whole chicken. Needless to say, get the chicken: salty and succulent, it has the golden crackle of skin that makes rotisserie bird so viscerally satisfying. Knezek has been cooking in Chicago for around two decades, but at Feed she originally pared down her menu to the point of parody: chicken, burger, Caesar salad, a daily special, and a dozen sides. They include fried okra, a homey, comforting corn pudding, and rich and cheesy baked mac 'n' cheese. Now she's relented some, adding a pulled pork and a barbecued chicken sandwich to the offerings; brunch items might include pulled pork hash and green tomato eggs Benedict. For dessert there's pie and fluffy, creamy banana pudding served in a Styrofoam cup, with Nilla Wafers throughout. —Nicholas Day

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