Archive for the tag “University of Chicago”

Maxwell Street Depot

WHAT: Maxwell Street Depot
WHERE: 411 W. 31st St.

OUR RATING: Do It!

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Maxwell Street Depot, or just Depot for short, has been doing a brisk business for many years, trading in burgers, hot dogs and fries that are fantastically traditional and yet as low priced as you can get. Located in the South Side Bridgeport neighborhood, Depot is a regular joint for UChicago students with a car and the closer IIT, doling out heaped portions of onions atop steaming meat patties that will fill the hungriest of late night, last minute crammers.

Adam: Depot has to be considered a Chicago staple: if you’re visiting and have a car it’s a must-do (as long as you don’t mind eating in your car – there are no seats). After pulling into its parking lot and trundling up to the long service window facing the street, you have a choice of the essentials: burgers, hot dogs, polishes and fries. Onions are absolutely requisite on all dishes – beautifully soft and with a slight bite, I’ve never had onions akin to this elsewhere, so the trip is worth it just to sample this deliciously intoxicating sensory experience.

What is little know is that Depot is a part of Maxwell Street Polish, of the Pilsen neighborhood, and yet I’ve never ordered a Polish here ever. I automatically gravitate towards the double cheeseburger, for a measly $4.50. For that paltry price you get your burger with a ½ pound of meat, cheese, a pile of onions, mustard, and a sizable bag of fries. And this isn’t fast food style rubbish: you’re getting a piece of Chicago history.

Alicia: $2.25. ¼ Hamburger with grilled onions and a bag of delicious freshly fried fries with a soft center and a crunchy outside. This is the best and cheapest burger deal in Chicago, and it never fails, and I will forever be thankful to my Bridgeport native college buddy for introducing this place to me. Interestingly, apparently the original Maxwell Street Depot (once actually located on Maxwell Street) was dismantled and moved piece by piece to preserve the original structure two miles away. They mean business.

The burger is juicy, the bun soft and a perfect ratio to the thick patty of meat, and the mustard and sweet grilled onions cut through it all with an amazing bite. The key is just to order the works (sans cheese for me), but this won’t come with ketchup. Don’t even mention ketchup, or the cooks will get testy. If you want the ketchup, there’s plenty of bottles outside the window, along with containers of salt, and let’s just say I get REAL messy with the both of them for both my burger and fries. It’s my sinful, salty, oily indulgence, and it’s the only way to go.

Final Thoughts: Remember: fries come with everything for no extra cost, so no need to order additional packets unless you’re starving. So strap in, sit back, motor on and try some of the best authentic Chicago cuisine imaginable.

Ribs ‘n’ Bibs

WHAT: Ribs ‘n’ Bibs
WHERE: 5300 S. Dorchester Ave.

OUR RATING: Do It!

(chicagoreader.com)

(chicagoreader.com)

When you see smoke billowing out of the chimney at the corner of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue on the South Side, that’s when you know this barbeque shanty of a shack is in business. But not just any barbeque. The specialty is hickory-smoked ribs dipped in their special sauce, but if ribs aren’t your thing there’s plenty of other barbeque-smothered protein on offer here, including chicken and their downright sassy burgers.

(Photo by Nat Hansen)

(Photo by Nat Hansen)

Adam: Ah, the old Ribs ‘n’ Bibs. I must take a moment to thank those intrepid dormitory-mates who led me out on my first foray to this late night BBQ joint, almost 5 years ago now, that combines all the spicy goodness of the open fire with the home feel of the ranch (as well as super reasonable prices). The options seem endless, but there are some standards that you can’t miss that make for the best Hyde Park experience.

If burgers are your game, your only choice should be the Texas burger. A 1/2 lb. with fries, a small pot of coleslaw, and a whole lot of character, you’ve got to make sure that you ask for the BBQ sauce “on top” for the full effect. The slab of meat is huge, although it’s sometimes customary to order both a Bronco and a Texas burger, for the big of appetite.

If you’re still hungry after this monster meal, a side of onion rings, which are crispy and well cooked, goes down well. If burgers aren’t really your thing, try the Frontier Fish, basically the same as the burger, other than with tartar sauce instead of the BBQ variety. Craving beef? The BBQ Beef Dinner is a bit like getting the Texas burger, except on each side of the bun is a mound of shredded, beefy, BBQ infused deliciousness.

(fancytoast.blogspot.com)

(fancytoast.blogspot.com)

What about their ribs, you say? Well, I honestly don’t know of anyone who’s had them, as the other offerings are so good. But if you have the money to spare (up to $17.95), get them and let me know what you think. I also hear great things about the gunslinger – a sausage sandwich with fries, but alas, I have not sampled it.

And don’t be surprised if you have to endure some meat sweats to get through this lot – it’s standard procedure.

(Photo by Nat Hansen)

(Photo by Nat Hansen)

Alicia: Admittedly, I am not an aficionado of Ribs ‘n’ Bibs cuisine like Adam here, but I do enjoy some good barbeque, and I commend RnB for their long lasting establishment in Hyde Park since the mid 60’s, originally opened (and still owned) by the Schoenberg family. The space is super small with limited sidewalk seating outside, so if you visit during a cold spell, your only real option is to either order takeout or get some delivered. Considering the fact they are open quite late, this is a great late-night munchies option.

(fancytoast.blogspot.com)

(fancytoast.blogspot.com)

Everything is old-Western shanty style here, from the Saloon-font on the outside to the itsy-bitsy lobby inside where you stand in line and wait to order next to a stack of wooden logs just waiting their turn to enter the smoker behind the counter. But its character has a Chicago feel to it, with pictures covering the wall of local celebrities and politicians, including, of course, Barack Obama, who seems to have his image pasted in most of the local haunts in HP.

Perhaps I’ve had a better burger than my usual Bronco Burger charbroiled hamburger. And perhaps I could do without their slaw. But their tangy sweet-and-spicy barbeque sauce that smothers most of their menu items will do me just fine when I’m in the area and craving some barbeque.

Final Thoughts: If you’re just being introduced to the wonders of barbeque, Ribs ‘n’ Bibs is a great place to start. If you’re at U of C, you’re insane not to have tried this yet. If you’re further afield, we think it’s worth the trip. So enjoy a concert at Mandel Hall and grab a Texas burger on your return. Clash of cultures? Only you decide!

Cafe 53

WHAT: Cafe 53
WHERE: 1369 E. 53rd St.

OUR RATING: Chance It!

Cafe 53, sometimes known as ‘The Gelato Cafe’ by locals, is one of a small handful of off-campus cafes near The University of Chicago in Hyde Park. Along with free wi-fi and long hours, Cafe 53 offers your typical coffees and espressos along with a wide variety of pastries, cakes, savory pies and sandwiches, but uniquely also happens to offer gelato.

Alicia: For a small cafe, the variety of drinks on hand is quite varied, offering light, dark, flavored and decaf roasts, an espresso with their signature espresso beans, and a plethora of cappuccinos, lattes and teas. You can also request a card that rewards you with a free drink every tenth visit, so if you need a place to give you that necessary dose of caffeine while you study late, this is a pretty good choice for your wallet.

The atmosphere offered by Cafe 53 is generally workable, with a few comfortable tables and even a patio out back. It doesn’t get too loud in here, and sometimes can provide that perfect amount of sun. While decorated, the ambiance of the cafe is relatively ambiguous, so while the gelato on offer might sound intimate, I probably wouldn’t go on a coffee date here. Yet one could easily settle down with a cup of Joe and get through quite a few pages of Marx.

Adam: I remember a few years back when a gelato craze was somewhat sweeping Chicago, and you could find a good cafe serving the stuff in just about every neighborhood. Gelato itself is age-old, coming from the Latin gelatus or frozen and probably invented through the mixing of Alpine snow with fruit juices for the richer ancient Romans (although there is little direct evidence to suggest this). Unfortunately for the gelato-istas, the craze seemed to die down, to be replaced with frozen yogurt, an obviously healthier alternative.

Cafe 53 was one of the last cafes established before this wane, and this has surely affected their business. Also in Hyde Park is Istria Cafe, also providing gelato, although Istria is of older pedigree. Upon tasting their gelato (there are many varieties such as caramel, pistachio and stracciatella) I was convinced that they had the basic method figured out, but the soul was lacking. Don’t get me wrong, the gelato is good, but it’s not fantastic, and Istria provides similar types and quality. It’s also just not as good as some gelato I’ve had outside the city, and that annoys me because it’s simply not that hard to make. They also have a sorbet collection that seems rather good, but then again, sorbet is rather hard to get wrong.

I remain unconvinced of Cafe 53’s core concept: while the coffee and atmosphere seem fine, it’s main selling point, the gelato, is clearly not up to snuff. Go ahead and give it a try, but I’m not promising anything.

Final Thoughts: Cafe 53 isn’t trying that hard to keep your business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally patronize it. Good for coffee and a chat, but try not to spend too much on the gelato.

Night of the Magician

WHAT: Night of the Magician
WHEN: January 31 – February 24 (see schedule for details)
WHERE: Chopin Theatre (1543 W. Division Ave.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 15 minutes with no intermission
HOST: Screen Door
PRICE: $15

OUR RATING: Chance It!

(chopintheatre.com)

(chopintheatre.com)

If you’ve never been to the Chopin Theatre, it’s a treat for the senses. Part performing arts space, part cabaret and part 19th century cafe, this is the sort of venue Storefront City would love to own if we opened a theatre. It seems magical and timeless, and that makes it a perfect locale for Night of the Magician.

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

The company, Screen Door, produces live movie events, causing you to be assailed from all directions by sound, sight and movement. Prior to the main event, this movie begins like all other films on the big screen, but with a twist. Each night a different theater or screening company performs a live movie trailer, promoting their ongoing or upcoming performance – of course without revealing any of the plot twists. This week, it was Whiskey Rebellion Theatre, previewing their Whiskey Radio Hour. This is a great way to get coming attractions out there both fast and fun.

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

(moviesarebetterlive.com)



But on to the main event, which is Screen Door’s first feature length Live Movie, although back in March they premiered I Am a Rocket Scientist, a shorter sci-fi musical Live Movie experience. Written and directed by Jack Lawrence Mayer and David Milton Brent, Night of the Magician is screened before you, actors merge with the movie, sound effects are generated live by a foley artist and music is provided by a band, The Ides of March. In Night of the Magician, Matilda (Ellie Reed), a girl rendered mute by a terrible tragedy, seeks her lost brother (Daniel Desmarais) in a desolate industrial town. Pitted against her are the mysterious forces of Isabelle Lewis (Martine Moore), the heiress to the town factory, the mysterious Magician, and an awful Beast that lives in the woods.

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

Adam: I was extremely excited to attend my first ever live movie. It’s a concept that is so novel and innovative, that one is immediately intrigued, and with a title like Night of the Magician, you cannot help but feel you may be transported to those ancient picture-houses, in which music was twinkled out on an old piano, titles flashed in a bright white on black, and sound effects were invented by a “man behind the curtain.” All these expectations were met, other than that the piano man was actually a full-piece band.

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

What most impressed me about this production was the cast of amazing characters. The moody and otherworldly performances brought an uncanny realism to the film, which placed you at close quarters with each of the people involved. Mrs. Winter (Gigi Fenlon) provided an expressive, if all too brief, performance as an innkeeper, building tension in her exceptional attention to the very detail of her character. Another outstanding performance was given by Gina Marie Hernandez as the Healer, with a shocking videographic interlude that might be straight out of the opening sequence of American Horror Story.

Another detail I much appreciated was the scene selection, which perfectly painted the dark reality of an industrial complex that seemed to absolutely exist, mainly due to the careful knitting together of locations by a skilled director.

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

My one major criticism was not with the performance itself, but in its unfolding. Often, so much was occurring at once around me, that it became unclear on where to affix my attention. Mainly, I focused on the film screen, but I would have been interested to see the effect multiple screens around the room would have had, perhaps showing different perspectives, and thus allowing one to concentrate on the entire experience rather than a few select elements.

(Credit: Joe Mazza at Brave-Lux)

(Credit: Joe Mazza at Brave-Lux)



Alicia: Being a techie at heart, I’m like a kid at a candy store when I get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of how anything is created or performed. Because of this, my focus of the night was on the pieces of the film which were produced live right amidst the audience and screened right then and there. When I entered the theater space, it was hard not to notice a huge track laid down at the back of the house, which was used to guide a camera dolly. The rules regarding the camera dolly’s use were clear and strategic, with only stories ‘of the past’ being filmed, quite ironically, in the present. However, while the theory and practice behind these pieces of the production were quite masterful, I couldn’t help wanting to turn my head and watch what was really happening on the dolly track versus what was happening on the screen. What would have really made this a much more intriguing experience would have been if the track was integrated even more amidst the audience so as to become a much more present piece of the live experience.

Another intriguing component of the experience that just needed to take a few steps further was the traversing of actors from the screen and into the live environment and back again. I really wanted a more fleshed out 2D versus 3D experience, and while I was tantalized by a few beautiful transitions, particularly by the character of Frederich, there just wasn’t enough of a relationship there.

(Credit: Joe Mazza at Brave-Lux)

(Credit: Joe Mazza at Brave-Lux)

Overall, there just wasn’t enough “live” and “filmed” visual integration for me (the foley effects and live band really did their auditory jobs masterfully). The components were there, and I’m not sure if the space Screen Door produced in limited them in this respect (I can only imagine it must have), but some aspects of the night seemed too piecemeal, and it was odd having the last twenty or so minutes of the performance be almost pure film work. And ultimately, the least fulfilling aspects of the performance were the shadow puppets, which felt more slapped in out of artistic interest rather than really worked into the piece, but I usually set relatively high stakes for any production attempting to integrate this art form, so I shan’t be too harsh.

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

Final Thoughts: In our opinion, Night of the Magician provides a hauntingly beautiful performance in a developing art form. If you would like a unique experience that you cannot possibly get elsewhere, Screen Door provides it, and we are convinced that their production will only become more sure and steady in the future.

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

(moviesarebetterlive.com)

Although we sat in the main section, we suggest you try to get a seat at the very back of the theater (just beyond the tracks) if it’s a packed enough house. Although some of the sightlines may be difficult, this way, you’ll get a better vantage point of both the live film and foley work. Why not get a first hand look at what really makes this event live and breathe in the moment? And make sure to stick around in the lounge and listen to live music, have a few drinks at the bar, and enjoy the thoughts of others you just shared this experience with.


P.S. We would like to briefly comment on the behavior of some of the audience members throughout the production. During some of the more important parts of the movie, a select group of audience members took it upon themselves to laugh in a mocking, childish and totally inappropriate manner. We felt ashamed to be part of the same audience as these juvenile, haughty and blatantly discourteous individuals. We are of the opinion that such people have no place in the world of respectful theatre and should be removed to the unintellectually bawdy fringes where they belong.

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