It’s easy to find ten good things about someplace new and exciting, but what about a place you don’t like very much? What if that place is your hometown?
Oak Park makes tons of top ten lists, has money, good schools, and a high opinion of itself. These things are pretty much undisputed. So what is it I dislike so intensely about Oak Park? Hemingway put it best, I think, when he supposedly referred to Oak Park as a community of “broad lawns and narrow minds.” I dislike the smug liberalism (and I’m a liberal), and the short-sighted policy making. Oak Park thinks it is riding the front of a progressive wave that it fell behind sometime in the 80’s. This irritates me.
Maybe I lived on the west coast for too long.
Now that I’m stuck here for the first time in 20 years, after evacuating Venezuela and destroying my finances, I’m forced to look for the good things in this place that I simply don’t want to be.
Here is my list of places in Oak Park that don’t suck (in no particular order):
When did it become normal to plaster every wall of every restaurant and bar with television sets? I swear I’m ordering a http://www.tvbgone.com/ and I’m going to walk around town turning them all off. On a Sunday. When football is on. Anyway, Kinslagher has excellent beer, warm pretzels, and no television sets. Way over on Roosevelt but worth the drive.
I’m jealous that I didn’t open The Beer Shop on the Oak Park …um…”mall”. Beer and wine on tap, great beer selection for sale, dogs allowed, and an it’s easy place to work when it’s 2pm and your choices are seem to be “take a nap” or “work with beer”. They don’t serve food, but they also don’t mind if you bring food in. Order from the next place on this list and they’ll deliver…
If I’m going to buy meat at all, it is going to be meat from Carnivore in the Pleasant District. Yes, it is overpriced – you can get the same quality of meat on the west coast for significantly less than Carnivore charges (that really was my last ‘west coast’ reference). This may be due to fewer farmers producing sustainable meats in this area? I’m not sure. Whatever the reason the meat here is flawless and the butchers and fishmongers are knowledgeable, helpful experts in their field. Oh, and they will deliver killer sandwiches to you at The Beer Shop.
Ok, maybe I like this Oak Park Ave. brewery more because we came in 2nd and 1st in the last two pub quiz nights. Winning beer has a way of endearing me to a place. I also like that I can get a big sloppy burger, but with a portobello cap or veggie burger patty and that their poutine can be made with tater tots. The beer is usually very good, with Frank Lloyd Rye being my current favorite.
Off Harrison on the south end of town, this little colorful cafe serves plain but tasty breakfasts with tons of vegetarian and organic options. Though the service doesn’t lean towards ‘awesome’ they’re friendly enough, and the coffee is so good it will smooth out any frayed nerves you have from the little kids squeeing all around you. The walls are covered with local art for sale that ranges from “Hey, I’d buy that” to “…huh”.
I dunno. They are close to home and give me extra vegetables on my pad kee mao with fried tofu. It’s not gorgeous, or outstanding, or special in any way – but it is consistently good Thai food. And I appreciate that.
It was a pleasant surprise move home and find that Oak Park had enough demand for Sugar Beet to open its doors (restraining myself from typing about my beloved Seattle food co-ops….aaaargghhhh). I love that I can pick up anything in the store and feel good about buying it. I love that they have vendors come and visit, showing off their products and processes. I love that it is small, and doesn’t carry 73 flavors of fat-free cherry yogurt but does carry wine and gelato and a great egg salad sandwich for when your kid is starving and needs food RIGHT NOW.
That’s seven places. I said “10” because it sounded good and I was sure I’d be able to think of ten when I sat down to write – but I can only think of seven.
Whether you love Oak Park, or are just stuck here like me, I think each of these places is well worth spending your money and time. If you find someplace else in Oak Park that doesn’t suck, let me know in the comments!