Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Don't close the Kitchen

My favorite restaurant in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood has long been the Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop. I stop by there on most of the rare occasions I'm in that part of town.

Turns out I'm not the only skinny attorney from Chicago who feels this way:

So you'll understand my dismay at the sad news that the Dixie Kitchen will close for business this week.

Its landlord, the University of Chicago, which owns much of the real estate in the neighborhood, apparently can't tolerate the dated vibe of the Harper Court complex that houses the Dixie Kitchen, its sister restaurant the Calypso Cafe, a small artists colony, and other local color. Thus, they're letting all current leases expire and looking for a different -- national, higher-profile, boring -- class of tenant.

It's a shame. The DK is a friendly, welcoming presence in a neighborhood without enough of those. In Hyde Park, a borough shared by haves and have-nots, the Dixie Kitchen has long served as a place where all types can peaceably assemble.

A few months ago a friend and I tried to grab a bite there en route to the Court Theatre, but when we parked my car at the Kitchen, the key got stuck in the ignition in a bizarre incident that ended up costing us the chance to eat there. I drive the automotive equivalent of the dog from Marley and Me, the latest adventure being the five hours it took a series of AAA drivers to repair a flat tire last night, but that is a topic for another day.

Between the lack of closure on my most recent visit and the depressing revelation of their imminent departure, I paid my respects with a final visit on Sunday morning as I was heading south (insert joke here about how I've been heading south a lot longer than that).

The mix of citizenry around me in the DK the other day only confirmed what a loss its closing will be. You had your excitedly pious tourist family asking where President Obama's house was; your African-American couple in their Sunday best, stopping in for a bite to eat after church; your pale, nerdy twentysomething in the University of Chicago Economics T-shirt and his quiet girlfriend, who you just knew at first glance were the two nicest people in the world; your hardscrabble older gentleman who looked as weathered as the Dixie's southern bait-shop decor.

The melting pot was as much a part of the meal as the delicious food, and it will all be missed.

The Dixie Kitchen is open for business until June 7th. Stop by before it's too late. While you're at it, why not call the University of Chicago Office of Community Affairs at (773) 702-6815 and suggest that they reconsider this unfortunate decision.

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