As a youngster in a first-generation Italian-American family in Roseland, eating out wasn’t something we did very often. As a matter of fact, if I try really hard I can only recall an occasional First Communion or Confirmation that led to some fine dining, Roseland style, at Pesavento’s. As a result, finding our way out of the family kitchen typically involved developing our own circle of friends and enjoying new experiences, including learning more about the many culinary offerings that were available in our neighborhood.
As I got older, I saw that each of my brothers and sisters not only had their common neighborhood friends but, they had specific friends that they hung out with either due to being classmates or working together, those were friends within their age groups. I noticed this because, being the youngest, I was often the only one left home. Also, setting my life on a different path was the fact that I decided to give the seminary life a try for the first year and a half of high school.
Dining out in Roseland came under two headings. There was actually eating out in a restaurant, which was something generally done with the family, as in after mass on Sunday or on Dad’s payday or in celebration of a family event. The other type of dining out was the more casual “hanging out” with friends in a favorite local snack shop or restaurant.
Once again, I’ve appealed to readers of my Fra Noi column and to Facebook followers of specific Roseland pages such as “Bumtown Memories” and, of course, my own Facebook page. I heard from more than 100 respondents with numerous places being named as favorites from both types of Roseland dining. Interestingly, the places named show a basic age progression up the ladder of dining offerings from dining with the family on to hanging with friends at late night snack shops and finally on to McDonald’s senior coffee morning groups.
Local fine dining seems to have centered around Pesavento’s on 115th and Parise’s on Kensington. These places had tablecloths that qualified them as “fine dining” in young Roseland eyes. Of course, after mass on Sunday when Dads felt like treating the family there were other options.
Fried chicken was a specialty in Roseland and we had a number of choices primarily based on where you lived. For those people heading west of Michigan Avenue, Mundo’s Venice Inn was the go to spot. Jolly Inn was just east of Cottage Grove on 115th Street and was well-known for their fried chicken which they sold in a bucket long before The Colonel came up with the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) bucket. While talking about chicken I guess I should mention Roseland’s Original Buckley’s Plantation at 119th and State Street which became Roseland’s first KFC.
From chicken we can move on to the other Roseland favorite and that would be “Pizza” with a capital ‘P’ because pizza was a staple of the Roseland diet. There was plenty of mention made about Giovanni’s on 111th just west of Michigan Avenue (the Ave). Giovanni’s provided many job opportunities for Roselandites including a couple of my sisters and brothers and a brother-in-law. I remember one of my sisters telling the story of John, who owned Giovanni’s telling a couple of woman customers who had requested knives and forks to eat their pizza that God would have given them knives and forks instead of fingers if you needed to use a knife and a fork to eat pizza — how things have changed.
Nino’s was the other favorite pizza place off the Ave for great pizza. I remember a couple of dates there where I was lucky that my date only ate two pieces of pizza and I got to eat the rest of the medium cheese and sausage pizza with my pitcher of beer — I don’t know if that was a good enough reason — but I married that woman.
Now to “the” pizza place of the Kensington/Pullman neighborhood: Ken and Dick’s Cocktail Lounge and Pizza on 114th and Front Street. This place was a common denominator in a lot of responses from women due to the fact that it was off the Ave and very romantic due to its low lights. This was the first hangout for many of the neighborhood because they would go for pizza when dating and then, when in their twenties, head into the bar to meet up with friends.
This is one of the few places that still carries on their tradition of fine food and being a place to hang out. If you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to go up to Traverso’s at 156th and Harlem to see if you agree. When the weather permits, the patio is a great spot to sit and relax especially if it’s a karaoke night. Many Roselandites go there just to get their “Roseland fix” because chances are they will run into someone from the old neighborhood, the old church, or school. It’s also where the Friends of Roseland Pizza Party is held every four months..
There were other places that became second homes to some of the guys in Roseland that were just looking to hang out. Lou DalSanto mentioned a good old favorite from the 50’s. I’d never heard about the Rose Room on the northwest corner at 107th Place at Michigan Avenue. There was a pool hall across the street next to Chuck’s Tavern where the guys would go to get away from the gals.
Krapil’s on 113th Street between State and Michigan was well-known and still has a location near Holy Sepulchre Cemetery on 111th Street in Worth. Lorenzetti’s was just down the hill on 111th street for years and still maintains its popularity in Chicago Heights and is home to about 100 of Roseland’s Spaghetti-Os every last Tuesday of the month.
Quite a few people liked hanging out at places right on the Ave like the State Sandwich Shop, Toni Restaurant and Snack Shop, Snacktime Coffee Shop, the Coffee Pot and Rainbow Grill. Besides separate shops, Gatley’s People Store had a restaurant in the back of the second floor with mini-hamburgers; Kresge’s and Neisner’s both had food counters as was the custom with five and dime stores. (Interestingly, someone pointed out that we’ve moved on to dollar stores.)
Toni’s (I know, I thought it was “Tony’s” too) was where a lot of Vietnam era people did their late night hanging out. You could always expect to see someone you knew having their late night post partying BLT with fries and coffee. I can remember being there after going out “clubbing” one Friday with my best buddy Bobby Gonzalez and actually falling asleep while taking a bite of my BLT — the good old days — nobody
Snacktime Coffee Shop had what they called a “Tummy Buster” Sundae for $6 but free if you ate this giant Sundae. Of course, my brother Augie had to take the challenge and did get it for free. Goes along with the time he ate 33 mini-pancakes my mother made. That didn’t end up too well as we had to take one of his shoes to Big Ben Shoes to buy him a pair of shoes while he stayed home recuperating.
Later in the ’60s and ’70s there were a couple of places that rated as fine dining that were still part of Roseland while some of us headed downtown to impress our dates with fine dining. Club Allegro was a great place to go for many of us and some of us, me included, held our wedding reception there. Chuck Cavallini’s Steak House was another Roselandite favorite.
One place that started a lot of conversation and was outside of Roseland, but one of a kind: Phil Smidt’s. That alone was the name but they were known for frog legs and perch. They closed their doors back in 2007 due to the casino and the tollway and a general decline in business. Going to Phil Smidt’s was a real treat for many Roseland families because, well, where else were you going to get frog legs. A lot of families brought out-of-town visitors there or made a visit a family tradition.
These days the social highlight for many retirees is still hanging out: grabbing a senior cup of coffee at McDonald’s and watching all the younger people come rushing in for their breakfast. For one thing, they are all ‘younger,’ even the fifty year olds. I’ve been fortunate to be accepted into the group at the South Holland McDonald’s by Carm, Lou, Johnny, Ceal, Carol, and Fred — of course that could be because they know my brother Augie. The managers Donna and Eva are sweethearts and remind us of the welcoming waitresses in the places we used to hang out in Roseland. I guess it’s safe to say that those early days of hanging out at restaurants led to a life-long habit of hanging out.
There’s one place that wasn’t in Roseland but I remember as a big deal from when I was a kid. It required a ride out to Chicago Heights and it was a ride because there weren’t expressways. It fascinated me so much that I couldn’t believe it years later when I found a place on the north side that was similar where I took my kids as babies — because it had a nickelodeon!
That was Svoboda’s in the Heights! I don’t remember the family occasion for the trek to Chicago Heights, but I do remember that it was winter time. Wall-to-wall nickelodeons equals an awesome place for a kid. There were player pianos and orchestrators with many instruments and pianos that had functioning dolls playing the instruments. There was a machine that was high up and you had to throw your quarters up into a tuba to get it to play.
That was my first meeting with those piano players and I’ve loved them ever since. The only collection of automatic music machines that I know of in the Chicago area is at the Sanfilippo Foundation in Barrington, Illinois. They have a website you can check out if you want to chase a bit of nostalgia and see a fantastic garden estate.
Speaking of gardens, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Annual Historic Pullman Garden Club Tour and Tea taking place on Saturday, June 25th. You can get more information at their website hpgc.com about the tour and the tea that will be held on the veranda of the Florence Hotel. Last year they also had locally grown honey and seasonings for sale and a used cookbook sale. This year there will be six gardens on the tour and I’m aiming to have a novelty garden layout in place by that weekend. If my efforts are good enough, my novelty garden might be included in the tour.
Since this column deals with food a couple of people mentioned home gardens and Victory Gardens their families and neighbors had. I remember gardens with those old wire fences that had tomato and grape vines growing up them and them and through them. There were quite a few Roseland old timers who had great gardening skills. I know when my mom was making salad she’d just have us go outside and pick some nice ripe tomatoes for her.
Down the alley from our house on State Street we often played with the Angio kids. We’d always end up climbing up a ladder to the garage rafters. That was just so we could see a colorful display of their grandfather’s red and green peppers drying out on chicken wire screens spread out across the entire top rafter space. We’d goof around up there until their grandfather would yell at us to get out of there. One last thing to keep in mind. According to Lou DalSanto we each have flowers on our face — two lips!
To contact me, write to 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; tel: 773-701-6756; or firstname.lastname@example.org