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Restaurant Crawl Should Keep ’Em Running Back

Designed to introduce and promote the community as a culinary destination, the second annual Albany Park and North Park Restaurant Crawl drew in people from at least as far as Wicker Park and Lincoln Park, one of whom kiddingly said of going off his beaten track, “This is like Wisconsin for me.”

A couple other visitors came from much farther afield—one a former South Sider who moved to Florida had returned to town, and one visiting from New Orleans. In all, some 150 hungry customers lined up with their “passports” for the event, which they had stamped as they walked up and down the several-block area.

About 150 people attended the Albany Park and North Park Restaurant Crawl, held Sept. 27.

Gordon Walek

The mix of attendees pleased Liz Griffiths, director of the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce & Lawrence Avenue Development Corp. (LADCOR), which co-organized the event along with North River Commission, Hollywood North Park Community Association and North Park University.

"We saw a lot of folks from the local community and a lot of folks from around the Northwest Side and even some from the suburbs,” she said. Some who feasted had eaten in the neighborhood before but certainly not in the range of restaurants represented, Griffiths added, while “other people are foodies who will go to any crawl anywhere. They just like to get little taste samples.”

Events like a restaurant crawl entice customers into a business for the first time, which gives participating establishments a chance to make that crucial first impression, said Jake Cowan, business manager at LISC/MetroEdge, which studies and releases reports on urban retail environments.

“It’s a great way for a business to open its doors and introduce itself to a whole different set of customers that they might not have access to otherwise, especially because an event like this attracts people from all over the city,” he said. “The restaurants on Kedzie Avenue and Foster Avenue have a real destination quality. You’ve got a chocolatier [Beijo de Chocolat] who has internationally recognized chocolates and one of the most recognized Middle Eastern shopping districts in the city here.”

Lots of Tastes

Attendees seemed to be enjoying the variety of restaurants and the quality of offerings they put out for those presenting their passports in exchange for small, tapas-style plates (for description of the culinary offerings, please click here).

Twenty-one establishments on Kedzie Avenue and Foster Avenue participated.

Gordon Walek

Wicker Park denizen Todd Smith, who placed Albany Park in “Wisconsin” on his own personal map of the world, thought it would be a fun thing to do with visiting friend Jennifer Burnett of New Orleans. “It sounded interesting. And I’m a hungry guy,” he said. “She wanted ethnic [food], so we’re going to do anything ethnic.” High on their list was Semiramis for Lebanese and Merla’s Kitchen for Filipino.

Kurt Fess, who lives in Lincoln Park, heard the restaurant crawl mentioned on “Windy City Live” but thought he had seen something about it before. “I think I’ve been to one restaurant in Albany Park before, so it’s great to get out and see some new places,” Fess said. “I like that it’s along a couple different stretches of road. That stretch near the Brown Line [on Kedzie] is a beautiful neighborhood.”

Florida resident Kathy Rooney, who’s originally from the South Side, said she had lived in Lincoln Park the last eight years she resided in Chicago. “I usually hang out in the downtown area, Old Town, Lincoln Park, that neck of the woods,” she said. “I don’t usually get to this part of the city, so it will be a fun adventure.”

Even Albany Park resident Cheryl Lee hadn’t tried most of the places and said Semiramis was the only one she frequently frequented. “I wanted to get out … and just get a taste of what I’m missing,” she said. “When you actually get out on foot and you pass places, and you’re compelled to go someplace because your passport says you should, it’s a good opportunity to see what’s out there.”

Three co-workers from North Park University said they had each eaten at some of the restaurants listed on the passport, but they welcomed the chance to try more.

Beijo de Chocolat, an internationally known chocolatier, was among the stops on the restaurant crawl.

Gordon Walek

Sue Gost, director of university events and an Albany Park resident, eats regularly at Smokey Bears BBQ House and has eaten at “probably not everybody that was on the list, however, it was a comprehensive list.” She added, “We try to frequent the businesses here. I’m not very adventurous.”

Annie Rios, who works in the development office at North Park and lives in Lake View, said Merla’s Kitchen is the only place on the list she had been in the month she had been working at North Park. “Living in Lake View, I don’t get too creative with food,” she said.

Student worker Jess Stevens, who helps out in Gost’s office, also had praise for Semiramis. “It was really great,” said the New Hampshire native. “They had this little spread out. They were super-friendly.”

Two newly minted Albany Park residents, student-teachers Jacqueline Davis and Jenn Zigler from Goudy Elementary School in Edgewater, also welcomed the chance to try the fare while also volunteering with the North River Commission.

“I just moved here at the beginning of the month,” said Davis, who’s originally from New Jersey. “We were kind of nervous about trying new places. I’ve been trying things I never imagined I would try,” such as falafel.

“She’s a very picky eater, and she’s loved everything,” Zigler said, gently ribbing her roommate and fellow Indiana University graduate. “She’s a Kraft macaroni-and-cheese girl. We’re soaking up the experiences in Albany Park, and this has been a great one.”

Zigler, a native of Texas, added that the pastries at Nazareth Sweets and the spread at Semiramis were her favorites. “We could have stayed all night,” she said. “We were so full, but we kept eating, anyway.”

Compared with last year, the co-organizers kept the crawl within a considerably more confined area, and they engaged more institutions overall, Griffiths said.

“I haven’t heard of a crawl that integrates a university and residential group with the chamber of commerce and a development corporation,” she said. “Next year, we’re going to have it in May again, like the first year. We’re going to keep it in the same spot. ….

“We’re really, really excited about how well it went, the turnout, the support from the community,” Griffiths added. “It’s something that came from the community, that they asked us to do, so we’ll do it again next year. It fits in with what we’re doing in the neighborhood. We’re working to make it a destination on the Northwest Side.”

For a slide show with more pictures, please click here.

Posted in Economic Development, Albany Park

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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