When Alderman Sandi Jackson first came to the South Side of Chicago, she was a vegetarian. That lasted until her husband-to-be, Jesse, took her out to eat.
“Chicago broke me down,” Jackson says. “It’s a big meat town. I came here on a date, and I was looking for a vegetarian restaurant, and the only one was Soul Vegetarian on 87th. I was stunned by the number of fried fish and fried chicken joints that existed, and Al's #1 Italian Beef, and Maxwell Polish. Delicious. But as a vegetarian, I said, ‘Oh, my gosh. What are we gonna do?’ Of course, I had my first Maxwell Polish sausage on a vegetarian stomach. It did not rest well. It was good going down. It was not good afterwards.”
Even after two decades in town, Jackson is dismayed when she walks out of her aldermanic office at 71st and Yates and sees that there’s no place to eat but a fried-fish joint and a sub shop. She's working hard to get healthier fare to come to her ward, but it's a tough sell.
“It’s fast foods, high-fat foods,” Jackson complains. “Everything is processed. It really brought home for me the need to get more restaurants down here. My husband didn’t notice it, because he’d go out to Harold’s and get some chicken and thighs and livers, and that’s it.”
At a trade convention in Las Vegas, Sandi Jackson begged executives from Red Lobster, Chipotle and TGI Friday’s to visit the neighborhood. Even though the First Lady of the United States grew up in the 7th Ward, no semi-fancy restaurant will risk the South Side.
“Many of them knew of the reputation of the South Side of Chicago as a place that they would not go, despite our proximity to the lake and the stability of our residents in terms of home ownership," Jackson said. "They made their decisions based on news reports. It tends to overshadow the entire area, because of some concentrated drug activity, and gang activity that doesn't necessarily center around drugs.”
But “We told them, ‘You’re gonna do great business in the neighborhood because people are crying out for options, and they would welcome the opportunity to go to these restaurants,” Jackson says.
Nonetheless, Jackson has found some good eatin’ in her neighborhood. She loves the L & G Restaurant, at 104th and Torrence, owned by a Greek couple who’ve learned the locals’ taste for soul food.
“The food is fabulous, whether you stop there in the morning, to get my favorite, egg white omelet with buttered raisin toast, or whether you stop there for lunch to get a club sandwich with some extra bacon, or whether you want some good down home Southern cooking,” she says. “If you want collard greens and macaroni and cheese, and my kids’ favorite, candied yams, they’ve got all of that. Fried liver with gravy and onions. It’s absolutely fantastic.”