Urban Growers turn Chicago’s front yard into a garden

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, staff writer

It’s a farm on the front yard of Chicago.

That’s how Erika Allen, co-founder of Urban Growers Collective (UGC), explains Art on the Farm, located in Grant Park at the intersection of Congress and Columbus.

This urban farm grows over 150 varieties of edible flowers and vegetables, including swiss chard, leeks, edible pansies, celery, tiny peppers, sunflowers, and more. The produce is then loaded onto their Fresh Moves Mobile Market, city buses doubling as mobile farmers markets and sold around the city.

Besides farming, the UGC offer agriculture-related educational programs for high schoolers and Art on the Farm hosts afterschool and six-week summer programs for teenagers to work on the urban garden.

“It’s public land that we are using a portion of the city’s landscape budget to grow food,” Allen said. She pointed out that by being in the proverbial front yard of the city, the program signals to the world the importance of the garden program.

Residents and tourists stop by the farm and talk to UGC volunteers and staff and UGC offers tours. The farm is also visited by birds. Allen noted a regular visitor to the farm, a Kirtland’s Warbler, was making waves amongst Chicago’s birding community for its rarity.

Allen founded Art on the Farm in 2005 through her organization, Growing Power. Adam Schwerner, the past Director for the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources at the Chicago Park District, was instrumental in helping Allen make the project happen. When Growing Power closed in 2017, Allen and co-founder Laurell Sims opened Urban Growers Collective in 2017.

Allen said one challenge has been balancing the farm’s productivity with its beauty. The farm started with straight beds, though now the beds are arranged in various shapes and Allen said the best view is probably from above.

For more information about UGC, their tours, products and other programming, visit their website, urbangrowerscollective.org.

Ryan Evans, Streeterville pizza chef, has his eye on the pie

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Ryan Evans has pie-in-the-sky dreams. Well, pizza pie-in-the-sky dreams.

Evans, executive chef at Streeterville Pizzeria and Tap, in May unveiled the neighborhood eatery’s new menu complete with some ambitious new flavors he hopes will rake in awards—and maybe national attention.

Evans knows pizza.

“My grandfather and I used to make pizza when I was a kid,” he said. “My very first memory is pouring water into the mixing bowl.”

He’s long since graduated from his home kitchen and, at almost 33, he’s been making pizzas professionally for more than 17 years (he had to get a waiver to begin his kitchen work as a minor) and last year won his first award at a Las Vegas pizza competition. He placed third in the mid-America pizza classic division.

“I prepared for a couple of months,” Evans explained. “That was in 2018 and I went out to Las Vegas and met some really good people and did pretty decent. I really used that as an opportunity to meet the higher ups in the pizza community.”

One of those people was Leo Spizzirri, a master pizza instructor at The Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli in Lisle, is one of two such pizza schools in the United States affiliated with the oldest pizza schools in Italy. Evans, of course, signed up for a course.

“It’s five days, 40 hours and it teaches fundamental dough chemistry, the physicality of working in a pizzeria and a whole bunch of hands-on chemistry,” he said.

Following the course, Evans worked with Spizzirri as an assistant for six months, where he dove into dough chemistry and worked out what he believes is the best blend of dough for Streeterville Pizzeria. His dough is part fermented whole wheat dough, sourdough and high-gluten King Arthur dough for a crust that’s slightly sour and sweet and it takes five days to make.

Besides the dough, Evans has spent his time at Streeterville Pizzeria tinkering away, redeveloping the pizza menu, with emphasis on a Detroit-style pie that is simple and delicious. He tries to follow the Italian rule for pizzas—the toppings can, at most, include five ingredients, two of which are sauce and cheese.

“So Detroit-style pizza is a rectangle or square pizza,” he said. “It’s an inch of fluffy focaccia bread with a golden crown of cheese baked around the side. It’s delicious and it’s pretty unique in Chicago.”

He acknowledges Chicago is a hard city for pizza chefs. With a wealth of renowned pizza spots, it can be hard to stand out. But Evans is confident he’s got what it takes to win in Chicago and, he hopes, in Italy.

“Chicago is a very tough city, and we don’t have a huge foot print here,” he said. “We can’t do quantity so quality will have to be our mark.”

Reorganized GPAC looking for community input

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

The newly-reorganized Grant Park Advisory Council met in May to seek input from area residents and to announce meeting dates.

President Leslie Recht said the council will meet the third Wednesday of every month aside from July and December, at the Maggie Daley Field House. Recht said the group will soon have a Facebook page and website, and she welcomes community input.  

“You should be able to attend a number of meetings,” she told the audience of about 20. “They will be here at 6:30 in the evening.” She said GPAC will not call last-minute meetings.

Recht also announced Maggie Daley Park will host a party for the park district.

“This is the 85th birthday for the Chicago Park District and Maggie Daley was chosen as one of the party sites, and we’re celebrating June 20 with (the movie) ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet,’” she said.

Movies begin at sundown.

During the meeting, various subcommittee heads offered updates. GPAC vice-president and safety and security committee co-chair Jim Wales, a former police officer, encouraged residents to make suggestions and get involved with the group.

“We are looking for people who have an interest in that specific area in Grant Park and if you want to serve on any committee, and you’re not precluded to serving on more than one committee.”  

Subcommittees include safety and security, maintenance and infrastructure, permits and leases, cultural affairs, long range planning, skateboard park and recreation and special interests.

Contact the group at their email address gpacchicago@gmail.com.

New speed limits passed for Lakeshore East Park

(Published May 30, 2019)

After residents complained to Alderman Brendan Reilly’s office about motorists speeding around Lakeshore East Park, the Chicago City Council introduced 20 mile per hour speed limits on North Field Boulevard, East South Water Street, North Westshore Drive, North Park Drive and East Benton Place.

The streets front several residential towers as well as GEMS World Academy and people frequently cross the streets with bags of groceries from Mariano’s or with dogs. Several area residents, said they didn’t think speeding had ever been a problem.

“I don’t think speeding was a problem,” Kevin Zheng said. “People were driving pretty slow already.”

“I don’t think speeding was a problem,” Kevin Zheng said. “People were driving pretty slow already.”

Lakeshore East play area to re-open in early June

The Magellan Development Group announced in May that the children’s play area in the park would close through early June because the group will add playground equipment for children. The equipment will include slides, swings and playsets.

The Lakeshore East Master Association is responsible for the upgrade and a re-opening event will be held, though the date was not set as of press deadline.

Part Illinois Center, other high rises, up for sale

A New York real estate firm, AmTrust Realty, is looking offload a slew of downtown properties for a deal which could fetch $1.4 billion, according to Crain’s.

The buildings include two towers in the Illinois Center, 233 Michigan Ave., as well as buildings at 111 E. Wacker Drive, 233 N. Michigan Ave., 135 S. LaSalle St., 1 E. Wacker Drive, 30 N. LaSalle, 33 N. Dearborn St. and 33 W. Monroe St.

LH Rooftop to host pop-up rose bar

In honor of National Rosé Day on June 8, LH Rooftop, the tri-level rooftop bar and restaurant at LondonHouse Chicago, will launch a weekend-long rosé pop-up bar. Partnering with Gérard Bertrand, among other winemakers, LH will offer dozens of rosé wines by the glass ($14-18 per glass), still and sparkling, from around the world for three days only.

Guests can enjoy their rosé sampling in the crown jewel of LH Rooftop, the Cupola – which will be decked out in rosé-all-day fashion with pink-clad lights, florals, and additional décor. LondonHouse is located at 85 E Wacker Dr, Chicago.

Residential tower to replace parking garage on Randolph

Developers Moceri and Roszak have proposed a 25-story, 241 unit multi-family rental and condo building with a retail base located at 50-60 East Randolph. Currently, there is a three story valet parking garage on the site.

The proposed 25-story structure includes 6,400 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, with two stories of parking and 22 stories of residential and amenity space above. Residential units range from 550 square foot studios to 2,600 SF four-bedroom penthouse units. The proposal includes 190 apartment units and 24 condominiums.

This is a transit served location, in close proximity to both the Washington & Wabash CTA Station and Millennium Metra Station, and will provide 70 accessory parking stalls. The garage will be accessible only via Benton Place to the north of the site. The existing triple wide curb cut on Randolph Street currently servicing the valet garage will be eliminated.

Sidewalk landscaping includes planters with low vegetation on Wabash due to the proximity of the L-tracks. Similar planter landscaping on Randolph is punctuated by four tall shade trees.

The underlying zoning for this project is DX-16. The proposal adheres to the underlying zoning, and is nearly 150 feet shorter than the maximum allowable height, measuring to a total of 293 feet tall.

Although the proposal does not require city council approval, it must obtain Lakefront Protection Application approval from the Chicago Plan Commission to ensure that the building does not impede access to the Chicago Lakefront or inflict harm on the natural lakefront environment.

Resident comments and observations are welcome and should be emailed to development@ward42chicago.com.

Mariano’s to undergo remodeling in June

The Benton Place Mariano’s will undergo remodeling in June.

Company spokesperson Amanda Puck said the remodeling should not affect customers and it won’t close the store. She also said the extent of the renovations aren’t yet clear.

“We’re going to make some great enhancements to the customers’ experience, we don’t know what that means yet.” Puck said. However, she said the hot foot bar upstairs will be remodeled, as will the wine bar and the produce section.

She said renovations are scheduled to wrap up in October.

In addition, the company is considering buying shopping carts that will automatically freeze their wheels at the doorway, meaning residents may not be able to take the carts to the residence. The move comes after months of complaints by building managers about empty carts abandoned at residential doorways.

Lakeshore Park summer movie series announced

The Magellan Property Group has announced the summer film lineup for the Park at Lakeshore East.

Every month, starting in June, families can gather in the park for arts and music at 7 p.m. and stay for a movie beginning at 8:30 p.m. The series begins June 20 with “Goonies.” On July 25 the movie will be “Mary Poppins Returns,” and finally on Aug. 22 the film will be “The Notebook.”

All events are free.

CrossFit gym first to offer unique fitness program to Streeterville

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Frank Dowie, owner of MagMile CrossFit, likes to think his new CrossFit gym has something for everyone and every part of everyone can get fit.

Since the gym opened in late April at 7 E Illinois St., Dowie has seen a steady stream of various clients.

A traveler can lift kettlebells or do calisthenics in the morning, as a trio of business travelers from Mexico did one recent morning for less than $30. For the locals who love workouts, there’s a $240 option offering unlimited access to the facility and courses. There’s an $80 a week option or for $100 users get five classes.

Dowie’s gym is as versatile as CrossFit, a branded fitness program that aims to work out the whole body, combining fitness philosophy with community. Greg Glassman developed CrossFit in 2000 and in the last 20 years, the workout has developed a dedicated cult following.

“A big part of CrossFit is, CrossFitters love CrossFit,” Dowie said. “They don’t want to go to a traditional gym. It doesn’t scratch that itch.”

Dowie said he got into the CrossFit program in 2011, and fell in love with it. CrossFit doesn’t include many machines. Rather, it may involve lifting weights or throwing weighted balls and other activities that combine aerobics along with muscle development. But it’s also about mutual support and interacting with other people. Dowie said people don’t workout at a CrossFit gym wearing earbuds, and there are no mirrors on the wall, so members don’t focus on themselves. It is about other people.

“CrossFit is built on community,” Dowie said. “These people become your friends. This isn’t the kind of thing where you put your headphones in. You encourage each other. It’s a very positive environment and I loved that aspect of it.”

Dowie said many gyms—including his—do regular charity drives. In May, MagMile CrossFit raised money for local veterans and in June, he has hopes to raise money for a local gay pride nonprofit.  

Dowie, a Streeterville resident, said he opened MagMile CrossFit in the community because there’s not another CrossFit gym in Streeterville.

“I’m a resident here and I love this neighborhood,” he said. “I’m excited to bring our community to the community. I think it would be a benefit to the neighborhood.”

For more information, visit magmilecrossfit.com, email info@magmilecrossfit.com or call 312-577-9669.

Johnny Anderson, The Buckingham

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Johnny Anderson has been the doorperson at The Bunckingham since July 10, 1999.

The Buckingham, 360 E. Randolph St., is one of the original residential towers in New Eastside and it remains popular, with 305 units and, Anderson estimates, about 650 residents. He works the afternoon shift, starting at 3 p.m. and wrapping up at 11 p.m. Anderson said he likes the long day.

“I like that shift because I’m almost 70,” he said. “I’m 69, and I hate to get up early in the morning so I can sleep in late and if I have to do some errands, I can do them in the morning and still get to work.”

Anderson said he helps residents with packages and deliveries and, of course, he opens doors for people. But during those long evening hours when few people are coming or going, he enjoys singing praise songs. Anderson is a born-again Christian and, alone in the lobby, he said he sings to God when no one else can hear him.

“People come in here sometimes and they say the building feels anointed,” he said. “It’s because I’ve been singing praise songs when nobody is around. I can’t do it when people are present because I don’t know what they believe, but I do like to give praises to the Lord at all times and when it’s slow, I like to give God a praise.”

Anderson said he loves working with people, even through the trauma of life.

“Well, I am a Christian a born again Christian and so there was a time when there was a lady who lived here, and she was diagnosed with cancer,” Anderson said. “She was told she had cancer throughout her body. She was told she only had six months to live and so she came down and she wanted to talk to me about Biblical things. And I had to do it because I felt bad for her soul and I wanted her to know something about the Bible. I witnessed to her and gave her some material to read and I told her the Bible means Biblical Information Before Leaving Earth. I gave her all the information I could and she loved it, and after accepting Jesus Christ as her savior, she lived another year and a half and when she finally did die, her husband came to me and told me that when she died she was smiling and no one in the hospital could figure out why she was smiling. And when I heard that from her husband I started crying. I love to be able to help people when they’re going through something.”

To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

How one realtor helped build the neighborhood

(Published on May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright for Sheetal Balani

New Eastside residents know what a gem the neighborhood is. But years ago, before Magellan developed the area, Compass realtor Sheetal Balani was asking her prospective buyers to have faith in her and the future of the area.

Balani has been selling in New Eastside for 13 years, and she recalls bringing clients to the developer’s trailer on Upper Wacker  Dr. to look at scale models and floor plans.

“The sales staff would make their pitch and I’d hold buyers’ hands as they took a leap of faith,” she said. “For most folks there was definitely a lot of uncertainty over what it would ultimately become and what the community would look like.”

With the units stil two to three years away from completion, Balani saw the vision of what could be, and made the sales. Over time, she helped build the familial community.

“Those early buyers, a lot of them are still in the neighborhood and they attract other family members and friends,” she said.

Balani knows the story well. She sold a unit to her in-laws, who moved from the suburbs and she watched their stress melt away.

“They used to always enjoy going to the theatre but the distance between the city and the suburbs was too daunting,” Balani said. “Now they frequent shows two-to-three times a month.”

While Balani could understand the appeal of raising kids in the suburbs, the community of New Eastside allowed her to have a neighborhood and be in the heart of the city–it was the best of both worlds.

“Having lived in the city and moved to the suburbs, wanting to come downtown with two kids, it was clear to me that Lakeshore East was an oasis in the city,” she said. “It felt comfortable and welcoming to a young family.”

Balani knows firsthand the biggest selling points of Lakeshore East.

“My kids learned to ride their bikes around the perimeter of Lakeshore East Park,” she said. “We walk to Mariano’s several times a week and we can walk to work in just minutes.”

Whether you’re raising young kids and want a city meets neighborhood experience or your kids are off at college, Balani knows the ins and outs of New Eastside and can help make it your home.

Headache Foundation honors Nobel laureate neurobiologist Eric Kandel

(Published May, 29, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

The Chicago-based National Headache Foundation honored pioneering neurobiologist Eric Kandel in May as part of their annual gala fundraiser.

Kandel won a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2000 for his work showing how memories can physically alter the brain. Kandel will be 90 in November, and in an exclusive interview with the News, he talked about his current research.

“I’m studying age-related memory loss,” he said.

Through experiments he has shown older adults can offset memory loss and improve memory through the release of osteocalcin, a hormone released from the bones. The best way to get it is by exercise and movement. Kandel said his discovery changed his life.  

“I walk everywhere,” he said. “I now walk to work, and I walk back (from)work, and I walk more than I used to.”

While Kandel said he personally hasn’t done extensive research in headaches, early in his career he studied spreading depression, which is thought to be the underlying cause of migraines.

“Headaches are a universal problem,” he said.

Among migraine sufferers is his granddaughter. During the awards ceremony, Kandel said might have changed his research if he was aware of  her condition earlier in his career.

“Had I known one of my grandchildren would develop migraine headaches, I would have continued to study migraines,” he said. “But, I’m still relatively young.”

Headache Foundation Executive Chairman Seymour Diamond praised Kandel’s work before awarding him the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“His work has contributed in so many ways to understanding headaches,” Diamond said.

The evening raised $225,000 for headache research.

Grilling guac: Why not grill the dip?

(Published May, 29)

Guacamole is a popular side at any barbecue. While it’s usually cooked with raw ingredients, grilling the avocado, onion, pepper, garlic and tomatoes can add a complex, smoky flavor that improves the end result.


1 medium red onion, skinned, cut in half

2 small tomatoes, halved

1 jalapeno pepper, halved (seeded, if you don’t want a lot of heat)

2 large ripe avocados, halved and pitted

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1-2 large cloves of garlic not skinned

The juice from one line (or ½ depending on taste)

Cumin to taste

Salt to taste

Chop up the cilantro and set it aside in a bowl. Add a dash of cumin and some salt.

On a grill over medium heat, place the avocados face down, so the flesh is exposed to the heat. Toss the rest of the vegetables—including the limes—face down to the heat. The avocadoes and onion will take 3-5 minutes to char, but the tomatoes, garlic, and jalapeno should be turned regularly, exposing all sides to the heat. The lime should be checked and, once it begins to char, taken off the grill.

Once all vegetables have been charred, scoop the avocado flesh from the rind into the bowl with the cilantro. Remove the garlic skin (after it’s cooled) and add that to the bowl. The garlic should be soft, but if not, mince it first. Mince the onion and add that to the bowl. Squeeze half the lime into the bowl. Chop up the jalapeno and add that to the bowl. Roughly chop up the tomatoes, add that to the bowl.

Mix everything together by hand with a large spoon or fork or a pestle. Taste; add more lime juice, salt, cumin as needed.

Serve immediately with chips.

Grill Out, Chicago: The best public places to get grilled

(Published May, 29, 2019)

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

For grill masters and amateurs, there are several public parks and beaches that allow grilling.

“Grilling must be confined to enclosed metal containers and may only take place within dedicated grilling areas,” according to the Chicago Parks website. The parks also stress all hot coal must be watered and any remains should be disposed of in designated red receptacles.  

Some of the nearby parks and beaches that allow grilling:

Oak Street Beach

1000 North Lake Shore Drive

North Avenue Beach

1601 N. Lake Shore Drive

Montrose Beach

4400 N. Lake Shore Drive

Loyola Beach

1230 W. Greenleaf Ave.

Riis Park

6100 W. Fullerton Ave


$50 fee to grill, must bring own grill.

Burnham Park

Promontory Point

5491 S. Lake Shore Drive


Public fire pits or bring your own grill in designated areas.

Humboldt Beach

1400 N Humboldt Drive

For more information about the parks and beaches, visit chicagoparkdistrict.com

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