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University Village Marketplace: Ready For It's Close-up

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jan 12, 2006 8:01PM

2006_01_Jewtown1.jpgIt seems like yesterday that preservationists and historians protested in vain about the relocation of the old Maxwell Street Market. Indeed, ten years does pass like a fleeting memory. It was a contentious debate that was eventually wasted breath. Most of us have lived in Chicago long enough to know that when Mayor Daley lobbies for something, he gets it. And this was a project both he and the University of Illinois at Chicago put considerable clout and muscle behind. Both saw the development of Maxwell Street as a way of tying the near South and West sides together while also attracting new residents.

So the whole area became a giant construction zone for years, the market relocated a few blocks east to Canal Street, the red hot stands to the expressway, and the townhomes went up. Those building frames that could be saved were gutted and incorporated into the new development. When the dust settled University Village was born.

2006_01_jewtown2.jpgThe primary enticement of University Village is its proximity to downtown nightlife and shopping. Still, a project of this magnitude needs to take into consideration plans for businesses and other commercial development. National chains such as Quizno's, Jamba Juice, and Cold Stone Creamery opened to the public while construction was still in full swing across the street. Barbara's Bookstore relocated its flagship store from Old Town to University Village. Tuesday we wrote about Lush Wine and Spirits, only a few doors down from Barbara's.

Across the street a slew of new restaurants and bars have opened that will cater to both new residents, students, and shoppers from surrounding neighborhoods. All of these shops are being billed under the name "University Village Marketplace." Along Maxwell Street statues have been erected honoring the neighborhood's early history as a haven for Jewish immigrants and later, the blues markets that blossomed. The street itself has been laid out in brick, adding a tasteful touch to the architecture surrounding it. Following the jump is a list of those new places and what they have to offer.

2006_01_hashbrown.jpgHashbrowns [731 W. Maxwell; (312) 226-8000; 6 a.m.- 3 p.m. daily] is a breakfast spot by the owners of Franco's Ristorante in Bridgeport and has quickly become an alternative to folks who don't want to wait in line at either Bongo Room location or don't want to be assaulted by an NBA player at White Palace Grill on Roosevelt. The menu features five versions of hashbrowns, including a decadent sweet potato variation, and gut-busting omelettes named after nearby neighborhoods. The "Maxwell Street" omelette, featuring Polish sausage, pork chops, and grilled onions, will literally take days off your life but is worth every penny. Hashbrown's has a casual dining atmosphere, with woody earth tones, marbelized concrete floors, a gigantic walnut bar and bench seating with wall-mounted cushions.

WOW Cafe and Wingery [717 W. Maxwell;(312)997-9969; 10:30 a.m.- 10 p.m. M-Th; 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sat; 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday] is the first Chicago location for this ubiquitous Louisiana-based chain. WOW is a bit more formal than other fast food joints- you can place your order at the counter, take a seat, and a server will deliver the order to you. Diners have 17 different chicken wing toppings to choose from (an 8-piece basket costs $5.99). For groups try the WOW wing sampler- 25 wings and 5 sauces for $14.99. Beer and wine are served at WOW; we recommend a bottle of "312" with the Buffalo III wings.

2006_01_kohan.jpgKohan Japanese Restaurant [730 W. Maxwell Street; (312) 421-6254;11:30-9:30 Mon-Fri; 11a.m.-10 p.m. Fri-Sat; closed Sunday] is a small Japanese steak and sushi restuarant with a display kitchen where you can watch the chefs prepare your order, a teppan grill, and an emphasis on fresh maki. In absence of body sushi Chicagoist feels that this is a fair trade. We'll have a more detailed review of Kohan next week.

2006_01_juniors.jpgJunior's Sports Lounge [724 W. Maxwell; (312) 421-2277; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-3 a.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday] is the latest entry to an already crowded club market by the owners of CANS Bar and Canteen, Salud Tequila Lounge, and FOUR nightclub: Bears Legend Gayle Sayers is a partner in this venture. Junior's has over 30 hi-def screens hanging from the ceiling, two gigantic plasma screens behind the bar, and individual televisions in the booths for the myopic sports fan. Their menu claims to rise above standard sports bar fare, and they have both plenty of beer and specialty cocktails. A private "red room" can be separated from the main room for private parties and RSVP events. Junior's will have its grand opening celebration next Thursday from 8 p.m. until close. It's sponsored by Chicago Scene, the website and pocket-sized doorstop (sorry, "entertainment guide") produced by professional hanger-on Ted Widen. Don't say we didn't warn you.

2006_01_morgans.jpgMorgan's Bar and Grill on Maxwell Street [1325 S. Halsted; (312) 243-4800; 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday-Friday; 10 a.m.-3 a.m. Saturday] is brought to us by the owners of the Mokena-based bar and grill of the same name. Morgan's has lots of dark wood and giant windows, copper ceiling, vintage-style chandeliers, and tons of photographs celebrating Maxwell Street's past. Morgan's has a large pizza oven capable of cranking out 100 thin crust pizzas an hour, traditional American pub fare, and 24 beers on tap. Althoug Morgan's isn't technically a sports bar they do have twelve flatscreen televisions allow you to catch the big plays.

There's also a Reggio's Pizza just down the street from Morgan's and a Joy Yee Noodle shop is slated to open in upcoming months. While the naysayers may not like it, University Village Marketplace is moving forward with an eye toward the future of the city.