If you only find yourself in Bridgeport for a Sox game, beers at Maria's Community Bar or the occasional meatball sub at Ricobene's, it's time to return. Three new restaurants have opened in the past month alone, which boosts dining options in this mostly residential neighborhood.
451 W. 31st St. 312-791-1230
Opened: Oct. 1
A long-time private club chef is going public at this Bridgeport restaurant. "I wanted to do something cozy, intimate, where you could really enjoy dinner, and there was not really a restaurant like that [in] Bridgeport," said Oliver Valenzuela, a former chef at Women's Athletic Club of Chicago and Green Acres Country Club who lives in Bridgeport and runs the restaurant with his wife, Marcy. Small plates with small prices to match make it easy to justify ordering appetizers such as Gulf shrimp with avocado salad and roasted piquillo pepper sauce ($6.50) and the addictive plantains with beef tenderloin stew ($5). Entrees include Chilean sea bass with horseradish mashed potatoes ($17) and rack of lamb marinated in chilis, ginger and Madeira wine overnight before a turn in the wok ($16). The restaurant is BYOB with a $3 corkage fee. It's also small—just 38 seats—so reservations are recommended.
3205 S. Halsted St. 312-949-9328
Opened: Sept. 30
At this recently opened Chinese restaurant, you could order Americanized Chinese takeout fare such as General Tso's chicken or fried rice. But it's authentic Chinese dishes such as chilled baby octopus ($6.95), stir-fried cumin-spiced lamb ($12.95) and homemade hand pancakes ($4.95) that owner Nancy Wu said chef Gao (her uncle) specializes in. The menu of more than 200 dishes also features traditional dim sum such as shrimp and chive dumplings ($6.95 for a dozen). Exposed brick, gold tablecloths and potted bamboo help the dining room hit the right note between polished and casual. Keep an eye out for lunch specials, which at $4.95 to $6.95, are an especially good value.
Jackalope Coffee & Tea House
755 W 32nd St. 312-888-3468
Opened: Sept. 21
"I grew up in Bridgeport my whole life and one of the things I've always wanted to open is a coffee shop," said January Overton. "There's only one other one and there's no Starbucks." So that's exactly what she and husband John Almonte have done with Jackalope, named for the fictional creature with a jackrabbit's body and deer antlers that's depicted in paintings and photos around the cafe. Teas such as tangerine-ginger come from organic brand Rishi, while baristas put Metropolis espresso to use in creative coffee drinks such as a Nutella latte and a chocolate-coconut frappuccino. In addition to the meaty treats from Bridgeport Bakery (bacon buns and bacon-maple doughnuts) that have become a fast favorite, Jackalope just started selling cream puffs from Puffs of Doom on weekends. Look for choices such as salted caramel-mocha, blackberry-goat cheese and even a savory vegan puff made with rosemary mashed potatoes for $3 a pop.
While the cafe's front room is more bustling, the back room plays host to study groups with a fireplace, couches and—seemingly a staple for any indie coffeehouse—a display of local art that will rotate regularly. In just the few weeks Jackalope has been in business, Overton and Almonte have already hosted plenty of events—such as a pumpkin-carving party and knitting groups—and expect to roll out more. Whatever you do, don't expect Overton to admit that her shop is named after a mythical beast. "People will ask, 'Is that thing real?'" she said. "I lie to them in a heartbeat."
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