An Afternoon Exploring... Andersonville

I love meeting my Aunt Barbara out for brunch on the weekend. While she lives in the near west suburb of Oak Park, she uses a visit with my family as an excuse to try out a new restaurant in a new neighborhood in the big city. She always keeps a running list of potential restaurants for us to visit, adding to it as learns of new ones courtesy of some of her favorite local news outlets. Without fail, she always sends the top places on her list to us a week or two before our brunch date and leaves it up to us to select the restaurant that will be the site of our next culinary adventure and neighborhood explorations.

Of course, being my aunt and my sons' "great" aunt, she knows to pick restaurants that will appeal to even the pickiest of eaters and make sure each option is kid-friendly, meaning a brunch-time visit won't be a long, drawn-out affair in a stuffy, uptight restaurant. In addition to being kid-friendly, all of her targeted restaurants are always varied, unique and ohso tempting, which makes it hard, but very fun, to choose just one.

The restaurants on my aunt's list are always in different neighborhoods across the city, making it the perfect excuse to use our brunches as the perfect starting point for another journey to one of Chicago's amazing neighborhoods. This past weekend our chosen food establishment was Svea Restaurant in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. And, so, it served as the ideal place to get fueled up before venturing out into this thriving, Swedish-influenced area.

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Andersonville, located on the north side of Chicago, is bordered by Winnemac (5033 North) to the south, Victoria (5800 North) to the north, Ravenswood (1800 West) to the west and Magnolia (1250 West) to the east. To me, the commercial "heart" of the neighborhood is Clark Street from roughly Foster (5200 North) to Balmoral Avenue (5400 North). Andersonville is easily accessible via the Red Line "L" train or by car, with ample metered and free street parking options available in the area.

Up and down Clark Street you'll find decorations, banners and awnings in blue and yellow - the national colors of Sweden and a nod to the history of the community and a testament to the presence of one of the largest concentrations of Swedish stores and restaurants in the U.S. And, you can sample many of that country's fine delicacies at the numerous Swedish restaurants, bakeries and delis that line the street. A visit to Andersonville is like taking a quick trip to Sweden, with a good, healthy serving of other ethnicities, cultures and traditions all wrapped in a wonderful, family-friendly package.

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Here is our list of must-visit places for your next family visit to Andersonville:

1) Restaurants and Bakeries.

- Svea Restaurant (5236 N. Clark Street). Walking into Svea Restaurant is like walking into a true neighborhood - Swedish - diner. It feels cozy and warm, and you just know you're going to have a great meal served by great people. That's how we felt when we walked in last Sunday and we walked out feeling very satisfied - and very full. Three out of five us went with the perfectly named Svea Tease - a must-order dish since it comes with one Swedish pancake, two eggs and bacon or sausage. Anyone who may want more than a just a "tease" of Swedish pancakes should go with the Svea Special, which comes with double the pancakes (but minus the eggs and bacon/sausage). I had the King Oscar omelet with smoked salmon, tomatoes and onion, which was my attempt to give my typical omelet selection a little more of a taste of Europe. The dishes we ordered and the restaurant itself were a real treat and thoroughly enjoyed by all of us.

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- Ann Sathers (5207 N. Clark Street). Ann Sathers is one of the most popular restaurants in Andersonville, and maybe all of Chicago. It is famous for its cinnamon rolls that come drenched in a decadent frosting. A side order comes with two cinnamon rolls, which can be easily split among two people or enjoyed by one brave and very hungry soul. Plus, all egg dishes come with a choice of two sides - including cinnamon rolls. But, don't worry if you happen to go by the restaurant with a full stomach like we did last weekend, Ann Sathers also packs their cinnamon rolls to go!

- Swedish Bakery (5348 N. Clark Street). One important word of caution... The Swedish Bakery is closed on Sundays. So, when we went there last weekend, we ended up standing in front of the windows, gazing in at all of the delicious-looking Halloween treats, and literally drooling right there on the spot. But, fear not, we went back a few days later to sample the goods including some of their Swedish cookies. Then the only problem was picking just one treat to let my sons enjoy that day...

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- Urban Orchard (5212 N. Clark Street). A relatively newcomer to the scene, Urban Orchard brings the farmers-market atmosphere and artisanal goods to Clark Street - all year round. The big, bright space offers a cafe, grocery and market plus fun classes and events for kids and adults. The store recently played host to a Halloween pumpkin decorating event and it offers an ongoing series of wine tasting classes (for adults only of course).

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As you can probably tell, one afternoon in Andersonville is just not enough time to sample all of the amazing food found at the restaurants, bakeries and delis that line both sides of Clark Street. Two other places worth mentioning (and visiting on your next trip - or trips - there) that we've taken our sons to many times include:

- Reza's Restaurant (5255 N. Clark Street) is a large, bright Persian restaurant with delicious kabobs and something for everything - meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Our sons love to eat the shrimp kabobs and, if they're feeling a little crazy, they'll have the chicken koubideh kabobs too. If you're there during the week, and in a hurry or want to sample a little bit of everything, you can always opt to enjoy the lunchtime buffet.

- Huey's Hot Dogs (1507 W. Balmoral Avenue) is a casual hot dog stand - and a favorite spot for my guys to indulge in one of their all-time favorite foods. While my husband and I like to take our sons' tastebuds to different countries via new ethnic-eating experiences, sometimes you just have to read the signs and take them for some good old-fashioned, kid-comfort food.

2) Stores. Andersonville is a family-friendly neighborhood with a true European flair, which is what makes it a great destination for eating - and shopping too. As anyone with kids knows, shopping as a family is usually pretty quick and limited unless, like us, you mostly stop into toy, book and sporting goods stores when you're out and about with them. While we didn't find one of our coveted soccer stores in Andersonville, we did find two great options for books and toys.

- Toys et Cetera (5311 N. Clark Street). You can't help but smile when you set foot into Toys et Cetera in Andersonville. The small store is jam-packed with an amazing selection of toys to please kids of all ages. There is a train table and dollhouse to help keep your kids busy while you get in some shopping on the sly. Our sons are into the magical world of knights, dragons and wizards these days and got thoroughly caught up in the selection of Papo figurines there. Needless to say, we didn't leave empty handed - and took advantage of the complimentary gift-wrap services for one of the presents we bought for our friends.

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- Women and Children First (5233 N. Clark Street). It's always fun to stop into Women and Children First and check out their unique selection of books. I don't know how they do it, but the bookstore always has the most amazing books for my sons that you can't find anywhere else. It feels good to go there to get great new books - and also support a local, independent bookseller.

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3) Cultural Institutions and Events. As you probably know by now, the secret to our traveling-with-kids success is making time for play time. As the weather gets cooler, the options get more limited. But, thankfully, great indoor and outdoor options abound in Andersonville.

- Swedish American Museum (5211 N. Clark Street). The Swedish American Museum houses the Brunkow Children's Museum of Immigration, the nation's first children's museum of its kind. The hands-on, interactive children's museum is open to the public in the afternoon and on weekends. It also offers unique, fun events like Pancakes with Pippi, an opportunity to meet Pippi Longstocking herself and learn how to make Swedish pancakes (upcoming dates TBA); Viking Breakfast, a great way to join Frey the Viking for crafts, games and, of course, Swedish pancakes (upcoming dates TBA); and Julmarknad Festival, a handicrafts fair with traditional Swedish food and entertainment (Saturday, Dec. 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 2. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. $2 admission).

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- Cheetah Gym Trick or Treat and Costume Contest (Clark Street). The businesses and organizations in Andersonville play host to a wide array of family events throughout the year. All you need to do is look at the sheer number of event posters and fliers that hang on the doors and windows of neighborhood businesses to get a sense for all there is to do all the time. For Halloween, Andersonville residents and visitors alike are invited to the Cheetah Gym Trick or Treat and Costume Contest on Saturday, October 27 from 2 - 4 p.m. Perfect for children ages 2 to 12 years old, the free event features trick or treating and a costume contest. Parents need to register their children at Cheetah Gym (5248 N. Clark Street) and pick up an official trick-or-treat bag - and then you can let the Halloween fun begin.

Information on other events taking place in Andersonville throughout the year is available here.

Andersonville is the perfect neighborhood to visit together as a family. It has a little bit of everything and something for everyone, and it's sure to ease any and all gastronomical cravings. Just be sure to come hungry - and be prepared to want to come back again and again.

Do you live in Andersonville or have you spent some time there lately? I'd love to hear about your family's favorite restaurants, stores and more. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments below.

 

If you like this story, you also should check out my family-friendly visit guides for other Chicago ethnic neighborhoods:

- Greek Town (Greek neighborhood)
Little Italy (Italian neighborhood)
Pilsen  (Mexican neighborhood)

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