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October 5, 2001

Jalapeño's fusion works culinary wonders

I done lived here in Hyde Park for three years now, and let me tell you, I hate this fucking place. The stadium's falling apart, we don't draw dick, and the weather's lousy. Another few years of this and I'm gonna have to start feeding Cha Cha real dog food. I am getting what some have described as an “education." The school is good if a little expensive. This is true. I enjoy the company of my mates. I do not lack for companionship. However, I hate Hyde Park.

The point: I will not stay in this godforsaken half-acre, filled with people who are more dog than man, I will not stay here one minute longer than I am contractually obliged to do so. In other words, the second the University gives me a diploma, whether or not I deserve it, whether or not the diploma in question has my name on it or not, I am gone. I am so gone. I am Ghost Dad, like blaaa.

But I'm stuck here for approximately 710 more days, not counting vacations and jail time. While I did have a big lunch, I have a sneaking suspicion that I am going to get hungry at least a couple times in those 710-odd days. Since I am miles and miles above shopping for and preparing and chewing my own food, that leaves me to find my victuals in one of Hyde Park's many eateries.

Believe it or not, I'm something of a man about town. I tweaked my fair share of the hortis in this particular urbs, if you understand what it is I am alluding to and I think you do. I've broken bread with kings and queens and also several former Saved By the Bell producers, not to mention one ex-starting shooting guard for the Denver Nuggets. So I know bella cucina when it jumps up and bites me in my gorgeous butt, and believe me, the bella cucina is on my ass like grease on a hipster. Also believe me that it is a gorgeous butt.

The point, again: I considered myself to be the original soul survivor when it comes to mange in Hyde Park. You name it, I've crammed it in my mouth, at least in this neighborhood. No bones, up until recently I would have said the food here ain't so good.

But then I started really paying attention. I realized the food in Hyde Park is actually tremendous. What did it? What snapped me out of my funk, my insistence that I would never find the true New American cuisine here in Hyde Park? Well, I don't know.

But I do know one thing. Jalapeno's is a good restaurant. Prior to last weekend, I had only been to Jalapeno's twice, once on the parental plastic for Sunday brunch, and once for carne asada, the thinking man's preferred steak dish. The game has changed however; Jalapeno's finds itself with a new menu and a new attitude.

First of all, and don't take this as a knock, but the atmosphere at Jalapeno's is somehow suburban. It makes me comfortable is what I mean. The chairs are a little softer than most other places, and the booths just a bit more plush and private. You don't see stuff like that in Chicago all that often if only because the hard, honest, straight-shooting people of this grey city will take what they can get in the way of hospitality, and, I'll be honest myself, it's a surprise to actually sit down at a big, well-decorated restaurant without an accompanying expectation of dropping three digits on the meal you're about to get.

High comfort levels aside, Jalapeno's is a restaurant, not a lounge. This means that the emphasis rightly should be placed on their menu. The menu is different, is what it is. I can honestly and emphatically say that Jalapeno's serves dishes that you will not find anywhere else in Hyde Park. Jalapeno's serves dishes that you will not find anywhere else in Chicago. Jalapeno's serves dishes you will not find in Mexico or New Orleans or anywhere else in the world, because they are legitimately authentic culinary creations. They accomplish this by fusing the tastes of the Southwest, the South, and the tastes of Right Now, something you can't get at McDonald's, and the result is doubly refreshing. It's refreshing for the great taste and inventive combination of ingredients we've all seen before, and it's refreshing for the unassuming honesty with which they are served up.

Don't assume you've experienced Jalapeno's just because you went there once your first year, or gulped a few margaritas at the full-service bar. You owe it to yourself and to Jalapeno, our mysterious benefactor, to try out each dish on the menu. We live in a big city, and we have a true dining cornucopia in front of us. But don't you ever think, not even for just a minute, that you have to go downtown or up north to get to the real good eats in Chicago, because it just isn't true. If you think that, you're doing yourself a capital disservice, because a few of Chicago's best are right here in your backyard, and Jalapeno's is most certainly one of Hyde Park's best restaurants.