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May 5, 2006

Get a Life—May 5, 2006

When people talk about getting off campus, they mean going north. There is an overwhelming perception on campus that the South Side (and we’re talking anywhere below B-J) is rundown, dangerous, and devoid of anything worthwhile. Whenever I go south, my roommate Sara—her maternal instincts crescendoing—makes me call her when I leave Hyde Park, when I get to where I’m going, when I leave where I’m going, and when I get back to Hyde Park.

This is sweet but not necessary. Because the South Side really isn’t that bad. I would even go as far as to say it is not bad at all. Good, in fact. Great, even! And if you’re looking for a wonderful bakery with some of the best baked goods I’ve ever had (and that is saying a lot), the South Side is your destination—75th and Cottage Grove, to be exact.

Brown Sugar Bakery, with its cheery pink awning and cheery pink walls, was an aberration on the rainy, gray Monday I spent on the South Side. I had driven past it the previous week after going to a jazz club (jazz and blues—another reason to go to the South Side) and knew that I must find out what it was. I e-mailed the website but did not receive a response, so I just headed down there.

“Hi, my name is Jane,” I said awkwardly—as is my nature—to the guy behind the counter. “I e-mailed you but I don’t know if…well it doesn’t…I mean…” I was stumbling over myself. The man looked at me with sympathy. “I write a column and—”

Luckily he cut me off, remembering the e-mail, and told me that I should talk to the owner, Stephanie. He called her cell phone and talked to her for a minute.

“She has a few errands to run, but she said you could come with her. She’ll be around in a few minutes.”

“Wow, OK, I mean…Really? Cool, that’s so nice…” Again, verbal diarrhea.

As I waited, a steady stream of customers came through.

“You got coconut pineapple today?”

“Any sweet potato cobbler left?”

“Has she made any of the Porgy & Bess cake yet?”

The eager customers either left after finding that their favorite wasn’t there or left with a container (or two or three or four) of their chosen treat and a smile they didn’t have when they had entered. I was mesmerized by the man dishing out the treats. The golden, blistering crust of a pear cobbler cracked under the knife. The thick syrup bubbled up through the surface and glistened off the metal. As he hoisted the hefty slab up on the server and into a plastic container, a single shiny pear slice plopped back down into the cobbler, re-subsumed in the quagmire.

I’m pretty sure drool was inching down my face.

“You can go ahead out,” he said, snapping me out of my trance. “Stephanie’s waiting for you.”

I turned to find a white Land Rover with the engine running and a woman up front, awaiting my presence. Stephanie Hart is exactly the kind of woman you would want manning your local bakery. She’s outgoing, warm, and an absolute kick. She’ll always remember your favorite pie and try to have it made when you come in. Plus, she doesn’t buy into the whole “let’s make desserts healthy” thing: no substituting carob chips for chocolate ones, no Splenda instead of sugar, and no mashed up bananas in lieu of butter. It’s all the traditional, fatty, yummy ingredients that make both your taste buds and your arteries throb. Stephanie wants her treats to be just that—decadent indulgences in times of need. After all, as Stephanie states, “desserts is stressed spelled backwards.”

This was the mantra in my apartment as my roommates and I sat around devouring the bag of goodies with which Stephanie had sent me home: gooey pear and sweet potato cobblers; a dense, fudgey brownie with a layer of chocolate frosting and pecans; pound cake and cheesecake, both with the same buttery brown caramel icing doused on top; the “Killer Joe” double chocolate cake; and a perfectly tart lemon bar with a crispy top layer and crumbly crust. Plates were most certainly licked.

There are good bakeries on the North Side, and there are good bakeries in Hyde Park, but they are nothing like this. Get over your South Side phobia, take the #4 bus down Cottage Grove, and treat yourself to some post-midterm (or pre-midterm, or midterm) culinary delight. And the next time you’re thinking of going off campus, don’t forget there’s a whole world south of the Midway.

Brown Sugar Bakery

Address: 720 East 75th Street

Phone: (773) 723-9040

Website: www.brownsugarbakery.com

Via CTA: Take the #4 bus to Cottage Grove Avenue and 75th Street