It’s taken awhile, but it seems that spring has finally sprung. And as I sit here writing this column, I can assert that it’s a picture perfect day: sunny, blue skied and crystal clear, with just a hint of breeze and certainly unlike any other day I’ve been able to recall for some time. I’m struck by an awesome, invigorating feeling of hope and promise, as I look forward to the days ahead. Much is new.
The Memorial Day weekend has just passed, marking the beginning of the summer season, but June 4 marked the annual opening (and 30th anniversary) of the celebrated Oak Park Farmers’ Market. Truth to tell, I’ve been waiting for this year’s market with a more pronounced sense of anticipation than in previous years, due mainly to last year’s arrival of Matt and Peg Sheaffer and the high quality produce they’ll be bringing from their Sandhill Organics farm from Prairie Crossing in Grayslake.
It’s no exaggeration when I tell you that I was absolutely beside myself when I first discovered the magnificent taste and quality of Sandhill’s Japanese turnips, let alone their staggering selection of beets and heirloom tomatoes. And that’s only for starters. I discovered this organic labor of love late last season and I can’t wait to see what else they have in store for our fortunate community.
Speaking of fortunate community, the buzz concerning Forest Park is certainly well founded, what with the renaissance that’s been taking place on Madison Street in recent months. A myriad of new restaurants, the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor and the promise of more to come in a new high-rise that’s just been completed, attest to it.
And I will personally (and sincerely) attest that nothing brings more class to this welcome rebirth than the elegant, tasteful and refined new digs for Todd & Holland Tea Merchants and my good friends, tea connoisseurs extraordinaire, Bill and Janet Todd. The Todds’ new store on Madison Street is an absolute pleasure to visit, with so much to see and say that I’m going to have to come back to it in a later column
And that’s because I must save room in this spring outlook to mention a little (43 seats) “sleeper” that’s been quietly operating just a half block south of Madison Street on Circle Avenue.
La Piazza, owned and operated by Chef Gaetano DiBenedetto and his partner Robert Marani, is clearly (in this chef’s eyes) a labor of love. I don’t think that a truer, more honest and more capable restaurant has existed in our immediate vicinity since the 1980s, when I had the good fortune to work with Dennis Murphy as his executive chef at Philander’s. La Piazza (as it was with Philander’s) is the real deal, consistently good, family friendly, and above all, without pretension. It, too, is a part of the spring renaissance, promising 30 new seats in a modest expansion that’s now underway and due to be completed in early July. Ah, spring. So much to look forward to.
Editor’s note: Frank Chlumbky is a well known local chef. He was the first chef at Philander’s. His column will appear periodically in the Review