No doubt about it, 2021 was a year of resilience and perseverance for our collection of local eateries. Despite rising food costs, significant labor shortages and customer hesitancy, restaurants in our Eats communities have proven to be adaptive and nimble in the face of extend- ed challenges. Thanks to passionate community members, resourceful owners, and collaborative efforts we have rallied around our restaurants. In response they have kept thing things downright delicious in our little food-focused alcove.

We know the struggles are not over for our independent eateries, but showing our sup- port is the best way to help them through the long winter. Let’s look ahead with anticipation as we enjoy this look back at eight of our favorite bites this year.

1) Eggplant Parmesan Sandwich from Gaetano’s, Forest Park: We have become deeply obsessed with this artisan sandwich from Chef Gaetano’s Artisan Foods, 7636 Madison St. Layers and layers of thinly sliced eggplant, slathered in tomato sauce, and garnished with fresh basil leaves are nestled on house-made artisan bread. The hearty vegetarian sandwich is served cold and should be eaten with two hands. This lunch delivers in a big way.

2) Duck Cont from Babygold Barbecue, Berwyn: Popular pork belly, smoked turkey and brisket are always on the menu at Baby- gold Barbecue, 6615 W. Roosevelt Rd., but plated specials are only available in the dining room. The smoked duck confit over dirty couscous we savored during the restaurant’s soft opening brought a refined energy to the regular offerings and was easily a top three dish of 2021. Dine in at the music venue and the menu is sure to take you by surprise.

3) Coffee and conversation at Kribi Coffee, Forest Park: In 2021 alone Kribi Coffee was named among the ten best coffee shops by Chicago Social and earned a coveted Illinois Made Award. Despite the accolades, Jacques Shalo, owner of the flagship shop at 7324 Madison St., remains focused on his Cameroonian coffee farm and serving the communities he loves. Every sip of Kribi coffee is sublime and a conversation with Jacques makes it even more enjoyable.

4) Hummus from Petra Falafel, Forest Park: Hummus has become a grocery store conve- nience purchase for most people, but fans of Petra Falafel, 7314 Madison St., clamor for their version of the chickpea puree. The super smooth appetizer is drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with spices—it is the best the area has to offer.

5) Crudo from White Crane Creative Thai and Sushi, Forest Park: This Thai-Japanese fusion restaurant, arrived in late summer. Bee and Sinchai Suptaveeying, the husband- and-wife duo behind the restaurant, 819 S. Harlem Ave., are serving dishes born out of family ties and decades spent working in the culinary industry. Their colorful crudo is elevated by wakame and black salt.

6) Soups from the freezer at Starship Restaurant, Forest Park: Henry Laskowski, co-owner of Starship Restaurant, tastes every batch of soup that goes into the freezers at Starship, 7618 Madison St. In addition to offering a rotating menu of 5-6 hot soups daily, Laskowski’s freezer cases hold 80 varieties of grab-and-go soup at all times. While the soups are available in the summer months, they are especially popular when the weather turns cold. Be sure to keep some of his Resurrection Chicken Soup on hand.

7) Chive Dumplings from Habraé’, Forest Park: Habraé’ has a rotating arsenal of more than 50 Thai sweets that keep adventurous dessert lovers happy, but dabbling on the savory side of the menu has big rewards. HabGuichai Tod are garlic chive dumplings prized for their chewy interior and crunch exterior.

8) Valentine’s Day Cake Pops from Twisted Cookie, Forest Park: Twisted Cookie, 7401 Madison St., presented generously sized cake sticks decorated to honor Valentine’s Day. We couldn’t get enough of chocolate cake slices topped with decadent whipped chocolate ganache and dipped in a chocolate coating emblazoned with messages of love or sprinkled with red candy hearts. Let’s be honest though — every day feels like a holiday at the Forest Park sweet shop