How does a café located so far out of the Loop earn the #1 TripAdvisor ranking among Chicago restaurants? This was the question popping in my head like corn during the $16.45 cab ride to Bridgeport, a Chicago neighborhood near the White Sox ballpark.
The cab driver asked me if I was sure this was the place. I could see the sign across the street, although the Polo Café was a few minutes from open. I paid the fare and snapped a few photos and then put my camera away. The neighborhood was sketch. I could not decide if it was gritty and a long way from coming back, or gritty and up-and-coming.
The owner of the Polo Café is a one-man redevelopment district. I admire neighborhood entrepreneurs who have a café and catering company in what used to be a candy company. Next door the old Eagle Theater is now an event venue. And upstairs is a bed and breakfast.
The neighborhood has banners that indicate that it is an art district. Seems more hope than reality so far.
The restaurant is smallish. Two round top tables in the window, maybe a dozen booths inside with a long table for bigger groups. In the corner was the electric piano where a middle age white guy with a soulful voice led the gospel hymns for the Gospel Brunch.
I sat next to the window and faced the fascinating chalk art depicting the political history of the neighborhood and of Chicago. This is where the Daley family began their political careers.
The service was great—my water and coffee cup were never less than half full. The waiter eventually warmed to me after a bad start over the pie on the menu not being available. He thought I was busting his chops. I was truly disappointed not to be able to try the pie. I did try the house specialty, the brioche French toast. Wow. It was amazing, although very sweet with fruit cocktail and whip cream topping. The bacon was also very good—cooked to crisp perfection.
I hung out for quite awhile reading my book and enjoying the hymns. I am not sure why but I got a break on my bill. Coffee was on the house. With some good directions from my waiter I finally took a last sip of water and set off to walk off the brioche.
It was about a mile on 35th Street to the green line train. I only made one stop at the specialty pet food shop. The one person working there greeted me from the sidewalk (where she just finished a smoke break) and helped me select some treats for Lulu, Cooper and Chaplin. All the while she told me that Bridgeport was indeed gentrifying and that it was a good thing. She loaded me down with samples and I winced only slightly when I realized I was going to need to schlepp these all over Chicago and get them home.
On the way to the Polo Café my female cab driver asked if I was meeting someone at the restaurant. I explained I was traveling alone. She then expressed her amazement that I would travel alone. Her judgment was wrapped in a thin veil of compliment. I had already been thinking that my whole weekend would have been much more fun with a friend. I found myself explaining to the driver that I am not going to wait until I have a partner to do things; however, I felt sad and more trepidation about how far this restaurant was from the hotel.
Then the good times and eats at brunch and then dog treat shopping reminded me why I travel—solo or otherwise. I love the experience and the people I meet.