I have driven and walked up and down Devon Avenue in Chicago, Illinois for years, merely glancing at the various shops and businesses on the street. However, the Breaking Bread, Macaroons, and Waffle Cone Food Tour opened up my eyes at the many great things this wonderful street has to offer and experience. Devon offers a variety of multicultural stores, restaurants, bakeries, and businesses throughout its several mile-long radius.
The Breaking Bread Tour was hosted by the Chicago History Museum, which used to be the Chicago Historical Society (newly named in 2006), which is located in Lincoln Park, a neighborhood of Chicago. Founded in 1856, the museum was constructed to study and understand the history of the city. This spring and summer, the museum hosted Chicago 24 tours, which included 34 history tours in 24 hours. The food tour I attended ran Saturday, May 3rd through Sunday, May 4th. My food tour was on the last day of the tours. Other tours included el trains routes, ghost and cemeteries, dog tours, architecture, Chinatown and Chicago neighborhood, bike tours, pub crawls, and history tours. More tours will be hosted this summer.
The Bread Tour I went on involved two things I enjoy very much: history and food. We all learned about the rich and diverse history of Devon Avenue while sampling sweets and breads from local bakeries and restaurants. Devon incorporates a very tight community in a large part of West Rogers Park, originally known as West Ridge. It has many ethnic groups, cultures, and religions, including Pakistani, Indian, Georgian, Croatian, and prominent Jewish influence. The shops, restaurants, and bakeries in the area help these groups of people feel more like a community and more at home in the city of Chicago. Devon hosts mainly the Pakistani and Indian communities whereas California and Devon is the Jewish community.
Food is a rather huge part of Devon’s culture including religious, symbolic, and “comfort” foods, which help these communities retain memories of their home countries. Though Devon is still a rather large Jewish community, parts of it have closed or moved away. In the 1920s and 30s throughout the 1990s, this was the third largest Jewish community in the world, besides New York City and Warsaw, Poland.
Over time, especially since many Jewish families and businesses have moved from the area to other locations, i.e. the suburb of Skokie, several business on Devon have closed up or have been demolished, with new businesses opening in their place. Such establishments such as family-owned The Four Cohns Shoes and Devon Music, are long gone, and now feature a bank. Another store, Hillman’s Pure Foods, originally located on the northwest corner of Devon and Artesian, is now a Dollar Inn Plus store. I also enjoyed peering through the windows of Georgian Bakery, which is one of the most important Georgian establishments in the United States. We did not go into sample, but everything inside looked delicious.
Besides the ever-changing Jewish community of Devon, there are the reigning Indian, Pakistani, and Middle Eastern communities as well, which span several blocks. These cultures began settling on Devon in the 1960s and 70s as the older Jewish communities began to move out. The shop that my tour group and I met at was the India Sari Palace, originally the Taj Sari Palace, first opened in the 1970s. It was one of the first sari shops on Devon Avenue.
The actual food tasting part of the tour came next. This was the part I was really looking forward to! The first place we visited was Tel Aviv Bakery, located at 2944 West Devon, Chicago. This Jewish bakery is completely kosher and sells wonderful handmade baked goods such as cookies, pies, cakes, bagels, and breads. We all sampled their delicious rugelach, which is a Jewish pastry consisting of a crescent shape with a rolled triangle of dough and a filling. Of course, I had to sample all three kinds (chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon). I could not decide which was my favorite. All of them were perfectly sweet and indulgent with a nice, chewy texture with flaky-baked dough. I would have liked to have tried other foods in there, but we had to move on.
The next place we visited for food sampling was Taza Bakery on 3100 West Devon Avenue. Taza is a Middle Eastern bakery with all ingredients imported from Lebanon. They are also well known for their beef shawarma and large pizzas, baked on a huge bread kitchen oven. I was able to taste their samoon bread, which is an Iraqi flatbread, similar to pita. The loaves were huge and shaped like leaves. They tasted amazing even though they were plain: warm, fresh, and puffy. As I slowly chewed them up to savor the taste, I kept wondering how even better they could have been with some hummus or baba ghanoush. I will definitely be going back there in future to try their pizzas!
The last eatery we sampled was Dairy Star Ice Cream at 3472 Devon Avenue in Lincolnwood. It reminded me of a Diary Queen I grew up by in Wilmette, Illinois. I was able to try one of their ice cream cones with chocolate and vanilla swirl dipped in crushed oreo cookies. It was not very warm that day, but eating the ice cream cone was very satisfying. It was delicious and it took me quite a while to decide which of their 13 dip varieties I should pick, such as chocolate, caramel, white chocolate, cake batter, bubble gum, peanut butter, cotton candy, and sprinkles. Dairy Star also offers low fat, fat free, vegan and kosher ice cream, sundaes, banana splits, drinks, floats, slushies, freezes, smoothies, malts, frozen bars, parfaits, and funnel cakes.
One other part of the tour I found entertaining was when the tour guides pointed out Chicago’s only Kosher Dunkin Donuts!
The Breaking Bread, Macaroons, and Waffle Cones tour was highly enjoyable for me. I learned a lot of fascinating history about Devon’s culture, ethnicities, shops, foods, religions, and customs. I hope to go on more food tours in the future.
Visit the Chicago History Museum website for information on future Chicago tours and the museum itself.
*Photos: Jennifer Lunz (color photographs) and curteousy of the Chicago History Museum (black and white photographs)
Published on May 09, 2014