Spring Thaw in Downtown Elgin

Yes, the windchill is well below zero, and the Fox River is frozen over, but I’ve got the spring thaw on the mind.

We haven't quite had snow this year, but we can still enjoy a thaw.

We haven’t quite had snow this year, but we can still enjoy a thaw. (Pictured: the Fox in Jan 2012)

Walking through downtown Elgin, particularly along Grove Avenue, new restaurants are popping up, offering brightness among the empty, dark vacancies. There’s new life in old buildings, and the street parking is filling up. The walk doesn’t feel so desolate, and even more businesses appear to be on the way. While we still haven’t filled in many of the gaps identified in the late 2011 “Downtown Brainstorm,” we’re making progress. The Downtown Neighborhood Association held a “Downtown Grub Crawl” to celebrate the new restaurants just before Christmas.

A few observations:

On the Side: Easily my favorite of the new bunch of restaurants, On the Side serves an ever-changing variety of breakfast and lunch dishes, with a focus on innovative side dishes. The menu is rotated weekly, and everything is fresh, including the biscuits for the breakfast sandwiches. The soups are also fantastic. I’ve had both the pumpkin gruyere and the cheddar broccoli – excellent. The space – in the former Red Bar – is welcoming and cozy, with exposed brick and a fun variety of mirrors adorning the walls. Their sweets – also rotated – range from cookies and muffins to cinnamon rolls (Fridays) and beignets (Saturdays). Try the almond pear muffins. I’ve been thrice, and will go many, many more times. Website   Facebook

Chooch’s Pizza: Hooray for pizza! Chooch’s was the first to announce they were building, and after a year (longer?) of building, they finally opened their doors right before Christmas. Everything is made in-house, and the hand-breaded mozzarella sticks were delicious. The thin crust pizza was good, and supposedly they’ve also added a pan pizza. I love the atmosphere, and can’t wait until they open their river-facing outdoor seating in the spring. Website   Facebook

M-Squared Bakery: I was thrilled to see a new coffee shop take the vendor space in the National Street Metra station. And even more thrilled after I tried their baked goods. There’s no signage, so take a little detour into the National Street depot and visit M-Squared. Their menu varies, but everything I’ve had there has been great, from muffins and cupcakes to brownies and a caramel apple cake. They also do special orders, and were easy to work with when I needed to place an order for a SWAN meeting, full of flexible, good suggestions. Website   Facebook

Elgin Books & Coffee: I’ve spent several lazy Saturdays idly browsing Elgin Books, often leaving with a bag of books I didn’t know I needed. The labyrinth of bookcases brings back fond memories of Hyde Park’s Seminary Co-Op. They’re now moving into a larger space on Grove Street – and I can’t wait to visit. Website   Facebook

Mr. Tequila de Elgin: Filling the former Mad Maggie’s, Mr. Tequila is huge. The food was pretty good, especially the guacamole made table-side. The service was slow, though it was only the first week they were open. Facebook

In the Neighborhood Fresh: I’ve loved ITN’s west side location since they opened, and now they have a second location, very conveniently located in Gail Borden Library. This is a huge upgrade from the previous vendor. Website   Facebook

And Retro-A-Gogo opened on Chicago Street, adding to the vintage and antique selection on that block.

Besides the new storefronts, other changes are afoot in Elgin.

A group is working towards opening a co-op grocery store in Elgin, hopefully in downtown.

The Elgin Math & Science Charter School Initiative is presenting their vision around town, answering questions about how charter schools differ from traditional public schools. They have set a fall 2014 launch date. (I blogged about their efforts in September.

And of course, we’re in the midst of election season, with a total of 22 candidates vying for five City Council seats. I’m working with the South West Area Neighbors and Gifford Park Association on a Neighborhood Candidate Forum on March 9. Plus, the Elgin Spirit folks are now live-tweeting City Council meetings at #ElginGov.

Even with the arctic cold, it feels a bit like springtime in Elgin. Some changes will likely reap vast rewards, while others may not stick. But there’s a lot to be excited about with these hints of spring.

Have you been to any of the new businesses? What’s your favorite?

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3 responses to “Spring Thaw in Downtown Elgin

  1. if you go to mr. tequila’s, open the menu straight to the second-to-last page. do yourself a favor and order one of the parilladas for what effectively amounts to a metal altar of assorted meat, accompanied by grilled onions and peppers, served directly at your table. sides include the ubiquitous refried beans, rice, and warm tortillas. they apparently only serve parilladas multiples of two, but even that is deceiving: my wife and i were certain we could have fed three or four from the smallest offering. at $22 for the two-person “meat” option (i.e., chorizo, pork strips, steak and chicken breast), this is also probably one of the best deals on the menu, as well.

  2. Totally agree re comments on new morning restaurant “On the Side.”
    Have been twice and have savored new spin on old favorites. Good find Elginista!

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