Saturday, February 6, 2021

Texas notes: Dark Knight

    I've been to a number of vegetarian spots around town, from Blind Faith to the Chicago Diner to Raw, and I've never run into ... well, I'd better let our Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey tell it.
    Karyn’s Fresh Corner was a vegan raw food restaurant that had a longer run than any such establishment in the country— located right on Lincoln and Roscoe in Chicago. Back when I truly treated my body as a temple and was ultra careful about what I put into it, I tried the raw vegan food thing for a while. Karyn’s was a mainstay for me. Raw nut breads, elixirs, and salads so fresh the veggies sometimes walked off the plate.
     For my graduate school party at the 95th in 2002, the chefs went above and beyond to meet my preferences. They prepared plates of vegetables and legumes arranged in colorful complex patterns. I received special dispensation to bring my own dessert. Of course I chose one of Karyn’s delectable pecan pies, sweetened with dates. The crust was made from soaked and sprouted nuts that were ground down into a flour.
     She opened Karyn’s Cooked in River North in 2003 and I was thrilled. It’s not easy to get highly palatable, fresh vegan food and she had it down. (Sadly, they closed in 2016 but I recently found out that Karyn began a pop-up vegan spot at Jam on Kedzie last year).
     When The Dark Knight came out in 2012 my then-boyfriend and I took the Brown Line to the Chicago stop and took the short walk to Karyn’s Cooked around the corner. It was a hot night and the air conditioning welcomed us.
     After we had ordered our enchiladas and polenta, and shot a couple of immune boosting potions, we chatted and drank pink hibiscus tea. Suddenly the whole place stood still. I watched as my boyfriend and everyone else who was facing the door stared, frozen; their eyes popped out of their heads and their jaws dropped.
     I turned and understood. Two women were walking in, one more tall, elegant and beautiful than the next. Each of them wore platform shoes that gave them five or six more inches of height. I wondered how they could balance?
      They strutted over to a small bar I had not noticed earlier. It had two bar stools and was facing a mirrored wall. The best seat in the house. A handsome dark haired man wearing salmon colored skinny pants was their chaperone, and this was before skinny pants had really hit Chicago. I decided he must be Italian.
      A man ran over with a third stool and placed it under the bottom of the woman who had not yet been seated at the bar. I thought “it must be nice to look like that.” I said to my boyfriend, “I am sorry but I will be staring at them for a while.”
     I drank them in. One of the women had long flaxen gold hair with thick braids creating a frame around her face. She was wearing a black bra top, à la Madonna, and a pleated silk skirt the color of butter. A gold medallion of a lion’s face casually hung down from the waist line on a piece of black ribbon. The other woman’s hair was equally impossibly blonde. She wore a dark green and burgundy damask mini skirt with pine trees and deer, the type of material you might see used as upholstery in a log cabin upstate New York. Her top was a black concert midriff tee shirt tailored carefully to look ripped just so. Chanel?
     I whispered to my boyfriend: “do you think they are dominatrixes?”
     When we got up to leave something took over me, like a cartoon character floating through the air towards the aroma of freshly baked pie. I beelined to the bar. Up close I could see that the women were wearing so much makeup that it seemed they were unable to make any expressions with their faces. When they laughed I heard tinkling sounds come out and their mouths moved a little and their eyes shone, but everything else was fixed in place.
     I said “I just wanted to say how beautiful you are.” The man slapped his salmon thigh and guffawed, looking incredulous for some reason. I did not miss a beat— this was not about him. and I just had to know more.
     “I’ve never seen anyone dressed like this in Chicago. Maybe in Milan or Vienna, but not here.” They thanked me and giggled. The medallion lady was wearing black shoes with white polkadots and miles of a platformed sole underneath. She said “thank you. They are Jeffrey Campbell,” whatever that meant.
     I had a couple more questions. “So I know you don’t live here, and I know you both must do something interesting in your careers. Am I right?” Braided blonde looked at her friend and now both were laughing in a pleasant way. “You’re right. She lives in LA and I live in New York. I’m a singer and she’s a musician.” I said “well, thank you for making my night,” and headed towards the door.
     I noticed that a very large bald man and my boyfriend were talking and the bald man looked unhappy. When we got outside into the sultry night air my boyfriend looked at me and said “well. While you chatted up Lady Gaga, her bodyguard was trying to get me to go over there to get my ‘wife’ to leave.” 
      “What did you say?” I asked. He said “she’s not my wife and I don’t tell her what to do.” (What a cool guy). Then it hit me. “That was Lady Gaga? Wow. What does she sing again?” He asked me if I was serious and I was. “Poker Face?” he told me. “Oh my god! I love that song!” I said as we danced down the street heading to a movie in much simpler times.


  1. It seems often when an actor, actress, musician, comedian, or athlete is interviewed, they'll volunteer how much they like working in Chicago. Observing for the most part that the people are friendly. About 25 years ago walking down Wabash, about 40 feet ahead stepping out of the Palmer House, it's David Carradine! It just popped in my head, started using the walk on rice paper technique, feet at an angle placing the toes on the ground first. He smiled and walked the same way until we passed each other.

  2. Charming narrative. When did Karyn's move in at Wellington and Lincoln? I lived right there at 3000 N. Lincoln in an apartment over the restaurant on the corner many years ago (not sure if the rent was $30 a week or $30 a month). A few years later,I read that the building fell down, which didn't surprise me at all. I slept during the day back then and and noticed that there was constant background noise from passing traffic with the trucks actually causing physical movement of the structure. There seemed to be a lot of German stores in the area then. I suppose they disappeared long ago.


    1. I have NO arches...the flattest feet in the world. During my teens, my parents had shoes custom-made for me, with built-in steel arch supports. The shoemaker was an elderly German immigrant, who had a storefront on Lincoln. And, yes, there were a lot of German businesses along that stretch. This was back when North Lincoln Avenue was still quite run-down and shabby. The spiffing-up and the gentrification were years away.

      While being fitted for my clodhoppers, I clearly remember hearing about the sinking of the Thresher, a U.S. Navy submarine, on the shoemaker's radio. So it must have been in the spring of 1963. I kept on going there for shoes for a few more years after that.

      Fast-forward to the mid-Eighties, when the neighborhood was already on the upswing. I scoped out a laundromat in the same neighborhood. Had the killer idea of rehabbing it into a yupster bar-laundromat, or maybe a laundromat-bar. It had already worked in Austin. Even made the network news. But I was flat broke. A few years later, two Wrigleyville entrepreneurs with the capital did it--and made a fortune on Southport.

    2. John, looks like Karyn's Raw opened in 2000:

  3. Well, it's embarrassing for me to question this, but are you sure it wasn't "The Dark Knight Rises" you were out seeing, and in 2012, Caren? Of course, it doesn't change anything about the fun story, but this Trib article causes me to wonder:

    I went down this ridiculous rabbit-hole because I didn't recall Karyn's Fresh Corner being at Wellington, and was googling trying to see if I misremembered. From what I recall, and what I have been able to find, it was on Lincoln by Roscoe; 3351 N. Lincoln. I could be wrong about all of it, of course. As you noted, she's had several locations.

    Sorry to nitpick, but my comments on EGD are often as annoying as this, alas! ; )

  4. You are correct on both fronts. I will ask Neil to edit. Thank you!


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