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The Grid: Hyde Park, a mix of intellect, culture and good eats

Hyde Park is not only rich in landscape, world-class museums, architecture and diversity. The South Side neighborhood also prides itself for being Barack Obama’s former hangout and home to the University of Chicago.

A monument marking the location of the first kiss between former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, located on the corner of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue. The kiss took place in 1989 when the president treated the first lady to ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins in the mall, which is now a Subway restaurant. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

A monument marking the location of the first kiss between former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, located on the corner of 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

“It’s a very intellectual neighborhood. It’s very diverse both racially and economically diverse,” said Perri Irmer, president and CEO of the DuSable Museum of African American History. The museum is definitely among my must dos:

Museum Campus South

At this time of the year, it may be too cold to enjoy the Midway Plaisance, Osaka Garden, Promontory Point and Jackson Park. But there’s plenty to see inside with seven museums on Museum Campus South: DuSable, Museum of Science and Industry, The Oriental Institute Museum, The Renaissance Society, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, Smart Museum of Art and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

DuSable, at 740 E. 56th Pl., is the oldest independent black museum in the country.

“We are the best most authentic tellers of the black American story,” Irmer said. “… Educating all people on African-American history, art, culture and using those as a method and means to tell our story… reclaims our narrative.”

Osaka Garden, Japanese garden on Jackson Park's Wooded Island featuring a waterfall and foot bridges. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Osaka Garden, a Japanese garden on Jackson Park’s Wooded Island featuring a waterfall and foot bridges. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Hyde Park Jazz Society

While the Hyde Park Jazz Festival is most known for its festival in September, the society hosts events all year round. Currently, the Hyde Park Jazz Society is showcasing Sunday evening jazz at Room 43, 1039-1041 E. 43rd St., and “Third Tuesdays” at Cafe Logan, E. 60th St.

Doc Films, 1212 E. 59th St.

At 75, the University of Chicago-based Doc Films is the longest continuously running student film society in the country. A season pass at $40 gets you access to the 80-plus films shown every quarter.

Hull Gate, stone entrance that leads into the heart of the University of Chicago campus located in Hyde Park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Hull Gate, stone entrance that leads into the heart of the University of Chicago campus located in Hyde Park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell

Dedicated to contemporary visual art and artists since 1939, Hyde Park Art Center features exhibitions, artist talks, studio art classes and professional development opportunities. Visits are free and staff is working on initiatives to move away from the pay model for art classes.

Pick up a new good read

Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books are two independent customer-owned co-operative bookstores. This co-op grew from a mere 17 members to over 53,000 members. The Seminary Co-op is known for its academic and scholarly selections on the humanities and social sciences, while the 57th Street location serves general reading interests, including children’s selections.

Another crowd-pleaser is Powell’s Book Store, the largest independent dealer in high quality used books since 1970.

Frontline Books is a hidden gem that features Rastafari & Pan-African books, and a wide selections of self-help and African-American history books.

Street signs in Hyde Park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Street signs in Hyde Park. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Promontory Restaurant and Music Venue, 5311 S. Lake Park

There’s delicious food — from chickpea fries to a duck cassoulet — and a vast beverage selection, but be sure to check out the music venue for local and national acts. There’s also plenty of family-friendly entertainment geared toward children.

Virtue Restaurant, 1462 E. 53rd St.

Chef Erick Williams’ Virtue Restaurant specializes in Southern-inspired comfort food with a modern twist.

Valois Restaurant, 1518 E. 53rd St.

You can order exactly what former President Barack Obama selects for breakfast when he’s in town by glimpsing the giant sign with his picture and favorite meal. Personally, I’m a fan of the broiled white fish at this cafeteria-style eatery that has been around since 1921.

Lite House Whole Food Grill, 1660 E. 55th Street

Founder Eric Nance’s mission to provide healthy, vegetarian options was a spiritual calling. Plus, his vegetarian wife is also an inspiration. If you’re craving meaty decadence, not to worry. Just head to Nance’s other restaurant, Mikkey’s Retro Grill, where you can indulge on a burger, shake and wings.

Diners eat inside Mikkey's Retro Grill, retro-style eatery featuring classic American fare such as cheeseburgers, shakes, wings and fries. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Diners eat inside Mikkey’s Retro Grill, retro-style eatery featuring classic American fare such as cheeseburgers, shakes, wings and fries. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The Sit Down Cafe & Sushi Bar, 1312 E. 53rd St.

Pizza, sandwiches, salads and sushi?! An unlikely combination but it works. Perhaps the secret to the restaurant’s success lies in the freshest ingredients that come from the owners’ Hyde Park Produce Market.

Nella Pizza e Pasta, 1125 E. 55th St.

Authentic brick-oven pizza and handmade pastas are overseen by Nella Grassano, who grew up learning to cook in her family’s restaurants in Naples but is a certified pizzaiola — an expert in Neapolitan pizza. If Neapolitan pizza isn’t your thing, head over to Pizza Capri and Leona’s or Italian Fiesta Pizzeria in nearby Kenwood.

Silver Room Boutique, 1506 E. 53rd St.

The brain child of Eric Williams, Silver Room has jewelry, accessories, records and art. It also serves as an event space. Be sure to check out the Silver Room’s block party in the summer.

The Silver Room boutique specializes in creative jewelry and accessories, but also hosts arts shows and music parties.| Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Modern Cooperative Boutique, 1500 E. 53rd St.

Modern Cooperative showcases local talent and has a mix of vintage and contemporary home goods, jewelry and mid-century modern furniture.

A colorful mural next to Metra bridge located at Lake Park Ave and 55th street in Hyde Park, Chicago. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

A colorful mural next to the Metra bridge located at Lake Park Avenue and 55th Street in Hyde Park, Chicago. | Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times