Chicago's Dream Cafe: The Reality of Good Food in Englewood

Dream Cafe's owner, Howard Bailey
Dream Cafe and Grille’s owner, Howard Bailey

To have a dream is a wonderful inspiration for most of us. It usually begins in our childhood where we start to comprehend roles and foundations in our community. The important role of a firefighter, a police officer, a doctor, a teacher, a counselor or a pastor. For some that have been raised in the inner city environment where a walk to our corner store was not out of the ordinary to build a relationship with our local business owners. Over the last three decades, the names and faces of small business owners in predominately African American neighborhoods have changed, replaced with Middle Eastern, India or Korean owners. We have become a part of their dream to cater to our needs and to bring economic stimulation back to their neighborhoods—not always to ours.

Howard Bailey is the new generation of Black business owners bringing back economic stimulation and hiring residents within his community. He has been a resident in the Englewood neighborhood for the past 8 years. Originally raised mostly on the West Side of Chicago; he’s had a long history of creating new businesses. Affectionately, sometimes called Slick, he was most known for owning the Near North nightclub and lounge bearing his nickname for 7 years. After a successful and challenging reign as the only African American owned club owner in an increasingly gentrified neighborhood, he felt it no longer benefited to keep the doors of Slick’s Lounge open. He closed the business in 2007.

Bailey is no stranger to setting up shop in under developed and on the edge of booming communities. He was one of the owners of the popular book store, Literary Expressions—Lit X in Wicker Park in the early 90’s. Flash Taco consumes the space now. After growing beyond that storefront, he decided to relocate down the street to begin a new business venture—The Beat Parlor. The Beat Parlor was one of the hipper independent music stores that invited DJs to spin live in-store, selling collectible vinyl and contributing to breaking new music. Wicker Park soon dropped on its knees to the ‘fellatio’ of gentrification—forcing small businesses to shut down or relocate. He moved on to establish Slick’s Lounge in 2000.

Over the years, Bailey has built a network of friends, associates, and loyalists that has played a part in his businesses. Many have credited him for their first job, or break in a business that may have been denied to them otherwise. So, when he and business partner, Terrence Ross announced that they will be opening a new restaurant in the impoverished Englewood neighborhood—eyebrows were raised. After 3 years of working through the concept, focusing on the right location, and other requirements; the Dream Cafe & Grille opened in January 2015.

Dream Cafe Manager: Duane Powell
Dream Cafe and Grille’s Manager: Duane Powell

It came about out of necessity. It seems like Englewood is a food desert. I find this to be a half truth because there’s a lot of places to get food but there isn’t a lot of places to have healthy options and alternatives. Everything over here is fried.” he said. “The only the vegetables you may get are some friend mushrooms or some fried okra. It’s kind of born out of necessity living in the community for the last 8 years and not having any options outside of Soul Vegetarian.” said Bailey.

Located in a small strip mall that houses a laundromat next door, the Dream Cafe & Grille is on 61st Street off of Halsted with a field’s eye view of Kennedy King College. At first, visitors may be a bit put off from the location but walking through the doors of the restaurant, you soon understand the constant positive reviews often found on social media and Yelp.

This is the first business that I’ve owned in the ‘social media’ era so I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m pleasantly surprised. People that I haven’t seen in years have been popping up.  They find us on Instagram or Facebook. I didn’t know we got our first Yelp review until someone told us so someone did a review for us which was good.” he said.

Dream Cafe special Salmon taco entree with sweet potato fries. Prepared by Chef Russell Moore.
Dream Cafe’s Salmon taco entree with sweet potato fries. Prepared by Chef Russell Moore.

Dream Cafe egg roll medley
Dream Cafe and Grille’s egg roll medley.

With a menu that is simple but gives a unique spin off of favorite eats such as four different handmade egg rolls filled with the choice of mac-n-cheese, jerk chicken, collard greens and fan favorite the Moroccan chicken. In addition, the restaurant features to the large selection of fish: tilapia, catfish, salmon and perch (grilled or fried), tacos/entrees, sweet potato fries, various burgers, soup of the day and salad specials. The restaurant is opened for lunch and dinner with the seating capacity of approximately 30 diners.

There are no pork options on the menu. So, if you’re looking for a little pig in your life you won’t find it at Dream Cafe & Grille. Led by Chef Russell Moore, a veteran whose worked in the past with Bailey at Slicks and premiered on the PBS show, “Under Fire”, the food is always fresh with healthy choices. Working with local organic farmers is essential to maintaining a connection between their business and integrating organic food for customers.

Dream Cafe and Grill's  Moroccan Chicken
Dream Cafe and Grille’s Moroccan Chicken

Organic is one of those tricky labels. Anyone who grows vegetables like our grandparents had, then they are growing organic. At one point, they were insecticize but even when they weren’t we couldn’t afford to have them.” he explains. “We kept things the old school way. Although, vegetables grown by small farmers are labeled organic, it’s more organic than the big organic growers. Growing Power literally grows their own dirt because the dirt in Chicago is so bad. Not only do they grow healthy food, they grow the dirt to grow the healthier foods. Which is a big step that we have to take as a nation.” said Bailey.

With all of the wonderful choices on the menu, you can’t seem to walk out of the Dream Cafe & Grille without inquiring about their selection of cheesecakes. Made by Chef Kareem H. Bailey, the desserts range from peach cobbler, apple cobbler, sweet potato, cherry, turtle, and Oreo cookie cheesecake slices for an affordable price. In fact, if you are looking for the best and quality ingredients without breaking the bank, Dream Cafe prices range from $2.50 to $10.99 for full entrees.

Dream Cafe and Grill's Turtle Cheesecake by Chef Kareem H. Bailey.
Dream Cafe and Grill’s Turtle Cheesecake by Chef Kareem H. Bailey.

The neighborhood has embraced Dream Cafe with open arms, despite the negative focus of crime that seems to attract the only media coverage in the Englewood community. Bailey works with various organizations from artwork contribution provided by students at Little Black Pearl Design Academy to providing the food for RAGE community meetings. The summer will bring a different climate of activity and Bailey’s goal is to bring more beauty with a recent mural painting by international acclaimed artist, Slang.

Slangism Wall Mural Pictured l-r: Slang, Terrence Ross and Howard Bailey
Slangism Wall Mural Pictured l-r: Slang, Terrence Ross and Howard Bailey

Because I live over here, we did a lot of community outreach. It has been centered around feeding the kids at schools in the community such as the Montessori School. It’s important to be a positive example to our youth and show them that when you have a ‘dream’—it can truly become a reality.”

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