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Highland Park's Bryant Street benefits from a food-driven resurgence

Highland Park residents celebrate the redevelopment of Bryant Street during a recent "Bite of Bryant" festival.

Photo by AmyJo Brown

Highland Park residents celebrate the redevelopment of Bryant Street during a recent "Bite of Bryant" festival.

Photo caption: Highland Park residents celebrate the redevelopment of Bryant Street during a recent "Bite of Bryant" festival.

{Photo by AmyJo Brown}

Just outside the Park Place Pub and Restaurant in Highland Park, along the tree-lined five-block stretch of Bryant Street, a trombone player and bassist serenaded dog walkers and friends huddling around baby strollers. 

The entire scene appeared almost scripted for a commercial. But it's the real deal, neighborhood residents say. The tiny Bryant Street business district has blossomed over the last few years — and neighbors give credit to the arrival of some of the city's most popular restaurants. Along with the Pub, these include E2 and Tambellini's Italian, the Belgian-influenced Park Bruges, authentic Japanese at Teppanyaki Kyoto, and Thai at the Smiling Banana Leaf. 

With the help of more than $2 million in government grants and low-interest loans, the restaurants — along with a community bakery and small grocery — have carved out a niche. What was once a streetscape of dilapidated buildings has become what many refer to as a "village." 

In the old days, recalls resident Jennifer Palmer, getting a beer in the neighborhood meant taking a friend and driving the few blocks to the bar. "One of us would wait in the car, and the other would run in to get a six-pack."

Now, "I can walk around at midnight, no problem." 

Since the investments in the street — which went mainly toward  purchasing property and renovating buildings — nearby property values have increased about 10 percent, says Ernie Hogan, treasurer of the Highland Park Community Development Corporation. That's generated an additional $10,000 a year in real-estate taxes, he says, while the new businesses have brought 100 new jobs. 

But more than that, says chef Joe Tambellini, "They created the community feel again."

"It's not like I'm going out to dinner with [just] my wife," agrees Paul Miller, a six-year resident City Paper found eating wings at the Park Place Pub, while dozens of other locals enjoyed a free round of beer bought by a neighbor. "It's like an extended kitchen table." 

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