Nestled along the eastern border of Chicago's well-known Beverly neighborhood, Brainerd is a largely residential community that carries a proud torch for its Irish-American heritage. Home to one of the area's most vibrant parks, Brainerd is a charming melting pot of history and close communal bonds, which is celebrated every June with the much-anticipated neighborhood picnic. When they're not throwing big community get-togethers, local families go to the park for the wide assortment of activities available to kids and adults alike. Recreational programs, children's sports leagues, day camps, and a lengthy outdoor walking and jogging path are enough to keep this neighborhood full of life, no matter what the time of year.
Location: About 13 miles south of the Loop
Bordering Neighborhoods: Longwood Manor, Beverly, Gresham, Princeton Park
Boundaries: 90th Street to the north, Eggleston Avenue to the east, 95th Street to the south and Beverly Avenue to the west
Then and Now
Much of Brainerd’s history is tied to its park, located in the heart of the neighborhood. The area itself is named after one of the five original founders of the Rock Island Railroad line, which runs directly through the Brainerd neighborhood and still services the south side communities of Chicago.
Before Brainerd assumed its own identity, it was grouped into the jurisdiction of the Beverly neighborhood. The streets bordering what we now know as Brainerd were annexed by the City of Chicago in 1890. At the time, 91st Street, which runs directly through the area, was dubbed Brainerd Avenue. When the city reassigned street names with appropriate numbers, the vicinity between Beverly and Eggleston avenues became known as the Brainerd neighborhood. The residents who settled into the quiet streets had labor ties to the railroad or were recent immigrants from Ireland and Germany.
During the 1920s, the Beverly and Brainerd communities grew by nearly 80 percent, thanks to increased immigration. From this torrent of population growth grew the need for Brainerd Park (1246 W. 92nd St, 312-747-6027), which began development in 1932. After five years of financial wrangling, the Chicago Park District finalized purchase on the land in 1938. The initial construction included outdoor athletic facilities and a small fieldhouse. In the 1970s, a larger fieldhouse took the place of the original.
Today, Brainerd’s south side identity it steeped in the blue-collar traditions of the community. Its historic connection to the Rock Island Railroad has shaped its character as a working class community that maintains close ties to its rich heritage. In the past two decades, the area has seen a rise in its African American population; still, its legacy as an former immigrant enclave remains intact.
Because Brainerd is largely a residential community, much of its activity centers around Brainerd Park (1246 W. 92nd St, 312-747-6027), the major hub of urban green space in the neighborhood. Boasting a good-size fieldhouse with basket courts and assembly rooms, tennis courts and baseball diamonds, Brainerd Park offers full service recreational programs to families in the area.
There is also a half-mile walking/jogging path that winds through the park, making it the perfect spot for evening walks in the summer after the heat of the day has burned off. Moms and dads will love the large scope of recreational services offered by the park, which include basketball leagues for a wide-range of ages and Cubs Care Rookie Baseball, a league for the young’uns formed with the support of the Chicago Cubs. Not only will your little heavy hitters participate in fun group activities, but you’ll feel good about it because portions of the registration fees benefit select Cubs Care charities.
Brainerd Park also hosts a selection of day and sport camps throughout the summer (a welcome diversion for the kids once school lets out for those three long months). Sport camps teach children how to play, with a concentration on exercise, sportsmanship and friendly competition. The camps include basketball, biking, fitness, floor hockey, gymnastics, soccer, tennis, volleyball, and even inline skating. So no matter what your tiny tyke’s interests and skill level, there will be something that is just right for him or her.
Brainerd Real Estate
European immigrants who were attracted to the area for its railroad jobs originally settled in Brainerd, and much of the housing and architecture still reflect the 1920s and ‘30s era. The residential streets are lined with a melange of traditional Chicago bungalows, brick raised ranches and split-level homes, while other dwellings uphold a more classic Georgian style. And while the majority of housing options in the neighborhood are detached single-family homes, there are some vintage courtyard condominiums and low-rise residential buildings throughout Brainerd that start at $90,000 and go as high as $200,000. Single-family homes in this south side Chicago neighborhood cover a wide span of price ranges. Some one-story homes are listed in the low to mid $100,000s while other Brainerd properties are put on the market for around $225,000.
Low real estate prices tied to the area are attracting a new wave of developers. New residential construction in Brainerd has become a common site as developers are taking advantage of the modest real estate prices and large vacant lots. With the direction things are going, it is likely that modern condo and townhome units will become more commonplace in Brainerd in the coming decades.
What’s on the Menu?
Brainerd’s largely residential character makes it somewhat sparse in the destination-dining department. Still, we managed to find a few corner hideaways that offer classic cuisine just a few steps from our doorway.
Whether you’re looking for a reliable lunch or an after-bar munchie, Baba’s Famous Steak and Lemonade (9305 S Halsted St, 773-874-2222) serves up some of the best Philly cheese steak on the south side. With numerous locations dotted throughout the Chicago area, we’re thankful Baba’s set up shop in Brainerd. In addition to the mean Phillies, it grills up chicken, rib eye sandwiches and the kicker—flavored lemonades! It’s hard to decide between the cherry and strawberry shake-ups, but either choice is bound to be refreshing. Another bonus: Baba’s is open late to service the after bar crowds on the weekends.
Got a craving for down-home fried chicken? Harold’s Chicken Shack (9151 S Ashland Ave, 773-238-4540) has the cure, with its buttery, flour blend of deep-fried chicken, biscuits, corn, and thick mashed potatoes. Another culinary staple of Chicago’s south side that attracts hungry locals from Brainerd and surrounding neighborhoods, Harold’s fries up their fowl with a variety of dipping sauces to choose from. We recommend the spicy for an extra country kick. Moving to specialties from under the sea, J & J Fish (1308 W 95th St, 773-233-8595) may look like a hole-in-the-wall to some, but they fry and grill up some of the freshest catches of the day. From catfish to cod, J & J offers dinners to go, complete with slaw, bread and fries. The interior is mainly reserved for counter seating, so we suggest ordering carryout meals for lunch and dinner.
When it comes to fresh-made sandwiches, we don’t have to travel halfway across the universe; instead, Orbit Grill & Subs (9108 S Ashland Ave, 773-445-3183) brings the deli meat and all the fixings to us, with its bulging submarine sandwiches packed with salami, ham, turkey, roast beef—you name it. Orbit also makes sure patrons have plenty of fried munchies to complement their sandwiches, whether you choose to dine in at one of the grill’s intimate tables or take your order to go. This popular Brainerd eatery also runs late hours, so it’s a quick local fix for freshness at anytime of day or night.
Like many Chicago neighborhoods, Brainerd houses a local Chinese take-out to satisfy your craving for East Asian cuisine. It’s no Chinatown, but New Ki Ki’s Chinese Food (1122 W 95th St, 773-238-1863) has the next best thing when you’re looking for a fast fried rice or noodle dish. Ki Ki’s cooks up crab rangoon, egg rolls and wonton soup with a quick hand and offers all the other requisite favorites, including General Tao’s chicken and cashew pork. Ki Ki’s storefront does have a small dining room with limited seating, but, as with the majority of Brainerd neighborhood restaurants, much of their business comes from carryout.
Best Shopping Stops
Although it’s a far cry from downtown’s Magnificent Mile, Brainerd boasts a few local conveniences in the shopping realm, including a bookstore, hardware center and furniture showroom.
In a day and age when chain megastores reign supreme and the ease of electronic purchases has run a lot of smaller shops out of business, we are happy to find that Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon.com haven’t brought down the independently owned and operated Akiba Bookstore (400 W 95th St, 773-962-5867), which is attached to Trinity United Church. The shelves of this medium-sized Brainerd establishment are chockfull of paperback and hardcover books that range in subject from African American Christian history to health and recovery, some at deep discount prices (eat your heart out Amazon!). CDs are also for sale here for anyone thirsting for gospel and choir tunes. Whether you are in search of a specific title or just want something to read when you have a spare minute here and there, we recommend giving Akiba a look, in the interest of supporting our locally owned businesses.
Put a stylish spin on your summer wardrobe or get a head start on the next season’s trends at D & A Unlimited (9449 1/2 S Ashland Ave, 773-881-0555), where owner Diane Anderson has been accessorizing women since 1976. This women’s boutique specializes in fashion jewelry, sunglasses and all the icings that make every smartly dressed gal appear even smarter. The nearby D Mitch Boutique (9310 S Ashland Ave, 773-779-4240) offers more necessary fashion staples (ahem, shirts) to complement your existing attire. Like lower-priced fashion haunts such as Rainbow and Discovery, D Mitch offers in-vogue designer styles of the day with less-than-designer prices. Translation: we get cute clothes for cheap!
Of course not every shopping trip can be so hip. For the less glamorous round of Saturday afternoon errands, Halsted True Value Hardware (9323 S Halsted St, 773-723-1235) will ensure you get that extra set of house keys made for when your old college friends come to visit, or help you finally get around to re-staining that back deck. True Value is also a great go-to source for around-the-house and fix-it-yourself supplies, such as nails, sweepers, hoses and even—Astroturf? (If that’s your thing). And for when your spouse unloads that long 'honey-do' list on you, you know just where to begin. While you’re in the home improvement and decor mindset, dress up that frumpy living room or brand new addition at Select Furniture, Inc. (9401 S Ashland Ave, 773-233-7915). The wide selection of fine furnishings and accessories in the showroom is sure to catch your eye and inspire your inner interior decorator. This Brainerd institution offers great prices on everything from beds to sofas to recliners to living and dining room sets.
Mark Your Calendar
With Brainerd Park (1246 W. 92nd St, 312-747-6027) acting as somewhat of a communal hub for the area, the Chicago Park District hosts a number of neighborhood-orientated events throughout the summer at this centrally located outdoor setting. One such affair is the annual 'Concerts in the Park' series. Usually occurring three times throughout summer, Concerts in the Park gives families the chance to pack a picnic spread to enjoy while being entertained by live musical performances during the day and into the night. And the best part? The concerts are free!
In addition to music, Brainerd Park also hosts an annual Community Picnic in the middle of June each year. Due to Brainerd’s intimate size, its neighborhood celebration culminates in the form of a family-orientated picnic, which is free of charge and loads of fun. This makeshift, green-centered festival features food, games for kids and local music entertainment. So get out that calendar right now, flip to June and make a note because you won’t want to miss out on all the fun and then have to hear about it from the neighbors the next day.
Traveling about Brainerd is literally a no-brainer (sorry about the pun). After all, the neighborhood was founded by immigrant railroad workers who relied on the train as their main source of transportation. Today the Rock Island District commuter rail line (operated by Metra) services the Chicago Loop all the way down to Joliet. Along the way, it makes a stop in the center of Brainerd (8901 S. Loomis Blvd, 773-238-8676) where residents can easily hop on for a quick ride to destinations throughout the city. Whether you are headed out for work or for play, this convenient rail service provides fast, timely transit to the Loop and beyond.
For those traveling by CTA 'El' train (so-named for its sections of elevated track), the closet Brainerd stop is at the most southern end of the Red Line at the 95th/Dan Ryan station. This station lies in the next door Princeton Park neighborhood, located directly east of the Eggleston Avenue border—so it’s really only a couple blocks walk for Brainerd’s east side residents. The other option for public transportation is travel by bus. The #9 Ashland Avenue bus runs through the neighborhood going north and south, while the #87 87th Street bus heads through the residential streets on an east/west route.
Because Brainerd is such a largely residential area, there is plenty of street parking available. As always, vehicle owners are encouraged to check and see if permits are required. Brainerd’s old-fashioned character doesn’t make it the most bike-friendly of neighborhoods, but those pedaling on the pavement are still sure to get by—with caution of course, as there are no designated bike lanes here.
School’s in Session
A few elementary schools dot Brainerd neighborhood’s tightly-packed blocks, including the esteemed Kipling Elementary School (9351 S Lowe Ave 773-535-3151). In 2005, state standardized test scores showed that Kipling students outscored state and district averages in both math and reading proficiencies. Check out the following list of Brainerd neighborhood schools and go to Chicago Public Schools and Great Schools for more information on other Chicago area educational facilities.
Evangelical Christian Academy 9130 S Vincennes Ave – (773) 881-8008
Fort Dearborn Elementary School 9025 S Throop St – (773) 535-2680
Kipling Elementary School 9351 S Lowe Ave – (773) 535-3151
Despite its size, Brainerd is big on local conveniences. We’ve rounded up a list of where to get groceries and sundries alike. Also note that Brainerd’s library is one of the best on Chicago’s south side.
Baba’s Famous Steak and Lemonade – 9305 S Halsted St – (773) 874-2222
Harold’s Chicken Shack – 9151 S Ashland Ave – (773) 238-4540
J & J Fish – 1308 W 95th St – (773) 233-8595
Orbit Grill & Subs – 9108 S Ashland Ave – (773) 445-3183
Yolanda’s Soul Food – 1254 W 90th St – (773) 239-2020
New Ki Ki’s Chinese Food – 1122 W 95th St – (773) 238-1863
Aldi – 9001 S Halsted S
Jewel-Osco – 9400 S Ashland Ave – (773) 238-2393
Ladies Workout World – 9350 S Halsted St – (773) 233-4837
Brainerd Public Library 1350 W 89th St – (312) 747-6291
The 7,000-square-foot facility includes a collection of over 45,000 juvenile, young adult and adult books on tape, newspapers and educational media.
Brainerd Park – 1246 W. 92nd St – (312) 747-6027
Osco Drug – 9400 S Ashland Ave – (773) 238-2393
Walgreens – 9434 S Halsted St – (773) 238-5648
Akiba Bookstore – 400 W 95th St – (773) 962-5867
D & A Unlimited – 9449 1/2 S Ashland Ave – (773) 881-0555
D Mitch Boutique – 9310 S Ashland Ave – (773) 779-4240
Halsted True Value Hardware – 9323 S Halsted St – (773) 723-1235
Select Furniture, Inc. – 9401 S Ashland Ave – (773) 233-7915
Sometimes it makes more sense to view the city of Chicago as a bunch of separate neighborhoods-especially when it comes to real estate. Whether you are in the market for a loft, condo, townhome, or house, it is just as important to inspect the surrounding area as it is to inspect the home’s foundation. Brainerd neighborhood is just one Chicago community with an abundance of residential properties, and a life all its own. From where you send your kids to school to where you dine at night, the information we provide is an essential piece of the puzzle when you’re trying to decide whether or not to buy that beautiful loft or adorable house in