Located just north of 51st Street on Prairie Avenue, the newly-opened Friistyle is hard to passively run into. It isn’t visible from the platform of the 51st Street Green Line station nearby, and 51st Street itself is a shadow of the commercial corridor it once was. If you do happen to find yourself on that corner, though, you’ll see Friistyle immediately. Its corrugated aluminum façade, punctuated by a red garage-style door with glass panels, stands out as a contemporary addition to a part of Bronzeville that hasn’t yet seen the level of new business interest as there is further north.
Friistyle really stands out once you head inside, though, serving an entirely unique kind of entrée: fries. Usually relegated to the status of soggy side dish, thick Belgian-style fries are the basis of every meal made in this small, bustling spot. The entirely gluten-free menu includes fries topped with sweet chicken wings, roasted lamb, jerk salmon, Italian beef, and plenty more. Unlike typical loaded fries, the toppings don’t overwhelm their potato underpinnings. The fries at Friistyle are cut thick and double-fried, impervious even to toppings like jerk barbecue sauce and melted smoked cheese.
Ordering is done at the counter, just like local fast food rivals Honey 1 BBQ and Love Taco. In most cases, though, Friistyle staff will bring your fries out to your table when they’re done cooking, served in rectangular paper boxes. Against one unfinished brick wall is a custom green neon sign bearing the restaurant’s Instagram handle (@friistylechi), and on the opposite wall is a painted mural on plaster. The restaurant seats about 15 total people, so many customers take their fries to go at peak traffic times.
Friistyle is one example of a recent wave of Bronzeville eateries appealing to the artistic and creative side of traditional comfort food. They initially started as a popup booth at Boxville, a weekly shipping container market just east of their current permanent home on 51st Street. Friistyle still stages popups at other restaurants from time to time, including Some Like It Black (a “Creative Arts Bar” focused on high-end smoothies, paninis, and tacos in a space that hosts live DJ sets during open hours). Some similar concepts have struggled to find footing in this changing neighborhood, however, so Friistyle faces some risk if it can’t get enough visitors in the door (in fact, the space it occupies now was previously used by the short-lived Bronzeville Jerk Shack). The food is definitely worth the visit, though, only three quick Green Line stops away from campus.