Edna Stewart, soul food pioneer, biscuit maven, dies at 72

June 11, 2010

Photo by Amy C Evans
Edna Stewart

As the city prepared to celebrate the Hawks' Stanley Cup parade this morning, it also lost one of its legendary soul food pioneers. 72 year-old Edna Stewart - who‚ was the matriarch of her namesake West Side restaurant -- died early this morning from complications of ovarian cancer, according to her older sister, Alice McCommon.

Stewart's restaurant has been a fixture on the West Side for 43 years, and Edna herself had served Civil Rights Movement luminaries such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while he briefly lived in Chicago during that time. Nearly every politician has made Edna's a must-stop on the campaign trail, if not to shake hands, then at least to try some of her home-cooking.

The sign out front proudly proclaims they make "The Best Biscuits on Earth," and it wasn't that far of a stretch. Stewart's biscuits were simultaneously soft, buttery and flaky. Her fried chicken and dumplings, collards and mac & cheese were among the best in the city and attracted both loyal neighborhood residents as well as visiting celebrities.

Stewart was admitted to Rush Hospital in Oak Park about three weeks ago. After complications from surgery, she opted to be surrounded by family for the past week rather than undergo further operations.

Stewart celebrated her 72nd birthday just this past Sunday, June 6. "Her mind was functioning beautifully, and although she was sick, she knew everyone who walked in the door and she really maintained her sense of humor," McCommon said.

The restaurant remains open today, but McCommon says she's not sure who will be able to step up to take it over.