Monday, October 21, 2013

Chicago Eats

Now that you've seen many of the Chicago sights, it's time to get to the serious business - THE FOOD!  Our family is serious when it comes to searching high and low for the best cuisine that a city has to offer.  While I hadn't given much thought to must-try restaurants prior to our arrival, we had no trouble keeping bellies full of delicious food and drink.

Thursday morning started with a short walk to Dallop Coffee Co, a small coffee shop a couple blocks from our hotel.  To supplement the fruit eaten at the hotel, I sipped on a soy pumpkin chai latte and a cranberry oatmeal scone.  The scone was just slightly sweet, filled with oats and flax, and a perfect accompaniment to the latte.  We made a second trip later in the weekend for Dad to try their Metropolis drip coffee.

The main event on Thursday was a Bucktown and Wicker Park Food Tour.  This walking food + architectural excursion is one of three tours, each in a different neighborhood, that Chicago Food Planet hosts.

"Discover the unique artists’ colony that has slowly evolved into a hidden foodie paradise as you enjoy delectable food and drink samples from 6 authentic mom-and-pop restaurants and ethnic eateries"

We met our group outside of George's Hot Dogs, the #1 Chicago hot dog stand and family-owned restaurant established in 1948.  The classic Chicago hot dog features an all-beef frankfurter and is topped with yellow mustard, chopped onions, sweet relish, tomato slices, pickled sport peppers, a dill pickle spear, and a dash of celery salt.  Despite our vegetarian preference, we opted to try the true classic and enjoyed each and every bite.

A short walk through Bucktown brought us to the entrance of Hot Chocolate.  Owner and chef Mindy Segal is a James Beard award winner multiple times over and established this pastry and dessert restaurant in 2004.  The large front window panels were opened to let in the gorgeous weather, and I could have definitely the afternoon lounging there.

We were presented with glasses of their soy iced dark hot chocolate, featuring 72% french chocolate.  As an added treat, a homemade marshmallow topped our glass.  The sweetness was the perfect compliment to the salty start to the meal.

The next stop was Goddess and Grocer, a gourmet foods delicatessen and purveyor of local, organic, and artisan groceries.  Their sandwich and soup menu looked delicious and we enjoyed learning about the local product that fill their shelves.  Our taste was a kale salad, featuring massaged kale, roasted red peppers, raisins, and parmesan.  We were happy to be served some veggies to balance out the indulgences.

Mom and I looking like twins with our dueling scarves.

Eventually we crossed the street and found ourselves moving into the Wicker Park neighborhood. Piece, a New Haven-style pizzeria established in 2001 is recognized for their award-winning brewpub on-premise.  We took a short break to sit down and feast on a pairing of a pizza + beer.

Our tasting slice was their "white pizza" - thin crust brushed with olive oil, garlic, mozzarella cheese, and tomatoes.  Contrary to popular belief, New Haven thin crust pizza outsells Chicago deep dish year after year in the city.

At this point, our stomachs were approaching full.  Fortunately, next on the agenda was an hour-long walk through side-streets admiring the local homes and learning about the history of the neighborhood.  Eventually we made our way towards  Sultan's Market, a Middle-Eastern cafe established in 1985 serving authentic falafel, shawarma, and babaghanoush.

We feasted on a falafel pita - lined with hummus, lettuce, tomato, and topped with jerusalum salad. Shockingly, this was only half of a regular portion.  Can you believe a full portion sells for a meager $3.75?!  Our guide told us that the owner prides herself on maintaining the original prices since their initial opening.

The last stop of the tour was at iCream, a creamery rapidly freezing custom concoctions utilizing a unique liquid nitrogen system.  I was beyond full at this point, but found just enough room for a taste.  The Bucktown and Wicker Park food tour was a great way to taste our way through a new city while also learning about it's history and I'd definitely recommend it to future travelers.

Thursday evening, Dad rejoined the girls and we opted for dinner at Bandera.  Located on Michigan Avenue and just a few blocks from our hotel, they offer traditional American cooking.  Despite a rather short and simple menu, we were pleased with an excellent meal.

Thanks Mom and Dad for letting me join in the fun of a trip to Chicago!
Cornbread Skillet
This was equally as good as it looks - hearty bread mixed with corn kernals, a crispy exterior,
and a wonderfully savory, sweet, and moist base.  Butter does wonderful things!
Veggie Burger with Emerald Kale Salad
The picture doesn't do it justice, but this was a HUGE burger.
Dad polished off every last bite!
Butternut and White Cheddar Enchilada with Escabéche and Brussel Sprouts
Mom was very pleased with this selection and also joined the clean-plate club.

Macho Salad with avocado, dates, almonds and goat cheese + Brussel Sprouts
This was the best salad I have had in quite some time.  The combination of large chunks of avocado, creamy and tangy goat cheese, sweet dates, and crunch of almonds was the
perfect combination.
On Friday, I chose Intelligentsia for a jolt of espresso post-long run.  The coffee is locally roasted in Chicago and then sold throughout several gourmet markets across the country.  I opted for the simplicity of an extra-hot soy latte to truly savour the true flavors of the coffee bean.  It was certainly a perfect birthday morning!

The only research I had done prior to our arrival with respect to food, was for the best falafel in the city.  I'm not sure that anything will ever compare to my first and very favorite falafel pita from Taim in NYC.  Falafill was touted as the best, and so we found ourselves there for lunch on Friday afternoon.  My selection was the "classic falafel wrap."  Inside the whole wheat pita was falafel, tahini, and then my choice of selections from the mezza bar (hummus, baba ghanouge, jerusalem salad, minted cabbage, and curry roasted cauliflower).  Needless to say, I had no problem devouring it.

We were seeking waterfront dining for dinner on Friday night, and thus selected Catch 35 on the Chicago River.  Although advertised as waterfront dining, we learned upon arrival that they were a block off the water and lacked a single seat in the restaurant with a view of the river.  Despite this, we were pleased to discover a quiet restaurant with excellent service and a fresh seafood meal.

Appetizer of Grilled Calamari
Hearts of Palm Salad + Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi
Still feeling quite full from a day of indulgences, I opted for a lighter meal with selections
from the appetizer menu.  The tuna was seared and paired perfectly with the pickled ginger.
Naturally, no birthday celebration is complete without dessert!  Fortunately, I had saved room.

Flourless Chocolate Fudge Cake + Peanut Butter Mousse
Rich, decadent, chocolate goodness!

Espresso Creme Brulee
We all agreed that this was one of the best creme brulees that we had ever tasted.
Just for the record, we did try Chicago deep dish pizza, stopping for lunch on Saturday at Giordano's.  Sadly, we were anything but impressed.  The crust was no better than freezer-quality and the filling was 90% cheese and a meager 10% toppings.  Some people may love it, but it certainly wasn't one of our favorite meals.

Saturday night was deemed Mom's birthday dinner, since we would be in-flight on her Sunday birthday.  Among many dining establishments, we discovered a vegan restaurant with a mouth-watering menu and were quick to make reservations.  Karyn's On Green is in Chicago's Greektown neighborhood and advertises contemporary cuisine that makes vegan sexy.

I had a difficult time deciding between the many entrees, and eventually determined that what I was really craving was a combination of sides.  Fortunately, the kitchen happily prepared a custom vegetable plate for me.  My three selections included quinoa hush-puppies with coconut-curry aioli, elote (roasted corn on the cob) with spicy root beer aioli and cilantro-lime butter, and caramelized brussels sprouts with grain mustard vinaigrette.  Although it appeared to be a ton of food, I managed to devour almost every morsel.  So delicious!

Mom's celebratory dessert was a vegan creme brulee.  While not quite as decadent as the traditional dairy version, we all agreed that it was skillfully prepared to closely mimic it's counterpart.  Happy birthday Mom!

Wow, that was a lot of stellar food!  Chicago appears to have a great culinary scene, and we only touched on a small number of possibilities.  Here I sit typing this at 11pm and I can't stop drooling.  Some say you should not grocery shop while hungry.  I, however, would add that you shouldn't blog about food when hungry.

That concludes my trip to Chicago - one that I will remember for birthday celebrations, beautiful fall weather, runs along the lake, long walks exploring city streets, quality time with my parents, and an abundance of delicious eats.  Farewell Windy City!

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