Don’t get me wrong, Chi-town got it going on – Will Smith
I like starting off posts with awful music quotes that carbon date me. I apparently like starting out my blog with them too. Also, for a three week period in college I thought Miami by Will Smith was the best song ever, then I went back to noodle dancing to Phish bootlegs with the rest of Bates College.
Last week I was in Chicago for business and, with a little assist from Mommy Ryan, Kristi joined me sans Janet for the weekend. So, I wasn’t really in Chicago for 48 hours, but Kristi was, and that timeframe was when I got the chance to do some food exploring after a couple days of work-filled lunches and dinners. In preparation for our trip we collected numerous recommendations from friends and coworkers and they didn’t disappoint.
Shortly after Kristi got to town on Friday night we headed to the Chicago Chop House, a famous steakhouse located in a three story brownstone.
The Chop House is a pretty traditional old-school steak house, but the execution was freaking awesome. The first floor feels history packed; the type of place that makes it easy to picture the exact same scene 40 years ago, just with a lot more smoke and a lot less women.
Once we were seated, the true steak house experience began with lots of talk about cuts of meat and multiple waiters ensuring we were stuffed on red meat and red wine. I went with the ribeye, ‘course.
The salads, steaks, onion rings, and scalloped potatoes side dish were all excellent and borderline painful to stuff into my body. I wish I could have stopped before I ended up so stuffed, but it was all too good and I have no semblance of will power anymore. A good start to our weekend of eating made slightly more tolerable by our mile+ waddle back to the W after dinner.
Saturday morning we woke up and wandered around the waterfront area by Buckingham Fountain before I got antsy. I’d received a tip on a place I hadn’t heard of before, and we needed to get there nice and early with plenty of time before the Cubs day game we had tickets to. When we arrived at Hot Doug’s at 10:55 AM and saw the line, we realized my antsy-ness was merited.
The atmosphere in that line is one of anxious anticipation. Lots of first timers looking at the menu on their phones, nervous discussions of “how many you gonna get?”, and plenty of questioning as to how long the line is inside once we get to the door.
The cold, windy weather was harsh, but our experience was made exponentially more entertaining by what appeared to be a first date going on right in front of us. A couple that seemed to have met on a gluten-free message board of some sort. My favorite moments were when he ran down his fantasy football team names from the the past five seasons (they included a Simpsons reference and a Tarantino reference, shocker), and when Kristi pointed out that he was wearing those black leather velcro sneakers that are usually reserved for obese, sleeping security guards. Let’s move on.
After about 45 minutes, we were in the door. The wait felt completely worth it when we started seeing the food coming out. Plus, while the standard Chicago hot dogs and brats are available, it’s the specials menu that has surely made even the skinniest man weep before.
When you wait in a line that long, and you are faced with a menu filled with extensive incredible options, you need to put logic aside when ordering. Which is how we (I) ended up with the duck & foie gras sausage (second one down on right on the specials list), the wild boar sausage (bottom left), the “Game of the Week” antelope sausage with navegador cheese & bacon garlic mayo, and duck fat fries. Plus a bratwurst with caramelized onions. You know, for the ladies. Oh, and a t-shirt.
I think the highest compliment I can give this food is that all of the items on this tray were completely different than every other item and they were all delicious. Not an easy thing to do when you’re working within the general framework of “sausage”.
I dove into the duck/foie sausage first and it was quite a moment for me. As I took my second bite Kristi asked if I shouldn’t mix in bites of the others to make sure I wouldn’t get too full. Although a reasonable question, I think I just grunted at her while I chewed. Without tasting the others I knew I would rather finish this than risk not finishing it. It was absurdly rich with creamy textures and fatty meats, but the flavor was the stuff of my poultry liver dreams. I didn’t think anything could match it, but the other two specialty sausages came close with their unique combinations of flavors. Loved the crunchy onion/brie texture combo on the wild boar and the sharp cheese plus the sweet garlic sauce on the antelope was excellent. The duck fat fries were great, though they never live up to what I hope for when I hear those words together. Excellent meal, and yes I ate all three of my sausages and would do it again in a second despite the ensuing pain.
From Hot Doug’s we headed straight to Wrigley via a well timed (or so we thought) bus. Here’s something they don’t tell you when you visit a Central Time city; they play their games at 1:00 EST, not 1:00 CST. Oh well, we were a little late, but Wrigley was still worth the experience.
After the game wrapped up, we stopped in for a beer and a pretzel at the Berghoff (just because it’s a landmark) then took a much needed nap from all the previously mentioned beer and food.
For dinner we planned on a “grub crawl”, one of Kristi and my favorite things to do when on vacation since it lets us try a bunch of different restaurants and dishes. The recommendations from multiple friends pointed us to Randolph Street where our first stop was GEB (Graham Elliot Bistro) for a cocktail and an app. Kristi was a little meh on the corn chowder, but I was pretty in to my venison tartare.
The sauces had lots of flavor but they didn’t overwhelm the enjoyably stong raw venison. Those little concord grapes got the Man of the Match award for this dish, though, since every bite they showed up in was better than the other bites. Dece old fashioned too.
Although I was mildly annoyed with the bartender due to his on-the-job persona of Mega Hipster, he liked our grub crawl plan and gave some solid recommendations. Based on his feedback we headed across the street to Maude’s to battle for a spot at the bar. The smell of the new-age french food coming out of the kitchen was all we needed to know we should stick around. When we got our seats a few minutes later and opened the menu, we knew the grub crawl was going to be permanently stalled.
As a shout out to Pop Ryan and to learn a bit about what I am obligated to make for a holiday dinner this year, I got the cassoulet.
I feel like I am delving too far into the awful internet food critic zone, especially with my poor selection of synonyms for awesome, but this was an excellent meal. Loved the tender duck and the chunks of carrot, plus every bite had the flavor of every element. The side of mashed potatoes in dark chicken broth, a recommendation from the GEB bartender, were better than any item going by the name “mashed potatoes” has the right to be. Great spot.
Stuffed and exhausted from our truncated grub crawl, we willed ourselves to Kingston Mines for a few hours of live music before calling it a night. The next morning, we boarded an architecture boat tour of the city at 10 AM (way better than it sounds) and exited the boat finally hungry again. To fulfill a food curiosity for both of us since we saw a mouth watering food show a few years back, Kristi and I headed straight to Ginos East, one of the most famous deep dish pizza places in the city.
Unfortunately, we got there 10 minutes before it opened, so we ducked into Portillo’s hot dogs so Kristi could use the bathroom and I could sneak in a quick traditional Chicago dog.
With so much of the dog covered with a pickle, I completely missed all the other toppings hiding underneath it before I took my typically enormous first bite.
Those little pickled peppers packed a punch. That’s right folks, Peter’s Purchased Pickled Peppers Packed a Punch! Odds are you just gave up on this post.
With the dog finished in 4 combined bites from Kristi and I, we headed over to Gino’s East a few minutes before noon to make sure we got a decent football viewing spot while we waited for our pizza. Ginos is pretty crazy due to their open invitation for their guests to graffiti any and everywhere.
We went with a meat-heavy half of a medium deep dish and a cheese half since Kristi was nearing a meat overdose at this point. While I wish that we had just gotten the meat slab, I wasn’t disappointed when this hit the table after the expected 45 minute wait.
I wouldn’t say we were disappointed by the pizza, but when you see it on the TV the ingredients and creation of the pizza are what make the knees shake. It was our first time tasting traditional deep dish in Chicago, and while we both agreed that it was delicious, the meat and cheese was a little much. Glad we did it, but I’ll happily choose a bubbly, crispy thin crust over Chicago deep dish anytime.
And with a stop at our friend’s apartment for a few hours of Sunday football on our way out of town, our weekend was over. Thanks to Annie, Mark, Joel, and Chucky for the recommendations, thanks for the Sunday hopsitality McQueens and thanks to Granna for taking care of Janet. Amazing time, we can’t wait to do it again.