Windy city surprises with Chi-town style, culinary panache, hospitality
I now have a personal understanding of the significance of "The Windy City" as Chicago's nickname – the city took my breath away. It could also be from the intense winds that gust throughout the city the majority of the year. [Ed note: The nickname started as a reference to Chicago politicians' lengthy oratories.] I truly have never been quite so taken with a city so quickly. I did go into it with high expectations: amazing buildings, diverse people, and a serious lack of humidity that tamed the mane that is my summertime hair. One of the most unbelievable aspects, though, was the cuisine.
It is no surprise that a large city like Chicago has a wide selection of cuisine. I have been to New York City, and, as obvious as this sounds, it is no Chicago. By this I mean I expected Chicago to share many of NYC's qualities: interesting people, always something to do, great food, and dirty. However, Chicago's qualities included hospitality, welcoming me with beautiful sunny but comfortable weather, clean grounds, and have I mentioned the food?
Allow me to elaborate: The food from start to finish was more than heavenly (and way too indulgent to repeat). We started with Friday lunch, and we were ravenous. My friend could think of nowhere better than the always-crowded Giordano's, known for one of Chicago's food staples, the deep dish pizza (see slide show below). I was sold; deep dish is my favorite type of pizza. First, though, we shared an entrée-sized house salad of light lemon vinaigrette, spring lettuce mix, romaine lettuce, arugula, escarole, radicchio lettuces, fennel, tomatoes and parmesan, which was amazingly fresh. But then the pizza came out, the oh-so-beautiful Stuffed Chicago Classic (with olives substituted for onions), and I was drooling. The ooey gooey cheese from inside the stuffed crust stretched over our plates as we took our slice of pizza with the best, thickest crust – my favorite part because what I really mean is bread – that I have ever consumed. I wish my stomach (and metabolism) could handle a neverending supply.
A few hours of shopping later, we really worked up an appetite again, if you can believe it. We were ready to try another of Chicago's staple foods: the perfectly fried, sugar-infused wonder that is a true Chicago-style donut. I know, we are too healthy for our own good. Upon perusing the donut case at Firecakes Donuts, I landed on the Verona Triple Chocolate and Butterscotch Praline with cream filling... until my friend spotted a sign for ice cream donut sandwiches (in slideshow below).
Say no more. A few minutes later (the only wait was due to the owner making the chocolate sauce!), Sophia and I were presented with two bread-shaped glazed donuts sandwiching a perfect amount of chocolate sauce-covered strawberry gelato. I will never think of chocolate-covered strawberries the same way again.
Since Chicago presents not only beautiful sights but also beautiful sounds, a free classical orchestra concert in Millenium Park drove dozens of people to picnic in the park. Sophia and I went to Mariano's grocery store first and while she opted for a pre-packaged egg salad sandwich, I could not take my eyes off of the salad bar. Again, I am ruined: This was the absolute freshest salad bar from which I have had the pleasure of creating a salad. For $6 I got a a very full container of assorted veggies, kale, and pasta/grain concoctions, and salad dressing was the furthest thing from my mind.
The next morning after free yoga in the park(!), our intended location, Wildberry's, had a wait line around the block, so we had to alter our plans. Eggy's Diner was a nearby breakfast spot in the same plaza as Mariano's grocery store. Note: Everything was in ideally close walking distance. I was not prepared for the sheer amount of food so early in the morning. Being the eggs Benedict snob that I am, I had to try the most interesting-sounding one: the Eggy's Benedict with two poached eggs, maple-glazed pulled pork, cornbread waffle and brown butter hollandaise, with Eggy's potatoes. I have to say this was not my absolute favorite. unfortunately. The waffle and pulled pork combo, as enticing as it sounded, did not deliver a satisfying and cohesive flavor sensation, similar to how I feel about chicken and waffles together. But the eggs with hollandaise on top of the pulled pork worked once I separated the waffles. However, one of my poached eggs was overcooked with a non-runny yolk, which was very disappointing, and there was not enough hollandaise. The breakfast potatoes were the best I have ever had though.
I was way too full for lunch, but I am glad I saved room for our final dinner, which was at Tavern at the Park, a semi-fancy rooftop restaurant with breath-taking views of the city. Sophia was missing Gainesville's Loosey's truffle fries, so we felt obligated to order the shoestring fries with truffle aioli to start. I was interested in a lighter dish, perhaps seafood. "Look, the red grouper is from Florida so I bet it's good." It didn't register that we were not in Florida, so of course I ordered it, but I cleaned my plate. This Cajun seasoned fish, much lighter in contrast to all the heavier foods of the weekend, was served over a bed of sautéed spinach with a decadent crab soubise and spicy tomato jus. I was also in love with my friend's steak, which was tender even thought it was cooked medium well. The best part, which I believe my friend can attest to as well, was the dessert. I will never forget the homemade fudge chocolate chip brownie. The decadence and texture of the brownie, coupled with the savory burnt caramel gelato, chocolate fudge sauce, and Chantilly cream was unreal. Another plate cleaned!
I am almost sad to say this, but the food experiences were almost too good: I will never eat a brownie sundae, deep dish pizza, salad bar salad, or donut the same way. Chicago: thank you for the amazing memories and five extra pounds!