The minute I bit into the giant Kobe beef rib on my plate, my small innocent crush transformed into a full blown love affair. That’s right San Francisco: you will always have my heart, but Chicago and I just had a wonderful week away. Now, the weather, is another story but all summer sweatiness aside, Chicago really knows what’s going on. Our tour guide for the week-long trip (and my fellow IDEO Marcom gal), Annette, kept all of us well dressed and happily overfed the entire week. She could not have been a better host. I checked into my hotel and was greeted with a perfectly curated welcome package from IDEO – Chicago (ChIDEO) that had all of the good stuff: local craft beer, chocolate, and a beautifully designed deck of cards. The deck of cards were ChIDEO’s recommendations for Chicago must-dos, sees, shops, eats, and sips. What a welcome. These little cards became our own personal Yelp, minus the rating scams.
The Chicago food scene has always been on the radar but, honestly, I had not given it much thought. Maybe I was a bit blinded by the lights of the biggest cities, like New York or San Francisco. But I found out that Chicago has everything that the big guns have, with a Midwest charm. Chefs, baristas and mixologists alike are all pushing the culinary boundaries in the Windy City. And if you are a fan of doughnuts, whiskey, and/or meat, Chicago needs to be at the top of your list. God and the people are so nice. Like genuine, smile at you on the street nice.
Okay enough, let’s get to the food:
Our welcome dinner at Chicago Q was full of bread and butter pickles, potato chips, Kobe beef ribs and fried alligator. Great and tasty, this meal established the fried and pickled theme of the trip.
Trencherman in Wicker Park was on the list for the following night. The building was a converted Turkish bath house and it was spectacular. Keeping with the pickled and fried theme, we had pickle tater tots for starters and pillowy doughnuts for dessert. Both were fried to golden perfection.
At ten o’clock the black pavement was still hot from the afternoon sun so we headed around the corner to Big Star for some cold drinks. Eight ladies jammed into a tiny booth, meant for four, in the back corner, and ordered a round of beer margaritas. Chill Midwestern vibe, fun crowd.
The following night at The Aviary the bunson burner cocktails and tweezer constructed drinks were visionary spectacles. Think scientific, mixology laboratory concocting elixirs that are as much about function as form.
Avec lives up to all of the hype. Entering through the front glass door, you are hit by the loud, joyous sounds of people enjoying a great meal with great company. The restaurant is a long, narrow, well designed space that somehow comfortably fits way more people than it should. Family-style plates were brought to the table; wood-fired squid, tender pork shoulder and roasted chicken. Their bartenders know how to do all traditional cocktails real well, so an Old Fashioned was my drink of choice for the night.
With no concrete plans, the weekend was spent exploring. In SF we walk everywhere. I am known to hit the five mile hump where the unsupportive shoes that I stubbornly chose to wear give way to sore feet. After a few complaints and responding eye rolls, I get my second wind. On one of our urban treks, we stumbled across this literal hole in the wall joint called, the Doughnut Vault. While I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, the pumpkin stack gave me the sugary push I needed to keep going.
One of Annette’s top recommendations, Antique Taco, had horchata milkshakes and tasty little tacos that pack a flavorful punch. I was in need of a detox after the decadent food we had been consuming all week so I loaded up on the spiciest salsa. Thinking I could sweat it all out. Strangely, Antique Taco would feel very much at home if it packed up its bags and moved to Valencia St in SF.
Longman & Eagle in Logan Square was at the top of the top. Potentially one of the most memorable meals I have ever had. We didn’t want to wait hours to get a table for two, so we showed up at 5:00 on the dot and were seated right away. Their impeccable reputation showed through everything we ate and drank that night. A whiskey selection unlike anything I have ever seen. Had one too many? No worries, there are four hotel rooms you can rent out upstairs. Brilliant.
Feeling slightly glutinous after literally eating my way through Chicago one fried morsel at a time, it felt somewhat refreshing as I crunched on my kale salad and sipped my coconut water on Monday. Thank you Chicago, our affair will be continued.