It’s hard to believe that it has been a week since our impromptu trip to Chicago. It is even harder to believe that it has taken me until now to write about it. I have wanted to go to Chicago for many years now, and while there are many wonderful architectural sites in Chicago and lots of history, my main reason for wanting to go was to Eat! I have to admit that I didn’t even realize that Chicago was the home of the infamous Al Capone until I was there and saw a picture of him in a “timeline of Chicago” poster. What I knew about Chicago, what I cared to know, was that you could get deep dish pizza, Chicago style hot dogs and some of the highest class food in the USA. So we got into the car and drove the 8 hours from Waterloo to Chicago last Friday night and Chicago did not disappoint! It turned out to be everything I wanted it to be and more. The food, the people, the architecture, every single moment spent there was inspiring in one way or another.
The food exceeded my expectations. On our first morning we walked (from our very well situated hotel) to Yolk. When I went onto tripadvisor on Friday afternoon, just to check out what restaurants were ranked well in Chicago, Yolk was ranked as the #2 restaurant in the city. It lived up to its ranking. Yolk has a bright, modern atmosphere, with yellow and blue everywhere and an open concept kitchen. We were seated at the bar (which over looked the kitchen) and thus began our breakfast experience. I call it an experience because it was so much more than a meal. From listening to the cooks call out orders in Spanish, to the smell of bacon, eggs and waffles, to friendly chats with Chicago locals, it was the perfect way to start our day. My eggs Benedict was the best I have ever had, with perfectly cooked eggs, incredibly thick and delicious Canadian bacon and a brilliantly executed hollandaise sauce. It set the bar high for the rest of the day. Lunch was an authentic Chicago dining experience, with deep dish pizza at Gino’s East (again, another convenient walk from our hotel). After waiting 40 minutes in line and then another hour once seated, the piece de resistance came to our table. I don’t know if I have ever been more excited to see a pizza in my life. It was perfectly round, perfectly golden and perfectly deep! With the first bite I was a believer. I am not normally a fan of crust on pizza, leaving the crust on my plate and throwing it out at the end of a meal, but this crust was off the hook. While it is definitely a “P90X killer,” it was so incredibly worth the pound that I am sure I gained by eating it. If you head to Gino’s East, be sure to bring along a sharpie as they have graffiti all over the walls and it appears that it is almost expected that you add your own name to the collection. Now what about dinner? Well, my initial goal with the trip to Chicago was to eat at Rick Bayless’ restaurant The Frontera Grill. Bayless is probably one of my favourite chefs out there. Ever since I saw an episode of At the Table With that featured him I was hooked on everything he did. On that program I learned that he was doing his PhD and then after an inspiring trip to Mexico he decided to leave academia and become a chef. There is something about following your heart and going against the grain and everything that people expect of you that is incredible inspiring to me. Anyway, we put our name on the list at Frontera and were told it would take approximately 2 and a half hours to get a table. We left Frontera and went to get a drink at a wine bar close by (Fleming’s is a fabulous place with a great wine list) and started trying to decide whether we should wait for our table at Frontera or check out another restaurant we had heard of: The Purple Pig. After finishing our delicious glass of Sanford Chardonnay we decided to head over to The Purple Pig. How could I resist a restaurant that’s very name encapsulates two of the three parts of my blog title. The Purple Pig was amazing! It serves tapas type menu items with lots of pig on the menu. We enjoyed the Pig platter (a pig shaped platter filled with house made cured meats), chorizo stuffed olives, and roasted bone marrow all alongside a delicious half litre of Pinot Noir from Languedoc. For dessert we had one of the best desserts I have had in a long time, a Farro, Rocotta cheese pudding with warm dark chocolate sauce. To top off the wonderful food, the service we received at the Purple Pig was amazing! We had a phenomenal server named Lucas who was passionate and knowledgeable and just incredibly helpful and entertaining. If you find yourself at the Purple Pig, be sure to ask if he is in and if you can sit at a table that he serves! Finally, on our second day in Chicago we went up to Wrigley field and on the way out of the city stopped by The Clark Street Dog to get ourselves a traditional Chicago style hot dog. A Chicago style hot dog (for those of you who don’t know) is a hot dog with mustard, relish, onions, pickles, tomatoes and sport peppers. Again, this hole in the wall dining experience did not let me down and left me with a memory that I will not soon forget.
Other than the food my experiences in Chicago the whole weekend left me inspired, contented and sure of the goodness in the world. The service that we received at every single restaurant we went to was so great that it made me wonder what is in the water in Chicago that makes people in the service industry so incredible nice. We met an inspiring guy on the Navy Pier who is a college admissions counsellor in Venezula and is just generally an amazing person. We spent a lot of time admiring the beauty that man can make in the reflection of the Chicago Cloud Gate (AKA the Bean) and just took in every fresh breath of air that the windy city provided. I think that it is important to get out of our own little comfort zones every once and a while, to travel to distant, or not so distant, locales in order to discover the beauty outside of our own familiar places. It helps us to realize that there are great things out there in this big world; that there are so many wonderful pieces of pig to eat and sips of pinot to drink and people that are passionate about sharing those with you.