In my annual “fly to the Midwest for a concert I could’ve seen at home” series, last weekend I went to Chicago. The vacay served the triple purpose of allowing me to: a) see Beyonce a second time; b) catch up with old friends and family; and c) avoid packing / preparing for my pending move. AND I got to eat some amazing food. Win-win-win-win.
Chicago’s food scene is pretty well-established, so much so that the James Beard Awards, one of the most important stamps of approval for an American chef, will move its awards ceremony to the Windy City next year, after 24 years in NYC. There are the obvious superstars: Grant Achatz’s Alinea and Next, Paul Kahan’s The Publican, Stephanie Izard’s The Girl and the Goat.
We didn’t bother trying to make rezzos at most of these places, since they’re booked up well in advance (and at least in the case of Alinea, are well out of our very-limited budget). But we did still manage to eat like queens. My favorite meals in Chi-town:
Our first stop after landing: PIZZA. While tourists (and Steve Harvey) debate whether Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s, I got a tip from a local and headed straight to Pequod’s. Located a bit outside of downtown in Lincoln Park, Pequod’s serves up more of a “pan pizza” than a true “deep dish” (this explains the difference), but the main attraction is the ring of caramelized Parmesan on top of the crust. The Parm gets all nutty and frico-like in the oven, and adds some crunch to the otherwise bread-like (in a good way!) pizza crust.
I’m not sure if I’ve been converted to a Chicago-style pizza girl yet (I’ll take a newspaper-thin slice with a crispy crust any day of the week), but Pequod’s was by far the best pizza I’ve had in a while. Bonus: they’re super cheap — our 10-inch pie was $14 with toppings and provided us with both lunch and breakfast the next day. And while we didn’t order it, they also have a $5 personal pie lunch special!
Karyn’s on Green
It’s a bit weird to go to a city known for its pizza and its hot dogs and then eat vegan. But Karyn’s on Green, in Greektown, was worth eschewing meat and cheese for. I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical — I’m usually not a fan of vegan places that traffic in fake meat, and their dinner menu included crab cakes, chicken parm and a charcuterie plate. But the charcuterie plate made interesting use of mushrooms and sunflower seeds to make pate and salumi, which was surprisingly good.
I stayed on the safe side with my dinner order: roasted portabello caps with a root vegetable hash (and obviously, a side of caramelized Brussels sprouts). Vegetables are bomb when they’re done right, and Karyn’s knows how to do their vegetables — the portabellos were meaty without being rubbery, the hash was perfectly crisp-tender and the tempranillo glaze was a nice added touch.
We closed out our trip at Little Goat, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s diner on the oh-so-trendy Randolph Street in the West Loop.
Izard’s diner takes bar food to the next level: grilled cheese with guanciale, nachos with homemade masa chips, cream cheese ice cream on top of blueberry pie. Mili and I split an order of the machos nachos, with BBQ pork, pickled peppers and those deliciously crunchy house-made chips, and the kalbi beef ribs. The ribs were BOMB: tender and slathered with a tangy fresh strawberry sauce, then topped with crispy fried onions. We ended with a slice of crazy-good Mexican chocolate cake and of course, a round of photos in the photo booth. The restaurant had a fun vibe and was a really nice way to end our trip — plus, Randolph Street is packed with bars, so the after-party is just a few steps away.
Bonus bite: Leonidas Chocolates. This small Belgian chocolate shop/cafe is just off Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. We went there for dessert after a perfect lakeside picnic with my family, and between the excellent pastries, the supremely rich/delicious brownie, the amazing truffles and chocolates, and the gigantic chocolate-covered strawberries, I was in heaven. Plus, outdoor seating = perfect people-watching in this busy part of downtown.