Chicago eating report

I had a great time in Chicago last week: so much that I had to recover a bit this week before putting my trip report together. The reason is because I pigged out the entire time I was there at some of the fine establishments that opened since I moved. I put on the Google 15 within a year of moving to California, that’s nothing compared to the Chicago 5 – in one week.

So here goes: my week in fine (and not so fine) dining.

Saturday
Lola and I went to Le Peep for lunch in a bit of nostalgia only to find that wow, the food there is not so great. I mean, I guess it’s never been that great, but we used to go there on the weekends quite a bit just because it was down the block. The menu had changed slightly and we were tired and groggy, so we definitely fell off the “order drink, come back and order food” cycle so everything took way longer than it should have to get some anemic eggs and a soggy waffle.

Lesson: should have gone to Walker Bros, or at least Dixie Kitchen.

Part of the reason we didn’t get more ambitious for dinner was because we were meeting Woods and Erin for dinner at the Purple Pig downtown. My college roommate Abby had suggested it to Lola. The website said they serve Mediterranean food, which was a shock to me (I am pretty burnt out on kifta kabob since Lola requests it for dinner whenever she’s back in town). I was happier to read the tagline on the door: “Cheese, swine and wine.” The place was packed to the brim with people and we had to wait for a while outside with a beer, which was nice until it started to drizzle. We huddled under the tented seating area until the hostess sat us… right next to where we were standing. That was handy.

Onto the food: we were seated at a communal table next to a party of ladies who were clearly enjoying themselves. They suggested the bone marrow and the pork fried almonds. We added to this a scotch egg, chorizo olives, butternut squash, milk braised pork shoulder, fish “fries” and more beer! Lola’s favorite was the bone marrow, which was served with toasted bread, capers and cilantro. It was definitely the most memorable marrow dish I’ve had: the capers really gave the creamy marrow a dash of flavor. Lola wanted to get another. The pork fried almonds were great too. I was not so wild about the fish fries (tiny little deep fried smelt) and the pork shoulder was good when hot but in the cool air, the sauce started to congeal as the night went on. For dessert: we all split a nutella sandwich, mmm. I definitely want to go back and try more of their main dishes next time I’m in town.

Sunday
We woke up late, as expected. We got groceries for the condo for the week and split a can of store chili for a small late lunch because we were going to the Hopleaf for dinner with J-net, Scott and Levin and I was prepared to eat like none other. (See, I told you we dined at both ends of the spectrum). However, on the way to the bar, we decided to try someplace new (to me) and hit up the Publican instead. I’d been hearing about this place for a while and I had definitely built it up in my head a little much. I called them and they gave us a reservation right away which was awesome (I guess it was Sunday after all) and away we went.

Again we sat at a communal table (with slightly odd table breaks). We ordered more beer, oysters, apple salad, pork rinds, the charcuterie plate and the ham sampler to start. For the main dish, we got 2 orders of the pork belly. The oysters were OK, although slightly fishy compared to what you get out here. The pork rinds came in a tall glass, like frites, and were covered in a slightly spicy powder. They disappeared quickly. The ham sampler was different than I expected: I thought it would be more like prosciutto. Instead, it was… ham (well one of them was serrano, but the others were just… salty). We ended up waiting forever for the pork belly, so in the mean time we got some bread which was really great: crusty and warm. And beer: Levin, Scott and I split an Allagash Fluxus. When the pork belly finally came, it proved to be worth the wait. It had the right mixture of fat and meat, and also had this sweet savory thing going on which went right to your brain’s pleasure centers. Lola’s verdict was that she preferred the Purple Pig, but I would give the Publican another shot, just to try more of their main dishes (and to avoid the oysters). It was Scott’s birthday so we got the chocolate tart with a candle for dessert.

Monday
We went to dinner at Union Pizzeria with our friend Joaquin. We ordered a pizza each: lamb sausage for me, potato for Lola and prosciutto arugula for Joaquin. It ended up being way more food than expected… but we managed to eat almost all of it. Go us! I’d been to Union a few times before when visiting, so it wasn’t new to me, but it’s quality pizza and they have a good beer selection. I wish it had opened sooner so I could have gone more often when living there.

Tuesday
Dinner: chili again! It was cold outside. Chicago had this major wind warning. We were lazy.

Wednesday
I went to see Jackass 3D with Levin, Scott and Phil and we grabbed BW3s before the show. This place went in next to the movie theater. I’ve been once or twice before, but I think I still prefer classics Buff Joe’s to these fancy sauces. We had the garlic parmesan, mango habanero, classic and some others that were too spicy for me to try. I’m a total wimp. Even the mango habanero put a bit of hurt on me (it sneaks up on you).

I’d never really seen any of the previous Jackass oeuvre: just a quick glimpse here and there, but I admit I enjoyed myself. I think watching stuff blow up in slomo 3D just can’t possibly be boring. It was amazing to see the credit sequence where they showed old pics and previous Jackass stunts from the crew and you realize they’ve been doing this a long long time.

Thursday
We had dinner with my brother and his wife at their house. They’d just gotten back from a trip, so we just took takeout up there: Jimmy John’s and Cosi flatbreads. It was like having lunch back at work again! We did get a parking ticket while getting the sandwiches: I was literally out of the car for 5 minutes. Evanston meter maids are so smug and cocky. I got back to the car just as he was putting the ticket in the door and he had the nerve to wave at me as he drove away.

Friday
Lola and I went for dinner with J-net and Adam at the Bristol. I was already downtown at the office, so I got there a little earlier than them (and here I was rushing to squeeze in a game of Starcraft 2 with the Data Liberation Front guys). The Bristol has this bar / waiting area upstairs, which is SO smart: I immediately partook of their excellent cocktail menu. They have this really high octane pear vodka drink which really slinks up behind you and pulls the rug out. Glad it wasn’t my turn to drive. My second drink was also pear vodka based, but cut with cucumber water so it was less sweet. Finally, at dinner, they had a Patron + chai cocktail which was spicy and smooth. Can’t say enough about how good these drinks were. We did scotch olives, duck fat fries, more bone marrow, shrimp and a big bowl of different types of sausages. The meal was excellent, it really was, but I find it hard to remember all the details now due to those fine fine drinks. Their menu changes daily too, so I couldn’t even refresh my memory with the website. Again, would visit again because I’d like to try more of the menu, but also to request that chai cocktail again.

Saturday
Lunch was at Edzo’s, which is a new burger joint in Evanston that everyone mentioned to us whenever we talked about eating anything beef based. “Oh, you have to try Edzo’s, but it’s only open for lunch.” We met up with Scott and Nina, Adam and Jnet and stood in the long line for food. Lola and I decided to split a burger like everyone else, but I forgot that we like our burgers done very differently: I like it medium to medium rare and she like it on the way to charcoal. When our 8oz burger arrived I cut it in half and blood came pouring out, so she went to get her own burger while I set to the task of eating 4 times as much meat as anyone else on the table. We also had a bunch of fries with different toppings, but I couldn’t be wasting space on them: I had a job to do. That being said, that burger was way less cooked than even I like. However, you can’t deny the quality. Mmm. Also, we had a nutella shake. Scott got a maple shake that I want to try next time.

After that meal, we just skipped dinner.

Sunday
Last meal in Chicago proper: brunch at Big Jones on J-net’s recommendation. We got an Opentable reservation for 4 people and headed on down. Adam and I got eggs benedicts in popovers: his had fried green tomatoes and mine had crab cakes. We also got more pork belly as an appetizer. It came with a plum ketchup and a crepe and actually tasted more Asian than southern. The popever were excellent: they kept the benedict-y goodness contained while eating. Lola had something that looked like chilaquiles, but I was too stuffed to try any. J-net got shrimp and grits. That lunch put me back to sleep until it was time for my flight.

I wasn’t planning on eating at the airport, but then my flight got canceled and I had to hurry up and wait in line to get rebooked. I ended up on a later flight to SFO instead of SJC, so I had some time to kill so I hit up the food court and got a BBQ sandwich. Nothing too spectacular to note except that I totally cut in line because I was dithering around trying to decide whether to eat another burger at Billy Goat or else get some Panda Express style Asian food. But I didn’t even get dirty looks from anyone. Yay, the Midwest. Sorry I was dumb about the ordering line vs the paying line.

Conclusions
Chicago has a lot of great nose to tail restaurants. Also, I can eat way more than before. Like, sick amounts. I think it’s eating full meals at Google every day that’s doing it. Yow. I still have plenty more places on the list to try: Lula Cafe, Big Star, and the new Uncommon Ground on Devon. And yet, I’m still sad I didn’t make it to some of the old favorites: Hopleaf and Walker Bros. My next visit is in 2 weeks and I can’t wait.

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