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In which I eat my way across Chicago.

September 12, 2009

Ahhh, Chicago.

Chicago from the sky

Land of the deep dish pizza, the ethnic enclaves which give way to phenomenal local strains of ethnic cuisine, and the land where my BFF (that’s “Best Friend Forever” for those of you who don’t speak teenage girl) has made her very awesome home for the last three years. Oh yeah. And John and Annie live there, too! 🙂 Pretty much the best combination I can think of, fo sho.

I went to Chicago for Labor Day, because my hard working Ad Exec best friend Merideth was promised both the Friday and the Monday off, ergo: four day weekend, holla! I really must say, the stars aligned for this trip, because one of my dear friends from undergrad (who went on the infamous Italy trip with me) actually got married back in April and just happened to be having his celebratory wedding party (small family wedding + massive amounts of friends = separate party for friends and family to eat and booze it up) on Sunday! So fortune smiled upon the wanderer, and my weekend was complete.

Merideth’s home is located in the Ukrainian Village* part of Chicago:

Home to the Chicagoland chapter of the Ukranian Mafia

Home to the Chicagoland chapter of the Ukrainian Mafia

Her neighborhood is packed to the gills with Ukrainian things: people, restaurants, and bakeries. Merideth, being Merideth, was a little shy about going into the Ukrainian places, because most of the writing was actually in Ukrainian, and most of the people in said establishments were also Ukrainian. I, on the other hand, have zero compunction about bursting into someone else’s world, so here we went into the bakery near her home.

We found many interesting things, the majority of which we could not identify, because nothing was written in English!

Yulia? Want to help me out here?

Yulia? Want to tell me what these are?

Or these?

Or these?

Then we embarrassed the crap out of ourselves by requesting “One challah, please!” at the bakery counter, only to discover after much hand waving and gesticulating, and subsequent tasting, that the 30 cent bread item we’d just purchased was not, as it looked, the delicious egg bread we’d been expecting, but an entirely different, tender and sweet type of Ukrainian pastry! Talk about a cultural education. Oh, and did I mention we were the only folks in there speaking English? Uh. Yeah. We were.

One of the things Merideth and I did for entertainment came from a brilliant little magazine that I wish D.C. would have (and if we do, someone tell me!), called Time Out Chicago. In their newest printing, Time Out Chicago listed a number of “walks” you could do, starting at one of the El stops (the elevated train they have instead of a subway) and ending at another, along the same line. Merideth and I picked the slightly pretentious Red Line tour, which included walking directions through the Gold Coast neighborhood, where, it was once thought by the working class, the rich people have gold literally falling out of their pockets.

It was a really beautiful walk, with some gorgeous architecture, but, of course, my attention was snagged when I saw mention of Sarah’s…a bakery that sells cupcakes! So, naturally, we knew this was perfect. We started the day at Jam, a tiny little breakfast and lunch  joint nowhere near the Red line, but which had been reviewed by the same Time Out and by Chowhound (it was on my list upon arriving in the first place). I highly recommend this place for a brunch or breakfast (we only had breakfast items, so I can’t speak to lunch) – I had malted custard french toast with a lime-leaf whip cream and crushed stonefruits, while Merideth had an egg white omelet with yellow beets and goat cheese with a little bed of mixed greens. And yes, that pretty much sums up our personality types.

The Jam kitchen

The Jam kitchen

I’m not usually a french toast fan, but when I saw the words “custard” “cream” and “stonefruits” I just knew I had to go for it. And boy was it FANTASTIC. I took pictures, but they weren’t very pretty. Instead I’ll show you a shot of one of my FAVORITE things about the place:

An AMUSE-BOUCHE! For BREAKFAST!

An AMUSE-BOUCHE! For BREAKFAST!

French for mouth-pleaser (ish), an amuse-bouche is something the chef sends out as a gift to the patrons of his/her restaurant. It’s usually tiny, and usually features some specific thing the chef is great at, just as a little teaser to get your taste buds to wake up and say “More please!” In this one, the chef presented us with a chocolate madeleine with whipped cream. Uh…DELICIOUS!? So good, though it made me want something salty for breakfast, since I’d already had my sweet.

So, Jam was a win. Next up was our tour – we walked through the Gold Coast, seeing places like this:

Beautiful.

Beautiful.

And this:

Such a bizarre building structure.

Such a bizarre building structure.

And Hef’s original Playboy Mansion:

I washed my hands after this photo.

I washed my hands after this photo.

And cool doors like this one:

See the blue tile? We like the blue tile.

See the blue tile? We like the blue tile.

And by THEN of course, we were screaming for cupcakes (uh, hel-LOO, we’d walked 2.7 MILES by this point!). So we headed over to Sarah’s, which is on a street featuring those kinds of shops where I’ll never in a million years be rich enough to purchase even an accessory (i.e. Tod’s, Fendi, etc.). We were skeptical, because the little patio outside was filled with old people, but then we realized it was 4PM on a work day – who else WOULD be there? The place was cute and tiny,  and while they were sold out of the cupcake du jour (blueberry cheesecake) they did have a delicious carrot cupcake handy:

Tasty tasty!

Tasty tasty!

After we enjoyed our cupcake, we took a walk down to the beach. Dude. Did YOU know Chicago has a freaking BEACH!?

I have no idea what these palm trees wear in the winter.

I have no idea what these palm trees wear in the winter.

Well. They DO! And this day they had people lounging, playing sports, and picnicking (like John and Annie and their friends). So cool!

After hanging out with John et al. for a while, we decided to finish up our walk by visiting Le Petit Paris. Now. Let me first say that Merideth and I did exactly zero research on this place before going, aside from noting it was recommended as the place to finish our walk. We arrived at 5:10pm, sandy from the beach, tired, wearing flip-flops and not looking like fancypants folks at ALL.

We arrive at Le Petit Paris, which is located in the lobby of a condo building, and try to open the door. No-go. Locked. “Um, excuse me mister doorman, is this Le Petit Paris?” “Why of course, ladies – let me bang on the door til the crabby Frenchman comes to open it for you.” So we’re already starting off on an awkward foot. The French guy opens the door, gives Mer and me the once-over with his eyes, and stares at us, as if to say “Yeeeeeeees?” So Lisa, being, again, unafraid of bursting into other peoples’ world, proclaims “We’re just aiming for the bar.” “Go ahead and aim away.” Frenchman storms off.

…awkward. But we’re in, so we go to the bar and sit down. The place is adorable, veeeeery old-world French snobbery, very dark and moody.

Bar

Bar

So we’re like: Awesome. Let’s get a drink. The Time Out had mentioned how their cocktails come in old-fashioned glasses, so we assumed there was a cocktail menu. No such luck here. Requests for a cocktail menu yielded the succinct “You’re in a bar. We serve drinks.” So I settled on a vodka soda and lime, Mer on a glass of white wine. (Again, I feel like that describes us well). I hear the guy’s accent, so I casually say…”are you French?” A gruff  “Yes.”

…so, of course, being the snobby snob I am, I whip out my “Et vous venez d’où?” It is honestly amazing the change that comes over the guy. He starts gabbling about how he’s from a little town outside Paris, how do I know French, the obligatory “Mais tu parles bien!” (yes, thank you, I studied for 9 years, it would be humiliating if I didn’t parle bien) and THEN he loves us! Bought us a round of drinks, told us all about the history of the place, and even walked us out into the lobby after we were finished. Ha.

So. Rule of thumb: Always. Speak. The language.

After our adventurous adventures on the walk and at the Ukranian bakery (which actually happened on two separate days) what was left for a foodie to do? Why, go to the Green City Market, obviously.

Green City Market

Green City Market

I drug Merideth halfway (more than halfway, really) across town to see the ba-JILLION stalls and tourists and shoppers and things, and was excited to find the promised 6 different cheese stands, including one which specialized in goat cheese. Mer and I took too long deciding what to buy, so we ended up with a bag of goat cheese buttons and a loaf of sesame semolina bread. The combo was a little weird, but sortof oddly satisfying.

Goat cheese buttons.

Goat cheese buttons.

Sesame Semolina

Sesame Semolina

As we were walking with our loot, Merideth pointed out that the zoo was adjacent to the Park, so we took a quick tour of the scary cat section:

Like Tortellini, but with bigger teeth.

Like Tortellini, but with bigger teeth.

Which prompted the inevitable “What would you do RIGHT NOW if one of the cats escaped and was coming after you?” (Response, by me: “Throw a child in its way and run like hell.” Kidding, of course. The kids were just mildly annoying that day.)

Then we toured our distant cousins in the monkey house:

This guy had freakishly long arms. And please note the monkeybutt in the background.

This guy had freakishly long arms. And please note the monkeybutt in the background.

And headed out to see 500 Days of Summer (which was actually pretty cute). We had dinner at Feast, which was decent though my salmon wasn’t fantastic, then headed to bed for our lovely day full of Wedding Celebrating on Sunday.

The food at John and Annie’s party was delicious – Costa Rican empanadas, plantains (ask Merideth how many she ate) and my new favorite beer – Two Brothers Domaine DuPage.

Domaine DuPage

Domaine DuPage

John and Annie had provided a TON of different microbrew beers, so when I went up to John and said “Oh my gosh – I just found my FAVORITE beer” he immediately replied “It was the one in French, wasn’t it?” Yes, ok, fine, it’s French, but c’mon! It was delicious! Everyone at the party agreed, it was the crowd favorite.

I actually liked the beer so much I emailed the owners to find out if they’ll be coming to D.C. (they’re already in Pennsylvnia, so it’s not that much of a stretch) but unfortunately they’ve got no plans to expand to D.C. yet. Don’t you worry though, they promised to let me know if they are coming!

After a very full day of Costa Rican food, excellent beer, and wedding cake:

It's filled with raspberry mousse - DELICIOUS.

It's filled with raspberry mousse - DELICIOUS.

Merideth and I retired home with a pie from Lou Malnati’s. Now, I know this is a travesty, but I was SO engrossed in the eating of the best deep dish pizza IN THE WORLD (Chicagoans, feel free to argue) I forgot to take a picture! But rest assured, it was phenomenal.

So, all in all, I had a fan-TASTIC trip to Chicago, I gained 5lbs. (all worth it, I promise) and really loved getting to see my Merideth and John and Annie (and Steve, who showed up from Texas with Lucki to the wedding party! – he actually reads my blog, so he gets a shout out).

Thanks, Chicago, for the memories, the calories, and the chance to practice French AND stuff my face with pizza, all in the same weekend.

Tip of the Week: Visit Chicago. It’s a cop-out, but c’mon – this post is already almost 2,000 words.

* Not to be confused with “Ukranian” which is not a word. Sorry about that.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Douglas Naaden permalink
    September 12, 2009 1:22 pm

    This was a delightful read!I’m glad you washed your hands after taking that one picture. You are so lucky to know French! That came in handy, huh?

    You need to take more awesome trips like this!

    • lisam permalink
      September 12, 2009 1:27 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Douglas! And how’s Ethiopia for an awesome trip? I’ll be heading there next…on the 20th. 🙂

  2. September 13, 2009 1:40 pm

    HOW have I not been a stalker of this website until now?! You are a fantastic story-teller! I am officially your newest abid internet stalker! Your captions are priceless!

    • lisam permalink
      September 13, 2009 3:56 pm

      Haha, thanks Kendra!! I’m glad you like it. 🙂

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