Sweet home, Chicago

So, last week, I was at a conference for my job in one of my favorite cities of all time–Chicago. This was my third trip to the Windy City, and every time I’ve been there I’ve found more and more reasons to fall in love with this city.

Chicago is one of my favorite food cities. Everyone knows about famous Chicago-style pizza, and it is definitely a thing to behold, but did you know that Chicago also does hot dogs a distinctly Chicago way, and Italian beef is pretty much the best thing ever? Of course, you know that if you read my blog on the regular! Chicago is also home to one of my favorite beers of all time, Goose Island 312.

While I didn’t stick to my Reverse Meatless Monday completely, I did okay and still enjoyed my favorite eating city. Many of my meals were provided through the conference, and luckily the people who put on the annual conference, the National Conference of State Legislatures, know how important it is to showcase the host city for attendees.

The day I arrived, I had a few hours to kill and I hadn’t had lunch yet. As I was getting off the plane, I knew I would head to Chicago’s own celebrity chef restaurant, Frontera, or the more casual sister restaurant XOCO. But they were closed. Boo.

Luckily, a few blocks from my hotel, which was right across from Grant Park, was a Lou Malnati’s location. What better way to welcome yourself to Chicago than with deep dish pizza?

I had “The Lou,” which was roma tomatoes, spinach and cheddar, mozzarella and parmesean, all in the famous “butter crust.” Even in the six inch size, or maybe perhaps of it, the crust was perfect–crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. And a yelper recommended the house salad (a good idea while you wait for your pizza, which they tell you upfront, takes 30 minutes) with the homemade gorgonzola dressing. It was pretty amazing. Of course, I washed it down with a 312 on draft.

Much later that night (the pizza really sticks with you), I had met up with two coworkers to visit Navy Pier. We listed to an awesome cover band at the beer garden and then rode the ferris wheel and swings ride on the pier. We rode the swings right at sunset, and it was stunning.

From there, we walked up to the Hancock Building.  One of my coworkers happened to catch a profile of The Signature Room on the hotel channel in her room that features tourist attractions and wanted to check it out. The Signature Room is a fancy pants restaurant on the 95th floor, and we were wearing shorts and sandals, so we opted for the more casual lounge area, where tappas and appetizers are served, along with a number of featured drinks. We split three appetizers, duck tacos, chips and guacamole and a BLT with shaved smoked salmon on it. The food was pretty outstanding and the drinks were amazing–as well as the view.

The rest of the week went by too quickly, probably because most of the day my butt was planted in a chair in a convention center listening to topics relevant to state legislatures. After the conference wrapped up for the day, we took in as much as we could of what Chicago has to offer. I went to a White Sox game (the Cubs weren’t in town until later in the week), which was a surprisingly exciting game–it was neck and neck until the bottom of the 8th when the Sox hit a homerun and surged ahead. The next night, a group of us took a Chicago Architectural Foundation river cruise, which was wonderful! I highly recommend taking a couple hours to do this.

The tour guide was outstanding, and not only identified the buildings we saw, but gave us a good bit of history of the city and interresting factoids. Everyone totally enjoyed the cruise, although that could be in part, because it had an open bar. Still trying to get a taste of Frontera, we planned to get dinner there as a group earlier in the afternoon, but it was already too late to get a reservation for that evening.

The last day of the conference, I left the convention center to find lunch, and finally got a taste of Rick Bayless’s genius that is fresh modern Mexican food known as Frontera. In the interest of time, I opted for the Frontera Fresco, which is the quick and casual lunch spot located inside Macy’s. The trip through Macy’s to get there was pretty remarkable by itself. The Charleston location of Macy’s really leaves a lot to be desired.

I had the smoked shrimp torta with roasted chilies, goat cheese and arugula. Pretty much anytime something says it has goat cheese and arugula in it, I’m in. If the quick lunch place is this good, I can’t wait to go back and try the real deal.

I had chips and guacamole with my sandwich, but since it was lunch and I had more conference to attend in the afternoon, I did not opt for the margarita, which I’m told is hand squeezed made-from-scratch. Next time, Mr. Bayless, next time.

The conference had a closing reception in Millenium Park for attendees that was a mini Taste of Chicago with a live band. Unfortunately, it rained for the first 45 minutes of the reception, but finally the sky cleared and everyone had such a good time, we forgot about the bad weather at the beginning. Having been to the real Taste of Chicago a couple years ago, this one was just as great, if not better because the food was free and the crowd was much smaller. The Taste of Chicago is a three day festival with food vendors and restaurantors from all across the city setting up booths to give out samples in exchange for tickets guests by at the gate. I sampled food from all of Chicago’s neighborhoods. I couldn’t decide if the macaroni and cheese and pork BBQ from Southside or the Middle Eastern dumplings were my favorite.

There were so many things I wanted to do, but didn’t get time. I want to go to a Cubs game because Wrigley Field is so iconic. I would totally channel Ferris Bueller. And, while I was up by Wrigley Field, I’d swing by Hot Doug’s, hopefully on the day they have their famous duck fat fries. I still am jonesin for Frontera, and I really want to tour the Goose Island Brewery. And visit an old school steakhouse. These are things for a trip with the Hubs, since I know he’d hate to miss out on those. So maybe it’s a good thing I couldn’t fit them in this time.  Chicago is a short plane ride away, or even better, and overnight train ticket away. A long weekend might just be in the Hubs and my future in the next few months.


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