Chicago in the Summer

Have you ever touched dry ice before? Suddenly, there’s a searing cold that borders the line between freezing and burning, and you’re not sure if you want to scream or curl into a ball and rock back and forth silently.  That’s the feeling that I associated with visits to Chicago before this weekend.

Yes, I could mostly thaw my bitter heart with the warmth of my friends and loved ones that I was staying with, but as a Carolina girl for seven years, my delicate sensibilities regarding temperature were finely tuned to mild winters and scorching summers. I could handle that. “Cold” in Chicago is a different beast entirely. There aren’t enough layers I could possibly wear to prepare me for outdoor adventures, and I become bear-like in my desire to hibernate in a cave (or near a fire place, if the opportunity presents itself).

I'll just be over here reading. Seeing the sights be damned.

I’ll just be over here reading. Seeing the sights be damned.

This weekend, I emerged from my Chicago cocoon, shedding puffy jackets and elbow-length gloves in favor of thigh-grazing jorts and sheer, gauzy tops that cling to your skin, giving the illusion of wearing nothing at all (I wore bandeaus and tank tops, though, because nip slips aren’t cute in any city). The blossom of the city of Chicago opened up and presented me with a fragrant, vibrant experience rich with sights and sounds. Dogs barking, birds chirping, children pushing the buttons of their handyman father who desperately wanted to use Sunday afternoon to fix that loose step on the deck.

The beautiful backyard at Bang Bang Pie Shop

The beautiful backyard at Bang Bang Pie Shop

Due to some leftover points from Southwest and a freebie I obtained earlier this summer from Spirit Airlines, I managed to visit four airports in an equal amount of days (Atlantic City to O’Hare, Midway to Philadelphia) in a super cheap trip to that old Windy City. True to form, the city continued to be delicious, but the escapes from the confines of Caitlin’s condo were more frequent, and far more enjoyable.

Mmm, pork.

Mmm, pork. 

Our weekend began the way most excellent weekends should: with a giant pile of meat. A trip to Lillie’s Q was in order to reconnect with the gals I met on my last visit as well as my inner cave-woman who likes her meat like she likes her men; served on a slab and accompanied by various sauces and gooey mac & cheese (and now you know what most of late-night fantasies revolve around.) Everything was delicious, and then acted like an edible lullaby as I knocked out the moment I hit the pillow.

Sing me to sleep, sweet potato fries.

Sing me to sleep, sweet potato fries.

The rest of the weekend was filled with delicious treats and lots of outdoor time (a concept that seemed novel in trips previous to this one).

A trip to Revolution Brewing‘s tasting room was inevitable.

Hardcore

Hardcore

Rosa (Hibiscus Ale), A Little Crazy (Belgian Pale Ale), Black Power (Stout, baby)

Rosa (Hibiscus Ale), A Little Crazy (Belgian Pale Ale), Black Power (Stout, baby)

Logan Square Farmer’s Market for tasty treats

Tacos... for BREAKFAST!

Tacos… for BREAKFAST!

Retro on Roscoe, a throwback-style street festival featuring cool jams from the 90s, and shenanigans from NOW!

Thanks, Instagram!

Thanks, Instagram!

I even got a textured football for impromptu back massages.

Looks like it feels good, right?

Looks like it feels good, right?

And we ended the weekend off in the best POSSIBLE way: a jaunt to Bang Bang Pie Shop for (what else) PIE! And a biscuit.

Want this. Stat.

Want this. Stat.

"Summer Pie" featuring a graham cracker crust, sage ice cream, lemon curd, macerated blackberries, and a little of my drool on top because of extreme salivation.

“Summer Pie” featuring a graham cracker crust, sage ice cream, lemon curd, macerated blackberries, and a little of my drool on top because of extreme salivation.

Now that I’ve been spoiled by a Chicago summer weekend, I’m not sure if I could bear to return in the dark hours of winter…. Though there’s one thing that always keeps me coming back.

True Love: Friends since Tockwogh!

True Love: Friends since Tockwogh!

Now, to go bask in the remaining days of my “summer” in Philly (is it summer? Because this weather feels very Autumnal…)

 

 

 

 

 

One Last Chicago Post

I promise.

I feel like I’ve been dragging this out forever, but mostly it’s because I’ve been swamped with welcome-back-to-school hullabaloo (which included 45 minutes of class in which the professor never showed up. WELCOME BACK, am I right?!)

Since there was a Chicago Food post and a Chicago Beer post, I figured this one could pick up all the leftover bits and pieces. So, sorry if it’s long. But there are some pretty pictures!

Sweat. I know I’ve been less focused on this in my blog, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten it in my life. And, since no trip would be complete without breaking a bit of a sweat (whether in the gym or on the dance floor), my buddy Caitlin and I hit up a Werq dance fitness class. I didn’t take any pictures of the class, but I can describe it as a super-hyped Zumba without a focus on any type of Latino music really. It’s some of the most current music I’ve ever had in a fitness class, and in addition to knowing all the words to all the songs, I couldn’t stop shaking it the entire time. Great moves, high energy, if you’re into that kinda thing (and you find a class near you, I found that they might not have trickled heavily over to the East coast yet), I’d totally suggest you hit it up.

For the Vegans, look no further than Native Foods.  With locations in Boulder, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Diego, and Chicago, this vegan sensation makes some fantastic dishes that make you say “Lacto-Ovo WHO?! Meat WHAT?”

Fountain Drinks!

Fountain Drinks!

Instead of soda, they offer these tasty fountain options. Katie preferred her tea-lavender-lemonade combo with a bit of slapped mint.

Gotta slap it for flavor.

Gotta slap it for flavor.

In addition to the INCREDIBLE sweet potato fries that I split with Katie, I went with the Ensalada Azteca.

Si, Papi.

Si, Papi.

Fresh avocado, cucumber, and jicama salsa with romaine, currants, toasted pumpkin seeds, and cilantro atop quinoa and served with Mango-Lime vinaigrette. So good. So, so good.

We later hit up Piece Brewery and Pizzeria for a little bit of the two things they do best.

Ben, going in for the kill.

Ben, going in for the kill.

IMG_9213

Cheers!

We went with Plain: traditional New Haven pizza, a generous amount of red sauce topped with garlic, extra parmesan, and EVOO. This mozzarella-less pizza was fresh to death, and the two of us demolished it. Katie went with something a little different.  White with CLAMS! I tried a bite, but it was not my cup of tea. Or my shell of clam.

Served with lemon wedges! She said it tasted like Clam linguini.

Served with lemon wedges! She said it tasted like Clam linguini.

The beers from Piece were solid, not great.

After Piece, we moved onto my favorite part of the night. Emporium Arcade Bar. Two words.

X-Men (that’s one word, right?) Pinball.

Pinball Wizard

Pinball Wizard

I basically love this concept, and will be hastening to Philly’s own barcade stat to enjoy beer and arcade games STAT.

Three Aces was how we spent Saturday brunch. Burger and Soup to keep us warm. But not just any burger.

Come to me!

Come to me!

I present the Ace Burger: aged cheddar, trimmings, bacon jam, aioli, fries, garlic and hops pickle (which we mostly avoided). The fries were incredible, the burger…. NEXT LEVEL. PRETZEL ROLL, PEOPLE!

And, though I enjoyed the HELL out of some sushi from Coast on Friday night with my buddies Caitlin and Sierra, the lighting was not amenable to blog pics.

Just enjoy this tipsy pic of us all, and know that Chicago is a glorious place to be, whether you’re eating, drinking, dancing your face off, or visiting lady (or gentlemen) friends!

I surround myself with total babes all the time.

I surround myself with total babes all the time.

Next stop: Boston. My bus leaves on Thursday night, I’ve gotta whip up an itinerary!!

Any recommendations?

Tasting Chicago

True Life: Of the past 44 hours, 18 have been spent Living Socially. My job is the most fun.  But now that I’m home, cozied up in sweats and slippers, I am fully ready to live anti-socially for a bit. And what’s more anti-social than blogging about myself?

Don’t answer that.

When we last me, I regaled you with tales of my trip to Chicago but, more specifically, to the Goose Island Brewpub. And, don’t get me wrong, that was delicious. But, let’s be honest, no trip to Chi-town would be complete without a solid amount of edible adventures, in addition to the boozier ones. And thus, with empty bellies and a full itinerary, my buddy, Katie, and I hit the ground running in hopes to eat our way through some Chicago specialities on our very own self-guided food tour of Wicker Park and the Loop.

First up: The Bristol for some brunch…

We have arrived.

We have arrived.

Or really, for some duck fat fries.

A bright start to the day

A bright start to the day

Katie, a fanatic for all things duck fat (or really, duck-related), has been eyeing these puppies for a bit. And, when the opportunity to dip crispy fries into mayo-disguised-as-aioli, who am I to say no?

For $5, this portion was generous, and came served with a side of housemade ketchup (which was a little thick for my liking) and tossed with herbs (which were right up my alley). But, honestly, these were the type of fries that would’ve been a-okay even without dipping sauce, the kind that have you licking your fingers and contemplating licking the plate clean of any niblets.

I couldn’t resist the Moscow Mule on the menu, so I guess this day wasn’t entirely booze free.

That's so Jordan.

That’s so Jordan.

This Mule was made with American Harvest Vodka, fresh lime juice, and Barritt’s Ginger Beer, and served in what looked like an adorable tin or copper mug, this cocktail was refreshing, light, and chock-full of ginger taste. I’m into that. I’m real into that.

Our tongues coated in salt and savory taters, we decided our next stop should be something sweet. And what’s sweeter than hot chocolate on a freezing cold day?

Mindy’s Hot Chocolate might be my favorite concept for a brunch ever. Many tables were loaded with mimosas and bellinis and, I’ll admit, it was tough not to blow my load and eat everything on the menu. But I only had eyes for their hot chocolate. Each mug is served with a house-made marshmallow. And I went for the Mexican hot chocolate.

2/3 dark chocolate, 1/3 milk chocolate, fresh cinnamon and cayenne?

Please and thank you.

Please and thank you.

Spicy and sweet is one of my favorite flavor combinations, and this had the bonus of being creamy and piping hot. The marshmallow was a total game changer, and tasted phenomenal even without the hot chocolate (but definitely better with it…)

Katie went for something even more indulgent. The Black & Tan is 1/3 hot fudge and 2/3 medium hot chocolate.

I know, right?

Yes.

Yes.

I tasted a sip or two, and felt as though it was meant to be poured over ice cream. That, or directly into my gullet.

We took a little breather over at Casa de Sierra, author of Posh Meets Pavement AND former classmate from UNC , and I irresponsibly didn’t take any pictures. But check her out, she’s living locally in Chicago and, in her free time, travels the world and runs half-marathons. Crazy person.

Four hours later (ish. Felt like no time at all, the beauty of bonding with college friends), we were ready to revisit the world of treats. And, as I’d Yelped my way through the entirety of Chicago earlier (maybe a little less, but that’s what it felt like), I knew where we were headed next.

Magnolia Bakery for their infamous banana pudding. Katie went for a B&W cupcake.

I won this game.

I won this game.

Full disclosure: The cupcake was meh. Nothing to write home about, in my humble opinion, but that didn’t bother me. I’ll tell you why.

This banana pudding was about as life-changing as I think banana pudding can be. I feel like, despite having many experiences with banana pudding before, I have never truly tasted it before this banana pudding.

You might think I’m exaggerating.

I am not.

This is the banana pudding by which all future banana puddings will be judged. The bar has been set, banana pudding. I’m calling you out, and you must be pillowy, flavorful, full of bananas, fluffy, and also made with love.

That’s all.

Road pudding

Road pudding

And, I know it was a little out of order, all that dessert before dinner, but that’s the reason we became grown-ups, right?

We knew what we needed to eat for dinner. It was meaty, it was cheesy, and, of course, held in a deep dish.

IMG_9290

Pizano’s Pizza was, quite simply, the closest spot with solid deep dish pizza reviews. But we were SO pleased.

The crust tasted almost like a savory pie dough. The sauce was super-flavorful. But I think my FAVORITE part was the cheese. It was like…. cartoon cheese.

Let me elaborate. You know in cartoons you watched as a kid (or yesterday), when they’d order a giant cheesy pizza and, when the characters grabbed a slice, the cheese would go on forever?

Cheese me.

Cheese me.

It was that kind of cheese. And it was PERFECT.

After we waddled our way back to Katie’s home and sat back in full-belly bliss, I appreciated Chicago cuisine utterly and completely.

And then, I shamelessly grabbed another spoonful of banana pudding.

Chicago, you did me dirty. I loved every bite, and I can’t wait to come back.

What cartoon food would you LOVE to taste in real life?

Ever had a dessert that rocked your world quite like that banana pudding?

Duck… Duck…. GOOSE! (Island Clybourn Tour/Tasting)

This trip to Chicago focused on a few key points:

  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Seeing friends, with whom to eat and drink

That was really it. We didn’t visit the Bean. I didn’t demand a walk along the shore of Lake Michigan, and I didn’t want to see any improv comedy troupes. I wanted to eat and drink my way through the city.  And, luckily, my friends came through. Big time.

All the Geese.

All the Geese.

For half my trip, I stayed with my buddy that I’ve known approximately forever: Caitlin. The most seasoned of my Chi-town buddies, she’s been living in the Windy City for over a year now, and hadn’t visited Goose Island’s Clybourn Brewpub yet. That obviously had to be remedied.

Dirty bird.

Dirty bird.

On Saturday, Caitlin, her husband, and I bundled up and head over for a “tour” and a guided tasting. I toss the “tour” in quotations because, much like the Brooklyn Brewery “tour”, it was mostly an opportunity to stand inside of a room in which pieces of the brewing process go down but, since it’s a small area, there’s not an actual tour, more of a lecture from someone knowledgeable. In our case, it was Brad Dessy, former member of the DePaul Men’s a Cappella and generally handsome bearded brew dude.

Glowing with pride (and also probably because I'm still not that great at using my camera.)

Glowing with pride (and also probably because I’m still not that great at using my camera.)

After a mini crash course in how beer’s made (because, as he admitted, people who don’t brew don’t care, and those who do brew already know how it’s made), Brad touched on what made this Chicago Island beer so great.

  • They use water STRAIGHT from Lake Michigan, 5 gallons of water for every one gallon of beer.
  • Goose Island is Chicago’s oldest functioning brewery
  • Goose Island’s head brewers intended to bring British styles of beer to Chicago, modeling off of post-Prohibition-style beers.
  • They produce enough beer to make one new beer a week, debuting on Thursdays (in case you’re in town.)
  • Goose Island’s brew pubs were not included in the acquisition of Goose Island by AB In Bev, so they continue to hold tight to the “craft beer” status. Sweet.
  • Goose Island is very proud of their work with cask ale. We didn’t try any of this, so I can’t speak to the quality, but Brad seemed stoked about it, and if you can’t trust a male a cappella singer who brews beer, who CAN you trust?
  • In the summer, they work with local farmers from the Farmers’ Market to create all sorts of crazy collaboration beers, mixing peaches, honey, spices, truffles, hot peppers, and peas into beer.  Noted, I’ll have to head back some summer!!
Brew-tiful

Brew-tiful

I’d already enjoyed a Star Cluster IPA before/during the “tour”, and noticed the brew pub was still dolled up for the holidays as we walked up to the tasting.  No surprise, we went from Light to Dark in our beers.

Let's do this!

Let’s do this!

(In case you’re wondering, that’s a Hop Zilla original shirt, made by my buddy Robin for me for this year’s GABF. Be jealous.)

The beers we tried included:

  • Shine On (a saison/farmhouse style ale)
  • Loud and Thirsty (a dortmunder lager that I hated)
  • Caber Toss Wee Heavy (we all wore kilts when we tasted this scotch ale)
  • Voyager IPA (a delicious IPA that I was quite fond of tasting)
  • Honest Stout (Tasty, but nothing to write home about)
  • Liquid Inspiration Stout (mmm roasted malty and great)

The “guided tasting” got a little wacky by the end, as I noticed that many people stopped paying attention (maybe they were already drunk? I saw a few ladies throwing back Bloody Marys and mimosas pre-“tour”). Also, it was clear that the room was a little big for Brad to handle all at once, but his efforts were admirable.

Perhaps he should’ve sang to us?

ANYWHO, for $10, we enjoyed a little new knowledge about Goose Island, 6 beer tastings, and a lovely pint glass to take home.

And who doesn’t enjoy a little afternoon buzz?

Not us. We love that style of buzz.

Not us. We love that style of buzz.

We bundled back up to venture out into the cold once again. And, even though it’s been about four days since this tour…. I still think my bones are thawing.

What crazy ingredient would you put into your Farmer’s Market series beer??

Has anyone brewed with broccoli?

 

Chicago Eats: Taco Joint

Wise words by my buddy and hostess for the weekend, Caitlin:

Just so you know, you won’t lose weight in Chicago.

Wise words, indeed.  I tried caviar for the first time, enjoyed a deep dish pizza (albeit a 6″ one), and had a duck confit taco!

Chicago was a delicious city. Eamonn and Caitlin certainly kept me well fed, and I was able to enjoy some fantastic meals while on the trip.  Some of my favorites?

A delicious taco joint called…. TACO JOINT!

Tres Guacamole!

Accompanied by some of Cait and Eam’s local buddies, we hit up the aptly named Taco Joint for some tasty eats.  Little did we know we were in for such a treat!  This modestly priced spot was POPPIN’ and the line was out the door.  Apparently, this is the case with nearly all downtown Chicago restaurants so, for future reference, make a reservation!

Even with one, we had a little bit of a wait, but that was enjoyed with a few margaritas.  For me, a Zocalo margarita with Lunazul Blanco Tequila, triple sec, and fresh lime juice; served up on the rocks with a salt rim.  They also had a spicy margarita with a bite to it, which was also a crowd favorite.  After getting a round of guac for the table (including a roja guacamole: Avocado with roasted tomatoes, roasted onion and roasted red jalapeno salsa) served with tortilla chips and plantain chips, we ogled the taco menu.

So very many options!!

I decided on three:

  • Carnitas – Crispy duck confit garnished with cilantro & onion and ancho chile salsa
  • Fajita – Marinated grilled steak with onion, green & red bell peppers and “ranchera” salsa
  • My Favorite! Cochinita – Yucatan style pulled pork garnished with pickled red onions and spicy habanero salsa

Marvelous Mouthwatering sight

This trio of tacos could not have delighted my senses more.  Requiring no additional salsa or toppings (though I could’ve obtained some if I’d asked), and served on small, handmade tortillas (that were green? yup.), I managed to enjoy each taco more than the last.  The fajita “taco of the night” was actually a little different from what I described (but that was the closest they had on the menu) and had some guacamole on it as well, but the queso blanco was creamy and flavorful and stole the show from the somewhat tough steak. That taco was tasty, but not my favorite.

The duck confit taco was my first time ever tasting duck (I know, right?!) I’ll admit, it was so juicy and the ancho chile salsa was the strongest flavor I got, so I couldn’t tell you off the bat if I’m a duck convert. I guess I’ll just have to go out and try more duck, eh?

The MVT(aco) was, without question, the Cochinita. The pulled pork was so tender that my mouth felt like the tortilla was giving the fillings a tight embrace as I took a bite.  The salsa was spicy and paired perfectly with possibly my favorite part of the taco: the pickled red onions.

When it comes to onions, I’m a huge fan, but I don’t know if I’ve ever tried them pickled. Well, after this experience (and a quick glance around the internet), I know that I want to try this Pickled Red Onion recipe from Umami girl POST-HASTE!  I want these in my tacos, on my eggs, or pulled straight out of the jar. They were pliant, yet still maintained a hint of crunch which I love about adding onions to dishes. Aromatic and diverse in flavor and texture, this taco was a rockstar, and I will judge all future tacos against it.

(Sorry, future tacos.)

Boozy Horchata: perfect compliment to a Mexican feast

A latecomer to the meal was an alcoholic Horchata that I knew I wanted the moment I spotted it on the menu. Coming in at $10, this drink was actually more expensive than all the tacos combined (which were $3 each) but, in my opinion, if you have a chance to get horchata at a Mexican restaurant, you should do it.

If you have the chance to add booze to that horchata, DO IT!!

I don’t see the cocktail on the menu now, but I’m pretty sure that, added to the base of cinnamon rice milk, it contained a dark rum and Stoli Vanil. I could be making that up. It really doesn’t matter at this point. All that matters is the joy on my tongue as I drank it, and the sadness on my face when I finished it.

Like losing a friend

As you might be able to see, there was a little more ice than I normally like in my cocktails. Luckily, I had my handy gloves wearable koozies on to keep me warm.

This meal was phenomenal, the atmosphere was exciting and social, and the horchata was one of the best I’ve ever had, boozy or not!  And to walk out paying less than $25 for a meal in the city that tastes fresh and doesn’t make you feel so stuffed you need to be rolled out… well that’s a success in my book.

Have you ever tried horchata (alcoholic or non)? If not, what’s your favorite Mexican beverage (sangria? margarita? tequila shots?) 

What’s your perfect taco filling?

Six Pack Sunday: Chi Town, Get Down!

Hi friends!!

It’s after midnight so, technically, I’m doing Six Pack Sunday a little off (by minutes.) But I wanted to share a few tidbits of my trip before I went to sleep (as the effects of my in-flight soda wear off).

Six Pack Sunday: Chi Town, Get Down!

1. 11:11 11/11/11

How’d you spend your eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Veteran’s Day?

Perfect timing

If it was with a cold glass of 3Floyds Alpha King, then… jinx.

You owe me a soda. Or a beer.

We may have sped to get to a bar before 11:05… good hustle, us.

2. I’m on a Boat

On Saturday afternoon, we got a chance to putz around on this beauty.

Yacht PARTAY

Well, not really. We did SEE this yacht. But my fellow Tar Heels WERE on a boat. And tore up some hardwood.  The USS Carl Vinson was the stage of the Carrier Classic, where UNC beat MSU! And, in a bar full of MSU fans, I proudly screamed for Roy’s Boys.

Love those boys in blue (blue camoflage… I’m sure they blended into all the blue foliage on the boat.)

3. Subjective Scales of Spiciness

Hot Cha CHAAAAAAAAAAA!

Sometimes, you think you’re a tough gal who can handle spice . So you arrogantly tell your waitress at the funky Thai restaurant you want medium-hot spicy. Like a 6-7 on spice.

Then you realize that you were a cocky fool and actively sweat at the table, decked out in your night-time finery.

Sweat goes so well with party dresses.

4. You Tryna See That Party Dress?

Max And Cleo, Jojo and Kiki!

I knew I couldn’t mention that dress without you all clamoring to see it. It’s new, it’s lovely, and I can’t wait to wear it more often.

5. Deep Dish Pizza. That’s all.

Dream Come True

All I wanted all weekend was a deep dish pizza. And, on Sunday, I got just that. A six-inch personal Chicago deep dish pizza. It was perfect. And as tiny as it looked, it was filling and delicious.  Perfect.

6. I am the MASTER!!

WAHOO!!

This weekend, I earned my Master badge on Untappd (friend me if you’re on it!!)

I didn’t even know it was coming, which is unfortunate because the beer I earned it on (Dortmunder Gold) was absolutely my least favorite beer I tried over the weekend.

Oh well, it takes all kinds, right?

What was the best food or drink that you enjoyed this weekend?

HUGE thanks to Caitlin for hosting me all weekend!!