Helpful ReplyA few days and a few eats in Chicago

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Ketteract
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2017/08/20 19:17:34 (permalink)

A few days and a few eats in Chicago

I recently took a four-day weekend in Chicago, with the dual objectives of seeing an old friend and enjoying some great regional food.  Fulfilling both of these at once would prove to be tricky, as said friend was a strict vegetarian, and her husband didn't care for Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, but I managed to work things out.

I stayed at the Congress Plaza Hotel, which was right up my obsessed-with-antiques alley.





My friend and I attended a concert in Millennium Park on the first evening, and made a decent spread from things that we bought at the nearby Eataly Italian supermarket - I say supermarket, not grocer, because it's absurdly huge and would easily merit its own thread.  




 
I'd never seen so many varieties of cheese in one place.









As luck would have it, the concert was rained out, but we did get to enjoy ourselves for a good... half hour or so.  At the end of it, I was too tired from travel and trudging back to the hotel through rain to go out for a proper dinner.  I was bummed to write off that night for food exploration, but resolved to get with it tomorrow.

Breakfast the next morning was at the HERO Coffee Bar a few blocks away from the hotel.  



That's the "Smooth Criminal": bacon, eggs, sriracha, fig jam, Monterey Jack, basil, and goat cheese on ciabatta.  Marvelous.  I appreciate simple traditional dishes, but there's plenty of room in my palate for crazily complex inventions as well.  HERO has two locations, and apparently this particular sandwich is only available at the downtown one.  Lucky me!

That was all well and good, but I had old-school Chicago food on my mind.  I was deeply torn about where to have lunch.  Al's Beef, Jim's Original, Portillo's... there were so many options, each meritorious.  After a damned good amount of dithering, I decided on Jim's, simply because it was a single location, not a chain.  I have absolutely nothing against Al's or Portillo's, but when I have to make a choice on an unknown, certain Roadfood principles have a tendency to win out.



This was unlike any Polish sausage I'd had in Connecticut.



And it was amazing.



Their website describes their signature item thusly:

A Proprietary Blend of Just The Right Spices. A Juicy, Crunchy, and Sweet Smoked Polish Sausage Served the Same Way Since the 1940's, on a Hot Bun with a Layer of Yellow Salad Mustard, Topped with a Mountain of Sweet Colossal Spanish Onions Grilled to Perfection and with an Abundance of Spicy Hot Sport Peppers.


"Just the right spices" indeed.  I've no idea what the hell was in there, but it was outstanding.  I could have consumed two or three if I didn't want to leave room for dinner later.  I would go so far as to make Jim's a must-visit for any Roadfooder, or anyone else, in the area.

Out of all the places on my list, Giordano's was the only do-or-die - I'd been infatuated with it ever since my first taste about fifteen years ago.  My friend and her husband had some kind of private social engagement that evening, but I was more than happy to be dropped off at a nearby Giordano's in Andersonville.



Fortunately for me, they now did personal 6" pizzas.



Oh, yes.



Yes.



I love New Haven pizza. And New York pizza. I also love this.

The next morning was pretty much my last chance to go to a restaurant that I was after, and so it was again with great difficulty that I made my final choice: Ricobene's, specializing in breaded steak sandwiches, whose existence was first brought to my attention with this Roadfood thread some years ago.

After getting off the Red line at the Cermak stop, it was an interesting walk through Chicago's Chinatown to get there.











I momentarily thought of sampling another deep-dish pizza, but I didn't want to stuff my stomach beyond recovery, so I "limited" myself to a thin-crust slice of sausage - another well-known Chicago style.







And a fine slice it was... but make no mistake, this was the star.



I requested both sweet and hot peppers.



It put the "Italian steak sandwich" that I had at the now-long-gone Italian Gardens in Kansas City to shame.  At some point, I abandoned the idea of a sandwich altogether, and took to the breaded steak with a knife and fork.  

It would be several hours - which included a block party and a stroll by Lake Michigan - before I got to have dinner, which was just as well.  I needed time to digest.  We ended up eating at Ramen-san, and I was, understandably, in a meatless mood.  Here we have a fine shiitake ramen, bursting with earthy mushroom flavor.



And I now need one of these.



My flight early next morning was f***ing cancelled, delaying my exit from Chicago until 1:30 in the afternoon, but on the other hand, I had time to eat what may have been the only airport meal I've actually enjoyed, at Rick Bayless' Tortas Frontera.  This restaurant has two locations: O'Hare, and the University of Pennsylvania.



This is the "Pepito" - $12 including the airport-tax and the not-fast-food-tax: braised beef short rib, Monterey Jack, jalapeño, cilantro crema, black beans, and arugula.



That was breakfast.  Lunch was a dreadful pile of slop at Manchu-Wok which I won't post here.  Dinner, at the Philadelphia airport which I didn't know I was going to be connecting through (and I'd paid extra for a direct flight to Bradley, too!), wound up being Wendy's.  This, I only post to show how to make the best of Wendy's:





An ignominious conclusion to an otherwise fruitful trip... but surely that must be anything that ends with more time spent in an airport than expected.


post edited by Ketteract - 2017/08/20 19:26:21
#1
leethebard
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Re: A few days and a few eats in Chicago 2017/08/20 22:55:33 (permalink)
What amazing food,the polish sausdage,the pizza(thin sliced), and that Ramen soup looked beyond amazing. 
#2
IndianaPete
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Re: A few days and a few eats in Chicago 2017/08/21 07:26:50 (permalink)
OMG !!  What an adventure.  Great pics.  Thanks for sharing.
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joerogo
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Re: A few days and a few eats in Chicago 2017/08/21 08:16:23 (permalink)
Ketteract, Great choice at ORD, a ChiTownDiner top recommendation!  my top choice in PHL is Tony Luke's in the F-Terminal.
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ScreamingChicken
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Re: A few days and a few eats in Chicago 2017/08/21 08:19:03 (permalink)
I haven't had a Chicago-style deep/stuffed pizza in quite awhile...that Giordano's pie looks mighty good!
 
I wonder if Ricobene's slices its thin pizzas in wedges because they're on the buffet line.
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ChiTownDiner
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Re: A few days and a few eats in Chicago 2017/08/21 08:39:41 (permalink)
Ketteract
 
Nice slice(s) of Chicago!  You really crammed in a lot during your visit and hit several of Chicago and my faves.  We often enjoy Eataly either as a destination or part of a larger run.  You can't go wrong with most any departments.  Their house-made pastas are fantastic! 
 
Giordano's is also a good choice.  With several Chicago locations, they appeal to a wide swath of Chicagoland.  We are sausage, mushroom, spinach and garlic fans!!!  Never need to request extra cheese!!! 
 
Ricobene's is also another fine choice.  It doesn't get nearly the love it should from Chicagoans and does anchor an interesting part of the city with lots of food choices...Bridgeport, Chinatown, Pilsen, etc.  That sandwich descends into knife & fork territory before you can blink an eye.  Even the Italian Beef stance doesn't help with this one!  Kudos for adding in a slice...that's more than a meal!  
 
Jim's Original is the perfect Maxwell Street Polish.  The street side ambiance only adds to the experience.  
 
Ramen-san is another place I enjoy, especially on the outdoor tables.  I've had all of their dumplings on more than one occasion.  Perhaps the only addition I would have made would be a stop at Firecakes for donuts located right across the street.  Their donut ice cream sandwiches are legendary!  They should put them on television! 
 
I also book my flights through ORD to coincide with the Tortas Frontera hours.  GREAT stuff!  For future reference, if sitting at the outdoor, streetside tables at Ramen-san, Firecakes is directly across the street and corners on an alley.  Take that alley the quarter block north and you have Xoco, Rick Bayless' quick dining restaurant with the fully expanded Tortas Frontera airport menu.  
 
HERO Coffee Bar is a new one for me and I'll be on the lookout for a try on one of my city forays.  
 
If you're a Chicago visitor with any frequency, we have several fully restored hotels much like the Congress that you stayed at.  You can visit many, many times and experience some pretty cool digs...and we'll never run out of restaurants to try!  
 
Nice visit, great trip report...thanks for sharing!
 
CTD
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ChiTownDiner
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Re: A few days and a few eats in Chicago 2017/08/21 08:48:34 (permalink)
ScreamingChicken
I haven't had a Chicago-style deep/stuffed pizza in quite awhile...that Giordano's pie looks mighty good!
 
I wonder if Ricobene's slices its thin pizzas in wedges because they're on the buffet line.




Yes...order a full pie for eat-in or take-out and you can have it sliced any way you want.  Slices keep the line moving!
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Ketteract
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Re: A few days and a few eats in Chicago 2017/08/22 17:18:27 (permalink) ☄ Helpfulby ChiTownDiner 2017/08/22 17:28:23
The funny thing is that, for almost every type of place that I wanted to go to, there were excellent alternatives that I had to carefully consider.  For deep-dish pizza, I could have gone to Pequod's or Lou Malnati's instead of Giordano's; for breaded steak, Johnny O's instead of Ricobene's; for Maxwell St. Polish, Express Grill just next door instead of Jim's Original; for Italian beef, Al's, Portillo's, Johnnie's Beef, you name it.  And Portillo's would have been my go-to for hot dogs... but I'd never been to Superdawg before.
 
There were also places like the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company, Kuma's Corner, and Sultan's Market for which I simply didn't have room in my schedule.  (The lesson was clear: take a longer vacation!)
 
Oh, and about the Philly airport... there's a Geno's there now, apparently.  I was tempted, but I stuck to my guns and decided that my first real Philly cheesesteak should not be at some outpost in an airport.
post edited by Ketteract - 2017/08/22 17:22:21
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