Chicago — need I say more?
An emergency at work delayed my weekend trip to Chicago with the Gentleman Traveler by a day, and I still regret the valuable urban mealtime that was lost. However, we did make the most of what little time we managed to spend in one of my favorite American cities.
On the drive to Chi-town, we stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts in the Quad Cities. I LOVE Dunkin’ Donuts. They may not make the most gourmet donuts in the world, but don’t judge me: I grew up in a part of the country where there’s a D&D every 20 feet. The donuts are good, the coffee is tasty, the nostalgia factor is high. And there is not a single D&D in the state of Iowa, so crossing the border into Illinois and seeing the familiar pink and orange sign was like a glimpse of the deep-fried promised land. The Gentleman Traveler and I each had a Boston Kreme donut alongside a cup of coffee. Then we bought a mixed box of Munchkins for the road. I’m not a fan of jelly donuts, because I find the jelly-to-dough ratio too high, but a jelly-filled Munchkin is perfect.
Upon our arrival in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, our hosts Suzy and Chris took us to a hole-in-the-wall taqueria called El Churrito. On Suzy’s recommendation, I tried the pastor (pork) soft taco, as well as one filled with well-seasoned potatoes with bits of chorizo. Of course, I washed them down with my favorite Jarrito soda — tamarindo. The tiny eatery is optimized for take-out, but if you eat in like we did, you will be treated to a delicious, steaming cup of vegetable soup. So worth it!
Later on, still too full for a proper dinner, we explored the extensive beer menu at Michael & Louise’s Hopleaf Bar, and shared a cone of frites. I drank New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk Ale, from their “High Gravity” series (10% alcohol).
This beer unfolds on the tongue more dramatically than any I have tasted before — it moves from an alcoholic “HELLO” to a rich, malty intensity, which then eases off and coasts away on a wave of pure caramel. I have one word for this beer: crazypants (but I will admit that anything less dramatic from a brew called “Dragon’s Milk” would have been a distinct disappointment).
The next day, our foursome headed to the Shedd Aquarium for a fish fix. Suzy is known as the “fish whisperer” among our friends, and Chris is no slouch in his marine knowledge, either. We had a great time exploring the Shedd’s regular exhibits, as well as the “Oceanarium.”
We had a quick lunch in the Shedd’s brightly-hued cafeteria, where I couldn’t resist a Chicago Dog — Chicago’s famous steamed, kosher, all-beef hotdog smothered in mustard, onion, picalilli, pickled peppers, fresh tomatoes, a dill pickle spear, and a dash of celery salt. Ketchup is strictly forbidden, which is fine with me, since I consider mustard and relish to be superior condiments.
Katie braved the rain on her bike to meet us at Ras Dashen for an Ethiopian feast. We devoured the tasty assemblage with such enthusiasm that I totally forgot to photo-document the meal. When the Gentleman Traveler reminded me, Katie snapped this photo of the aftermath.
Our final foodie adventure was a stop at Devon Market, an eclectic mix of Mexican and Eastern European fare. I was delighted to find three of my favorites from my time living in Russia: linden-tree honey, smoked Latvian sprats, and chocolate-orange vafli cookies. I was so glad to bring a little taste of Chicago home with us (and I am happily crunching on a vafla cookie even as I type!)… mmm, joy in the Midwest.