Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chicago: My Kind of Town

This will be a light blogging week as King Turkey (and his friends, Queen Stuffing and Lord Mashed Potatoes) take over my attention. But I did want to mention a few highlights of our long weekend in Chicago, where we attended the Northwestern vs. Illinois football game held at Wrigley Field:

First, the game itself: though my team lost (grr), it was exciting to attend such a notable game. The atmosphere was terrific, like a college bowl game, and so cool to see the usually-red Wrigley sign painted purple in honor of the Wildcats! Thanks, Valspar Paint, for sponsoring the paint job and especially thanks, Valspar Paint, for handing out those free seat cushions which greatly helped keep our fannies warm as the temperatures dropped during the second half of the game.

We were sitting in the end zone, which seemed like not very great seats until it was announced that because the football field had been shoehorned just barely onto the baseball field, all offense would be coming into the more spacious end zone, which was ours! So we saw a lot of touchdowns…too bad so many of them were for the Illini. An odd and interesting way to watch a football game.

We managed to find some amazing food in Chicago (duh):

--Small plates at The Purple Pig included a pork blade steak cooked in honey and pork shoulder braised in milk (sigh…), and a sauce for bread called “tomato gravy with pork neck bone.” Not everything was pork: great fried olives and excellent cheeses and wine. (Here’s the recipe for the pork in milk!)

--Steve couldn’t get enough of the pancakes at the Original Pancake House (located, oddly, in the Rush Street/Gold Coast area in a small, 1950’s era building). He had chocolate chip, and I had the pumpkin waffle (with whipped cream, of course!).

--We went out for a fancy dinner at a newish place, Henri, which was small but with an elegant d├ęcor. So new that the owner was still roaming around asking how people liked the food…very much (duck, Dover sole, sweetbread salad, smoked steak tartar, potato-raclette flatbread). And the drinks were inspired and well-crafted. The host spent several moments explaining how they made the sweet potato syrup in-house for my old-fashioned, and after I bemoaned that I would never have a sous vide machine at home, the waiter ran over to tell me that actually the price has come down and that I probably could get one for $100. So, a place where people CARE about food and drink!

--Which Chicago pizza to eat is always a pleasant dilemma to have, and this time we went to Lou Malnati’s for deep dish. Oh, yum. I’ll say two things: we waited an hour and didn’t even mind, and here’s something I overheard a man telling his son: “Yeah, it’s a giant sausage patty on top of the pizza, not those little dabs.” We took leftovers back to the hotel, and there’s nothing like Chicago pizza for breakfast before heading to the airport.

--We had fun at the Zebra Lounge, a divey piano bar with an infamous “snack mix” consisting of a delectable combination of Cheetos, Doritos, Fritos, and pretzels. Online reviewers either love it or complain that it’s stale and tastes like “old man hands.” We loved it, and I’m serving it over the Thanksgiving weekend!

--Of course we stopped at Fannie May Candies for a box of Pixies and some caramels to take home…and the boxes even made it home, intact.

--There was more than eating and football. We rode the El up to Evanston so I could show Steve the Northwestern campus, which was beautiful under a sunny, bright blue sky. The students all looked stressed, but I was more relaxed than I’d ever been as a student, enjoying being an “adult” who could buy a bunch of purple attire at the bookstore and plop down a credit card and not fear that now I wasn’t going to be able to eat for a month.

--While I was a student, I worked in a family-run pizza take-out, and it was great to see that my old boss’s son is carrying on the family tradition in Evanston with his own sandwich/pizza shop, Rollin’ To Go, which he hopes to franchise soon. We had a nice chat about his dad—and I’m ready and waiting for Rollin' To Go to hit the East Coast.

--And the Art Institute: My God, that new Modern Wing is stunningly beautiful, and thoughtfully arranged, so that the art and views from the windows seem perfectly integrated. This may be sacrilegious, but I found the experience much more fulfilling than my recent visit to MoMA. Just…absolutely…perfect. We also loved the Chagall windows, now returned to the museum after an absence, and the serenity of the early American art room.

And now back home, and into the fray of family Thanksgiving…with so much to be grateful for.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.