Monday, July 18, 2011

City of Big Shoulders and Big Appetites

Steve and I went to Chicago for a long weekend to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and we came home exhausted and needing a vacation, so that must mean it was a successful trip. Here are some highlights:

We arrived on Thursday afternoon and got into our hotel right away, a lovely room on the 29th floor, overlooking Lake Michigan and Navy Pier. How fortunate that there was a full moon (or full enough moon) this weekend so we got to see that magical, true Chicago sight, the huge moon rising out of the lake.

We walked down to the Loop to the Berghoff for a “light” lunch of German food and excellent beer. On the walk back, we managed to find our favorite Garrett’s Popcorn by smelling it from several blocks away—“are you sure that’s not a pretzel place?”; “no, that’s caramel corn!”—and bought a bag of Chicago Mix, caramel corn and cheese corn mixed together. I don’t know why that combo works as well as it does, but it definitely does. (Later, we heard from a Chicagoan that the way to go is to add plain popcorn in there, too.) Then we stopped at Fannie May candies for a box of Pixies and a box of the special Leslie Pietrzyk Mix of 90% caramels, 5% English toffee, 5% peanut butter buttons for Steve.

We headed out to dinner with friends and then to hear some blues at Kingston Mines. I loved the set-up: two rooms, two bands. One band plays an hour—no break—and then the band in the other room plays an hour—no break—for non-stop music and an excuse to stand up and wander around to the other room. I was pleased to drink a Chicago classic beer, Old Style, that came in the CUTEST little bottle that looked like a wooden bat (go, Cubbies!). Here’s a picture and more info:

Both bands were excellent, though the CD I bought was from the Joanna Connor Band, since it’s (sadly) rare to find a woman bluesman. (More about her here: )A fun, late, late night….

….so not an early morning the next day. We walked south along the lake until we needed a bathroom and so ventured into the giant, chaotic pavilion at Navy Pier. How many children can scream at once…a lot! Anyway, where there are screaming children, there’s always a bathroom, so mission accomplished, and we cut over to Michigan Avenue took a look at the newly unveiled giant statue of Marilyn Monroe in the “Seven-Year Itch” subway grate/dress fluttering scene, which is called a work of public art, but which really seems to be a photo op for men to pose while staring up at her crotch. Why Marilyn Monroe in Chicago? No one seems to know. There was a crowd, but I don’t think they were admiring the art of it all. Anyway, here’s a picture and you can judge for yourself:

Walk, walk, walk, shop, shop, shop. It’s such a beautiful city, especially in the summer. Flowers everywhere, that blue sky! We took a break for a Bloody Mary at the elegant bar at the Ralph Lauren store and then had some Chicago hot dogs since our dinner reservation for our anniversary wasn’t until 9PM.

We went to TRU, a plush, contemporary restaurant with a modern French-ish menu and a great art collection. Such a fantastic space and design…when I came back from the ladies’ room, I told Steve he had to go to the men’s so he could see the angled glass sink, and when Steve expressed doubt, the maitre d’ agreed with me that the sink was worth seeing. The food was very nice, but what really made this place stand out was the design—no crammed tables!—the superb service, and the thoughtful wine pairings. At one point, two waiters appeared and in perfect synchronization, they swooped away our plates, the butter dishes, and two spoons. Now, that’s art! And the wines by the glass were very nice to drink while waiting for the food, but when paired with the food, they became transcendent. I know, I know—that’s what it’s supposed to be like…and this really was that way. All this without an ounce of stuffiness, too. It was the perfect special occasion restaurant.

Saturday: Play ball! Off to Wrigley Field, with amazing tickets five rows behind the Cubs dugout. If you’re even a half-hearted baseball fan, there’s no way Wrigley Field won’t stir your soul. Yes, the concourse is dingy inside and crowded and dark—and yes, the Cubs lost this game to the Marlins 13-3—but being at this storied ballpark, with the ivy and the organ and the scoreboard and the pennant flags flapping—is about as close as it gets to feeling that you’re watching baseball in the glory days of the 1950s. I just love it there. When there’s not a giant screen of endless replays and quizzes and tarted-up 20-year-old girls throwing cheap T-shirts into the stands every two seconds, you can really relax and enjoy the game; you realize that those components actually detract more than enhance.

After the game, we stopped off for margaritas and guacamole at El Jardin, a friendly, family-run Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood.

And then for dinner: Lou Malnati’s pizza, our favorite. When we got to the River North location, there seemed to be about 100 people milling around outside, waiting for at table, and even the cab driver laughed at us. But the still-smiling hostess claimed it would be “only 45 minutes to an hour” and somehow that seemed reasonable. Anyway, 50 minutes later, we sat down and yes, this pizza is art. We got the sausage pizza, ate too much, waddled home through the velvet rope lines at the fancy clubs, then ate the remaining two pieces for breakfast the next day before heading off to the airport. Here’s the link to Lou Malnati’s:  …and note that you can have this pizza mail-ordered anywhere, in case you happen to need a little bit of Chicago in your life.


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