I have returned safely and as I write this, I am trying to shake off the last prickly tendrils of jet lag. This is being ably assisted by coffee, Kraft mac and cheese, goldfish crackers and Reese’s pieces. All of which is also helping me ignore the room high pile of laundry to do because, oh my GOD you guys, I have to tell you – Chicago is AH-MAYYYY-ZING.
The city itself is so interesting to look at – I just left my hotel each morning and walked in a random direction, always finding myself fascinated by the buildings, the stunning parks, the glimmer of Lake Michigan calling to me from the end of the street. The atmosphere of it is so friendly and open, with a pleasant undercurrent of power and business, completely different to the frenetic speed and stress I sense in gaudy New York. I felt settled, safe and, with the amount of food I ate, extremely full.
With that, let me start from the beginning, as it’s a very good place to start.
Hackney’s, my plan for the night I arrived, was out the door with people – exhausted and faint with the hunger, I wandered back up the street and chose the first place that had customers – always a good indication. Amarit, a Thai restaurant, looked busy so I headed on in and ordered tofu cashew nut; plain, simple and fresh. Within minutes, it was on the table in front of me – the vegetables crunchy and bright and the tofu with a delicious crisp edge. I dug in, delighted, until I got a mouthful of pineapple – I will never understand pineapple in savoury dishes. I could eat an entire one by myself in one sitting (and often have), but it is just too sweet and strong in a main meal. Apart from this, the dinner was exactly what I needed, light and vitamin filled, marred only slightly by the guys having a discussion about all out nuclear war with China at the next table; They were prepared for this eventuallity to a rather worrying level.
1 main $9.41
My body, thinking it was 1pm despite the very little sleep, decided to wake me at 6am. What better way to prepare for the day than a filling pancake breakfast, I reasoned, so I set about googling – I decided on Lou Mitchell’s, only a mile west.
No one tells you that Chicago smells like chocolate – chocolate so deep and rich you can almost taste it, wafting through the air from Blommer’s Chocolate Company on W Kinzie St. My mouth was watering and my stomach rumbling by the time I reached my breakfast destination – only to see yet another line out the door. At 7am – An extremely popular spot then!
Thankfully, as I was by myself, I didn’t have to wait and could sit at the counter. I was provided with coffee and a menu at the same time – a fantastic idea. In pure American movie style, I never saw the bottom of the cup, and cream was the only option on the table – Heaven. I was raised up a couple more divine levels by the light and fluffy pecan pancakes with a side of crispy bacon, and oodles of maple syrup. Despite the shocking price of bacon – $4.25 for 3 slices – the queue only got longer the hour I was there, and I can see why. I practically had to roll myself out the door, but if I genuinely needed to, I’m sure the overly friendly staff would’ve been more than happy to oblige.
1 main, 1 side, coffee $16.28
Needless to say after such a large breakfast, a long walk was required, so I meandered east towards Millennium Park. Hours of strolling around, admiring the sculptures and landscapes, getting sprayed by the Crown Fountain and poking the Cloud Gate (Jean IN the bean!), and I was ready for lunch.
Cafecito, the Chicagoland home of the Cuban pressed sandwich, was the next port of call – bright, airy and just beside a hostel, it was packed with young people, all much cooler than me. This included the tattooed, pierced girl behind the till who had obviously spent hours perfecting her blank stare at the area just north of your eyebrows. I ordered a jerk, but as she snapped “Here or to go?”, I had to resist the urge to turn and walk out. There is never any reason to be rude, ever.
However, I am glad I didn’t – the blackened breast of chicken, which had been marinated in jerk spices, was juicy, spicy and succulent, the rest of the sandwich packed out with tomato, onion, lettuce and – honestly, inspired – lime mayonnaise. The Cuban bread was fabulous, crunchy and flaky – I am now a convert. But perhaps I’ll find another place to indulge – one where I do not feel like an inconvenience to the staff.
1 sandwich, 1 water $7.90
I had planned on having a Cuban coffee in Cafecito but felt too uncomfortable, so I went seeking caffeine, and found it in the shape of Caribou Coffee. I ordered an americano, and got distracted by the pastries – Specifically by the interesting looking “Monkey Bread.” Without even inquiring as to what it contained, I asked for one, and headed to a comfortable looking armchair by the window. Surrounded by MacBooks, and I with my Paperbook, I tucked into the buttery soft, cinnamon-chocolate piece of heavenly fluff, warm and sticky with a sugar glaze and sipped on the more than adequate coffee.
Watching the world go by, with a good book, I began to plan where I was going to eat next.
1 coffee, 1 pastry $4.75
Come back next week for Part 2, including what happens when you get coffee in a tea shop, go to an English bar in Chicago, and eat steak for four days in a row.