Tag Archives: Chicago

Consumation Does Chicago (Part 2)

Welcome to the second part of the Consumation does Chicago.

Where we left off, I was relaxing in the comfortable Caribou Coffee and planning my next move. We’ll gloss quickly over that evening’s meal, as stuffing a bagel into my mouth while drying my hair and hopping one legged around my room in an attempt to get my pants on quickly cannot be considered dinner, in any real sense.

A bright, warm morning followed and I stumbled, bleary eyed and brained, into Intelligentsia. Yet another place entirely too cool for me but with happy staff that wanted to chat. The filter coffee menu was incomprehensible compared to the simple espresso options, but buoyed by the friendly interest and banter with the barista, I choose a Debello, served as chemex; only now have I discovered what this means. It’s a particular set up for filtering which, by experience, takes 10 long minutes, but the extraction is delightfully smooth and creamy. This is the first filter coffee I’ve ever consumed black. Unfortunately, the unsatisfying “artisan” sandwich of turkey, lemon, artichoke and onion tasted solely of pesto and paste.

If Intelligentsia ever set up a branch in Dublin, I’m fairly sure my coffee addiction will reach the level of sell-all-my-belongings.

1 coffee, 1 sandwich $11

The Blue Man Group being dishearteningly substandard pushed me into treating myself to a swanky dinner, and Custom House Tavern was only a short walk from my hotel. The dim lighting made it appear rather opulent as I peered through the window, and I was rewarded on entry with a quiet, dark room, Norah Jones tinkling away in the background. For a slow Sunday night it was overstaffed, so I was waited on hand and foot, my water glass never getting more than half empty.

I ordered the chicken liver pâté and steak, then sank back into my puffy seat and watched muted American football – Honestly, I still don’t get it.

There was no salt or pepper on the table and I discovered why when the pâté arrived – it was seasoned to perfection; Warm, crisp sourdough, heavy pâté melting into it with chunks of salt that merged and competed with the sweet of the picked peach and the sour of the vinegar rocket dressing – The battle of flavours in each mouthful left me yearning for more.

I should’ve gotten two as the steak was disappointingly over salted, but well cooked, and the chip oil badly needed changing. However, the blue cheese butter was a surprising success – the smallest amount adding a much needed lift to the steak, the musty, deep cheese flavour lingering on the tongue.

To finish, a Roman Holiday cocktail; gin, limonchello and soda. This should have come in a martini glass, but as it was served long, all I got was a boring, mild lemon soda.

1 starter, 1 main, 1 cocktail $55

In a hurry to get to the Museum of Science and Industry – well worth a visit, by the way – I dropped into Argo Tea for an espresso and pastry. My haste was my downfall; the coffee was scalding hot, burnt and bitter, accompanied by a raspberry and almond roulade that consisted of undercooked, sugary paste. I cannot comment on the tea, and perhaps it is life-affirmingly good, but the coffee should be avoided by anyone with standards.

1 coffee, 1 pastry $ Honestly, they should’ve paid me

That evening, I had big plans. I was going to a real American diner and I was going to eat real macaroni cheese, and have a real malt and an awesome time.

This dream was dashed when I walked out into rain bouncing off the path. Resigned and hungry, I turned into my hotel restaurant – Ironically, an English bar. It’s called Elephant and Castle and populated almost solely by blowhards in rolled up shirt sleeves, guffawing at their own jokes.

I ordered the ‘Loaded Beef Dip’; thinly sliced beef with onions, cheese, au jus for dipping, and a side of caesar salad. The dip was lovely and beefy, but apart from this, the sandwich was pure stodge, with far too much meat – more is not always better – and too few onions and cheese. The wilted, soggy lettuce in the caesar salad was the icing on the bad dinner cake that pushed me into ordering the Big Ben Brownie – apparently their signature dessert.

I shouldn’t have bothered. Two slabs of stale, disgusting, packet brownie, vanilla ice cream with the flavour of “cold”, and a chemical squirt cream from a can. Below is what I sent back, as it was absolutely inedible.

When I left, the rain had just about finished, and I was utterly devastated I hadn’t waited.

1 main, 1 dessert, 1 beer $36

This was the last night before I dove, feet first, into the work portion of my visit, where I was plied with all sorts of nice foods, including steak for both lunch and dinner. I do not recommend this, and suggest throwing a salad in at some point; by the Friday afternoon, as the meetings were finishing up, I could feel the arteries tighten in my chest, overloaded with days of red meat, and only red meat – the hotel didn’t have toast or rolls for breakfast, my morning refection therefore being bacon.

Piles and piles of sizzling, crispy bacon.

I walked this feeling off on the Chicago Gold Coast/Old Town food tour; the absolute highlight of my trip and a tour I wish existed in every city.

With that, let’s leave Chicago alone – I’ve ranted and raved enough, and Dublin’s fine restaurants are calling to me again. Join me next weekend for another installment of The Consumation.

Intelligentsia, 53 East Randolph St, 60601
Custom House Tavern, 500 South Dearborn Street, 60605
Argo Tea, 1 N Dearborn St, 60602
Elephant and Castle, W. Adams St, 60603
Chicago Walking Food Tour

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Consumation Does Chicago (Part 1)

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.

Amarit Thai & Pan Asian Cuisine, 500 S. Dearborn, 60605
Lou Mitchell’s, 565 W Jackson Blvd, 60661
Cafecito, 26 E Congress Parkway, 60605
Caribou Coffee, 41 East 8th Street, 60605

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