I couldn't think of a better way to showcase this city than through its food. Duh, you say. I wanted them to experience the best casual food Chicago had to offer. It didn't have to be a regional specialty (no Polish hot dogs, Italian beef, or deep dish pizza on this tour) but it had to be well-known for its deliciousness. After a pretty light breakfast our first stop was a lunch at Butcher & The Burger. Spencer and I had tried this place before and having been die-hard fans of Burger Bar we realized that there can be two great places in Chicago for burgers. See my previous post for details.
For lunch I knew I had to get bacon on my burger. No doubt about it. Spencer had it on his last time and it was thick and had just the right amount of salt. I got a grass-fed burger seasoned with a Chicago steakhouse blend on a split egg top bun. I added grilled onions, dijon, bacon, and blue cheddar. Heaven...if heaven included atherosclerosis. The cheese made all the difference, as noted by my cousin. And it was the truth. It would have been a great burger without it, but the kick of the blue cheddar catapulted this burger from great to phenomenal. The large order of Kennebec fries definitely helped as well.
We were definitely full from our burger feast, but that didn't mean we couldn't have some sweets. We walked a bit around Lincoln Park, where my cousins remarked on the many ivy-covered Chicago-style brick apartments in the area. When we got to Sweet Mandy B's the scent of cake batter and buttercream wafted through the sidewalk and basically beckoned us in. I headed over to Floriole about three doors down to pick up a hazelnut tart and later on joined my brother and cousins at Sweet Mandy B's so they can pick their desserts.
They got a lemon cupcake with vanilla buttercream, a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter buttercream, and a banana chocolate chip cupcake with chocolate buttercream. Phew! "How do they continue to make their cupcakes taste so fresh all day?" Great question. They basically bake batches of the cakes all day ensuring that whatever they put out stays super moist. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised to find some bakeries leaving pastries and desserts out all day til their cakes are hardened and inedible.
The lemon cake was, according to my cousin, delicious and lemony but she had wished that there was some lemon flavor included in the buttercream as well. As for the chocolate cupcake: what words could be said? It was rich and moist, and the peanut butter buttercream was the proverbial cherry on top of a perfect dessert. A tiny peanut butter cup nestling in the buttercream frosting would have been the cherry atop that cherry.
I have to say a few words about the milk chocolate hazelnut tart I got from Floriole. I'm not a giant caramel fan, but when they're in tarts and pies I just figured they're placed there for a reason. And that reason is to argue with my conscience that it's okay to indulge. This tart was definitely tilting on the overly sweet side for me, but it was saved because of the hazelnuts. The creamy chocolate ganache filling definitely won me over as well. Biting into this tart was a fairly nostalgic experience.
How many times as an adult can you devour something so incredibly sweet and gooey and get away with it simply because it's such a sophisticated-looking treat? If you have an answer, please tell me.
After our sugar rush we took a bus over to another side of Chicago: Wicker Park. Where Lincoln Park yuppied it out, Wicker Park was its free-spirited artistic sister. My cousins loved this neighborhood simply for the crafty vibe it sends out. We stopped at Quimby's to peruse some zines and art books and then finally decided we were super tired and needed to stop and relax.
We walked down Milwaukee Avenue and stopped at Filter. There was no real purpose here except to calm down for a bit and get some coffee. It was probably the coziest cafe I've ever been in. I also got to try this Oogave ginger ale. It's a natural soda so you get all the flavor without all the chemicals you can't pronounce. Nobody told me how good those were! And only 100 calories?! Anyway... some independent film was being shot. How hipster, but we got what we asked for.
We walked around this neighborhood a lot more. I wanted my cousins to see everything that Wicker Park had to offer: specialty cycling shops with cute vintage bikes, a Dr. Marten's store showcasing beautiful floral boots, large, colorful murals on the sides of random buildings around the neighborhood, vegan cafes, and an abundance of smoke shops. I think we counted 5 just going down Milwaukee Avenue for about 10 minutes. They definitely got the impression that everyone in Chicago gets high all the time.
I heard about this wacky combination from Spencer and after my first clam pizza experience at Nellcote I was ready to try this. It was an unlikely flavor and texture but it gave the pizza a New England clam chowder flavor. And bacon never hurts. I tend to like my pizza crusts on the thinner side anyway so this was perfect. A squeeze of lemon and you felt like you were transported to the East coast. The clams weren't overly fishy tasting and didn't overpower the whole pizza. We got some beers (Hitachino and Chimay), got some pizza, and couldn't have been more satisfied.
Well...I spoke too soon. We needed one final dessert to end the evening (and food tour) and what's a more fun place to get dessert than iCream? Everyone was able to mix and match flavors and toppings and that's exactly what we did. My cousin, Louie, was curious about the liquid nitrogen process and basically became best friends with our ice-cream maker. This guy showed Louie what happens when you place popcorn in liquid nitrogen and eat it. You basically look like you are smoking. I don't know why we thought it was so cool. It isn't even cool-sounding in retrospect as I type it out.
Keith and I shared a burnt sugar and lemon ice cream with raspberries, dyed green for amusement. Christine and Louie shared a butter pecan and lime ice cream with Nutella (yes...Nutella...I'm just as confused as you are), dyed pink out of curiosity.
The consistency of the ice cream is definitely different. There isn't much of the creaminess you usually get but the flavors stand out a lot more. You have a lot more room to experiment with flavors, thus the ordering section of the cafe is aptly termed, the iLab.
Two ice creams down and we were done. Done for the entire evening, day, and possibly week. We were stuffed beyond belief and drowsy. We headed home literally off into the sunset.