Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Eating My Way Through Chicago

It's been a great, but busy summer. It kicked off with a trip to Provence and Budapest, then back to Texas, a rainy week in London in July, and then just recently a quick trip to New Jersey, and then to Chicago.   London, we're headed your way soon. Is is too much to ask for a little Indian summer there before the winter sets in??

Our weekend in Chicago was to visit friends, a reunion of sorts, since Chicago was our home a few years back, and this time we stayed downtown and acted like tourists for part of the time. We decided we would take a walking Food Tour of downtown Chicago to try out some of the local places and learn a little more about one of our favorite cities.

Jamie of Tastebud Tours led our group--the six of us friends, a few others and a large group of guys having a bachelor party weekend. Boy, could those guys eat! Jamie moonlights as a tour guide while she performs musical improvisation at Second City and other locales. She was delightful!

Our first stop was at Mr. Beef, located on N. Orleans St. in downtown Chicago. Just a hole in the wall place, but voted top Italian Beef sandwich by 4-1 in Travel Channel's "Food Wars" show--see more here.

Portions were big to jump start our tour--none of these little samples given out by some of the other tours. The thinly sliced beef is topped with sweet giardiniera relish, and the whole sandwich, bread and all, is double dipped in a garlicky au jus, making it moist and juicy. The sandwich is typical of the Chicago area, and is thought to have originated here with the Italian immigrants of the area in the early 1900's. Difficult to find outside of the Chicago region, it gets a top rating in my book.

Next, we moved a few blocks over to Mitchell's Soda Shop on N. Rush St.,

which originated in 1931, and is known for its homemade ice cream and candies. Each tour walker got their own cone--favorites were strawberry,

chocolate chip cookie dough,

and raspberry sorbet. Delicious!

And in case we were still hungry, the next stop was Downtown Dogs on N. Rush St. for a typical Chicago Dog.

Chicago Dogs are unique and the recipe is the same throughout the city. Take a poppy seed bun, fill it with a steamed all beef frankfurter, top it with mustard, sweet peppers, a dill pickle spear, tomatoes, onions and the infamous neon green relish, sometimes called "nuclear relish."

It got our seal of approval and we were amazed to hear there are more hot dog restaurants in Chicago than all the McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King's combined.

And speaking of McDonald's, we didn't stop at the huge Rock 'n Roll flagship McDonald's, but it's hard to miss. At a size of 24,000 square feet, this two story McDonald's boasts a restaurant downstairs and a lounge/cafe upstairs with couches, flat plasma screen TV's and a coffee bar selling Italian coffees and pastries. On site is a mini McDonald's museum, and adjacent is a rock 'n roll museum. One of a kind, for sure!

And on another side note, we observed the new and long awaited Chick-fil-A which opened up in June of this year. Our guide told us there were lines wrapped around the block in celebration.

In between our gorging tasting, we did learn a bit of the history surrounding downtown Chicago. It wasn't ALL about the food, you know--we are a cultured group of people! Stopping in front of the Holy Name Cathedral, which was dedicated in 1875, it seems that it was the site of a mobster gunfight in October of 1926, when one of Al Capone's hit men positioned himself across the street and

killed Earl "Hymie" Weiss, a leader of the Northside gang, in a hail of gunfire, leaving a bullet wedged in the cornerstone of the church. A little "spice" to our food tour!

Next on our tour was Devon Seafood Grill, located on E. Chicago Ave, where

we ate one of the tastiest portions of the tour, and probably my favorite of all. They served us biscuits with honey butter, and one of my all time favorites, crab cakes. I highly recommend them!

Not to be neglected since the tour covered many bases, was the infamous Billy Goat Tavern located under Michigan Avenue

where we were invited to "Butt in any time!"

Many associate this tavern with the ever so popular Saturday Night Live skit featuring the restaurant and starring many of the early SNL stars, including Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Of course, we had

cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers.

The tavern is also connected to the Curse of the Billy Goat, or the Cubs curse. It seems that the owner of the Tavern brought his pet goat to a Cubs game in the World Series of 1945, but the two of them were ejected. At this point, owner Sianis cursed the team and said they would never win a pennant again. Even though descendants of the goat have since been invited back on several occasions, and paraded across the infield, the Cubs to this day have not been in a single World Series since the curse.

Knowing by this point, that we simply could not eat another bite, we were guided to the Allerton Hotel right smack on Michigan Avenue, which was first built as a club hotel in the roaring 20's. The 40's saw the opening of the swanky night club "Top Top Tap" on the 23rd floor of the hotel, which hosted stars such as Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stuart.

At the Allerton Hotel, we rounded out our tour with a refreshing drink. My choice was the raspberry lemonade, and others chose the Watermelon Jolly Rancher cocktail.

The Tastebud Tour exceeded our expectations, since we were expecting only samples along the way. Plans are being made for a "Sweets Tour" to begin soon (note to self--MUST go back for that one) and a brand new Food Tour to begin in the city of New Orleans. You can also sign up for other options of food tours in Chicago, which include some of the other spots listed on their website.

So I'm curious, have you ever been on a food tour? 


  1. you had busy summer - really a lot of trafelling. From the food tour I would like to try the Chicago dog and the crab cakes:)

  2. Debi,
    I got full just reading about your food tour. I think I would like the crab cakes. No Chicago pizza on the tour?

  3. There is no way you ate all that food! With just 2 weeks from wedding dress, every single picture looked scrumptious!

  4. I live here and have never done a food tour. We just enjoy it all.

  5. I didn't see a Chipotle on your food tour?! What up with that? Kidding aside, I'll take a cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger please.

  6. How strange you were on my site today because I was just talking about you to my daughter last night. Isn't that strange when that happens to us on our blogs.
    This post is so cool. You had me all the way through smacking my lips. hahaha
    I never would of thought of going on a food tour what fun.
    Love the picture of you.....your so beautiful.

  7. Great post on a great tour with great friends!

  8. what a fun way to tour a lovely city! i admit that i
    'need' a hot dog at least once a week!

  9. No pizza?? :) I think I'd vote for crab cakes, though it all looks amazing.

  10. Oh this is just darling. I live here in Minnesota and still in these 15 years while living here, have not been to Chicago....I GOTTA GO! We are hard pressed these days to really find INDIGENOUS food from the past generations who immigrated here in this country. How splendid is that FIRST SANDWICH! ANd then the billy goat story...just fabulous!!

    Dearest, thank you for coming to visit. Making each moment count should be everyday, shouldn't it?
    GOD BLESS YOU and your family, Anita

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