Chicago – A Foodies Walking Tour Paradise
Last weekend, my husband and I took a short get-away vacation to Chicago. Of course there was a purpose for the trip, as he was running in the Rock “N Roll 1/2 Marathon. I had no desire to train for anything quite so taxing, but a 5 km run I could accomplish. So Mini Marathon it was for me. Since the run was scheduled for Sunday July 22nd, we had some time to explore the city. Along with our friends Carol and Terry Parsons, we joined the Chicago Food Planet Walking Tour. The Bucktown / Wicker Park Food Tour allows you to uncover local delights and sights you simply won’t find in the Loop or Magnificent Mile. Between plentiful samplings, we got an insider’s view of these Chicago gourmet “hotspots”, a narrated description of the bustling art-filled streets of Bucktown and Wicker Park and our expert guide Sophie shared her knowledge of gastronome favorites, vibrant parks, architectural gems, hidden speakeasies and exciting local entertainment options. The tour began at George’s Hot Dog’s, the #1 Rated Chicago-style hot dog “stand” restaurant. Since 1948 this family-owned restaurant has been serving the classic sandwich – a taste sensation with the perfect blend of toppings. A Chicago Style Hot Dog is a steamed all beef hot dog topped with yellow mustard, bright green relish, onions, tomato wedges, pickle spear or slice, sport peppers and a dash of celery salt served in the all-important steamed poppy seed bun (and in that order too). Our next stop, the James Beard Award finalist and Chicago’s #1 top-ranked pastry and dessert restaurant, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate. Chef Segal’s early professional positions placed her in some of the most reputable pastry kitchens in the country including Ambria, Spago, Gordon, Charlie Trotter’s and MK. As the temperature on the sidewalk increased, we were served their Medium Hot Chocolate over ice with one of their famous Homemade Marshmallows on the top. The only word to describe this was….ummmmmmmm! We must return…but time to move on! Stop number 3 – The Goddess & Grocer, a gourmet foods delicatessen and local organic grocer. Here you will find deli sandwiches made-to-order, artisanal meats and cheeses as well as a selection of gourmet food products unique to Chicago. We were served a delicious Grilled Vegetable Salad with locally made goats cheese – a perfect counter to the rich chocolate beverage we had just consumed (although I could totally down a second one of those!) After a walk through some of the unique streets and a narrated descriptive chat about some of the spectacular architecture and history of Bucktown, we crossed into Wicker Park. This funky and artistic neighbourhood, houses its own share of amazing eateries and a trip to Chicago would not be complete without a taste of Chicago pizza. Piecewas our next stop. Piece unites classic New Haven-style thin crust pizza with award-winning microbrews in a spacious loft setting. As we settled into the bar, trays of White Pizza were delivered…plain thin crust pizza brushed with olive oil, diced garlic, mozzarella, Parmesan and diced tomatoes. In addition, we were treated to one of their award-winning hand-crafted beers, Golden Arm, a German-style Kolsch Bier. This much needed heat respite didn’t last for long, as it was time to walk on again (ahhh…well if we must, we must).
The Sultan’s Market is a Middle-Eastern food restaurant and authentic falafel delicatessen, established in 1985. It’s a far cry from the meatball sandwiches, hot dogs and Polish sausage that were first offered when the owner, May Ramli, opened the store 12 years ago. Ramli, who emigrated from Jordan in 1984, acknowledged that her first instinct was to offer food that she thought customers would recognize and like. But one day she brought in some fresh hummus she had made at home in her blender. To her surprise, it was a hit. “I didn’t know they would know hummus, but it sold out,” she said. That was the beginning of the end in the store for typical American sandwiches. Our falafel’s were fresh and delicious, and dripping with May’s distinctive hummus. By this point, we were so full, we had to share one, and put the other in our knapsack to be eaten later. Our final stop, and totally worth the wait was a stop at iCream Cafe. This was a lesson in food gastronomie…a totally unique ice cream experience. Co-founders Cora Shaw and Jason McKinney create your own ice cream, frozen yogurt, pudding, or shake from scratch right in the store. Their unique rapid freezing, super sweet liquid nitrogen machine instantly freezes your customized treat into a uniquely smooth and creamy dessert. We were treated to one of their unique custom flavors – “That-Guy-From-Florida” which blends vanilla ice cream with white chocolate, cream soda and Nutella. Sound too weird to be good? Absolutely not…it was unbelievably delicious. While on the tour, Sophie pointed out a couple other “must-see” eateries including Big Star the whiskey-fueled, taco-slinging late-night honky-tonk in Wicker Park and Chicago’s elegant cocktail bar The Voilet Hour. After our celebratory dinner (following our successful run) at North Pond Restaurant (which I also highly recommend if you are looking for a fine dining experience), we cabbed it back to Bucktown and finished the day off in style. Chicago is a city with fantastic neighbourhoods, and a vibrant food culture. When you take a walking tour to one of these off-the-beaten-path areas, you walk away with new culinary perspectives, big smiles, satisfied taste buds and the confidence to continue exploring the areas where locals live. By Donna-Marie Pye
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