Boston Restaurant Blog -- November, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
After many years of trying to get to Chicago, I finally made my first trip there a few days ago. A group of us decided to head out there for several days, sticking mostly to areas north of the city and around the downtown area. And while I didn't get to sample all of the foods I wanted to (we missed out on BBQ, for instance), I was able to eat at some excellent restaurants, including the best steakhouse I've ever been to.
We arrived in Chicago around lunchtime on Friday, settling in to our hotel in the Near North Side of the city. From there, we walked toward downtown, arriving at Harry Caray's just after the lunchtime rush. Harry Caray's is a classic Italian steakhouse with lots of charm, especially on the bar side where we had lunch. With its tin ceiling, dark wood paneling, and old pictures on the walls, the place almost had the feel of Doyle's, the charming old restaurant and bar in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. As soon as we sat down at Harry Caray's, we were given a dish of homemade potato chips, which were delicious (and gone in a flash). We stuck to ordering sandwiches, including a delicious panini meatball sandwich on ciabatta bread, an excellent Chicago hot dog, a decent turkey sandwich, and a tasty roast beef au jus. The beer list was excellent, and the homemade chips kept coming, filling us up so much that we had to walk it all off once we left.
Along our walk back to the hotel, we stopped in for a drink at Su Casa, a Mexican restaurant, and Pippin's Tavern, a tired-looking but friendly old bar that became our second home for most of the trip. After resting for awhile (and letting our food settle), we headed north to the Lincoln Square section of Chicago, where we had a late dinner at the Chicago Brauhaus, a traditional German restaurant in the heart of the neighborhood. We were seated in a small dining room off the main part of the restaurant but were close enough to hear the somewhat campy (but fun). live music coming from the main room. We started with two very large--and very tasty--pretzels that came with mustard and also ordered some rather large mugs of beer. We soon discovered that they had even larger mugs (somewhere around 32 ounces or perhaps even more), so we switched to those, enjoying a variety of excellent German beers. For our entrees we had a wiener schnitzel with spatzle (excellent breaded veal, rather bland spatzle), a couple of Vienna sausage hot dogs (decent, but not as good as the one at Harry Caray's), sauerbraten (tremendous, with outstanding gravy), and fried chicken (not all that impressive, unfortunately). We didn't leave the Brauhaus until about 11:00, and felt too full to do much other than sleep, so we hopped in a cab and headed back to the hotel.
After a quick, basic breakfast at L'Appetito near the hotel, we headed over to Bucktown and Wicker Park, two adjoining neighborhoods that are probably about as close to Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury as you will get in Chicago. We spent the morning in used record and used book shops, then wandered around a bit before stopping at a restaurant and bar called Pint for a leisurely lunch. The inside of Pint was rather charming, with brick arches, little nooks and alcoves, and large couches in the side room and the back area. We decided to sit up front where we could watch some college football while enjoying some lighter fare and pints of Harp and Boddington. Our meals were pretty good, though nothing to write home about; the BLT and the salad were pretty basic and the kobe (wagyu) burger was a bit dry and lacking in taste, though the sliders and mini ham sandwich were both tasty. We stuck around for a bit after eating to watch a little more football before heading back to the Near North Side to relax for a few hours.
Saturday night was dedicated to a late show at the Second City Theatre, so we stayed local for dinner, walking up to Carmine's on North Rush Street near the western edge of the ultra-wealthy Gold Coast district. Carmine's turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, as the service was excellent, the covered (and heated!) patio area was very comfortable, and the food was absolutely outstanding. We started with an array of appetizers, including some delicious bruschetta, a tasty order of sausage and peppers, and (for myself) a bowl of pasta fagioli that was a bit watery, but otherwise very nice. We had some excellent beers as well, including the locally brewed Goose Island Honker's Ale. For our main dishes, we tried the vesuvius chicken (much better than the chicken at the Brauhaus the night before), a deep-dish pizza that was on special that night (a bit too cheesy, but cooked perfectly, and with a hearty, robust sauce), the chicken parmigiana (a good version of this dish), and a brick chicken (basically a whole chicken cooked with a brick on top of it). The brick chicken was quite a conversation piece, as I had never seen so much chicken on one plate in my life, but it was really was quite good. After we finished our entrees, we decided to skip dessert and waddled out to catch a cab. A quick final note: Before we went into Second City, we stopped at Corcoran's, an attractive watering hole across the street from the theatre that was brimming with character; it turned out to be a great place to grab a beer before the show.
Sunday morning came rolling along, and we decided to head out for a big breakfast. A few blocks north of the hotel was the Original Pancake House, an old-fashioned looking breakfast spot that seemed intriguing, so that's where we ended up. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes in a little hallway area, we were seated and looked at the menu while soaking in the hustle and bustle of the place. We tried a bit of everything, including the silver dollar pancakes (soft, airy, and heavenly), homemade corned beef hash (a great mix of finely corned beef, potatoes, chopped onions, and seasonings), home fries with cheese on top (totally decadent, and very tasty), and enormous omelettes each with a side of buttermilk pancakes (an extremely filling dish). The bill was a bit high for breakfast, coming in at around $65 including tip, but everything was delicious and the service was quick and friendly.
Breakfast was followed by a trip up to Wrigleyville, where we took a quick peek at Wrigley Field (closed tight this time of year) and the commercial district of Wrigleyville, which was filled with bars and restaurants. Much of the area was quiet, but I could tell that it must be a crazy place during the baseball season. After a drink at the John Barleycorn pub (and a bit of the Bears-Packers game on TV), we headed back to the Near North Side and ended up at the Billy Goat Tavern, a basement-level greasy spoon burger joint near the Navy Pier made famous by Saturday Night Live and the "Cheeseborger Cheeseborger Cheeseborger" episode. The minute we walked in, the chef yelled "double burger" at each of us, even before we finished walking down the stairs to the place. A bit stunned, we nodded our heads and grabbed some sodas, paid for the meals, and sat down to wait for the burgers. While waiting, I took a look around at the dining area, with its photos and memorabilia covering nearly every square inch of the place, but for all its history, I had this unshakable feeling that I was in a bit of a tourist trap. The burgers soon came, and I have to admit, I wasn't all that impressed. They were decent griddled burgers, but really nothing all that special. I was glad that we got there once, anyways, but I'm not sure I'd go back.
It was our last evening in Chicago, and we saved the best for last. After getting back to the hotel and relaxing for a few hours, we took a cab ride a short distance southwest to the Chicago Chop House, a famous steakhouse in a city know for its steaks. The minute we walked in, I knew that this was going to be someplace special, as the service was top notch right from the start, the room upstairs was classy and elegant yet low-key, and the menu featured some truly mouthwatering dishes. We started with some beers (I had some more Goose Island--excellent stuff) and also had some salads, the best of which was probably the outstanding caesar salads that a couple of us had. Then came our meals, and oh what meals they were; the filet mignon was tender and juicy and cooked absolutely perfectly, the lobster tail that came with one of the filets was every bit as good as the steaks, and the lamb chops were meaty and tender, and had little waste on them. A side of potatoes came with each meal, and the house salad that I had was also included in the price of the meal, so even though the Chicago Chop House was a pretty high-end place, the prices were rather reasonable, with our total bill being about $260 or so. This was my best meal of the trip, and the steak was indeed maybe the best I've ever had.
After dinner, we had a mellow evening back at Pippin's, then called it a night. And after another trip to the Original Pancake house on Monday morning, we were soon on our way back home. It was a terrific trip; Chicago is one of America's great cities, and between the quality of the food and lodging, the beautiful neighborhoods, and the friendliness of the people, I would go back in a heartbeat.
Chicago is a really wonderful restaurant town. Glad you could make it here. Hope you had fun.
Posted on 11/23/08
Wait...you went all the way to Chicago, the birthplace of Deep Dish pizza, and never even considered going to "Pizzeria Uno" on Ohio and Wabash Streets?? Well you certainly missed out on a timeless classic...for some reason it just tastes better there...it's like going to Philadelphia and never even trying a Philly cheese steak sub at Pat's...There's something seriously wrong there!! Well I hope you had a good trip regardless!!! You can always go back! Highly Suggested!!
Posted on 11/24/08
Note: Comments have now been closed for this blog entry.