I only just left, but I miss Chicago already. This wasn’t our first trip, but this was the first time we went without parents or siblings, exploring as we liked. The weather was chilly, mostly in the 30’s and low 40’s, and we would skip to the side of the street with the most sun to warm us as we walked through the city. It didn’t deter us from enjoying our long weekend in Chicago.
We arrived around 3 pm and checked into our hotel. I had a long list of places I wanted to eat and since it was early, we decided to take advantage of an off-time at a popular restaurant and went to The Publican. It was a mile and a half from our hotel and we walked in order to get our first glimpses of the city and work up an appetite. We only had a green smoothie that morning to prepare for eating well in Chicago.
Chicago turned out be very meat-centric and you’ll see that in the dishes I share with you. Marc guessed it was Chicago’s proximity to the railroads that made acquiring meat easy early on. There were vegetarian options on most menus and lots of gluten-free options, but Chicago knows meat and I try to go for the region’s specialty when on vacation. The Publican opened at 4:30 with an afternoon menu, but the dinner menu was not ready and printed until 5:30. We were seated at the bar with the coolest gold polka dot backsplash. Also worth noting, I like a restaurant that uses great hand soap in the bathroom and they had luxurious Malin + Goetz rum hand soap. Kudos.
The Publican has a meat market right across the street where you can shop or order a great sandwich and the charcuterie plate features their own cured meats. This plate included pork pie, head cheese, sausage, aged ham, grainy mustard, caper berries and a blueberry sauce. I must admit that I was concerned I wouldn’t like everything on the plate, but I cannot put into words how delicious and flavorful each selection was.
We decided to order more small plates and wait until the dinner menu was ready. Our waiter recommended the Colonel Bill Newsom aged ham and it was divine. Served with hearty bread and fresh sweet cream butter. Marc and I both have German heritage on our mother’s side, Marc’s great-grandfather was a butcher, and this reminded us of a good German open-faced sandwich. The really good stuff. We also ordered pork rinds because we haven’t seen them on menus in metro Detroit. They were crunchy, dusted in tangy spices and not a bit greasy.
For dinner, Marc ordered the tender suckling pig and I ordered the pork schnitzel that was sprinkled with chopped hard-boiled egg and radicchio. Both were wonderful and had great texture. I was blown away by the unique addition of egg and radicchio on the schnitzel with a squeeze of lemon.
A group of guys were seated next to us and after some chit chat, one guy shared that he was from Heaven Hill distillery from the bourbon trail of Kentucky and another guy at the table was from Big Star, The Pubican’s sister restaurant that serves what looks like amazing tacos. We hoped to go, but sadly couldn’t fit it into the weekend. The guy from Heaven Hill REALLY likes his Kentucky bourbon and showed me his bourbon tattoo. He also let us try the bourbon he was drinking. If I hadn’t had an old-fashioned on an empty stomach, I might not have been brave enough to ask for this photo, but here you go.
We happily walked back to our hotel with full bellies and enjoyed the stunning night views of the city. The location of our hotel was perfect for us. It was in the city and within walking distance to many of the places we wanted to go.
The next afternoon we opted for lunch at XOCO, Rick Bayless’s casual restaurant with tortas, agua fresca, chips and salsa, guacamole and churros. You order your food and pay at the register and then the food brought out to you. We arrived at the perfect time because as soon as we sat down, the place quickly filled up and a line formed out the door. We each ordered a torta (or sandwich) warmed in the wood-burning oven. Marc had the Pepito which was braised short ribs, caramelized onions, jack cheese, black beans and pickled jalapeños. I ordered the baja chicken torta with chicken, chipotle mayo, napa cabbage/radish slaw, black beans and queso fresco. Both were excellent and served with a side of mild, but flavorful salsa for dipping. I also had to order churros with the chocolate dipping sauce, because duh. The churros were great, but they tasted like tortilla chips because they must be fried in the same oil. The texture was great, though, and the chocolate sauce was amazing.
We usually try to stay away from touristy things, but neither of us had seen the new(ish) sky deck at The Willis Tower, which features glass boxes that extend from the building that make you feel like you’re floating high above the city.
The views were nice, but the journey up was cramped as we were stuffed in elevators and the walls on our way to the elevators were lined with Chicago fun facts and I swear I saw Oprah’s likeness at least 3 separate times. After waiting in a long line to get in the glass box, we were disappointed to find the bottom was covered in hundreds of footprints making the bottom hazy and just gross. Womp womp.
We walked back towards our hotel along the side of the city that follows the lakeshore and made a quick stop to Millenium Park. It’s more fun in the summer with the face fountains, I think. My fit bit clocked us at 20,000 steps that day and our feet were ready to rest up before dinner. We continued back to our hotel to relax a little and freshen up before dinner at The Purple Pig.
We arrived around 6:30 and the wait was estimated at an hour and a half. The hostess took our cell number and we decided to check out the shopping close by. I forgot that Chicago had a Top Shop and we walked about half a mile to check it out. We had only just arrived when The Purple Pig called to say our table was ready (!!) We bolted out of Top Shop and walked as fast as we could back to the restaurant. They calmly seated us with kind smiles even as we must have been out of breath with wind-blown hair. Our waitress was great and recommended the must-have menu items. We started with house-cured capacola drizzled with tangerine oil and pecorino noce which was served with crispy bread and moscato grape preserves. Everything was perfect. Our waitress said she’s been eating a hunk of the pecorino each time she has a shift and she’s about to spring for the whole wheel.
We also ordered our first bone marrow and to be honest, it looks frightening, but it is delicious. If you’ve never had it, it’s basically meat butter as one person on Instagram called it. It was served with thick toast and a lemony parsley salad. We were instructed to spread the marrow on the bread, sprinkle it with sea salt and add the parsley salad on top. Just delicious.
Our waitress said their number one item is the milk-braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes. We agreed to order it, but secretly I was thinking it might be the most boring thing on the menu. This is where you must trust your server because we were rewarded with the most tender pork that could be eaten with a spoon.
For dessert, our waitress recommended the Sicillian Iris or ricotta and chocolate chip-filled fried brioche. I don’t even need to say how amazing it was, right? The filling was warm and oozy while the outside with chewy. The staff was incredible and it was a meal I will never forget.
The next morning we had tickets to tour the Robie House, built by Frank Lloyd Wright and considered to be the greatest example of Prairie School style architecture. Glazed and Infused was thankfully on the way and Marc dropped me off to quickly pick up a couple of doughnuts.
Of course, I came out with 5 doughnuts because they all looked amazing. I ordered a maple bacon long john, pb&j (filled with mixed berry preserves), raspberry glazed, old-fashioned and creme brulee doughnut. They offered a gluten-less doughnut and I’m kind of sad I didn’t try that one, too. They were light, yeasted donuts with the perfect amount of sweetness, except for the old-fashioned doughnut which wasn’t yeasted and had a crumbly cookie texture that I liked. The creme brulee was probably my favorite with a crunch candy top and vanilla bean filling, but really, they were all winners.
I signed a waiver to not share pictures from inside the Robie house, but it was an interesting tour and I recommend it if you’re interested in architecture and design. It’s hard to believe a house this modern was build in 1908 when Victorian style was everywhere. After our morning tour, we drove back to the hotel and hung out in the beautiful hotel lobby for a while and enjoyed our doughnuts. We walked to the Gold Coast shopping area to see the charming streets and look for places to stop in. Strangely, I had never been to that part of Chicago, but it’s very ritzy with Maseratis in the street and high-end shopping with some more reasonable shops like Madewell and Frye peppered in.
Our go-go-go days finally caught up with us and on our last night, we had Chicago-style pizza delivered and Marc found a liquor store nearby to pick up drink mixers. Pizza and bourbon in bed, yes. Serious Eats recommended Lou Malnati’s pizza and it really was so good. A focaccia-like crust with crispy sides and mozzarella for miles. We ordered the Malnatti’s Chicago Classic with house-made lean sausage, tomato and cheese plus we added spicy giardinera. Then I watched more HGTV than I care to admit to.
The next morning, a light snow was falling as we leisurely packed up our things. We checked out of The Conrad, which was really nice with a wonderful staff. The fluffy white bedding was calming and the bathroom was large enough for us to get ready at the same time without bumping into each other.
On our way out, we just had to do brunch. I was tempted to go back to The Publican because their brunch menu sounded great, but Molly recommended Avec and I’m so glad she did. We were seated at the sunny bar, perplexed to have the bottom of our boots dipped in snow again. The beautiful wooden decor, friendly staff and sun-drenched room definitely made up for the snow.
As you can tell, we just lived it up in the food and drink department. I started with the harissa bloody mary that was served with a side of atomium premier grand cru beer to cool down the harissa. I don’t usually drink beer, but that beer was fantastic. Everything you want in a brunch drink.
Ordering small plates seemed like the way to go to try the maximum number of tasty things. We started with two daily specials, the Avec bacon, which was perfectly cooked pork belly in a sweet sumac glaze. I tried my best to savor each bite. The other special was the papas bravas or Spanish-style crispy potatoes that were drizzled with a slightly spicy red sauce and garlic ailoli. Imagine the best breakfast potatoes of all time.
We also ordered poached eggs over ‘nudja (a spreadabe spicy Italian sausace) slathered sourdough with a generous blanket of preserved lemon hollandaise and topped with arugula. Just so good and so pretty. Finally, we ordered the Butcher’s steak, which was tender filet cooked medium rare with charred leeks, anchovy butter, crispy kale and a fried egg. It was the most elegant steak and eggs and I loved it, but the leeks might have been my favorite part. What a place!
Thanks for everything, Chicago, you were delicious. Below I’ve listed links to the places we went and some links to places we wanted to go, but didn’t have time for.
The Conrad 521 North Rush Street Chicago, IL
The Publican 837 W. Fulton Market Chicago, IL @publicanchicago
XOCO 449 North Clark Street Chicago, IL (enter on Illinois Street) @xocochicago
The Purple Pig 500 North Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL @ThePigChicago
Glazed and Infused 813 W. Fulton Market Chicago, IL @GoGlazed
Lou Malnati’s several locations
Avec 615 W. Randolph Street Chicago, IL @avecchicago
Cicchetti (recommended by our waitress from The Purple Pig)
Robie House 5757 S. Woodlawn Avenue Chicago, IL
Gold Coast Shopping
Magnificent Mile Shopping for Top Shop and Zara