Travel // Chicago 2014

View of Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

The Publican Chicago // Dula Notes

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 Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

The Publican Chicago // Dula Notes

The Publican Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

The Publican Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

The Publican Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

The Publican Chicago // Dula Notes

Night View of Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Night View of Chicago // Dula Notes

XOCO Chicago Torta // Dula Notes

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.

XOCO Chicago Churros // Dula Notes

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.

Willis Tower View Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Willis Tower View Chicago // Dula Notes

Millenium Park Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

The Purple Pig Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Cured Meat and Cheese at The Purple Pig Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Bone Marrow The Purple Pig Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder The Purple Pig // Dula Notes

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.

Sicilian Iris The Purple Pig // Dula Notes

Glazed and Infused Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Glazed and Infused Doughnuts Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Robie House Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Drinks in bed // Dula Notes

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.

Lou Malnati's Chicago-Style Pizza // Dula Notes

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.

View from Conrad Hotel Chicago // Dula Notes

Avec Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Avec Chicago // Dula Notes

Harissa Bloody Mary Avec Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Avec Chicago // Dula Notes

Sumac-Glazed Avec Bacon Avec Chicago // Dula Notes

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.

Papas Bravas Avec Chicago // Dula Notes

Poached Eggs Avec Chicago // Dula Notes

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!

Butcher's Steak Avec Chicago // Dula Notes

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 Lincoln

Longman and Eagle


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


Big Star

The Girl and the Goat

Floriole Bakery

Cicchetti (recommended by our waitress from The Purple Pig)

Lula Cafe



Robie House 5757 S. Woodlawn Avenue Chicago, IL

Gold Coast Shopping

Magnificent Mile Shopping for Top Shop and Zara


Second City

Art Institute of Chicago

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Museum of Science and Industry

John Hancock Observatory


Lottie and Doof Chicago Guide

Serious Eats Chicago

20 Notes Leave a Note

  1. Ohhhh man you guys did Chicago right! YES to bone marrow = meat butter! And YES to Lou Malnati’s! Murdo gets a thin crust from Malnati’s at least once or twice a month (OK, like every week…). Publican, Purple Pig and Xoco are all still on my to-eat-at lists. The long waits scare me though.

    • I’m so happy to have a local validate my food choices 🙂 The long waits scared me, too, so we tried to go early as much as we could. You must go to The Purple Pig and The Publican because they were two of the best meals of my life, truly. Longman & Eagle wasn’t available (we made the decision to go very last minute) and I’m sad we didn’t make it over there for some whiskey. Murdo is my pizza hero!

  2. So fun to read through this and take a little tour of the place I used to call home! Sometimes I miss it. Not in the winter but sometimes. Making a mental note of all these great stops! ps next time: Floriole! It’s on the North Side but it is worth the ride on the El.

    • I have heard such great things about Floriole and I’m happy to get another recommendation. Its street cred is becoming legendary 🙂 Definitely next time!

  3. I love Chicago & it looks like you did a good job trying out so many delicious looking places 🙂 I grew up eating bone marrow (my parents thought it was super healthy for us kids to eat) and a couple years ago I had it at a fancy restaurant – meat butter, indeed!! Yum. I’ve stayed at the Lincoln Hotel before and loved it – we’re hoping to go back this summer if our road trip plans work out, so I’ll have to keep your list handy 🙂

    • I love that you ate bone marrow as a kid! I remember your stop in Chicago and we almost stayed at The Lincoln (which looks great!), but went with the Conrad for its location. I can’t wait to hear about your next road trip!

  4. dayum girlll you got a lot of good stuff done!! and YEAH SO MUCH MEAT IN THAT CITY. you must must must get to big star next time 🙂 their al pastor tacos are the bee’s knees.

    • I was afraid I’d missed out on some excellent tacos! I’m pretty sure I had more pork last weekend than I had all last year, but it was so good. Thanks for pointing me toward Avec, it was incredible!!

    • Thanks, Caryn! It was less crowded, which was nice, but I would have preferred a few more degrees 🙂

  5. This sounds like a great trip! I definitely would try to visit Big Star next time you go – it’s laid back and delicious!

  6. I love Chicago! I’ve only been once but, man. I made (read: ate) the most of it.

    I’ve actually sat at that bar at Avec! It was one of my favorites too. It looks like you had a fantastic trip, despite the chill!

    • It was the first time we were able to eat exactly where we wanted and in a lot of ways felt like discovering Chicago for the first time. I was so impressed with every place we ate. Such a delicious city!

  7. Oh, Chicago. It’s still my city even though I don’t live there anymore. I was just there last weekend. You should head back in the spring or summer, it gets even more fun when it’s above 30 degrees! :]

    • You’re right, Traci! I should go back in the summer and do it all over again without the shivers 🙂

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