Tag Archives: pizza

Chicago

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Arriving in Chicago was exhilarating. We’d spent two weeks on the road, in mostly small towns, and before that 18 months in the low-rise, chilled, southern-style city of DC. It had been a while since we’d been in a proper city, walking at that proper city pace, dodging other pedestrians in the deep corridors between glass skyscrapers. As soon as we arrived we realized we liked it better than New York – just as much excitement, but less attitude.

We arrived with a list of places to see and pizza to try – this was tourism Chicago style. Many of our recommendations came from the new friends we’d met at the New Belgium and Great Divide Breweries, who turned out to live in Chicago. Others were from a friend who had done a pizza tour when she had visited – I guess the same one Brown Bear Travels wrote about last week: http://brownbeartravels.com/2016/01/24/a-long-weekend-in-chicago-part-2/

However, we only had one night and a day before our flight home, so this was to be a bit of a flying visit.

As time was at a premium we stayed in Chicago downtown district known as the Loop, in the ultra-modern, very urban Central Loop Hotel. I imagine that, to some, the convenient and compact rooms could seem a bit small, but we’re Londoners at heart, and we were only using the room for sleeping. We could walk everywhere we wanted to go, just using the metro to get to the airport.

By the time we arrived we were pretty exhausted, but we decided on a quick walk around, followed by cocktails at Palmer house and pizza at Giordanos. I was very excited to see the Chicago ‘L’, especially its actual ‘El’evated parts (for info on the correct terminology see the Chicago Tribune)

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The ‘L’ – I kept thinking of scenes from The French Connection

The Palmer House is one of Chicago’s oldest hotels (its first incarnation was built in 1871, but the current building dates from the 1920s, and its been a Hilton since the forties). Its main claim to fame is a beautiful lobby ceiling, which you can see while enjoying a cocktail at their extensive bar.

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The cocktails were less impressive, but they certainly helped with the exhaustion. There was definitely something nice about spending too much money at a cocktail bar at the end of our long roadtrip through western wildernesses and small-town America. It was a far cry from the local bars of Greybull…

Giordano’s in the Loop did not immediately fill us with joy. It was a bit of a tourist trap, and we were discouraged from buying wine due to the extortionate prices being charged for bottles. However, the deep-dish pizza exceeded my expectations. I think I only tried deep dish in the UK once – one of those frozen ones, probably ‘Chicago Town’. I remember we accidentally burnt it, so the overly sweet tomato sauce had a bitter edge to it, and the dough was hard and tasteless. This was completely different, with delicious sauce and plenty of cheese at the base.

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Our second day in Chicago dawned grey, chilly and threatening rain. Still we didn’t let that stop us exploring the lake front and Millennium park; in fact we quite enjoyed the edge on Chicago’s famous breeze. The city looked really great from the lakeside, and we imagined how much fun it might be to live in this city, especially during the summer months. By the time we got to the children’s park we’d almost decided to move to the city and start a family!

Sadly we didn’t have time for the gallery, which looked amazing (and was free for children). But we wandered the gardens nearby and enjoyed the sculptures. I loved Cloud Gate especially.

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Our one bad experience in Chicago was the Willis tower. For a start, we couldn’t get over how arrogant you have to be to rename the Sears Tower… That aside, we had been advised that if you wanted a good view without paying for the ‘SkyDeck experience’, you could go to the floor below, which housed the bar; as long as you bought a drink you could enjoy the view for free.

I don’t know whether too many people had given out this advice, or if the staff in charge this day were just incompetent, but the bar was overcrowded to dangerous levels. When we walked in we were greeted by two lines – one, about two rooms’ lengths long, for the bar, the other, snaking around the entire floor, for the elevator to get down again. At this point I started to get panicky. We didn’t have long to spend here, as we had to go get our luggage, catch the metro and go and catch our flights. We decided it wasn’t worth queuing for drinks – by the time we’d waited in the line for the elevator we would have had our fill of the view which, though impressive, wasn’t the best on this very grey day. So we waited, and waited, and were finally released from the tower.

Happily, my main memory from that day though is the pizza we found at Pizzano’s. We went to the one north of the river, just off the Magnificent Mile, which was far less touristy than the Giordano’s we’d been at the night before. We got there pretty early for lunch so didn’t have to wait too long, and fell in love with the classic old Italian restaurant interior. Again, bottles of wine seemed ridiculously over-priced (is it something to do with local tax?), so we got glasses – it was lunch time after all… But it was the pizza that wowed us the most. The base was more like pastry than dough, and utterly delicious. It also had far more rich, Italian tomato sauce on top than Giordano’s.

We were able to fly back from Chicago, happy in the knowledge that we had managed to cram in two pizza experiences, despite our short stay. Overall, the city gave us a great ending to an amazing trip.

First impressions – mainly food

The first thing my sister, Rhiannon, asked me about moving to Washington was: ‘What have you eaten?’ So here is a blog post devoted to our first American meals. I’m afraid I’ve been too busy eating to take photos of the plates, so you’ll just have to make do with my descriptions.

Anyway, our first night we went to Diner (18th St NW). Our host had recommended this place as somewhere that was open 24 hrs, and they seemed to do everything, so we thought it was worth a try. Looking at the menu, and being informed by the guy at the next table that ‘everything here is good’, it seemed only right that our first meal in America should be burgers, washed down with American beer. Rich ordered us two ‘PBRs’, which turned out to be cans of Pabst beer (points to anyone who can remember how this beer featured in an episode of the West Wing), and the waitress brought over two glasses of water – it’s very easy to stay hydrated in this town. The burgers themselves were great – sweet American buns, great meat, and good chips (I use the term advisedly – they actually were much closer to UK chips than the fries I was expecting). The service was good, and the guy at the next table was very friendly – though it was rather surreal to be having a conversation about his forthcoming cruise to Sevastapol and the crisis in Ukraine on our first night in this country that I had been led to believe was fairly insular.

Unadventurously we went to Starbucks the next morning for breakfast, but we made up for this by buying our lunch from one of the food vans Washington’s population are apparently all crazy about. This one was on Farragut Square, and as it had just stopped raining we bought two of their chicken burritos with chips and salsa and ate them in the square as the sun came out. We probably could have shared just one – I’ve always found burritos in the UK rather large, these were huge. Also with hot sauce and fresh jalapenos (rather than the vinegary pickled ones we get in the UK) they were really tasty! Though I really shouldn’t have, I think I ate nearly all of it, and then felt full for the next six hours.

In fact, by the time we got to happy hour at the Lucky Bar (Connecticut Ave NW), around 5pm, I really couldn’t imagine being able to eat the really tempting pulled pork sliders (at $1 each who could help being tempted?), but an hour and a couple of really good IPAs later I’d seen the error of my ways, so we did.

After another IPA (just so you know, American pints are smaller than UK ones), we went to find somewhere for dinner. As we hadn’t yet, we felt we should experience that other American staple – pizza – and the Mellow Mushroom (18th St NW) welcomed us with open arms. Our server was warm and friendly, the atmosphere was fun, people queued for take-aways, and couples made use of the patio heaters, enjoying their dustbin-lid sized ‘pies’ alfresco. Not having learnt from earlier, we ordered the house special in the large size – and it almost defeated us. But it was too delicious to give in, so we persisted with the fresh tomato and garlic sauce, the layers of ham and sausage, and, best of all, the sweet and smoky bacon until we could barely move.

Happily the next day we found the supermarket, and a bakery that just does very plain, cream-cheese bagels, so we gave our digestive systems a bit of a break. I will write separately about the fun and games of attempting to shop and cook healthily in America (I think part of the problem is palm oil…) and, once we’ve had time to sample a few, I’ll post about the great Washington DC traditions of brunch and salads. At this moment Rich is sitting next to me making notations in the Zagat guide to Washington DC restaurants, so I think there will be plenty of food posts to come!