I just got back from Chicago and wanted to share all the culinary highlights! It was a great trip, although my face was having none of the back of forth of humid weather and super dry AC. But other than that it was a good trip! Packed full, but not too full of you know what I mean, so that you actually get to enjoy relaxing away from work for a little while.
Sometimes I feel like all my vacations nowadays just revolve around food. Just fill in the spaces to get to the next meal. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, I just hate coming home to the reality that I can’t just eat whatever I want willynilly, and that I hate being out of shape more than I love all foods. Well it’s a constant toss up. We all know Chicago is home to the deep dish pizza–which I will get to in its own right, but actually one of the things I was most excited about was Chicago popcorn! If you’ve never heard of this, because I hadn’t until a coworker visited and brought the stuff back, it’s a mix of cheddar popcorn and caramel popcorn. You of course can get them separately as well, or butter, or caramel with nuts when visiting Garrett’s, but you gotta at least try the Chicago mix. Weird sounding for sure, but I promise you that fresh Garrett’s popcorn is to die for. Though I will note that popcorn is a personal weakness of mine. Growing up my food weaknesses were: pizza, popcorn, and Peking duck. I was a weird child, I suppose, but this trip had two out of three!
And onto the pizza. Now I grew up in New Jersey, which to be real about it, is pretty much a suburb of either New York or Philly depending where you live, and I grew up in the New York part. So New York Style pizza is definitely a staple, and not to be trifled with. That said, I’m not discriminatory when it comes to carbs and pizza, and I enjoyed the Chicago pizza quite enthusiastically. We visited the original Pizzaria Uno’s, grabbing a Four Cheese Pesto Pizza and the Numero Uno: sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers. Deep dish is definitely filling that’s for sure, and while the Numero Uno was a classic, I really enjoyed they layers of cheese on the pesto pizza. I think they both could have used some more sauce, since one of my favorite parts is dipping the extra crust into the drippings to munch on and savor those last bites of pizza. Their crust was an amazing combination of buttery soft inside and hard, plate-knocking crispiness on the outside which I love for deep dish pizza.
We had to compare and contrast, naturally, and try a few! So we also went to Gino’s East, and ordered a BBQ Brisket pizza. Conclusion? Brisket definitely belongs on a pizza. Ultimate preference? I actually liked Pizzeria Uno’s pizza slightly better than the rest, but I think that some of that came from the fact that the crust was crispier and the pizza was set a little more so it didn’t just collapse into a (delicious) pile of ooze as the Gino’s East pizza was served to us. That said, I’d eat either again in a heartbeat delicious enough to make your heart stop. The shop itself that we visited was cool too–they have graffiti inside their restaurant on all the walls, mostly done in white (or what looks like white out to me). I assume all the locations were the same, but it definitely had a unique dining experience, more so than the other two.
The third was Giordano’s pizza and it was good too! This one was a “stuffed” pizza, with crust on top of all the toppings except the sauce. Again, good, and I would go back for more in a heartbeat. They definitely took the PIE (see what I did there?) with the cheese, and if you know me a little, the world doesn’t really go around without heaping piles of gooey cheese. Or cut cheese or grated cheese. Really, I’m not picky. The ultimate conclusion for me was to take Pizzeria Uno’s crust, the sauce from Gino’s East, and the massive amount of cheese from Giordano’s and that would be my perfect pizza. Also, get ready to wait at any of these places. It typically takes upwards of 45 minutes from placing the order to receive your pizza, so our solution was to order a medium and get a salad while we waited. They say a medium feeds 2-3 people, but don’t be fooled–each piece is at least 2x the density of a New York style pizza, so a medium was basically a perfect size for my family of four.
We had a some other places on our list but didn’t quite make it there after four days (including an extra meal of leftovers) of eating pizza. Especially considering how filling deep dish pizza is, I’d say that was probably a good decision.
We also swung by the Ghirardelli shop by our Wendella Chicago Architecture tour boat docking and to cool off with some scoops of ice cream. Not really unique to Chicago, for Ghirardelli is a San Franciscan company, but still, why say no to chocolate, mint chocolate chip, cookie dough, and strawberry sorbet ice creams? We all got the complimentary chocolate chips on top too because why not? Gotta live it up on vacation. All of the flavors were spot on as one would expect from Ghirardelli, and the “single scoops” were as pictured below. The cup single scoops were definitely a good deal–huge for their approximately $5 price tag plus the option to add complimentary toppings like chocolate chips, cherries, sprinkles, and almonds. The cone was good and tasty but I think lost a little of the quantity of ice cream in its form.
One of our last stops (meal-wise) on our trip was Smoqued, a BBQ place. It’s a place that’s been visited by Guy Fieri on DDD (or Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, for all you who aren’t quite as food-network obsessed as I), so I had high expectations. In full honesty, it was good, but nothing spectacular. Probably didn’t help that we had to go pretty far out of our way to get there. We got ribs and brisket with cornbread, chili, and mac and cheese as the sides. Both came with a vinegar-based coleslaw, and some tasty BBQ sauces. The best part of the meal was the mac and cheese, which in my opinion, as much as I love mac and cheese, shouldn’t be the star of a BBQ place. The brisket was definitely fall-apart tender, but lacked some flavor without the sauces, and to be honest, I wanted more fat and oily goodness. The baby back ribs’ spice rub was spot on but this went somewhat overlooked due to their tough nature. I’m used to ribs that fall off the bone in tenderness, so was a little disappointed that I had to tear the meat off with my teeth. That mac and cheese though, man. Creamy and cheesy, with a satisfying crunch of breadcrumbs and actual cheese crisped on top.
Anyway, Chicago was a great bit of fun for an extended weekend. I won’t go too in depth of our itinerary, though I’d be more than happy to share if you ask in the comments, but the overhaul list includes: the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, the Chicago architecture boat cruise, the Museum of Science & Industry, the navy pier, the sky deck at Willis tower, and the art museum. I think that’s most of it, though it’s been a packed 4-day trip so I may be forgetting a few.