|This place has got everything!|
Now, for those who don't know me well, or at least the non-rabid hockey fan side of me, in my spare time I fancy myself a bit of a foodie. If I'm not grilling, roasting, sauteing or baking food, chances are I'm either watching sports or cooking shows on TV. And lots of No Reservations as well. Tony Bourdain's show on the Travel Channel is pretty much my favorite show on TV and has been for quite some time now.
It was, in fact, while watching his episode where he went to Chicago, that I was inspired to redouble my efforts to see a Bruins/Blackhawks game there. In particular, there was one specific restaurant I made it my personal mission to hit up on my trip, come hell or high water.
So, let's take a look back at my epicurean adventure in the Second City.
After working pretty much a full day (I banged out an hour early to avoid traffic on the Pike), I headed straight to Logan for our flight on Southwest. I got there in pretty decent time so I figured I'd park in the economy lot instead of central parking, saving a bit of cash in doing so. However, I misread the signage (not an uncommon occurrence amongst travelers to the Boston airport) and ended up parking in the expensive ($24 a day) lot. It was a small consolation, then, that I managed to get a spot right near the elevators to Terminal E.
Terminal E is best known as the international terminal at Logan. During the afternoon/evening, the terminal often slammed with passengers making their ways to a host of foreign destinations such as London, Frankfurt or Amsterdam. Fortunately, Southwest has it's own separate (domestic) mini-terminal within Terminal E, which means the security lines are usually on the small side. Heather and I zipped through the line and headed over to the Boston Beer Works to grab a snack and a drink during our wait. I'm a fan of the Beer Works, having been to their Canal Street and Fenway locations many a time. I ordered a pint of Blueberry Ale, Heather had a Victory Red and we split a cheese pizza as we were not looking at getting a real dinner until 10:00 at the earliest. The beer was good, the pizza sucked and our bartender/waiter was straight out of central casting as an extra in The Town.
Once we landed at Midway, we hopped a cab into town where we were staying at the Holiday Inn Express at the corner of Wabash and Ontario. Talk about the world's smallest hotel room! This thing was a literal shoebox. But, we weren't here to sit in a room and watch TV all day and it had beds, so we were good.
The Weber Grill.
The Weber-Stephen Products company is based in Illinois and has its roots at a Chicago steel fabricator. When it comes to grilling, Webers are pretty much the only way to go, whether or not you're a gas or charcoal aficionado. Built well and delivering unparalleled performance, they are well worth the money. I own 2 Smokey Joes and a Q220 for tailgating and a Genesis E320 for the home. At the same time, they also put out some wonderful cookbooks, including the two I own: Weber's Big Book of Grilling and Weber's Real Grilling.
|Ranch kettles in the kitchen of the Weber Grill|
So, we met up with the group and sat down for dinner. Heather went with the Tuscan brick chicken, a take on the traditional pollo al matttone , served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes that she enjoyed so much that she was contemplating using them as a spa treatment. I played it somewhat safe, given the late dining hour, going with a half rack of smoked St. Louis style ribs with cornbread and bourbon baked beans. Being in Chicago, I felt that it was only right to wash it all down with a fine local brew, in this case a Goose Island Matilda, a take on a traditional Belgian pale ale. It was delicious.
|The half rack of St. Louis ribs with cornbread and beans|
The Sausage Superstore & Encased Meat Emporium
I first heard about Hot Doug's watching No Reservations. Bourdain was doing his typical shtick hitting up unpretentious holes in the wall with awesome food (which I love, btw) when he traveled to the Avondale section on the north side of town and found a neighborhood joint. But this wasn't just any lunch counter. Far from it, in fact.
Chicago is home to some of the biggest names in the cooking world, a veritable who's who of modern gastronomy: Rick Bayless, Grant Achaz and Paul Kahan to name a few. But I'm going to add Doug Sohn to that list, if he's not there already.
Doug's restaurant is a nondescript brick building on a street corner that has about 15 tables total decked out in bright primary colors and decorated with a variety of kitschy hot dog related paraphernalia and vintage posters. He does one thing and one thing very well: tubular steaks, or as he refers to it "encased meats". In other words, we're talking about hot dogs and sausages.
|Doug Sohn, the true sausage king of Chicago|
|The city skyline from Navy Pier|
Knowing that Hot Doug's was a popular place, we decided that we should probably head out around 9:30 to get there when the place opened. As it happened, the rest of the 307 crew wanted to make the trek with us as well. Hey, the more, the merrier.
We got on the red line on the El and headed north to the Belmont stop where we switched over to the #70 bus. We got off at the corner of California and Belmont and made the quarter mile walk down to Hot Doug's. When we got there around 10:20, the line was about 30 people long. Fortunately, the sun was out and the building blocked the wind, because it was a good 45 minute wait before we made it inside.
But once we got inside, oh man, it was a revelation.
|The menu wall|
Doug is awesome. A jovial character in his black framed glasses, he greeted us with the sort of genteel banter one would expect by wearing Bruins gear into enemy territory. But it was all in good fun.
|What else is a nice Jewish boy supposed to order?|
|Counterclockwise: Chicken & spinach chicken sausage, |
Thuringer sausage, Curry Pork sausage with spinach
raita, blue cheese & honey, Chicago Dog, duck fat fries
Tim and Maureen went with the Thuringer sausages as well and Tricia had the chicken and spinach sausage. I think they enjoyed them greatly. Paula and Patty were the lone tube steak holdouts, but they provided good company nonetheless.
But the piece de resistance were the duck fat fries.
Yep, you read that right, fries cooked in duck fat.
|The legendary duck fat fries|
I can honestly say that this is now one of my favorite dining establishments, ever. I had high expectations to begin with, but this place blew them out of the water. Just a fun time all around. I will make it a mission heneforth to return sometime (hopefully in the not too distant future). Kudos to Doug and his staff, you rock.
Our culinary exploits continued later in the day as we made our way into the United Center. Having got to the stadium fairly early, we were afforded the opportunity to take an extended tour of the lower bowl and concourses to peruse the many concession offerings available to us. Still somewhat full from the bounty at Hot Doug's, I wasn't in dire need of further sustenance, especially considering we had postgame plans for dinner anyways.
It wasn't even a quarter of the way around from gate 2 on Madison when it became readily apparent that this was not the TD Banknorth Garden. Perhaps it's because the concessions are handled by Levy Restaurants and not Delaware North, but the food variety and quality puts just about anything and everything they serve back home to shame. Besides a huge number of stand alone bars and lounges spread throughout the arena, there is a variety of food stands that sell everything from standard stadium food (burgers, fries, etc.) to Italian beef sandwiches, carved turkey and roast beef, ribeye steak and pork chop sandwiches and on and on. Granted, you'll pay a bit for some of the offerings, but given the quality (the stuff looked damn good) and variety, fans would be hard pressed to not at least consider buying stuff like this back on Causeway Street.
Needing a little something to tide me over, nonetheless, I looked around for something along the lines of an appetizer, but I really didn't want fries or a pretzel or anything that I could get anywhere else. Then I found exactly what I was in search of at the Sweet Baby Rays barbecue stand: fried mac and cheese triangles.
I've seen a bunch of bar menus that have had deep fried mac & cheese balls (a take on the popular arancini), but never have I seen it offered at a sporting venue. I knew I had to try them. Battered and deep fried, they were perfectly crisp on the outside and gooey and cheesey on the inside. I shared them with the crew as we took in warmups from behind the Bruins bench and they were universally loved by all. They went so fast, I wasn't even able to get a photo of them.
After the game, we made our way back towards the hotels and headed over to Pizzeria Due. Part of the Unos chain, it was recommended to me by a number of friends who have lived in Chicago. There was no way I was going to Chicago this time without grabbing some deep dish pizza. It was around 11:00 and I was starving. I ordered up a personal barbecue chicken for me and the rest of the crew went with two pies, a plain cheese and a sausage. I also went with a Goose Island 312, a light wheat ale that was perfect with such a heavy meal.
|The BBQ chicken pizza at Due|
Was it the fanciest meal I've had? No. Was it the best pizza I've had? Nope (Todd English's Figs holds that honor for the time being). But it was exactly what I was looking for and it made me happy.
In all, I fulfilled my mission to hit all the places I had intended on going to, but Chicago being the food Mecca that it is, I was left wanting more. And dammit, I'm making sure I'm going to get back there, and soon.
Next Up: Part III - Seeing Red, the Madhouse on Madison