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Tasting the Food of Chicago on a Food Tour
I love food and when I was recently given the opportunity to do a food tour in Chicago, I jumped at the chance. I chose “Chicago Food Planet Food Tours” because out of a total of 851 reviews on Trip Advisor, they only had 4 negative reviews and were rated #5 of all Chicago tours. The tour will visit 6 different locations and taste 6 different foods as you walk through the neighborhood, learning and eating.
I got a train to the suburbs of Bucktown/Wicker park since the tour wasn’t in downtown Chicago. It didn’t take long and wasn’t expensive. I was told to meet at “George’s Hot Dogs”. Our guide introduced himself and then all 8 of us who joined the tour gave a little introduction to share where we had all come from. I was the only foreigner, everyone else was from America. We were given a simple 4 page ‘Tour Guide’ which gave details of all the places we were to visit along with their websites, contact details and opening hours and a map of the tour. It had coupons for each place in case we visited again after the tour and also included a list of other recommended restaurants.
The first stop on our tour was a traditional hot dog from “George’s Hot Dogs”. Chicago is known for its hot dogs, but not the “traditional” hot dogs you think of when you think of America. There is no ketchup in this dog. After hearing about how George and his family moved from Greece to America, we heard how his little hot dog restaurant became something of an institution in the area. So here we were schooled in the ways of the Chicago Hot Dog. Hot dog bun, sausage, yellow mustard, green relish, spicy paprika, sliced tomato, pickle spear and celery salt. My word, it was delicious and only a full size portion – no samples here. This hot dog won the “Best Hot Dog in Chicago 2008” award. I’m not sure who won after that – these dogs are definitely the best!
When we were all done, we headed down the street to the next place called “Hot Chocolate” created and run by Mindy Segal, a pastry chef with over 20 years of experience. The website states: “Urbaniakafvila is a combination of contemporary dishes and desserts inspired by seasonal and local ingredients.” Mindy has won several awards, including two years in a row for “Best Pastry Chef” at Time Out Chicago’s Eat Out Awards. This woman knows what she’s doing…
We were served cold, creamy chocolate milk with homemade marshmallows. It was so delicious that I finished mine a little too quickly. Others in the groups struggled, saying it was a little too rich or sweet. I hadn’t noticed… We discovered that you can buy packets of the mix and the first 2 ingredients to add to the chocolate powder were cream and whole milk – gulp. My waistline will not be happy… but it was worth it!
After we finished indulging in our chocolate drink and hearing about all the decadent things you can eat at this restaurant, we headed down the street to “Goddess & Grocer,” a gourmet deli and catering establishment that has served the likes of the Rolling Stones and Madonna.
As I walked in, my eyes dazzled with the tasty treats on offer and when their website states that “prepared salads, a fresh salad bar, sliced deli meats and cheeses, artisan cheeses, chicken and a selection of grocery items such as handmade chocolates, cookies and desserts, pastas and sauces, mustards , sauces and condiments, crackers, snack products, wine and beer,” they’re not kidding. This is NOT the place to come when you are hungry!!! (or maybe it is!)
Here we were treated to a sampler of roasted vegetable salad with goat cheese which was very tasty. The vegetables were cooked perfectly (slightly soft without being mushy) and the goat cheese provided a savory filling that complemented the salad beautifully. After checking out (and drooling over) the other things on offer, we headed back out.
With continuously full bellies, we then headed to Piece, a pizzeria and brewery. In a secluded part of the rather large, airy restaurant, we were served a slice of pizza and a small glass of beer. Could this get any better?
Piece opened in July 2001 when a roofing company’s garage was converted into a pizzeria with a skylite ceiling and sunken lounge. The atmosphere is chatty, relaxed and friendly. Beer and pizza will do that to you. The brewer, Jonathan Cutler, has won 21 major awards since 2002, so if you visit, be sure to sample their beers.
A few nights a week they offer karaoke and judging by some of the pictures on their website, the night is full of fun and laughter.
We head out again, now exploring the surrounding neighborhood and our guide tells us all sorts of interesting facts about the buildings, people, parks and history.
It’s a glorious day and we’re enjoying both the sun and the cool shade. Before long we arrive at the “Sultan’s Market”. This Middle Eastern restaurant was opened by May Ramli 12 years ago. He grew up in Jordan and didn’t go to a restaurant until he was 18. When he opened “Sultan’s Market”, he had an instant hit with his homemade hummus. He still oversees food preparation and the restaurant’s cash register.
The food at the buffet bar we walked by looked fresh, tasty and very tempting. The place is spotlessly clean, the atmosphere is clearly oriental and the mosaic lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Walking past an impressive number of baklava trays, our group all sat together at a few corner tables and after hearing about the creation of the restaurant, we were offered pitta bread with falafel, hummus and cucumber salad. I was so full at this point, I’m ashamed to say I fished the hummus and cucumber salad and had a few pieces of pita bread, but I just couldn’t take it anymore.
We are just around the corner from our last stop and with heavy steps and bulging bellies we arrive in front of the ice cream cafe iCream. What an unusual place. This is how it works…
You walk in and decide… Hmm, I really feel like peanut butter and mango sorbet ice cream. You walk up to the counter and order it and they make it – easy! Yes, they have equipment to prepare your favorite flavors on site. With quick-freezing liquid nitrogen machines (that look like something from outer space), they can whip up your peanut butter and mango sorbet in seconds. There is nothing ready-made here.
So we enjoy a small pool of ice cream (really too small!) and reminisce about the last 3 hours.
What a wonderful time we have had. We’ve seen and learned about the neighborhood (a little different than downtown Chicago, which was nice), walked about 1.5 miles, which I said was my workout for the day, and tasted not 1 but 6 different foods, all of which came with it. a bit of history. It felt like we really experienced the city and saw “behind the scenes” instead of just being a tourist.
I loved the way the food tour was run. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable and made 3 hours simply fly by. Try their tours if you are in the Chicago area.
Advance purchase required – tickets sell out FAST!
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