Part II – Eat, Drink, Love Chicago…….
As lovely as the architecture in this cloud scraping city is, Chicago is also an epicureans delight. Here you will hit the absolute mother load in terms of great restaurants and great bars.
In Newcastle there is a saying and that is – ‘there isn’t a pub on every corner but every pub is on a corner’. Well in Chicago, it can be stated this – ‘there really is a bar on every corner!’
Hip and beautiful cocktail bars, cosy or noisy bars, lounge bars, dive bars (always a favorite of mine), sip wine and eat charcuterie and pate and elegant cheese platter bars, slick bars, sports bars, roof top bars – a perfect accompaniment for summer, outdoor bars, old world bars and coffee bars……yes, there are such things as coffee bars and they will serve you up wonderful hand roasted bean water to perfection. And Chicago really does do great coffee!
Beer, and in particular craft beers, are big in Chicago. As with most places in the world the craft beer industry has really taken off but sometimes you just want to go a little old school. You want to find a beloved watering hole, faded and as well-worn as your granddads favorite old slippers. So how do you find the perfect old school Ale house amid the thousands of Ale houses in Chicago and its neighborhoods! Well that’s easy. You just need to look up.
Above the door-ways of most good Ale houses you will find either a flashing vintage neon sign or look for a wooden swinging ‘ye olde’ sign. These places tend to be real Chicago gems and I think if anyone ever tried to change or modernise these places into a hip gastro-pub then there would probably be rioting on the streets. I love that much of the original charm and nostalgia of these places remains.
Quite often the guy behind the bar with the large white tea-towel draped across his shoulder is, by rule of thumb, the one who owns it. These guys are genuine and down to earth and have an ancestry which dates back decades of tough working class immigrant families. Their history, by way of old black and white photographs, adorn the walls of their establishments and these photos tell stories of many years passed.
I guess you really have to admire a place that greets you with a warning sign as soon as you step through the door………….
The Billy Goat Tavern is a place you are either going to love or run screaming from. Grab a seat at the bar as this is the perfect place to people watch while you chow down on your cheezborger. And here’s the thing……..the cheezborger is so simple but ridiculously good. The tavern is located under Michigan Avenue so it can be a little hard to find but everyone who lives or works in Chicago knows where this place is and they can tell you how to get there.
This is where, on a good night (or day) or both, you can chug handles of warmish beer and eat humble cheezborgers ’til your heart’s content all while chatting with the locals, the newspaper journalists from papers such as the Chicago Tribune, old guys, old sports guys, the occasional D grade celeb and tourists.
Now truth be told, this place isn’t for everyone. People come in, look around then very often (and hastily) take their leave. But if you are up for some local history, a good ‘borger’ (and my tip for that would be to go the two patty) and if you don’t have a shitty attitude…….and honestly, nothing gets on my goat more than a whiny negative attitude!! then you will be most welcome and you will have a great time.
Sometimes when it comes to food, I have little resistance. Please note that dark chocolate (always 70% and over) and ice-cream should never be placed in arms reach of me plus I am a sucker for hot chips and gravy. But in Chicago we found the real Holy Grail Trinity of food:
- The Legendary Deep Dish Pizza – Chicago’s most iconic of big cheesy food.
- The Authentic Chicago Style Hot Dog – an all-beef frankfurter on a bun which has been sprinkled with poppy seeds and stuffed with fresh tomato, onions, sport peppers, a pickle spear, drizzled with yellow mustard and finished with a dusting of celery salt.
- The Italian Beef Sandwich – heaven!
No fancy pants dining or airs and graces required because this food will hold its own. Just great Chicago food where little more needs to be said other than these will be some of the best things you will ever eat…….and this is coming from someone who is not ‘big’ on pizza. I guess perhaps that’s just the comfort of food sometimes.
You will also find rib sticking Polish food, fantastic smokehouses, sandwich shops which are no ordinary sandwich shops, popcorn shops given popcorn is Illinois’ official snack food and it fabulously comes covered in cheese and caramel, iconic steak houses, roasted pig face….hello and more deli’s than you could ever imagine.
Life is so much more than your little microcosm of the world. It won’t always be perfect and sometimes it won’t work out the way you planned but do make every single wonderful moment of it count and in the mean time……. eat, drink and love where ever you are xx.
Love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all our enemies, because when we love all living beings, we have no enemies……..Geshe Kelsang Gyatso