Some Vitners chips/crisps at the entrance to Oak Street beach, Chicago. Vitners are a Chicago institution.
It’s been two months and a few days since I decided to hop on a plane in Chicago and relocate myself to London. The time has gone quickly — way too quickly — to say the least. (Tip: Next time you quit your job, take three months off before you start your new job.) And while Chicago was never really my kind of town (sorry, Chicagoans), after living there for a grand total of 12 years (!!!) between my two stays, there are some things I still pine for occasionally. Here’s what I’ve been missing about Chicago lately.
Forgive on sidewalks: Sometimes I would be walking around Ukrainian Village in a bad mood for various reasons — thinking f*ck this shit, if you really must know. And then I’d see Forgive. And I would change the direction of my thoughts.
CLS and his/her sculptural street art. Chicagoans, you’ve seen CLS’ stuff around town. Scraps of wood, together, in an art piece. (This Flickr user has a number of photographs of CLS’ pieces if you’re not sure who I’m talking about.) I like CLS’ stuff. It’s natural but architectural and yet random.
Cemitas Puebla: Mexican sandwiches. They deliver to Weegee’s in Logan Square! Now that was an exciting discovery! I want to know how they get their pork chops so thin.
Mexican in general…Mexican like the place on the corner of Chicago & Ashland, Taqueria Transpasada. Not the commercial burrito chains. London is full of burrito chains now. I just want some tacos. OK, I really want some tacos at Big Star even though I am not hipster enough for Big Star. (I realize I am, in some ways, contradicting myself. What I want is tacos from the corner shop and on weekends, tacos at Big Star, along with some Johnny Cash and bourbon.)
Tamale guys. Magically appearing in bars around town in the wee hours of the morning, just when we all need some carbs. GENIUS.
Television: WGN morning news. Seriously, these guys crack me up. (Check out some of their best bits from 2013.) I love that they’ve been doing what they do for so long together. London breakfast news programming is terrible. They repeat themselves every 12 minutes. (I’m gonna time it.) And no jokes! And they don’t have enough human interest stories. And the news is so DIRE. Someone help me. I need something to watch in London between 6 am and 7 am while I am trying to become fully functional.
Chinese: Mon Lung: My Sunday routine when I lived in Noble Square was Szechuan green beans and chicken from Mon Lung. Me and all the cops and the fish tank. I loved that the multi-generational family was so in evidence here. This is really a family-run business, and they are all so super nice. (Sometimes, they run out of green beans. Just to warn you.)
Diners: The Pittsfield and Beef & Brandy: I love a good diner. The Pittsfield is my absolute favorite; it’s a triangulation of beautiful building decor, friendly service, and good food. Breakfast for dinner! At The Pittsfield, I like the Mr. Gyros Omelette, which is on the old menu, not the new menu, but they will still make it for you. Make sure you ask for some tzatziki. $10 (or less) for lunch and you get table service…really nice table service. They do what they do better than a lot of expensive restaurants I know. I also like Beef & Brandy on State Street, mainly because they let you pay at the table. (At The Pittsfield, you have to pay at the counter and then walk back to your table to drop off the tip.) I also love how Beef & Brandy’s website calls it the best restaurant in downtown Chicago. I normally go for the grilled cheese at Beef & Brandy.
Vietnamese Food: Han yen on Argyle. After my trip to Vietnam in March, I got a little addicted to pho for breakfast. So once I sold off Noble Square and moved away from Mon Lung, my new Sunday routine became a trip up to Han Yen on Argyle for a big bowl of pho for Sunday lunch.
Cheap Manicures and Pedicures. Particularly New Age Nails on State Street north of Chicago Avenue. So clean and white and nice.
Drinking: Pops for Champagne & The Watershed. London did something to me. It made me drink champagne a lot. I arrived back in the US and everyone kinda looked at me funny when I would ask if we could order a bottle of champers. So I would take myself to Pops and drown my sorrows. Champagne is not cheap in America. Champagne in London is a bargain in comparison. (There’s something to be said for being across the channel from France. ) Also, I love The Watershed, downstairs from Pops, which specializes in midwestern beers and wines. I like focus. And the banjo player on Thursday nights.
What am I forgetting? I am sure there is something!? Help.
Too many people asked me “Where are you going to eat before you leave?” before, I, uh, left Chicago. And then they would look at me strangely when I would say “Oh, I don’t know…I’m probably just going to order some curry from Rangoli and maybe some twice-cooked pork and string beans from Chengdu Impression.” What they wanted me to say, I do not know. (Don’t ask the question if you’re not going to like the answer.) I had no desire to hit Alinea again. (Sorry, left hungry and stopped for tacos that one time.) I was a little sad that I never visited L20 because I do love seafood more than most Chicago people. But well, other than that, I wasn’t really dying to try anything in particular.
So you know what I did before I left Chicago? I ate A LOT of chicken wings. At Jake Melnick’s downtown. I LOVE Jake Melnick’s! I love Pancho’s wings! Pancho, whoever you are, I love you. I sat at the bar at Jake Melnick’s and I ate a lot of chicken wings and drank a lot of beer. (They have A LOT of different types of beer to drink.) Sometimes I ate chicken wings with friends, sometimes I ate chicken wings by myself. But most of all, I ate chicken wings.
I also ate a lot of Chengdu Impression. It’s a very long story how I ended up in Lincoln Park during the last few days in Chicago, but I had to go to Home Depot a lot and going to Home Depot meant a trip to Chengdu Impression. The staff at Chengdu Impression are super sweet. Ask them for their help in ordering. I hope they do very very well because everything they have is all pretty delicious.
Ah, and Chicago Bagel Authority! My friend Jen’s English husband Leigh LOVES the Chicago Bagel Authority so while I was in the neighborhood, I had to check it out. I did. Many times. Although the New Yorker in me died a little every time I ate one of their **steamed** bagels, they were very tasty. And I kinda liked the intensely flirtatious bagel maker. He had nice eyes.
What else…I finally went to Longman & Eagle and it was very good but in hindsight, I don’t really remember anything we ate. I suppose that was my “cross it off the list” moment.
I did spend a lot of time at Scofflaw, drinking all the Temple Destroyers with Ben & Gerry and then Antonia. (Antonia says she’s now obsessed with verdita and is going to attempt it. I will be there.) I don’t remember much about my time at Scofflaw either, but that was obviously for other reasons. (And remember, I am not a big mixed drink person.)
Other things…Binny’s has a new wine tasting room, so I spent a lot of time there. Ah, and I had a nice lunch at Ramen San, although I hated their stools. Hated. I really need to start that “comfortable restaurant seating” business I’ve been thinking about.
My last meal in Chicago was at Nico Osteria. I stayed two nights at the very lovely Thompson Hotel. ((My stay at The Thompson Hotel was another Hotwire bargain!) I found it easier to camp out at Nico for the afternoon after me and my five suitcases checked out of the hotel. I ate a lot of Nico’s delicious focaccia olive bread. You should too.
So…I think that about sums up my last few days/weeks in Chicago. I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll visit the city. But hopefully when I do, it won’t be MINUS FORTY DEGREES FAHRENHEIT. (Which also, coincidentally, is equal to minus forty degrees Celsius.) So goodbye Chitown. Thanks for all the beer.
P.S. That photo is from the Chicago Distilling Company in Logan Square. You should visit!
Yes, if you’re reading this Wednesday evening Chicago time, I have purchased a one-way ticket from Chicago to London and I’m somewhere in the sky right now.
My belongings sit in a container in a port somewhere in America, ready to depart. A lot of Americans I know think I’m crazy. (“Wait…you’re moving to London on Wednesday?” and “You don’t have anywhere to live??” and/or “You still don’t have a plane ticket?”) But my parents and Uncle George and Aunt Ursula and legions of taxi drivers across Chicago don’t think I’m crazy, and that says something now, doesn’t it?
Oh yeah, and that plane ticket problem? Obviously I solved it. Thank you, Internet, which allows you to purchase magic paperless tickets to and through the sky with bits of plastic at the last possible minute.
You know what the weird thing is…10 years ago on June 26, 2004, I published my first ever blog post on the then “Krista in London” site on Typepad.
If that’s not a crazy big sign from somewhere, I don’t know what is.
So yes London, I have come back for you.
P.S. I took that photo under the El tracks in Chicago at that point in Lincoln Park where Bissell dead-ends into a parking lot around North Avenue. Tunnel vision, for sure.
Bartenders at the Sazerac Bar at the Hotel Roosevelt
I had no set expectations of food in New Orleans. Drinks, sure. I thought everyone would be wandering around with Hurricanes. Also, I thought I’d see a lot of women taking their shirts off on balconies. (Do not Google Girls Gone Wild.) And a lot of Ann Rice fans dressed like vampires. Those were my preconceptions.
But actually, New Orleans was a lot better than I imagined. Very good actually. It has this old/new thing going on and I kinda liked that. Here’s where I ate and drank.
Sylvain, 625 Chartres St, French Quarter. Mary on Twitter recommended this dark and romantic little gastropub and we were glad she did. Great, personal service and nice food. Then again, I think we were all starving so we would have eaten anything. But really, this was very nice.
Emeril’s Delmonico, 1300 St Charles Ave, Garden District. I made a last minute OpenTable booking and figured that while we were in New Orleans, we might as well eat at an Emeril’s restaurant. This was the surprise of the trip. I loved my spiced duck and our server was funny and personable. Also, the space was gorgeous. I would go back here. And no one said Bam! Yes!
Acme Oyster House, 724 Iberville Street, French Quarter. I took myself on a little oyster tour of the French Quarter one night. I didn’t expect to like Acme Oyster House. It’s loud, there’s neon, and there is a huge queue to get in. Plus, it’s a little dirty. And they skipped over me in line multiple times while they seated parties of two. (I hate that. How many parties of two do you have to seat until you seat the solo diner?) But my server Pam was fantastic…a true veteran…and the baked oysters were garlicky and delicious. Thinking back on all the oysters I ate, these were my favorite. Hot, garlicky and pure unadulterated fun.
GW Fins, 808 Bienville Street, French Quarter: I waddled into GW Fins after Acme and appreciated the change of pace. GW Fins is large and airy and quiet and the bar was empty when I arrived. I ordered some smoked oysters, which arrived almost poached-like, the shells piping hot. I took my server’s recommendation on the wine and passed an enjoyable 45 minutes chatting away about restaurants in New Orleans. It was she that sent me to R’evolution next…
R’evolution, 777 Bienville Street, French Quarter. Dark and rich feeling. Everyone looked expensive and slightly famous. I sat next to a journalist and his wife, who’s skin had been preserved through the blessings of modern medicine perfectly and eerily well. R’evolution served me their fire roasted oysters, but I think they had been left too long to cool before they arrived. Either that or I was still thinking about those oysters at Acme. I liked the ambience of R’evoluton and the service and the wine list, but the oysters left me wanting. So too the Death by Gumbo I had the next day. (Why I went back twice, I will never understand.)
Verti Marte, 1201 Royal Street, French Quarter: The woman who had had all the plastic surgery done told me to get a Po’Boy at Verti Marte. She had seen Angelina Jolie there once. (“Her arms are like toothpicks.”) So I dropped in in between tours and ordered a fried oyster po’boy and the guy behind the counter looked at me like I was 1. crazy and 2. speaking a foreign language. They get zero points for service here, although the woman at the register was nice. The sandwich though was delicious. Five or six really fat fried oysters and some delicious sauce and salad on a pretty good baguette.
Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal Street, French Quarter. Everyone told me I would love it here. Everyone is wrong. This is a tourist trap. Sit on the carousel bar stools and watch the bar spin around. I left without ordering anything. Full of tourists.
Sazerac Bar at the Hotel Roosevelt, 123 Baronne Street. One of my favorite stops of the trip. I really loved the vibe and the fittings and the bar tender. Am I a sazerac fan? Probably not. But I still enjoyed my drink. Also full of tourists, but a different sort of tourist. Highly recommended.
At the end of my time in New Orleans, I found myself wishing I had more time to see and explore. It’s a unique American city. I put it up there with Boston and San Francisco as cities foreigners should really visit to get a sense of the different cultures of different places. You should go.
Somewhere in my late 30s, I became a fan of city tours. In the old days, I would just hang out with a guide book. But now, everywhere I go now, I look up all the city tours available and sign myself up for anything that sounds remotely interesting. BUT…the tour must be less than four hours long. I really lose interest at that point. Actually, I think that 2 hours and 30 minutes is my max…unless there is food and drink involved. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BE STUCK ON A TOUR BUS FOR FOUR TO EIGHT HOURS. Here’s who I toured with while I was in New Orleans.
Ghost & Vampire Combo, French Quarter Phantoms. NOT RECOMMENDED. First, you have to go to a totally sleazy pub to meet the tour group. Not my kind of place. I mean, I like a dirty bar, but this was just awful and unsafe feeling. Then, our tour guide, Tess, was the most boring tour guide ever. She seemed annoyed to be taking us around and was just reciting things. A good tour guide makes all the difference. Tess was not it. This group is a machine…there were three or four tours that went out at the same time, given the number of tourists. I wish I had one of the other tour guides and desperately wanted my time back at the end of the evening. I remember nothing. $20.
St. Louis Cemetery #1, Free Tours by Foot: Recommended. Great tour guide (Elizabeth B) who was passionate about New Orleans and knew all the stories. And it’s a free tour, so there’s that. (I gave her $35 at the end because she was really good and knowledgeable and passionate and interesting.) You get a little New Orleans history, a little Katrina, a little voodoo, a little religion, a little Nicolas Cage. The one thing for me is that after 90 minutes in the cemetery, I was ready for a chance in scenery. This is a HIGHLY focused tour. But still short in comparison to what else is out there. And still good and interesting.
Drink & Learn New Orleans: HIGHLY Recommended. I really loved this tour. Our tour guide was funny and informative. She had all sorts of great stories about New Orleans and its cocktails. PLUS…you get a saddle bag of cocktails at the beginning of the tour. That’s the schtick…drink your cocktail while Elizabeth tells you the history of New Orleans as you wander through the French Quarter. In contrast to French Quarter Phantoms, the bar you start and end at during this tour is quite pleasant. At $50, this tour was worth every penny.
So…those are my tours…I’ve neglected food and drink though and hope to get to it in a later post!