Chicago may have just dethroned New York as my favorite US city. I’m a big-city girl, and I gravitate towards places with tall buildings, people bustling about, and frenetic activity. Chicago is all of that and much more. It reminds me of a cleaner, friendlier New York. I’m in awe at how intelligently this city is designed. The buildings are architectural wonders: regal, magnificent, and tremendous come to mind. Chicago is a city that celebrates structure, every design has its purpose. A beautiful city that embraces the river. How admirable is that.
As my sister Charley and I walk through downtown Chicago, we pass by the original Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s, a 2-storey structure loaded with rock ”˜n’ roll memorabilia and an authentic 1958 Corvette in the seating area. This particular store was supposed to have been torn down last year to make way for a flagship store, but it’s still there. Ordering is on the first floor and there’s a dining room and gelato/coffee shop right above.
I’ve read that in order to subsidize the decor, this McDonald’s charges more than any other McDo. I can’t really say since I was just enthralled with all the eye candy. I am a tourist, you know.
Charley insists that we eat our first meal in Chicago at Fogo de ChÃ£o. The servers pronounce it “FO-go deh SHOWN,” but everyone else I’ve met in Chicago calls it “FO-go deh CHOW.” Whichever it is, it’s a Brazilian churrascaria: tableside service of 15 different cuts of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and the occasional sausage. There’s what seems to be a kilometer-long table of appetizers to get us started and three traditional side dishes of garlic mashed potatoes, fried polenta sticks, and fried plaintains.
Unless either Charley or I turn over our green-sided chip (GO!) to the red-side (STOP, have mercy!), the “gauchos” (good looking servers hoisting skewers of juicy meat) will continue the meat parade to our table. My favorite cuts are the lamb chop and the rump roast, which has a soft center surrounded by crispy fat. I bite into it and the juices ooze like a wave, setting off a smokey tinge. It’s all just too much and too good.
Fogo de ChÃ£o
661 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois 60610
everybody wants popcorn
My other sister, Tricia, comes to Chicago annually, so of course she gave me a whole list of foodie things she likes to do when she’s in the city. One of those things was to have popcorn at Garrett’s, famous for their CaramelCrispÂ® and CheeseCornâ„¢.
If a long line is any indication, then Chicagoans love their popcorn. The line was out the door and snaking around the tiny store. But the workers are efficient and Charley and I only have to wait 20 minutes to get our little 4-ounce bag of caramel popcorn. One of the people behind the counter tells me that I can’t take photos inside the store but, “… you can take photos from outside, if you’d like.” The result:
Garrett’s Popcorn is good, but I don’t know if I’d line up again for something that tastes just as good as Poppycock or caramel popcorn that I can make myself. Next time, I’ll have someone line up for me. Heehee.
Sometimes I think I’m just a kid when it comes to dessert, so being inside the Hershey’s store in Chicago makes me think I’ve found my playground. Located on the Magnificent Mile, this 3,600 square foot interactive retail experience is stacked with Hershey’s candies and products and novel gifts and souvenirs found only here. I was particularly delighted with the “Hershey-ized” bake shoppe with lots of cupcakes, cookies and brownies made with Hershey’s products of course. It’s sweet delirium.
And the little girl says, “I want the green cupcake.”
Hershey’s Chicago website
It’s my mission to visit some of Chicago’s best bakeries. Chicagoland netizens are in consensus that Sweet Mandy B’s currently holds the best bakery crown, so off Charley and I went.
Sweet Mandy B’s is the sweetest thing. Named after the owner’s children, the bakery is done in a light blue with diner stools at the counter and upside down cups and saucers serving as lighting. Smart! I smile at the signs positioned around the place: “Desserts: too much of a good thing is wonderful,” and “No sad songs sung here.” I’ll say. There’s a casual pile of cookbooks here, many of which I have on my shelf at home.
The servers/bakers behind the counter at Sweet Mandy B’s look like college kids having a lot of fun. They wield metal spatulas and are busy frosting cakes. They’re sweet and answer my endless questions. I guess you’d be sweet too if you were around sweet things all day.
After what seems like dessert purgatory, I decide on a simple vanilla cupcake with green buttercream frosting. The fluffiness of the cake is a good backdrop for the sugariness of the frosting. One bite and I unfold. The hot chocolate however, is a supreme disappointment. It’s hot brown water. Still, I love this place.
Sweet Mandy B’s
1208 W. Webster Avenue,
Chicago, IL 60614
The Cheesecake Factory (TCF) has “TOURIST-Y!” screaming all over it, and that’s not such a bad thing. I couldn’t get into the one at Union Square because of the crowds. It’s a great place to bring large groups, especially out-of-towners and have them gape at the massiveness of it all ”“ both the number of menu items and the portion sizes. I come for the cheesecake. Last time I was here, I ordered the chocolate chip cookie dough variant. This time, I’ve still got cookie dough on the brain, so I order the chocolate peanut butter cookie dough cheesecake and the white chocolate chunk macadamia nut. My tita orders the 6-carb original cheesecake made with Splenda. While I scoff at anything sugar-free, that one wasn’t bad at all.
Cheesecakes here at TCF are your typical New York-style, dense and packed full of flavor. The peanut butter cheesecake is a surprise ”“ at first I’m starting to get disappointed because it’s all cheesecake, and then I bite into a ball of sticky dough, which is threatening to tape my teeth shut. Ooey-gooey-sticky-ooh good.
Food Flight of Fancy: Chicago (conclusion)