Field Trip to Chicago!

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Whenever I’m home, I make it a point to sit back and appreciate that Chicago, one of the best cities in the world, is just an hour away. And while it is an hour away, and with it thousands of opportunities, I’ve been there just a handful of times in my entire life. And when we go, we go as tourists; mainly sticking to the downtown area and Navy Pier. That had to change. It just had to change. Luckily, my friend Lafayette, who I’ve known for close to…TEN (oh wow.) years, just moved down to the Second City, and was nice enough to show me the real Chi-Town. I had a BLAST.

Bon Appetit is one of my favorite magazines, and my reading library has been so backed up that I’ve only JUST finished the “Travel Issue” from months ago. It was a good thing too, since they wrote a great feature on Chicago that gave me a few ideas of where to go when I went to visit.

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First up was P.O.S.H. aka one of those vintage home goods stores that you thought only existed in your dreams. It’s located in a swanky part of town with all types of stores that appeal to the hipster in all of us. P.O.S.H. is one part vintage, one part European, and one part etsy-esque all rolled into a beautiful package with a tiny conservatory in the back. Vintage hotel silverware and dinnerware, adorable one-of-a-kind tea towels, milk glass mixing bowls, vintage market baskets,  letter-pressed cards with clever sayings on them, and more fill the many shelves and tables that fill this place. And there is definitely something for every single person that walks in. If you’re looking for a unique gift for someone that is fond of quality-made items that you just can’t find anymore, try P.O.S.H. I declared that I was not about to leave that store empty-handed under any circumstances (thanks for being patient, L) and walked away with two cute gray plaid dinner plates that were even on SALE.  Lafayette even scored a deal on some awesome vintage maps, so I’d say that it was win-win for all parties involved.

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Back in July when I was in New York, Eataly was at the top of my “must-see” list, but there were just too many other things I wanted to do (two pages worth in fact), that we never made it. When I was contemplating where to visit in Chicago, I made SURE that Eataly was on my (much shorter) list. And I have to say it: I was really disappointed. I don’t know, maybe I built it up too much, or maybe I was expecting something a little bit more authentic. Mario Batali once described his vision for Eataly as feeling like you’ve just stepped into a classic Italian piazza, but that’s not how I felt. I felt like I was in an upscale food mart. Don’t get me wrong, the surroundings were beautiful, and the smells mouth-watering, but it felt too gimmicky for me to really get into it. But don’t let this to deter you, go. Decide for yourself. It’s worth a visit to form an opinion at LEAST. Bottom line: I’m happy I went, but I don’t think I’ll go back. I still love you, Mario!

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One of the things I really like about Chicago is the architecture. To work up an appetite for lunch, Lafayette and I decided to take a walk around his neighborhood. I love any American city with European roots, and Chicago is no exception. We each picked out at least a dozen houses that we’d love to buy and live in. Someday, right? And another thing I’ve noticed? People in Chicago are actually….nice. What a concept, right? I think my years spent on the East Coast have hardened me, and I’ve forgotten my roots. People smile at you for no reason, and it feels so weird to me! In the Midwest, complete strangers talk to you like they’ve known you for ages. And honestly, when did friendliness become such a bad thing? I need to spend an extended amount of time in the place where everyone says “hello,” and the grocery stores are deserted because it’s Sunday and the Packers/Bears are on.

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I’m getting pretty into Wicker Park, a very trendy neighborhood in Chicago, and I think I have Birchwood Kitchen to blame! Since it was a Saturday, and since we were in a city, the only logical meal to have was brunch (obviously) and Lafayette picked the best place! If you asked me to describe Birchwood Kitchen in one word, that word would be: FRESH. Seriously. I have never tasted anything so pure and from the earth as I did eating those splendid roasted potatoes, and beautiful green salad! I ordered the Breakfast Sandwich, Lafayette ordered the Croque Vert, and each of us grew a little quieter as there really shouldn’t be so much talking when you’re concentrated on the piece of culinary art and deliciousness that is in front of you. The atmosphere is cozy, modern, and very inviting. The staff is young and friendly, and the food…well, it just couldn’t have been better. I plan on making many trips back to this place in the near future.

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I had a train to catch in a few hours, but I just can’t leave a new place without first checking out a popular bakery, and as soon as Lafayette casually mentioned the word “pie” it was settled. So off we went on the El, full as we were but not so full that we’d ever pass up pie, all the way to Logan Square to Bang Bang Pie Shop. When we walked in, the first thing I noticed was that everyone working behind the counter was a twentysomthing, and every single one of them looked like the coolest kids in Chicago. You want to be them, you want to make pies, you want to eat said pies, you just want to have it all. After reading the menu, and lamenting that the signature pie was already sold out, we decided on the French Silk, which was absolutely no one’s consolation prize (PIEze, if you will). The French Silk is a winner, and my new first choice. It’s everything that it should be: creamy, smooth, choclately rich without being so overwhelmingly rich that you get a tummy ache. AND THE CRUST. This pie actually brought a lasting smile to my face, for it has been quite a while since a bakery has really blown me away. And the feeling of discovering something new is really one of the best feelings. It was the best ending to a fantastic day trip.

 

I’ll be back, Chicago. You haven’t seen the last of me.

 

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