Food Tour: Chicago

I love food. And this makes trying to eat clean all the time, really difficult.  I like to try new things and it’s hard to restrict yourself especially when you are in a new place and doing a lot of walking and other exercise.  So, I do my best to add in a salad with each meal, no soda and no alcohol and lots of walking so I feel good about what I’ve eaten.

Sean & I arrived in Chicago Friday afternoon after both of our flights being delayed.  We took the L to downtown, checked into our hotel and then relaxed a bit before heading out for dinner.  It was about 9pm after we did our run, got changed, etc. so we asked the front desk for some recommendations for good, Chicago food that didn’t require us to be dressed up – lol.

Stop #1: Lou Malnati’s

We ended up at Lou Malnati’s off of State St.  When we arrived, they said there was a 45 min wait so we put our name on the list, gave my cell phone number for the text alert and then went to see if there was anything else near by with a shorter wait.  But to our surprise it only took about 10 minutes for our table to come up so in we went.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is the Flagship location for them which is probably one of many reasons why they were so busy at that time of night.  Both of us love pizza so we wanted to have try the signature deep dish, but it takes a bit to prepare, so we started out with a Malnati’s Salad, which is Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, mushrooms, Volpi salami bits and gorgonzola cheese with our Sweet Vinaigrette and romano cheese.  We 86’d the black olives and tried to have the cheese on the side, but our server forgot that gorgonzola was a cheese, oops.

We also ordered The “Lou” for our pizza.  It’s a spinach mix, mushrooms, roma tomatoes covered in cheese.  We both love veggies so this was a perfect fit for us. We got the small size, which was 4 pieces, just big enough for us.  The crust was pretty good, I’m really picky about good pizza crust and I’m not normally a fan of deep dish because the crust is either too doughy or too crispy.  This one was good, a little too crisp for me in the spots that didn’t have toppings, but overall it was good.

Lastly, because it’s not a meal without dessert, we got the Chocolate Chip Pizza.  The cookie portion was really good, but in my opinion there was a little too much ice cream and whipped cream, it kind of took away from the cookie.

Lou Malnati's, Chicago, The Lou, Deep Dish Pizza, Chocolate Chip Cookie Pizza, Malnati Salad

Stop #2 – Pleasant House Bakery

After running to the Chicago Marathon expo to pick up Sean’s packet, we were only a few miles from Pleasant House so I asked really nicely if he would walk over there with me.  It was about a 3 mile walk, oops, but it turns out that we walked a few miles of the race, around mile 20.5 or so.  I found Pleasant House online looking for inexpensive healthy eats online and they came up for their kale & mushroom pie.  They hand make their pies and grow as much produce as possible at their farm, which was really cool to me.  It’s definitely a hole in the wall, we literally almost walked right by, because we couldn’t tell #1 if they were open and #2 where the front door was.

They have had a ton of press, but it was not super busy when we were there, it felt really homey.  You order your food at the counter, they have a chalkboard menu and a special of the day, along with a few house made sodas available for order.  We ordered 2 “Royal Pies”, the Kale & Mushroom, since that’s why we wanted to go there to begin with, and then I asked what she would recommend and she said that the Steak & Ale was their biggest seller, so we tried that too.  We also got a Pleasant Farms Salad and I initially ordered water, but then saw a sign for a Ginger Fizz, their home made, real ginger ale, Sean got a root beer, but it wasn’t house made.

The pies, were so good, the crust was soft but flakey, not soggy at all as some pies can be.  The Steak & Ale was a super yummy, it tasted almost like sloppy joes, I guess would be the closest thing I can think of.  The kale & mushroom was a bit more like a thick mushroom soup.

Now the Ginger Fizz, they had it on tap so they put some in a glass, but the fizz was so much, that they had to let it sit for a few minutes before they could continue to fill up the glass.  I think it took about 10 minutes for it to be ready.  But it was so worth it.  It wasn’t sweet at all, but you definitely got the real ginger zing that is so good.

You bus your own tables here and they will bring the food to you.  It was definitely worth the walk and we didn’t feel overly full afterwards either.  At $7.95 each for the pies and salad, I felt like that was a decent amount of food for not a lot of money.

Pleasant House Bakery, Chicago, Royal Pie, Kale & Mushroom, Steak & Ale, Ginger Fizz, Pleasant Farms Salad

Stop #3 Glazed and Infused

We just happened to see this little donut shop as we were walking back to the hotel after snacking at Pleasant House.  It was around 4:30pm give or take, so they didn’t have their full selection, Sean really wanted to try the maple bacon, but they were out.  So I had a glazed seedling apple cider and he had a chocolate with chocolate curls.  I ate my whole donut that evening, while Sean ate half then and the other half before the marathon.

The donuts are $3 each but decently sized.  I didn’t feel like mine was overly sweet even with the glaze.

Glazed & Infused, donuts, chocolate, apple cider, chicago

Stop #4 Quartino

We were a bit late, yet again on our way out to dinner, so after searching yelp & open table to see what was available.  Well not much at that time, big surprise, Saturday night in the city, the day before the marathon.  Oops.  So we started walking up State St to see what was available and we crossed the street at Quartino and asked to see if there was any space, well they were able to seat us outside.  It wasn’t horribly cold, although it wasn’t warm either, but it was open so we said sure.  As they were seating us, I noticed that they were cleaning off another table that was a bit more sheltered by the building so I asked if we could have that table, which was perfect.  It made it a lot warmer than if we were out in the open, because they didn’t have heaters out there, which was a bit odd, but ok.

Quartino serves most of their entrees in a tapas style so they are small and perfect for sharing.  They also bring the food out as soon as it is ready so they definitely recommend sharing.  We were pretty hungry and Sean wanted to do a bit of carb loading 🙂 so we tried the following.

A spinach salad (I love spinach and I really dislike iceberg lettuce which is used a lot in regular salads), it had pear, walnuts and it said ricotta, but it tasted more like a parmesan.

Margherita Pizza – basic but my fav 🙂 Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce, & Sweet Basil

My absolute favorite of all our tastes was the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese which is just a traditional meat sauce, but it tasted just like in Italy, light and no overly seasoned.

We also tried the gnocchi which was in a pesto sauce, we think there might have been a bit of asparagus in the pesto as well which is a little different.

Our least favorite entree was a Rigatoni with Tuscan Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash, House-Made Pancetta, & Ricotta Salata – it wasn’t bad, just I’m not a huge fan of the butternut squash so that might have been a part of it.  Or maybe we were so full from all the other things we ate lol.

Even though we had to eat outside, I would totally go back to Quartino again, and from the number of people with reservations and waiting for tables, it definitely was a hot place.

Quartino, Chicago, Spinach Salad, Gnocchi, Pesto, Tagliatelle Bolognese, Margarita Pizza, Rigatoni

Stop #5 Portillo’s Hot Dogs

We didn’t get breakfast on Sunday morning because of the race.  I didn’t even have a chance to get coffee as I raced from spot to spot to try to see Sean so we decided to hit up a spot that my Chicago friends told me about.

This definitely seemed like the place to be after the race, there were tons of runners with their medals & bibs on.  I got in line to get a hot dog & an Italian beef while Sean got us a salad.  He got the salad in like 2 minutes, it took me almost 40 minutes to get my order.  I’m thinking that was the Italian beef that took so long…

But once we finally got our order, the hot dog was totally worth the wait!  It was amazing!  I don’t eat hot dogs often (just at the ballpark) but this was a great one.  We got the jumbo dog with everything but onions, which means it had mustard, relish, tomato, a kosher pickle and peppers like the ones you can get at steak and shake lol except fresh.  It was amazing.

The Italian beef was good, but way too much beef for us, I ate half of the sandwich, and I thought that was more than plenty.  The salad was good too, although we should have gotten the dressing on the side because it was way over dressed.

Next time, hot dogs & salad only :).

Portillo's, Chicago, Hot Dog, Italian Beef, Spinach Salad

Stop #6 Magnolia Bakery

This wasn’t planned but we happened to see it on our way to the Bean and since I had a Magnolia Bakery cupcake after running NYC Marathon last year, we figured we should have one here too to commemorate Sean’s race too.

I had an apple cider cupcake and he had pumpkin with cream cheese frosting.  I said this and it’s going to sound funny, but I really enjoyed my cupcake, the cake was really flavorful, the icing wasn’t super sugary and was really light.  I would have loved it if I hadn’t tasted the pumpkin one.  The cream cheese frosting was AMAZING!! It really made that cupcake, so flavorful and rich.

You can never go wrong with cupcakes :).

Magnolia Bakery, Cupcakes, Pumpkin, cream cheese frosting, apple cider

Stop 7: Sushi Taiyo

We weren’t sure what we wanted for dinner but as we walked back to the hotel, it was starting to rain and we decided to just get some sushi because it was easy and the restaurant wasn’t overly packed, although it really filled up after we got there.

We had 2 different salads, a Ginger Salad & a Seaweed salad, both of which were great, the ginger salad was huge!! Way bigger than I was expecting.  And then we had 2 rolls, one, my favorite, soft shell crab and then a Honey roll which is albacore, cucumber and sesame honey sauce rolled in tempura crumbs.

Everything was great, it felt good to eat a lot of veggies but nothing super special.  That came next 😉

Sushi Taiyo, Chicago, Ginger Salad, Seaweed Salad, Honey Roll, Spider Roll

Stop 8: Pierrot Gourmet at the Peninsula Hotel

Pierrot Gourmet ended up being our last stop on the food tour.  After finishing our sushi & salad we yelped for a place to go for dessert and this came up.  Since we both love creme brulee we thought it would be perfect.  We got there about 20 minutes before they closed, walked in and saw so many amazing looking desserts.  It was a hard decision but we decided on the following:

A vanilla bean creme brulee with fresh berries, a fruit tarte with an almond frangipane and carmelized fruit and I choose 2 macaroons, Caramel Fleur Du Sel & Strawberry Mascarpone but the server brought the caramel, a nutella and an almond one – he did end up bringing the strawberry one but we ended up with a few extra.

Of the desserts, the creme brulee was by far the best, although it did have a stronger egg taste to it.  The macaroons were super soft, but they were also super sweet, I had one bite of each to try them but didn’t go back for seconds on any of them.

A great way to end our food tour.

Pierrot Gourmet, Chicago, The Penisula, Macaroons, Cappucino, Fruit Tarte, Creme Brulee, Dessert

I would recommend any of these restaurants, especially Quartino and Portillo’s for the Hot Dogs.  We had a great time eating our way thru Chicago and I can’t wait until our next vacation to see what new things we can try. Buon Appetito!

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