A Taste for Travel: Chicago

by Country Inns & Suites
Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chicago offers architecture, culture, history, professional sports and a variety of cuisine that is sure to please any palate.  Chicago is a foodie’s paradise. By Roberta Sotonoff
Chicago may have its famous Art Institute, perennially jinxed Cubs and soaring Willis Tower, but chic restaurants, hole-in-the-wall joints and famous specialties—pizza, steak, hot dogs, Eli’s cheesecake and Italian beef—make it a delicious dining destination.

A must for Friday dinner is Gibsons. Walls are lined with photos of famous diners like Michael Jordan and Bill Clinton, and the restaurant’s huge steaks are topped with any combination of blue cheese, onions, mushrooms or Cajun rub. Save room for sinful desserts like Eli’s calorific, cookie-crusted cheesecake or the Ode to the Whatchamacallit (a milk chocolate peanut butter mousse with malted caramel, milk chocolate cocoa crispies and a shot of a peanut butter milkshake) at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate.

Devote Saturday to foodie things around Michigan Avenue—the city’s people watching paradise. Renowned chefs give free cooking demonstrations at Bloomingdale’s Home and Furniture Store in the former Medinah Temple on Wabash.

Take a cooking class at Sur La Table (starting at US$69), where metal racks are piled high with everything from corn holders to croque en bouche. Don’t forget Chicago’s legendary housewares store, Crate & Barrel, only a few blocks away. Such activities beget hunger. Pop intoVosges Boutiquefor exotic truffles. Crave crunch? Garrett Popcorn Shopshas long lines, but it’s worth the wait.

Do pizza, hot dogs or Italian beef for lunch. Pizzeria Uno invented the deep-dish, cheesy stuff more than 60 years ago, and the cellar-like eatery with red-checkered tablecloths hasn’t changed much since then. Portillo’s is renowned for juicy hot dogs, warm buns, crispy fries and an over-the-top Chicago memorabilia interior, while Mr. Beef is a favorite for Italian beef. Jay Leno frequents the joint whenever he’s in Chi-Town.

Millennium Park is the perfect place to walk off some calories. Be awed by the changing video images on The Crown Fountain’s two 50-foot glass block towers, dazzled by the Frank Gehry–designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion and bemused by the giant reflective “Bean.”

For a romantic dinner, seek the sleek setting and cuisine at TRU. Waiters serve work-of-art entrees such as truffle free-form lobster, which are elegantly displayed on Austrian crystal and Versace-designed china (three-course prix fixe, US$95). Linger over an award-winning TRU dessert after dinner. Kitchen tours are available so you can see for yourself how the chefs prepare these delights. Literally top off the dreamy evening with after-dinner cocktails at The Signature Lounge. Admire its stunning panorama of Chicago and think—so much good food, so little time.

Roberta Sotonoff, a Chicago freelance writer and a confessed travel junkie, writes solely to support her habit.