Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Becoming My Own Favorite Kind of Tourist

So I'm pretty sure we've established this but I am a food-ish blogger. Sometimes recipes, sometimes pictures, always things that come back to what makes me hungry to think about. I also work with mostly food clients at a large PR firm. My particular position allows for me to read and work with a lot of food bloggers. It's a dream scenario but also one that requires a bit of a thoughtful approach.

Like, for instance, telling you that the Mushroom Council is a client when I write about mushrooms even though my love for them predates most things, least of which being my tenure at Edelman. I will also tell you sometime soon that Velveeta was my first major project with the company and as it turns out it makes incredible fudge. I have no issues disclosing but I also don't tend to address those projects much around here because that's my work life, I'm proud of it but it's personal. Keeping it separate is simpler most of the time. I don't accept many pitches for the same reason.

Then Chicago Food Planet Food Tours contacted me about taking one of their neighborhood food tours. This one I took. With enthusiasm (squealing glee). A tour about food. Let me check the calendar and charge my camera.

I'm a big fan of Chicago, our eating scene in particular. To Kiss the Cook was lucky enough to get featured in Gaper's Block last week and you can read me going on and on about Chicago restaurants etc there (Be warned, the picture is cheesy and I do not babble less). That was awesome, by the way (thanks, Whitney!). This place is magic and while I may not always live here, I will remember why I did.

Wicker Park has been home for a few years and has won my heart many times over. When i saw that Bucktown/Wicker Park was an option for tours, I decided it would be a test to how well I knew the food in my own backyard. When I found out Brad and Kat (more on Kat later in the week) were coming in from New York for the weekend, I also figured this would be the perfect time to lure them away from Brooklyn in a more permanent sense with especially delicious bait.

This is our tour guide Ben. Ben is the single perkiest person I have ever met. Ever. And I work in PR. Seriously energetic and clearly crazy about his job. The "why" isn't exactly a mystery.

The bait for Brad and Kat began here...George's Hot Dog Stand. I've passed this place dozens of times (on my way to both the Map Room and Coast). Jaimeson was on a plane headed this way and I could hear his voice in my head going "Best restaurants in the city- owned by Greeks!" Hellenism for the win.

He brings people to this a few times a week. This being the classic Chicago dog. A bun with Vienna hot dog, a dill pickle, onion, sweet relish, tomatoes, peppers, celery salt, and mustard. I had not had one in a year. I ate it with gusto. Kat and Brad ate theirs with gusto as well once they established how to get a little bit of everything in each bite. This place has been around for north of 60 years because OPA! that is a hot dog.

Next on our tour was one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, Hot Chocolate. I think Mindy and Mark are brilliant, find the food understated and their commitment to local ingredients admirable. We each had the "Medium" with molten milk chocolate and a homemade marshmallow. Brad just about wanted to bathe in it. I feel like Kat may not have objected.

Would you object to a significant other bathed in this? (pause for surely PG thoughts)
Didn't think so.

Next up was The Goddess and the Grocer. How you see it above is how I typically do. Delicious but so crowded with pricey strollers that I usually give up and go home to make my own fancy pasta salad.

That said? Their fancy pasta salad is better than I've gotten mine to be. And they have a small, fabulous wine selection. And a lot of very happy looking shelves of bright candies and other goodies. So what I'm really saying as that I'm motivated to try coming in off-peak hours, charm the staff and steal their pasta salad recipe while buying beautifully wrapped chocolates. Pre-gourmet grocer life, the owner was a caterer for touring bands. If they start a show called "Life Swap," I'll be at the open call.

Brad. Ben. Bros.
Off to Piece! New Yorkers. Eating and Enjoying pizza in Chicago. You saw it here first. (alright, maybe not first but notable none the less). We also got samples of the house-brewed beauty known as Golden Arm. The original by Nelson Algren was based in the neighborhood and I pass his house on the way to the farmer's market. Have I mentioned how much I love this neighborhood?
I have? OK, then just look at this pizza.The brewpizzeria is also owned by a member of Cheap Trick. Yes, that Cheap Trick. Surrender.

Now at this point I have members of my party who went from not having eaten anything for 12 odd hours that included cocktails to eating a Chicago dog, a molten chocolate bar, fancy pasta salad, pizza and beer. 1-400 mph in an hour and a half. You may be compelled to starve yourself ahead of your food tour but let this be a cautionary tale- you're better off having a light breakfast because otherwise you may not feel so grand. The last two stops were Sultan's Market and i Cream. We didn't make it. I'm giving my thoughts anyway:

I love Sultan's Market. It's tied for favorite falafel in the city for me (with Semiramis). I took serious advantage of their Groupon a while back and will continue to love them. I have promised Kat and Brad to take them back so they can use their awesome coupons. If I can find them an apartment in one of the gorgeous houses on Hoyne St, they'll be right down the street from hot falafel sandwiches and shwarma whenever they'd like it.

As for i Cream, it's the lovechild of an ice cream man and a chemist. Jaimeson is the resident ice cream lover so it would have been a bummer to do this without him anyway. Now that he's home, we're walking over for a treat so we know what all the buzz is about (it's just up Milwaukee from us).

So the recap: I'm doing this every time I have visitors from now on. They were kind enough to comp me two tickets but we bought another one so we could all go and I would easily pay full price. Between restaurants (they change regularly), Ben stopped and told us about the history of the neighborhood, trends in architecture and pointed out other favorite eateries (have I mentioned how perky he was? That guy is high on life). Which means for around $45 you get three hours of hands of historic Chicago neighborhood touring, six restaurants, the best eating the neighborhood has to offer and a page of coupons for every spot you visit. You can book a Bucktown and Wicker Park Food Tour by clicking here, they are year round.

My friends were in town for a day and a half, we had dinner party plans that evening and I still got to show them four of my favorite restaurants and my neighborhood. Now I want to take Jaimeson next weekend. Then my parents and brother. Then Susie and Chels. And every other food blogger/eater that comes to visit. Also, I want to become a guest docent and help give tours on the weekends.

This is another reason I don't take too many pitches. When I do, I gush.


Molls said...

This is the best idea I have ever heard!!! I love it!

TKTC said...

Come visit from Ohio- we will do it again! I think they also do one in Old Town which excites me.

Amanda @ Cakes and Ale said...

I walk past George's all the time too but have never been... adding it to my list!

Oh, and Piece? To die for.

TKTC said...

George's has kicked off a craving bender that my metabolism can't keep up with. So far I've been able to stave it off saying I can take J over the weekend but it. has. been tough. And yes, Piece gets the automatic win for doing everything right, including Live Band Karaoke.

cityretreat said...

OMG - I loooovvveee this post, this project, the whole thing! What fun. I think I'm going to have to recreate this. And a perfect experience for visitors. Thanks for sharing!!