by Greg Mayer
Jerry will be returning later today (note– the time stamp on these posts is Pacific time, so it’s already Wednesday here in the vicinity of Chicago) to resume full WEIT duties, and I’m sure he will regale us with paeans to, and pictures of, the plethora of pleasures of the palate of which he partook on the plains. But till then, I want to show you what he was missing.
My wife and I recently went on a walking tour of the culinary hotspots of the Gold Coast, Old Town, and Lincoln Park neighborhoods organized by Chicago Food Planet. Our guide was a moonlighting graduate student, and teaching undergraduates is probably good preparation for handling hungry tourists. We began at Ashkenaz, a Jewish (but not Kosher) deli in the Gold Coast, where we had patsrami reubens, garnished with Ashkenaz’s own store-made dressing.
Our next stop was Tea Gschwendner, a shop we already frequented, which sells loose teas and brewing accessories. The ground up tea-dust that goes into bag tea was compared (unfavorably) to loose tea, while we sampled an unsweetened, fresh-brewed, iced tea.
We moved on to the Spice House, with a huge selection of spices and herbs, especially pre-made mixtures. The dozens (?hundreds) of varieties on the shelves were accompanied by taster-shakers– we could shake a sample on to our hands, and then taste it. You had to lick especially hard between varieties, to cleanse the palate (or hand).
Next up was Old Town Oil, featuring olive oils and balsamic vinegars, all stored in large metal canisters, with tasting cups to allow shoppers to sample the wares. When purchasing, the oil or vinegar is decanted from the canisters into bottles, which are then sealed.
After the savory oils and vinegars, it was a big switch to the sweets at the Fudge Pot.
Delightful Pastries, a European (especially Polish) style bakery, had both sweet and savory items. We sampled the kolaczski. Here are some sweets: eclairs and cannoli.
Finally, we ended up at Bacino’s in Lincoln Park, for stuffed crust pizza. This was very good (though the lower crust served more to hold the filling in than add to the flavor), but, as a New Yorker, it wasn’t pizza.
In addition to bringing us to the various food emporia, our guide provided a lot of interesting city history and architectural details. The information went both ways– I told her, a Lincoln Park resident, about Steve Goodman and the Lincoln Park Pirates. We walked by, and learned the story of the original Playboy Mansion.
We also walked by the side door of the Near North Side home that served as the entrance to the restaurant where, in 1986, Ferris Bueller usurped the luncheon reservation of Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chicago.
There’s no shopping during the tour (it would slow things down too much), but we did make purchases that same day of tea, oil, vinegar, spices, and knishes at various of the places we visited. All provided discount coupons to tour participants. While on the tour, my favorites were the reuben at Ashkenaz, and the pizza at Bacino’s, but that’s probably because those were the two most lunch-like elements of the middle-of-the-day walk. Jerry has said that, as a real Chicagoan, he’ll let me know what he thinks of the places we went. Chicago Food Planet also does tours of Chinatown and Bucktown/Wicker Park–I think we’ll try these on another trip down.