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City Spotlight: Eat & Drink Like a Local – Chicago Bound

Posted By Elaine Lok, Monday, September 29, 2014
Updated: Thursday, September 25, 2014

City Spotlight: Eat & Drink Like a Local – Chicago Bound By Amanda Bye 

The AAO and OPS yearly meeting is right around the corner. Excitement and anticipation builds for yet another great educational meeting in one of the most beautiful cities by a lake, Chicago. As we all begin to register for courses, prepare PowerPoint lectures, and organize travel plans, I encourage everyone to a take moment and think with your stomach - day dream a little about the culinary delights Chicago has to offer. Did the ideas of deep dish pizza, Chicago Style Hot Dogs, five star steakhouses, and authentic Italian restaurants cross your mind? For those who have never been to Chicago, these are all delightful, tasty, and well marketed icons of the Chicago restaurant scene.

However, since this is not the first OPS annual meeting to be held in Chicago, I want to expose you to the culinary underbelly that boasts some of the greatest tastes the city has to offer. This year I encourage you to eat and drink like a local. 

A whole dissertation could be written about the variety of restaurants and bars in the Chicagoland area. I will narrow it down to three things I like to do when I entertain out-of-town visitors: brunch, beer, and dinner. 

Let’s begin with a Chicago staple, brunch. Not quite breakfast and not quite lunch; brunch offers a budget-friendly dining option in any city and more importantly, breakfast options past ten o’clock in the morning. Located on Michigan Avenue, just up the street from McCormick Place convention center, is Yolk: a tasty delight that specializes in - you guessed it - eggs. Sunny side up, scrambled, or drenched in hollandaise, this is a great way to start the day. Two blocks west of Yolk is Eleven City Diner. A Jewish-style diner, known for its delicatessen, with Bubbi inspired recipes including challah French toast (not for the faint of heart), hearty omelets, and a good selection of brunch cocktails. If breakfast is not what you crave, I highly recommend the matzo ball soup and the corned beef sandwich. Prepare to leave stuffed and with a smile on your face.

Heading over to the West Loop of the downtown area is the sister restaurant to Girl and the Goat, The Little Goat Diner. This place serves breakfast all day long and for a good reason. From oatmeal to eggs, pancakes and pastries, this diner takes breakfast to the next level and uses ingredients from neighboring farms. I recommend starting with the jumbo cinnamon roll to share 
and, no matter what you eat, be sure to get a side of bacon and a Bloody Mary (homemade spicy tomato juice and garnished with a goat cheese stuffed olive). The Little Goat Diner is also open late, has a great dinner menu and a creative selection of cocktails.

Moving on to my second favorite meal of the day, beer. After a long day of conferences, it’s nice to meet up with friends, relax, and discuss the day’s activities over a tasty brew. Luckily, Chicago has more than a few spots that meet this criteria. Goose Island, Revolution, Haymarket, and Half Acre are great beer drinking destinations in the city. Goose Island Beer Co. is the most well-known brewery in Chicago with a quality beer selection ranging from the classic 312 beers to the Bourbon County brewed ales. 

Revolution Brewery has a great selection of beers, from the Double Fist double pale ale to my favorite the Rosa Hibiscus Ale. On a personal note, the floral notes on this beer make it a perfect choice for making beer can chicken. Throw a couple cloves of garlic in the can and enjoy the results!

Next on the tour is the Haymarket Brewery, in the West Loop (fyi, the West Loop has great restaurants), and is a great place to drink and feast on pub fare. Half Acre Beer Company is another personal favorite. The Daisy Cutter Pale Ale is a must try. All drinking and no solid food makes for a very short evening out on the town; therefore we must continue on to the dinner portion.

Dinner in Chicago is second to none. Here are a few of my top recommendations for dinner. Continuing on the beer theme, The Duke of Perth is a true Scottish pub located in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. It has Belhaven beer on tap and is best known for the wide variety of whiskey and fish-and-chips (all you can eat on Friday evenings). This is a great local hangout. The Farmhouse is a farm-to-table restaurant featuring seasonal entrées, vegetables, and craft beers. All main courses are delicious and expertly prepared; if the Amish chicken is available, do not pass on that option. Indulge yourself with the beer battered Wisconsin cheese curds or the in-house jerky and roasted nuts.

Davanti Enoteca is my top choice for Italian food in the River North section of Chicago. Rustic Italian cuisine in shareable small plate format. The ricotta and honeycomb, pan seared octopus, and the sea urchin and crab linguine are not to be overlooked. For something with spicier edge, I love the Costa Rican flavors of restaurant Irazu, and the Cuban deliciousness of 90 Miles Cuban Café.

Jaipur, located in the West Loop (see the trend?) is an Indian restaurant serving the classic entrées of mutter paneer, lamb vindaloo, and some of the best nan. It’s second to “nan”! Ethiopian Diamond is a true gem. If it is your first time in an Ethiopian restaurant, definitely try the sambusas and a tour or taste of Ethiopia. The combination plates of vegetables and meats cooked with cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, and ginger is a happy dance for the taste buds. They are also known for their housemade honey wine and selection of African beers.

Lastly, because Chicago is a pizza town and I cringe when tourists say how much they love some of the bigger franchises, I will give two names: For deep dish, Pequod’s is where true Chicagoan’s enjoy pizza and beer. As for thinner crust, Neapolitan-style pizza, Coalfire. You’re welcome. 

Chicago has something special for every palate, craving, and budget. Coming from my experience as a frequent traveler, the best part of traveling is enjoying the culinary delights every city has to offer. Would anyone pass on a salmon dinner in Alaska, sushi in San Francisco, steak in Texas, or barbeque in Kansas City? You get my point. Take the time to venture out during this Chicago meeting, by bus, train, or taxi, to satisfy your hunger and enjoy local delights.

By Amanda Bye, CRA

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