Far-off Feature : Chicago

Oh, Chicago. New York’s Midwestern sibling city has a lot in common with the Big Apple, from the urban expanses overlooking bodies of water, to beautiful sprawling parks, to both being components of the Frankenstein-ish patchwork that was Gotham City in the more recent Batman movies. Visiting it recently, it was fascinating to see a place that felt so similar to New York while also being undeniably different – maybe it’s the slightly more open nature of its downtown area compared to Manhattan’s, or the distinctly cleaner subway system, or the supplanting of my ears’ baseline New York accent with the flatter, friendlier Chicagoan one, but whatever the case, everything seemed novel and interesting to me.

So naturally, that meant I had to go looking for ways to stuff my face.

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I’m an absolute sucker for anything that has disturbing amounts of sausage, tomato sauce, and butter.

Now, the absolute biggest culinary draw for me upon visiting the Windy City was have some genuine-article Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. While some native New Yorkers might have some… let’s say, opinions about the status of these cheese-laden monstrosities as actual pizza, but I’m an absolute sucker for anything that has disturbing amounts of sausage, tomato sauce, and butter. Giordano’s product is apparently a bit more chain-y than many of the more local secrets in the area that I’m sure exist, but the massive burst of savory goodness and rich flavors that were to be had here were plenty enough for me. It definitely felt more like some sort of weird amalgam of cake and lasagna than actual pizza, but it’s a good thing that this stuff is 700 miles away from me on a regular basis because otherwise I’d be roughly a billion pounds from eating this nonsense all the time.

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At the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM, you just pop in some money, and out comes a cupcake in a lovely little box.

By contrast, the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM is an exercise in bizarre accessibility to extremely heavy food. It works exactly as you’d think it would – just pop in some money, and out comes a cupcake in a lovely little box. Unfortunately, it was empty when I arrived, so I had to make the (not-at-all) difficult decision to go inside and pick amongst the freshly made ones that awaited on some dramatically-lit wooden racks. With locations around the entire country (NYC included), these guys have a decade of cake-making experience behind them and it shows in every little morsel of sugary goodness.  I opted for a chocolate marshmallow cupcake, embracing my inner Ding Dong, I guess.

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With a fast rotation of showcased beans,  we were still able to experience a lot of different brews in the few days that we were around to sample.

Intelligentsia’s Chicago location next to Millenium Park was absolutely beautiful and had a lovely modern decor that contrasted pretty substantially against the more traditional and arcane aesthetic of the Manhattan location that I recently visited, next to the High Line Park in New York City. With an equally fast rotation of showcased beans,  a certain EdPsychLover and I were still able to experience a lot of different brews in the few days that we were around to sample. Persephone, the spring blend of house coffee, was fairly approachable and tart, though perhaps with a little bit too long of a grape skin aftertaste to me; I preferred the Chemex preparation of the Tres Santos Colombian-origin coffee, which was instead much brighter, keeping a fresh sweetness that didn’t overstay its welcome on the tongue. All good stuff.

Julius Meinl Coffee took a more oldschool approach to the café experience, porting to the States a tried-and-true Viennese formula tracking back through five generations of European food purveyors of varying levels of sketchiness. With an aggressively dark Italian roast that punched me in the face with notes of cinnamon and burnt sugars, I was extremely glad I had a borderline-cloyingly sweet chocolate macaroon to cut through the bitterness. I forget that this kind of thing is what most people think of when they hear the word “espresso” – much fewer fresh subtleties and an assertive intensity that wakes you up as much through the shock to the senses as much as through the espresso inside. (Though, there’s less caffeine in darker roasts – more on that another time.)

All in all, Chicago left a really positive impression on me – the downtown region is full of a lot of culinary, cultural, and architectural excitement that I’d love to go back to again and explore even deeper. The hidden secrets of the Windy City, though, especially the smaller espresso places and restaurants in the more remote parts of the city are probably even better than the ones in the more touristy locations just like they are in New York. And I hope that I (and everyone reading this!) get to see those gems at some point in the future.

Until next time!

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