Eating My Way Through the Midwest With Chicago Food Planet

The Canon 50mm f.1.2 L Series Lens excels in this type of food photography.

Chicago is a place where the portions a large, but the flavours are right when it comes to American classics this city is the money. Taking Mom to Chicago meant that I would need to enlist the expertise of a tour group that knew the little places outside of the tourist traps along Michigan Street; hence, Chicago Food Planet. For about $40 you travel along with a group of about a dozen other foodies and get taken through a local neighbourhood’s hotspots for tastings. We began with a classic Chicago dog at George’s Hot Dogs in Bucktown. The hot dog is spiced up with a touch of celery salt, mustard, a slice of dill pickle, fresh tomatoes and onions. Great dog!

Next on the docket was a nice goat cheese and organic vegetable salad at The Goddess and The Grocer, which was somewhere that we happened upon the day before, at another location, but still the same high quality food. Think of it as a place where work-weary yuppies stop for pre-cooked food on the way home. Good, but not my style.

At Hot Chocolate, a restaurant run by Mindy Segal, we were treated to a cup of cold chocolate and an artisan marshmallow. Very rich and real. The vibe of the restaurant felt quite American avante-garde, but limited in the scope of what it produced in terms of originality. What it does it does best, and that is fair. If I were really hardcore into chocolate, then I could see why Hot Chocolate would be one of my first stops in Chicago.

Piece is a Chicago thin-crust pizza. Typical high-quality pies with some decent beers on tap. If I were travelling to Chicago, then I would go the tourist route and hit one of the tourist-trap deep-dish places. Was it good? Yes. Was it great? Nah, but the tour visit was fun. As for the other places – iCream and the Lebanese falafel place – they would be great if you had not grown up surrounded by excellent Lebanese restaurants on Prince Edward Island and in Montreal.

Overall, the tour was absolutely fabulous. Our guide, Lauren, kept us on time and provided insightful thoughts about the historical and current Wicker Park and Bucktown. I would highly recommend giving Chicago Food Planet tours a try at the first of your visit as a way to feel comfortable with the city. Pick a neighbourhood and just go along for the ride, as no matter how accomplished a traveller you are the tour is about much more than just following the trail to the same restaurants on your own. In fact, I would argue that you would waste a day going it alone, and you would never get the same huge portioned “tastings”. It was certainly well worth the price of $40 plus at least a $10 tip to the guide.

Taken with my new iPhone 4 - a great way to take snapshots without the big camera.

One place that I would not miss is Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique. Down along Wabash, you come across this killing cupcake bakery whose graphics and attention to detail carry right through to the cupcakes. When V. and I were in Chicago last year we ate at least one cake a day, more often two, but with Mom I could only handle one during the whole visit. I went with a Red Velvet covered in Buttercream icing.

The one thing that almost murdered me was the Coney Island Dog at Motor Cafe. I am a sucker for chili dogs, and being at the Historic Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee I could not turn down a chance to devour one of these 12 inch monsters. I loved it, but it was the final nail in my tummy’s coffin. Three days later I am still feeling like a Memphis truck driver, and in desperate need of a yoga class at Moksha.

There will be a few more entries this week on the adventure in Chicago, Wrigley Field, the Monster’s 10,000 km maintenance work, my guitar set-up, the work with Jamey Levesque and whatever else inspires me along my first real week off – or at least being lived at a normal human pace. I think this is my 162nd blog entry since I began after visiting Paris with my Mom two years ago; more than ever, I would say that the theme of living to the fullest while we can is key to my happiness and development.

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