For the Love of Pork and Chocolate - Chicago Part 2

6 years ago
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Ah, Chicago, where did we leave off?

Right, with wieners! 

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A circle of 100% Vienna beef wieners actually. Did you know that you can tour the Vienna Beef factory next time you’re in Chicago and watch them make these all beef sausage sleeves from scratch? It’s true. 

My boss and I stepped inside the very humble interior of The Weiner Circle dining room and ordered our dogs. Of course, I ordered mine Chi-town style and after a short wait, the following meaty twins were thrust upon me along with their French fry friends.

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I’ve never seen a hotdog topped with not one, but two pickle spears AND tomato slices but that’s how they roll in Chicago. Underneath, you find chopped white onions and mustard and on top, a happy sprinkling of celery salt.

As I’m eating my Chicago dogs, I’m realizing that yet again, I am eating my food in Chicago with my fingers. Actually, only one of my past four meals required utensils leading me to the immediate conclusion that Chicagoans easily have some of the best smelling fingers in the world. 

Easy.

Another interesting observation … when I visited Chicago in March it was a balmy high of 45 degrees yet everywhere I looked, folks were slurping down iced coffees, iced teas and other frozen concoctions. I asked my boss, a born and raised Chicagoan, what was the deal since I was so cold, I actually bought a pair of wool socks on the Miracle Mile to keep my toes attached to my body. Apparently, we were experiencing a Chicago heat wave for March and you might as well break out the frozen margarita maker and start humming along to your favorite Jimmy Buffet song cause as Nelly would say, it’s “hot in herre”.

Crazies.

In either case, I’m thankful to have a toasty warm wiener between my fingers and while enjoying my second dog, I realize that although it’s tasty with the pickles and tomato, I actually enjoy my Chicago dog without tomato slices (but still eat those yummy, celery salt covered goodies), with one less pickle spear and fill in the spaces with the salty boardwalk style fries. 

Yummmm. 

What can I say? Pittsburgh had an impact on me. I’ve been putting fries in all sorts of places like in Wendy’s frosty’s, on pizza and in the hinges of squeaky doors. Really, in what situation can you place a French fry and a situation doesn’t improve?

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Oh yes, the fries make a scrumptious addition.

And I am more than happy to report that I did, indeed, finish my lunch. My whole lunch. Every last bite and was about to stand up, throw my fists in the air and share my life accomplishment with the others in the dining area when a little 9 year old boy stole my thunder by saying to his little brother:

“It’s not a HOT DOG, it’s a WWWIIIEEENNNNNNEERRRR.”

Emphasis on the wiener. 

And the best part is, he wasn’t being an obnoxious, immature boy when he was saying this. He was genuinely concerned his little brother was abandoning his cultural heritage from the get-go and mistaking the Chicago dog for any other hot dog in the world when clearly, it isn’t. He continued to say it again and again in that adorable little boy voice, “it’s a wwwiiieeennnneeerrrrr” until his little brother joined in and the place erupted with sounds of wieners. 

How could I compete with that?

I left the building keeping my good news to myself but at least I knew. I KNEW.

Chicago: 3, Liana: 1

So how do you follow up a delicious lunch of wieners? Why, with a date with an Austrian of course at the Austrian Bakery and Deli. As we walked in the door, both our eyes and nose were treated to a delightful mélange of bakery smells from yeasty breads to sweet and creamy pastries. We asked the server behind the counter of insane desserts what she recommended and my boss went with the ever-popular apple strudel while I chose something I never had before: a bienenstich. 

A what?

A bienenstich. Layers of buttery, fluffy dough beneath a vanilla custard center topped with more buttery fluffy love and covered in a layer of honeyed almonds. It’s almost like the Austrian version of the Napoleon without the height complex and overwhelming desire to conquer the known world.

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I wish I had a bienenstich right now. I would conquer it and make it my own. I would summit its sticky almond mountains and stick a BFB flag right on its peak, claiming it all for myself. That’s what I would do. 

I loved it so much that when our server came over to ask us what I thought of the bienenstich, I said “It is crazy, I love it, and I’ve never had anything like it in my life,” to which she replied, “That was perfect and vibrant and I am taking that with me.”

The end.

The bienenstich tided me over until our last day in Chicago and I’m dying to stop into this café that I’ve passed everyday near our hotel. It’s called Argo Tea Café and it just, well, looked like fun. If anything even looks minutely fun, I can be persuaded (through the wonder of adult ADHD) to check it out and so I wandered into Argo’s and ordered the best iced tea I ever had in my life. 

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Truth. 

I wouldn’t lie about this.

I ordered the iced Green Tea Ginger Twist which consists of Japanese green tea, pureed fresh ginger root, a squeeze of fresh lemon and a hint of vanilla. The ginger is a serious punch in the mouth which is why I love ginger so much. Pair this with the lemon and smooth green tea and give it one hell of a shake and I am put in my happy place. Instantly.

Another thing that makes Argo’s so fun is they have a window to their soul right inside the café. By that, I mean there is a window right into their on-site tea making area where you can watch the staff brew tea and prepare all the ingredients for their delicious beverages.

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With the tang of ginger still fresh in my memory at lunch time, I know that I have to make my last meal in Chicago count. I did a bit of foodie research before traveling to Chicago and I saved what I thought was the best for last. I heard quite a bit about this Rick Bayless fellow and that he opened an insanely popular Mexican-type quick food restaurant in Chi-town called XOCO. In fact, I heard so much amazing stuff about this restaurant that I was actually a little intimidated to go there. I mean, I started developing pretty high expectations which is not the usual for me. I like low expectations for just about every instance in life. 

Low expectations = high probability of success. 

Like when a month before my wedding I started envisioning everything and everyone soaking wet from the freak storm that would undoubtedly appear just at the time of the ceremony giving all of our guests a smooth and efficient segue into springtime pneumonia. 

Crazy? Maybe. Did it rain on my wedding day? No. 

You be the judge.

Anyways, my expectations were unnaturally high for this experience and I tried my best to temper my excitement. That is, until I turned the corner to XOCO’s ...

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and the air is literally permeated with the smell of freshly fried, sweet churros in which case your mind has lost control of your body to your stomach and you move forth like some foodie zombie towards the door having lost utter control to make any self-governing decision anymore. This is a good thing.

I entered XOCO’s and there was a crazy long line nearly out the door but not quite. I love lines at restaurants. Really, I do. It means I’m in for something very, very good and is almost always worth the wait. Oh, I will wait. Happily.

Besides, waiting gives me time to smell everything there is to smell, see everything there is to see and finally come to a decision on what to eat. I finally choose which torta, or warm crusty Mexican sub, I want and order the Thursday special, Mole Poblano, with braised pork, wood-grilled onions, crunchy fresh garnishes, and fresh cheese.  And it looks like this:

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Does that not look insanely, freaking delicious or what? The outside of the hot bun was so crunchy yet the inside was so doughy and sopped up all the yummy porky juices. It came with a small bowl of cilantro-tomatillo style dipping sauce that was just ridiculous in its own right. This sandwich was really, really spectacular, satisfying, fulfilling, and most importantly, expectation-meeting. I truly saved the best for last.

But wait, there’s more!

I decided when I ordered my sandwich that I should go all out and get dessert and BTC Mexican hot chocolate. What’s BTC? Bean to cup. Meaning that the Mexican cacao beans are ground fresh per cup right in the front window of XOCO’s. I mean really, can it possibly get better?

Yes. Because I ordered the fresh-from-the-fryer churros for dessert and they were crunchy and sweet and delicious dunked into the BTC hot chocolate (as I already did before this picture because I am an impatient child). 

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This ranks up there with one of the most memorable and tastiest lunches I’ve ever had and you know what? I ate every last BITE of this meal so …

Chicago: 3, Liana: 2

OK, not quite bragging stats but hey, at least it wasn’t a shut-out. And to really top off the day, I entered the classroom that afternoon for our last lesson before leaving Chicago and while I stood next to a young, precocious boy teaching him about all kinds of critters, he looked up at me with wonder in his eyes ( I assumed from all the amazing learning he was doing) and said:

Boy: “Miss, L, can I ask you a question?”
Me: “Of course, sweet little boy, ask away!”
Boy:  “OK … well, Miss L … why do you smell like meat and chocolate?”

Little did he know that was one of the best compliments I ever got. I love you Chicago and I cannot wait to return.

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