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It’s difficult to put my Chicago experience into words.
But I will try. I must. I mean, this is a blog, right? So I will attempt to construct sentences with subjects, verbs and predicates, and, if you’re lucky, a few dangling participles, to describe the food wonderland that is Chicago.
I arrived in Chicago with my boss as part of a work trip to teach South-side students about endangered species for three days (no, I didn’t eat any endangered species, just taught about them.) Our first order of business was to review our notes for our lesson.
Our first order of business was to get lunch. My boss is a born and raised Chicagoan so I knew from the start that I was in very, very good hands when it came to massive caloric consumptions Chicago-style. Fortunately for us, Al’s #1 Italian Beef was on the way to our school.
Did you know that Al was #1 when it came to beef? I didn’t but now I know and I will sing the praises of Al and his beef across the land. We ordered our roast beef sandwiches (mine with hots) and requested they be ‘dipped’.
A fun little insider fact, any Al #1 Italian Beef sandwich worth having is dipped meaning that once all the spiced shredded roast beef is assembled on your crusty Italian bread with all your fixins, it’s literally dunked into the vat of Italian beef broth from whence the shredded roast beef emerged. It’s quickly wrapped up in a few layers of butcher paper, taped shut with some masking tape (always and tell-tale sign that you are getting a spectacular sandwich) and handed over to your cold-and-clammy-with-anticipation hands.
Normally, you would stand at the bar and enjoy your spicy, sloppy, delicious sandwich right in Al’s house but my boss and I had some 6th graders eager to learn waiting for us so we enjoyed this mess of a meal in the rental car while driving down Lake Shore Drive. Brings the phrase “It’s just a rental” to a whole new level.
See all that drippy, juicy broth seeping out of the sandwich? My spicy hots exploding out the front?
I think zip car actually charged us a beef deodorizing fee.
We got small sandwiches and I barely finished mine but there were tons of fries leftover. Man, I hate wasting food but I couldn’t eat another bite so …
Chicago: 1, Liana: 0
I will concede this round the Chicago. But only this round.
Dinner time rolls around and my boss refuses to let my first day in Chi-town go by without diving headfirst into a pan of deep dish people. When your boss tells you you have to do something, you do it, right? Right, so we made our way to Lou Malnati’s for some famous Chicago deep dish.
The smell when you walk in the door is absolutely out of this world. It’s a warm, garlicky breadstick smell paired with tangy marinara sauce that must be embedded into the walls at this point and just constantly wafting through the restaurant each time the restaurant door swings open with another member of the wait staff expediting a deep dish order.
We sit down and our waitress takes our order. No we aren’t interested in a sissy side salad; just bring on the pizza, lady!
And it arrives (30 min later, mind you! That’s the going wait time for a pizza of this size and caliber):
Not only does it arrive, but the wait staff also serves you. And I get my big, fat, cheesy slice on my plate.
I go to pick it up and I’m promptly informed by my boss that Chicagoan deep dish etiquette rule #11 firmly states that deep dish pizza must be eaten with a fork and knife.
Hmm … OK.
This east coast born-and-raised girl used to eating her NY-style thin crust pizza with one hand following NY thin-crust etiquette rule #1 to fold your pizza in half bringing the corners nearly together before you take your first bite was more than mildly confused at the notion of using utensils to eat pizza.
But, I make like the natives and pick up the cutlery.
I slice off a corner of cheesy pizza and take my first bite. It’s cheesy, yes, it’s saucy, sure, but this crust … there is something about this crust that’s making me hesitate to jump on board the heavily-laden deep dish wagon. The crust is not unlike a thick quiche or pot pie crust. Very crumbly with strong flavors of flour and corn.
What to do. What to do.
I take a few more bites, get to the end of the crust and then decide, as I try to eat the crust, that I, sadly, am not jumping on the wagon tonight. As I come to this conclusion, a little part of my foodie heart shrivels up and dies. I would have sworn up and down to anyone that I would have loved deep dish pizza. It’s cheesy (check), saucy (check) and satisfying but the crust just does not do it for me.
Cue hate mail from my four readers now.
Again, I love the cheese and the sauce and thoroughly inhale that part of the my slice which easily amounts to a good half pound of food and even though I don’t finish the crust, I am stuffed. I’m not ready to write off deep dish pizza for good. Lou’s is only one of the many famous places in Chicago to try the noteworthy dish so I’ll have to do some comparative analysis sometime soon.
By comparative analysis, I mean lots and lots of trials of lots and lots of pizza. Just making sure we’re clear.
This is the first time in my life that I can ever remember that I don’t finish one single slice of pizza. Personal fail. Again. It’s becoming alarmingly clear to me that Chicago might be the city that takes me down, the city in which I might not be able to completely finish a single meal.
Chicago: 2, Liana: 0
I leave Lou Malnati’s with my tail between my legs and vow that tomorrow, tomorrow I shall defeat this city and will finish at least one complete meal!
Starting with breakfast at The Original Pancake House:
where my boss suggests I order this:
Which looks like this from another angle:
The camera adds 10 pounds … or 50.
Did she not hear my inspirational speech the night before that I would not be taken down by another Chicago meal? That I would set myself up for success and take this Windy City down gastro-style?
Apparently not. This, my friends, is a Dutch baby. Ever hear of it? No? Me either but here’s a quick rundown to acquaint you with this flying saucer-sized breakfast meal.
- 1. It’s larger than my head.
- 2. It’s made of eggs, lemon and flour and baked in a special pan in the oven so that it climbs up the sides of the pan and creates a delicious sweet, lemony, eggy bowl.
- 3. It’s larger than your head.
- 4. It’s doused in a heavy layer of confectioners’ sugar when it comes hot out of the oven.
- 5. It’s larger than Andres the Giant’s head (god rest his soul)
- 6. You continue to douse it with more lemon and confectioners’ sugar and butter when it orbits to your table top where the three ingredients mix together in the hot, eggy bowl to make a little glaze. You can add maple syrup if you want but this glaze is all you need for breakfast and for life.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. Of course, I couldn’t finish it. A Dutch baby is big enough to roast a chicken, house a pair of boots or bathe an infant.
And how far did I get?
I fail miserably, yet again, and I am starting to develop a complex. I mean, really, I am the finisher. I finish my food, I embody ‘waste not, want not’ and Chicago has out-eaten me yet again.
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What is the meaning of life?
All things I will discuss with my food therapist now that Chicago has ended me.
But hey, nothing makes you smile like the word ‘wiener’ and my boss attempted to brighten my down-trodden spirits with a famous Chicago dog at, why none other than, The Weiner Circle, of course!
Hurray! A circle of wieners
I am smiling now.
And this is where I leave you, with a wiener teaser, of the second half of my Chicago story. We’re only half way through this tale of food travels and there are plenty more epic food finishing failures and maybe, just maybe, a triumphant win at the end!
Chicago part two is just around the corner!
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