Thursday's Child: Chicago Foodie Tour

Thursday, June 11, 2015

When my mom, my daughter and I recently visited Chicago, one of the highlights of our trip was taking in the tastes of the city. Not only did we enjoy some of the best food Chicago has to offer, we did so while learning how the city has developed, from the fire of 1891 through the World’s Fair, Prohibition and beyond.

Our guide was the lovely Annalynn from Taste Bud Tours, who took us to six eating establishments that are woven into the history of this city.


More than a few restaurants claim to make the best deep-dish pizza in Chicago, and Pizano’s is one of them. Since this was our first stop, I’d planned to pace myself by just taking a bite or two. Then Annalynn emerged from the kitchen with two slices for each of us – one sausage and one cheese. The sausage pizza was especially excellent; the sausage was sweet and juicy, and the crust was crisp and buttery. Despite my best intentions, I finished it. (I also ate half the cheese slice, leaving the rest on my plate for decorum’s sake.)

It’s often said that the best pizzas in town are made by Pizano’s and Lou Malnati’s, which is ironic because the chains were founded by brothers. I can’t vouch for Lou Malnati’s, but Pizano’s makes one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten.



A short walk took us to the Palmer House Hotel. The original Palmer House was a wedding gift from Potter Palmer to his wife, and was reputed to have been lovely. However, it was open for just thirteen days before being destroyed in the Chicago Fire. Since then, it has been rebuilt and restored several times, but each time they’ve maintained the style of the first restoration. Their guest list over the years is impressive: a small sample of their patrons includes Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Mark Twain, Nat King Cole, and at least four presidents of the United States (Harry Truman, Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield and Grover Cleveland).

Including the Palmer House on this tour was not only historically interesting, it also fit the theme perfectly. During the World’s Fair of 1893, the hotel was the birthplace of the chocolate brownie. We enjoyed our fudgy brownies in the stunning second-floor lobby, feeling like royalty.


Al Ferrari developed his original Italian Beef Sandwich recipe in 1938, preparing the sandwiches in his kitchen and selling them at a local food stand. They became so popular, he and his family later opened a store and increased the number of sandwiches available. Al’s makes a terrific (if slightly messy) sandwich, piled high with shaved beef and nostalgia. Served with gravy for dipping and sweet peppers on the side, it's best eaten while employing The Italian Stance, explained above. The company spokesman is another Chicago institution, Mike Ditka.



Although there’s no food connection for the Chicago Cultural Center, we were thrilled to see it. The Cultural Centre was originally built as the first Chicago public library before being converted when the collection outgrew its surroundings. With its wall mosaics, stained-glass windows and the world’s largest Tiffany glass ceiling, it’s hard to imagine a lovelier library anywhere. We arrived during one of its free classical music concerts and were completely impressed by this stunning building. It was easy to see why it’s such a popular location for weddings and parties, and why it is sometimes booked years in advance. If we hadn’t been on the tour we probably wouldn’t have stopped here, and it was one of the highlights of my day.

My mom, Teresa Ging, me, my daughter
Cupcake heaven!

With all the history we were witnessing, it was a pleasure to visit the Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique, a modern addition to Chicago’s food scene. Teresa Ging was working in Finance before leaving to pursue her dream: studying at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and returning to Chicago to open a cupcake shop. She spent eight months developing and testing cupcake recipes as she prepared to open her business. (Possibly the best homework assignment, ever.)

Sugar Bliss began as a catering service, and a few years later Ging opened the retail store. It was awarded the prize for Best New Business in Chicago in 2010, and she was invited to the White House by Barack Obama. Annalynn gave us each a mini-cupcake, which were as delicious as they were adorable. These barely-bigger-than-bite-size treats packed enough flavour to make it feel like we were dreaming in chocolate and buttercream.

It’s hard not to love a place that sells breakfast cupcakes, not to mention frosting shots. And just when we thought we couldn’t love it any more, Teresa Ging came from behind the counter to pose for a photo with us.


Clearly, we hadn’t eaten enough sweets, and so Fannie May Chocolates was our next stop. This Chicago institution was founded in 1920 to make handcrafted chocolate. Refusing to compromise his integrity, the first owner sometimes closed the shop during the Second World War when he couldn’t get the high-quality ingredients he needed. Today Fannie May’s is owned by a large corporation, but the quality of the chocolate is still exceptional.

I saved my samples for a time when I was a little less full. I loved the pecan caramel Pixies, and the mint meltaways that I brought home for the rest of my family were a huge hit. And Annalynn swears by the coconut and dark chocolate Trinidads.


By this point in the day, I didn’t think I could eat anything else, and our only remaining stop was at the Berghoff, a German restaurant. This family of brewers made their name by selling Berghoff’s beer at the World’s Fair. It was such a hit that they opened a cafĂ© in the city, selling beer for a nickel and giving sandwiches away for free. They thrived until Prohibition, and managed to stay afloat during that time by developing an iconic root beer that remains popular today. Berghoff’s was the first restaurant in Chicago to get its liquor license back after the end of Prohibition, and its #1 Liquor License still hangs on the wall of the bar.

We weren't particularly hungry by this point in the day, but after a couple of sweet shops, the tangy German flavours on our plates were more than appealing. The bratwurst served with sauerkraut and potato salad was so good that not one of the stuffed travellers could resist!
Annalynn, bearing cupcakes






24 comments:

Gloria Baker said...

This is a beauty post Beth and love the pictures!
And my favorite picture is the first, you and your daughter:))

Julie said...

What a wonderful trip!! Love Chicago, such a great food town. Great picture of you and your daughter!!!

Monica said...

This takes me back to our recipe Chicago trip, too, Beth! What a great city, with some amazing eats. Looking at your post, I see we need to head back and sample a lot more! I'm so glad you all clearly had such a nice time.

Cakelaw said...

What a fab idea to take a food tour in Chicago. I had really wanted to try their deep dish pizza but didn't get around to it. I did go to Fanny Mays though!

Mammazan said...

It's a really a pleasure know you and your blog!!
Compliments

Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome you went to Chicago with your mom and daughter. I love Chicago but don't get there much. Loved seeing all your pictures and the great places to try out the next time I go there.

Barbara said...

What a fun foodie trip, Beth. You all look like you're having such a great time. Haven't been to Chicago in years.

Joanne said...

Touring a city through food...that's the way to do it!

Pam said...

Well, since I live here in Chicago suburb, I'm glad you liked your visit. Love the Palmer House and we've stayed there many times for events, etc. I love both pizzas you mention, probably Malnati's most, but there are a ton of great pizza places around here. Fanny May rules! Too bad Marshal Fields is no longer, it was the best! And the old Berghoff restaurant was the best. They closed it 10 years ago, and then opened a new one several years ago. Cuisine and ambiance not the same at all. We have some great stories from the old Berghoff, their spinning salad and all. Have a great weekend!

Linda said...

Beautiful photos; you have a lovely family! :)

Angie Schneider said...

That's a very beautiful picture of you and your daughter. I love that deep dish pizza!

Laura Dembowski said...

So awesome that you, your mom, and your daughter got to take a trip. I didn't realize there was so much great architecture and history in Chicago.

amy (fearless homemaker) said...

Oh, I LOVE a food tour! There is a new one in Nashville (where I live) that I really would love to try. And I adore the picture with you, your mom, and daughter! How fun to do activities like this with them. =)

Beth said...

Thanks for all your kind comments. Pam, I was thinking about you when I wrote this post. I should have listed you as one of the luminaries who stayed at the Palmer House!

Kayte said...

Mark and I enjoyed this whole post so much. We love going to Chicago and always like hearing what others find and do there, so we read it aloud together and made a few notes for the next visit. It's a little over 3 hours from us, so not bad as far as weekend trips go.

Marcela said...

What a lovely trip, Beth! Your daughter looks a lot like you! You're both so pretty and cheerful! I love it!

Cheri Savory Spoon said...

Hi Beth, looks like you girls had a great time, food tours are the best way to see a city.

Cheri Savory Spoon said...

Hi Beth, looks like you girls had a great time, food tours are the best way to see a city.

Beth said...

Kayte, I hope you have a wonderful time the next time you visit Chicago. If you take the Taste Buds Tour, say hi to Annalynn from me!

And thanks for your kind words, Marcela. You made my day!

Abbe Odenwalder said...

I grew up outside of Chicago. We used to go to the Berghoff before the theater. Al's was a given, the Palmer House was awesome and oh my, I miss Fanny May!

Abbe Odenwalder said...

I grew up outside of Chicago. We used to go to the Berghoff before the theater. Al's was a given, the Palmer House was awesome and oh my, I miss Fanny May!

Valerie Gamine said...

Chicago is a three hour drive from where I live, thanks to your photos (deep dish pizza!!), I may have to make the journey soon.

I Wilkerson said...

How fun! My oldest is heading to Chicago for a day trip Saturday. I'll have to forward this to her in case she has to have a breakfast cupcake ;-)

Ted Whittington said...

An amazing city, amazing cuisine, amazing history. Above all you had an amazing and wonderful guide. You had the best in everything.

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