(By Trish Donovan)
Growing up in Chicago, I took many things for granted: the ability to walk to a Michelin Star rated restaurant, taking the “L” train to some of the most amazing sights in the world, the Christmas displays that light up the Magnificent Mile during winter seasons – the list goes on.
Now that I am 31, and living in sunny Florida, I try to divide my relatively brief Chicago visits between my old favorite spots and exploring some new places while also spending time with family and friends who still reside in the city. Also, I time my visits during the more temperate seasons (50 degrees or above). Florida has thinned my blood!
The main reason I was tempted to return most recently wasn’t to overindulge in the plethora of fantastic food and drink (although I definitely did); it was the opportunity to see the Rolling Stones in concert at Soldier Field – a bucket list experience, let me assure you. Luckily, my husband/travel companion is a self-proclaimed foodie like me and more than happy to indulge in all that Chicago has to offer (except for the shopping.)
We arrived on a Thursday evening at the Wit, a Double Tree by Hilton hotel that exudes a boutique vibe without being overwhelmed by its downtown Chicago Loop location. Nestled in the heart of the theater district – the Chicago Theater is right next door – you can walk out of the lobby and enjoy the beautiful sights or jump on the “L” train to explore other areas of the city.
Our first stop for dinner was Greektown. Athena, a beautifully designed and inviting restaurant serving all your Greek favorites is a spot I like to frequent every time I come back to Chicago. We enjoyed the Calamari gyros and of course, saganaki. The staff doesn’t rush you so you’re able to enjoy the restaurant and your company while sampling some refreshing Greek wines.
The next morning, we made our way down Randolph Street into the West Loop. Au Cheval was our destination. Chicago natives and visitors alike are aware of the cult-like following this restaurant has accumulated over the years since it opened, being known for serving “Chicago’s Best Burger”. Since I visited years ago when it first opened, the notoriety has continued to grow. As we walked up at 10:30 on a Friday morning, there was already half an hour wait (they open at 10). Luckily for us, Randolph Street hosts some of the most famous restaurants in Chicago including Girl and the Goat (celebrity Chef Stephanie Izzard), Avec, Blackbird, and Maude’s Liquor Bar.
We walked down the block to Little Goat, Girl and the Goat’s sister restaurant, where they offer a variety of seating, including diner-style, as well as a separate area where you can order bakery goods, coffee or a beverage. We sat down and were immediately greeted warmly and enjoyed one of their signature cocktails. I chose the Smoked Grape per the bartender’s suggestion and it did not disappoint. This unique cocktail is made up of Peloton mezcal, agave, orange juice, and red wine, which I wouldn’t have normally chosen but was happily surprised. Right as we were finishing our drinks at Little Goat, I received a text from Au Cheval with the happy news that our table was ready.
Au Cheval has a very interesting ambience. The lighting is dim with welcoming booths and an open-air kitchen. You can smell the delicious food from the moment you enter the bustling doorway. First, we enjoyed a drink from their impressive menu, which ranges from cocktails to a notable beer list. Unable to resist, we both ordered the burger, with the recommended bacon and fried egg, and it lived up to all the hype.
The Rolling Stones played Friday night, so we sacrificed some restaurants in order to be closer to Soldier Field. We were able to grab a quick bite and walk under Lake Shore Drive and see the Field Museum, as well as the Shedd Aquarium along the way. Both are well-known landmarks and extremely beautiful architecturally.
Chicago is known for tricky weather. Fortunately, it was just chilly enough for a jacket while escaping the predicted rain. This was key as walking the city is one of my favorite pastimes. Saturday morning, we were excited to go somewhere I had never visited before, a foodie’s paradise called Eataly. Locations range from NYC to Chicago to Las Vegas, but close friends have always told me the Chicago location is the best. Bonus…Eataly was a short ten-minute walk from our hotel! Extremely unique in concept, I struggled to wrap my mind around it until I finally walked through the doors. We entered an expanse of authentic Italian restaurants, bars, and shops offering wine, fresh pasta, bakery goods, vegetables, and spices. I truly could have spent the entire day just wandering around. But our stomachs protested, and we selected Osteria Di Eataly to dine. I ordered a Negroni and my husband ordered an Amalfi Mule. Sipping our cocktails as the waiter gave us his recommendations, we selected the insalata di barbabietole (a beet salad), polpo (Octopus), and agonlotti di manzo con tartufo nero (house made pasta filled with red wine-braised beef cheek, black truffle butter, and Gran Mugello-aged Tuscan cow’s milk cheese). Everything, and I mean everything, was fantastic but the pasta absolutely blew me out of this world. I could not remember the last time I had a pasta dish that was that complex but also had the perfect “melt-in-your-mouth” combination of flavors.
On our final night we had reservations at Beatnik on Chicago Avenue (they also have a location on the river). While planning our trip, I had viewed photos of Beatnik’s lush and awe inspiring decor but walking into the restaurant was an entirely different experience. The 6,000 square foot space has over 400 living plants and jaw dropping chandeliers. There are also beautiful rugs, tiling and woodwork framing for the seating that makes you feel like you are in a totally different country in just seconds. Everything down to the last detail is “Instagrammable” including the cocktails. Not only beautiful, they were delicious. I started with a Cava Cobbler consisting of St. Germain, Cava, and Peychaud’s Bitters; it even came with a metal reusable straw! My husband ordered the El Guapo crafted from Tequila, Fresno Pepper & Mint Infused Agave, Guava, Lime, Grapefruit Bitters, and Tajin. Both were bold and flavorful, but the El Guapo was out-of-this-world delicious.
The menu offers an international array of cuisines including Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Spain, France, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, and Japan. Starting with red curry noodles, we moved on to the mussels and finished with the impressive 45 oz. bone-in rib eye. Each dish was unique, transporting you around the globe through its flavors. The rib eye melted in your mouth and needed no additional seasoning because the quality of the meat was so fantastic. I highly recommend Beatnik. The next time you visit Chicago, be sure to treat yourself to this beautiful experience…from the ambience and service, to the cocktail list that rivals the flavorfully diverse menu.
Walking back to our hotel after our final meal along the River, I reflected upon my adoration of Chicago and the reasons I treasured the years I lived there. Although this visit was brief, we were able to eat and drink our way through places of the city I hold near and dear as well as several I had not experienced before. I’ll see you soon, Chicago. You never disappoint.
The Negroni Served at Osteria Di Eataly
1 oz. Malfy Gin
1 oz. Cocchi Torrino
1 oz. Campari
Add all the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a rocks glass filled with large ice cubes.
Garnish with an orange peel.
The Amalfi Mule Served at Osteria di Eataly
2 oz. Pallini Limoncello
1 oz. CH Vodka
1 oz. Lemon Juice
Q Ginger Beer- as much as desired
In a serving glass add ice, Limoncello, vodka and lemon juice. Stir mixture and top with Ginger Beer.