Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Hazy and Busted in the Second City | May 5, 2011


Last time I was in Chicago was 1989. I was 10 years old, preferred dinosaurs to baseball, McDonald’s to Portillo’s, and chocolate milk to Burgundy (I credit good parenting for that last one).
To me, the Second City was a giant lake, a tall building named after the store where my parents sourced me burlap-like “Toughskins” jeans, a cool museum full of prehistoric bones, and a boring visit to my mother’s great-aunt’s 90th birthday party (but I suppose 10-year-olds and 90-year-olds just don’t mix). I had no idea what wonders Chicago had to offer an adult. Particularly one with a penchant for cocktails and low-density lipoproteins.
It is a big city of friendly folks (like Manhattan with good, Midwestern sensibilities), yet the city center seems condensed. I felt I could walk everywhere, and everywhere is flat. Which is needed, as the rest of one’s time can best be passed gorging like Joey Chestnut in training. In more flattering words, Chicago’s food scene is incredible. Again, it’s a walkable, flat city, that’s chilly and on the water, and full of amazing food. I’d make the shoddy metaphor that Chicago is San Francisco for people who think hills are stupid and tiring, sans Nancy Pelosi, plus even shadier politics.

Those not insecure about looking like tourists can indulge in the fire-kissed delights of the Weber Grill, a restaurant that employs real charcoal kettles indoors, and probably a few carbon monoxide monitors as well. You can call me a tourist all you want, as long as your shoving pretzel rolls with cheddar-butter in front of my face- the perfect prelude to juicy cheeseburgers (here’s where the metaphor dies: Midwestern dietary philosophy takes a MASSIVE detour from that of Northern California. I swear these people do not give a f**k about what goes into their bodies. And that’s coming from a deep-fried Southerner. I mean, cheddar-butter?!).

Speaking on bad eating habits, “dragged through the garden” Chicago-style dogs (left), juicy, grilled onion-slathered Polish sausages, unbelievably heavy deep-dish pizza, and “beefs” (Italian beef sandwiches) pepper the landscape of the Windy City, offering delicious, affordable junk food to all with complete disregard for doctors’ orders. Portillo’s, Gino’s East, Mr. Beef, and an outpost of Al’s Beef (among other tasty culinary disasters) sit within a few blocks of each other. Conveniently, a Walgreen’s sits central to all of these places, making multiple runs for Rolaids and Lipitor manageable.

But there’s more to Chicago than stuff that tastes particularly good at 3 AM. Frontera Grill lives up to the hype for Mexican-lovers. Bartender Mike is whipping up some ridiculous old-school cocktails like Sazeracs and Negronis at Sable. We also (of course) found ourselves in unbelievably unique wine-and-food meccas like Pops for Champagne (an all-sparkling wine bar… insane), The Bluebird, and the Purple Pig (perhaps my new favorite place on planet Earth). These spots featured what I consider the calling card of good wine lists: tons of stuff I’ve never seen before. As much as so many places want to sell me Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay for five times the retail price at the Piggly Wiggly next door, I really appreciate the extra effort when a restaurant’s list is unique and interesting. And I’ll probably spend more money, wanting to try new things (which happened. Ouchie.)

More than the the food and the drink, though, we had the incredible pleasure of tilting some glasses with Atlanta friends Capo and Jess (pictured right, as Capo blesses an absurd amount of pork product at The Pig), who happened to be in town. Furthermore (thanks to Twitter), I was able to connect with local winos Mike T, Douglas, Sasha, and one of my favorite (former for the most part, now that he’s “in the business”) bloggers, the excitable Sam Klingberg of Broke Wino fame. I continue to be impressed by the folks I meet in-person, with whom I initially connected online. Anyone who says social media is anti-social is a buffoon. I can pretty much go to any city in the U.S., and there’ll be someone there to introduce me to a terrific local hangout, assuaging my insecurity about looking like a tourist (huge camera-in-tow notwithstanding).
Like any big, hip city, a drink runs about $9-13. And there are lots of nice restaurants who prey on the business-dinner crowd. If you come to visit (and you should), bring some papers, or a high-limit credit card. Chicago ain’t cheap, but it sure is fun. I ran like I was still in my 20’s, and I woke up like I was not in my 20’s. But I had a blast doing it and can’t wait to get back. Granted, it will probably be with the kid(s), so wine bars and mixologists will have to wait.
Good thing I still like dinosaurs and McDonald’s.
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