Afar Edition: Chicago

This past fall, I was fortunate enough to make my first ever treck up to the Windy City herself, Chicago.  Ever since moving to Dallas over five years ago I have a fond interest in urban cities and lifestyles al across the globe.  And for me, one of the best ways to really experience the culture of a place is through their food.  I fell in love with it, like I do with every place I visit, so no surprise there.  I did have a few spots I knew I had to visit but left room for spontaneity by the leading of my stomach.  Long days out on the city streets continuously shivering with my DSLR camera in hand, I worked up quite the appetite, and quickly!  Those calories didn’t stand a chance, which was good for me!  I covered a lot of ground in 3 days with my central downtown hotel and wanted to give you my notable mentions for when you stop by.

I’m convinced that mornings were made for coffee.  They are the inseparable goodness of each and every day.  Being in Intelligentsia‘s hometown, I knew I had to stop in to any one of their locations and grab some of their notable self-roasted coffee (which I had first tried at the NYC location).  After standing (im)patiently in line for a while during the bustling morning hours of a work day near Millennial Park, I was finally awarded my cappuccino in company with a ham and gruyere cheese croissant.  As I finally sat down at the communal table, which I’m a huge fan of, I knew it was going to be a good morning!  Perfect start to my week of urban wandering. Of course the cappuccino went down so smooth, especially on such a brutally cold November morning, but the croissant was really delicious as well!  I savored that moment for longer than acceptable before I hit the snowy streets to do my photography.

After finding myself in new unknown places, having met new faces and even been a part of a local college student’s art project, I was ready to eat pretty much anything.  But I do have standards and wanted to get something I can only get in Chicago-so no chains.  I stumble upon this tiny, hip place called Wow Bao, an Asian fusion steam bun restaurant.  Steam buns are an Asian “food pocket” that you can eat with your hands, generally stuffed with meat and/or broth. I love buns! And these were great for a quick, affordable lunch.  I sat at the bar with my newly found nourishment and completely demolished the whole meal, which is quite the feat for my tiny tummy.  I had a lunch special of a Thai chicken curry boa and a BBQ pork bao with a side of spicy peanut noodle salad.  The empty basket said it all-so good!

As I continued in my trip around the South Loop I eventually arrived back at the steps of my midtown hotel where I met up with my father for dinner.  We both wanted one thing: deep dish pizza.  We walked across the river to Gino’s East original “graffiti-ed” location to a packed house and anticipation in our hearts.  After whetting our appetites with some cheese, bread and pasta we just wanted one thing: our pizzas! It was a glorious moment when they arrived!  For my first deep dish pizza experience I was pleasantly surprised, even though it was nothing like what I was expecting.  I’m still a thin NY style kind of woman, but it was a really filling and tasty dinner.

After a late night gym session in the hotel I was ready for another day of eating…I mean shooting.  As an avid donut lover and Chicago known as a hub of bustling new creative donut shops, I knew exactly what I wanted. I crossed the river to Firecakes-one of the most magical places I have ever stepped foot into. This tiny standing room only storefront is decorated with the most beautiful and inspired donuts you will most likely ever find anywhere. With flavors like Meyer lemon and Valrhona chocolate with espresso cream, you can’t make a bad choice, the trouble is actually make one. And the girl behind the counter with the green hair and tattoos is one super friendly and great human being.

I snuck my donuts with me into my favorite discovery of the entire trip, Bowtruss Coffee Roasters, nestled under the elevated tracks of the L-train.  I nabbed a cappuccino in the dark, small shop with local photographer’s prints hung on the wall, and took up residence at the bar.  One of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had the pleasure of being introduced to.  A place I’ve continued to be a distance patron of with their coffee beans being sold online.

I spent the rest of the day wandering through art museums and appreciating Chicago’s inescapable artistic vibes, again while freezing outside.  I eventually adventured outside of the city on the train where I had a chance to warm up and talk to some locals before heading to Lawry‘s for some prime rib feasting with my dad.  You can never go wrong with slow cooked meat. Never. It was extravagant to say the least but quite the experience.

Woke up early after another intense gym session to grab a quick pastry from Dollop Coffee and a cappuccino, supplied by Metropolis Coffee before navigating through snowfall to meet up with my dad to head out to Navy Pier (where we saw Interstellar in IMAX).

We ended the day at American Craft Kitchen & Bar (for the second time) and devoured our dinner.  It’s like upscale new American dining and refined BBQ-and really delicious at that. I had a chicken noodle soup and vegetarian pasta and some of my dad’s barbeque which had a balsamic mustard barbecue sauce that I still think about.  It also had one of the most beautiful bars I have ever seen, on the second level, that overlooks the river just outside of the windows.

On the last morning, with several CF cards full of images waiting to be transformed and no time to waste in getting to the airport, we grabbed donut and some La Colombe coffee and headed out.  Leaving behind one of the greatest cities I’ve ever visited.  I really liked Chicago, even in it’s unwelcoming temperatures.

This is my story, these are my photos, these are my recommendations.  But keep yourself open to change and the whim of finding your own adventure.


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