If you have spent any time reading this blog, then you already know that eating is a big part of travel for me. I love to discover a city through its food! So when hubs and I decided to spend a few days in Chicago, my first order of business was to line up some great dining spots. But with over 7,700 restaurants in Chicago, how could I possibly get a taste of all that makes this city so great? The answer? A culinary tour.
I chose Tastebud Tours for the task. I wanted the nitty gritty on the Chicago food scene. What makes the Chicago deep dish pizza so special? Why is the hot dog so revered in this city? Where do the locals go? Tastebud Tours had the answers!
Our tour began at Pizano's Pizza & Pasta. Here, we met our guide Annalynn and Lynn Jaynes, the owner of the company (and someone who has definitely found his calling!). After brief introductions and a promise to be served enough food for lunch, our 'tour' began with a generous slice each of thin crust cheese pizza (that, by the way, Oprah calls her 'favorite') and deep dish sausage pizza. Their pizza dough recipe is a family secret that no one has been able to bribe, beg or steal from the Malnati family. So what makes this deep dish pizza so special? I got the answer, but I'm keeping it secret. You'll have more fun finding out for yourself. Oh, and apparently, I was sitting at President Obama's favorite table!
Next, we walked a few blocks to Sarah's Pastries & Candies where Sarah has made quite a name for herself. The walls of the lovely shop are lined with her many accolades including the cover of Bride's Magazine, articles from the Chicago Tribune and USA Today. For our tour, we were given a chocolate brownie that literally melted in my mouth with buttery deliciousness! Unfortunately for future tour-goers, Sarah's Pastries & Candies will not be a tour stop. She is closing her shop. Probably moving on to bigger and better things -- she recently won a Food Network Challenge. Just think, when she becomes a household name I can say I ate in her bakery when she was just plain ole' Sarah!
Before heading to our third stop, we took a break in the Drake Hotel. That's right--one of Hollywood's most famous movie spots where scenes from films like My Best Friend's Wedding, What Women Want and Risky Business were shot, and home to the 3rd top women's powder room in the world.
When we finished puttin' on the ritz, we headed to Downtown Dogs. You can't claim to understand Chicago eating until you've had a Chicago dog, right? Within minutes, Annalynn passed the hot dogs out to the group. It took only one bite to turn this not-so-crazy-about-hot-dogs girl into a huge Chicago-dog fan! What makes the hot dog so iconic here? For starters, the Vienna beef hot dogs. You can't call it an authentic Chicago hot dog with any other kind of dog!
Although the group was beginning to moan about being full, Annalynn showed no mercy and moved us on to our next stop, Heaven on Seven, touted "the best Louisiana cookin' outside of New Orleans!" As the story goes, restaurateur Jimmy Bannos opened his first neighborhood restaurant on the 7th floor of the Garland Building. His passion for Louisiana food sent him to the South to work for and study under the likes of Emeril Legasse and Paul Prudhomme. Returning to Chicago, Bannos opened Heaven on Seven. With walls lined with a multitude of hot sauce variations and Mardi Gras beads streaming from every crevice, it was like being transported into the bayou. We noshed on a kickin' jambalaya and lip-smackin' gumbo. If you like it hot, Heaven on Seven is the place to be!
Before the flame could be tamed in our mouths, we were swept away to our next destination, Billy Goat Tavern, where you "enter at your own risk." Stepping down into this somewhat underground tavern, you find yourself walking into a Saturday Night Live skit, literally. The establishment and its characters once came to life in Bill Murray's and Jim Belushi's "Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger" skit. While the hamburger was loved by some and just "average" to others in our group, everyone agreed that Billy Goat Tavern was a must-try place for the hilarious kitchen antics.
Counting the number of stops we'd made up to this point, I was sure our tour had come to an end, then Annalynn announced we were off for dessert. Our final stop was the 23rd floor of the beautiful and historic Allerton Hotel. Once a gentlemen's residence, this elegant hotel now hosts some of the cities most regal weddings and ceremonies. From the 23rd floor ballroom, the views of the city are amazing, and the cheesecake we were served was too.
Officially in a food coma, I basked in the day's events. Tastebud Tours did more than highlight the city's food scene. They underscored so many of the things that make the great city of Chicago so special.
Tastebud Tours offers four distinct tours in Chicago and one in New Orleans. Stay tuned because according to Lynn Jaynes, Tastebud Tours may be coming to your city, too. And if you choose to take one of their tours, take my advice, and theirs: Come hungry!