Remember when I said that Des Moines, being merely two hours away, had become our go-to short-weekend escape? Well somewhere along the line we realized that Chicago is only three and a half hours away. Not even twice as far! How could we possibly justify not visiting?
In the end, we couldn’t. This weekend we did away with feeble excuses and took a true mini-break to the city. We left Friday morning at 9:30 (the one time I feel grateful for B’s 8am class!) and rolled back into our driveway Saturday evening, just in time for dinner, with a trail of skyscrapers, deep-dish, and smoky cocktails in our wake.
Understandably/as promised, our first stop in town was at a deep-dish (not stuffed crust!) pizza joint. This time we picked Lou Malnati’s — a chain, but one with enough Zagat cred and Yelp stars to warrant high expectations. We started with stuffed zucchini bread and calamari — neither particularly innovative, but hearty, richly flavorful and filling, which would probably be a good time to tell you we’d ordered a medium pizza. That claims to serve three.
And besides the impressive circumference, it’s, well, DEEP. Who knew? Butter crust, cheese, an entire layer of their specialty sausage, tomato sauce, and some parmesan “dusted” atop. I crawled my way through a slice and a half, and though the last few bites were more torture than transcendence, this is good pizza. The flavors are crisper, more awake than the anonymous toppings (middlings?) that Giordano’s greasily slaps between two crusts. And since we’re on the topic: butter crust! Chewy from top to bottom and crispy around the edges. I’m no convert to the Chicago-style, and will continue trying other pizzerias, but feel quite relieved to have finally found one solid option.
And then we went to the Chicago Auto Show. Full disclosure: this was my first auto show. (Yes, I can feel your surprise from here.) And it was really fun! We mostly saw new 2010 cars, some that won’t be released until the summer, and a bunch of interesting concept designs. Also — I swear I’m not this big a ditz with other things — but I didn’t realize that part of going to auto shows is that you get to sit in the cars. (Well, most of them. I didn’t get to sit in a Lamborghini.) I understand the appeal so much more now.
I don’t know much about cars, but even I can appreciate these fast, pretty machines. And they’re not even that hard to get, right? (KIDDING.) Here’s what we did for dinner: Frontera Grill. You have probably heard of it, because the restaurant also has a namesake line of grocery store salsas, sauces, chips and so on. But even if you’re not familiar with it, the food is fantastic. A bit pricey, but positively saturated with all those spicy, smoky, tangy flavors that good Mexican food should deliver. And flavors aside, it’s the sort of place you can tell treats food well. The rib steak of my Carne Asada a la Oaxaquena dish was spicy and juicy, perfectly medium-rare, and paired so tastily with thick black beans, sweet plantains with sour cream, and scoops of guac on the side.
(The smoky cocktail mentiond above came from here too: Billy’s Mezcal Margarita, which is artisanal mescal, brandy, bitters and limonada, shaken at the table. A bit too smoky — what, it is! — for me, but a really cool interplay of flavors.)
Saturday morning we went to Anthropologie (siiiiiigh), then the previously-reviewed and still-delicious The Gage for lunch. And then we trundled on home, through the Illinois flatlands and Iowa’s rolling hills, back to a warm house that’s just begging for a new thin-crust pizza experiment. Stay tuned!