Good eats in Chicago

 It’s no secret we like food, and good food at that. So, when we took two days in Chicago, food was definitely on the agenda. My husband planned it all, so I didn’t have much clue about where we would be eating.

Tuesday, for lunch, I had the directions to navigate us to our restaurant location, but I didn’t know where we were going until Portillo’s came into view. I had mentioned something about wanting a Chicago dog recently. But I ended up with the garbage salad.

Phil enjoyed a dog and an Italian beef and we shared cheese fries. It was a good start.

Next up for dinner that night was Italian Village. I don’t have any pictures of this because we were later than we wanted to be for dinner and almost missed the ballet. We ate in the Village section, the top floor of three in this unique restaurant. We had a 40 minute wait, then waited another 40 minutes or more for our food to arrive. We filled up on bread, soup (for me) and salad (for Phil) while we waited. The time ticked away and we soon realized we’d either be inhaling our food or leaving it. When it came to our table, we had about 3 minutes to eat it and pay before we needed to head out the door. Even at that pace, the food was delicious. I wish we could have enjoyed it more. I ate cannelloni with a cream sauce. Phil had mostaccioli with arrabiata sauce and meatballs. This was one instance where knowing how to eat fast because you have children who require it comes in handy. We did make it to the ballet. You can read more about that here.

Wednesday morning we took our breakfast at Fox & Obel in the cafe inside the grocery store.

I had biscuits smothered in chicken gravy topped with sunny-side-up eggs. The biscuits were sweet and reminded me of my grandma’s sugar cookies. A hint of almond flavor, I think. Phil ate a croque madame, which was a fancy egg sandwich — scrambled eggs, country shaved ham, Gruyere cheese, baby greens and a bechamel sauce between two slices of toasted bread. His came with home fries and fresh fruit cup. Wonderfully delicious, all of it.

We browsed the market that day after our breakfast. By lunchtime, I wasn’t too hungry, but my husband assured me lunch could be as light or as heavy as I wanted. We went to Christkindlemarket to take in some German fare. We ate bratwurst in the Nuremberger style, which Phil had when he was in Nuremberg for Army training.

We also had Austrian strudel: half a box of cherry and half a box of cheese. Warm and gooey, so tasty. We made a mess, but it was worth it.

That night, we didn’t want to make the same mistake we made the night before, so we headed to dinner early. Our short walk down Michigan Avenue found us at The Purple Pig.

Earlier in the day, Phil told me that he wasn’t sure how dinner “worked” exactly so he’d have to ask some questions. This sort of scared me because I thought dinner was a self-explanatory sort of thing. But after we got there, I understood why he said that. The Purple Pig serves its food on small plates, family-style, so you’re encouraged to order several items and share. You’re also seated at a table with other people not of your party, which is kind of fun if you don’t mind an invasion of privacy. The motto, or subtitle, of The Purple Pig is “cheese, swine and wine.” Let me tell ya, they use every part of the pig in ways you can hardly imagine.

Here’s what we ordered:

Shaved Brussel Sprouts, Pecorino Noce & Parmigiano-Reggiano — it was a bold and refreshing way to start. Brussel sprouts like I’ve never tasted them.

Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg — this was on my husband’s list of things to eat here before we walked in the door. I was skeptical about eating pig’s ear. It wasn’t my favorite, but if I didn’t know it was pig’s ear, I wouldn’t have guessed that’s what I was eating. It was served in a little pig shaped bowl, which was a nice touch.

Chastelfranco, arugula with Sunchokes, Hazelnuts & Apple Cider Vinaigrette — a palate-cleansing salad with a fantastic blend of flavors.

Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs — another dish my husband had pre-selected because it was one of the top 50 must-try foods in Chicago. Served in the bone, the marrow is cooked until spreadable. Smear it on a piece of toasted bread, top with a caper-onion-parsley-cilantro salad and sea salt and eat. It was good. Better than I expected. We made the mistake of using too little marrow to start and had to heap it on at the end to use it up with the remaining bread.

Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes — by far, my favorite dish. So tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The recipe was posted on the Web site recently, but I’ll be surprised if we can duplicate this to exactness.

We also ordered dessert: Sicilian Iris which is a ricotta and chocolate chip-filled fried brioche and toasted cinnamon soft serve ice cream.

This place is a foodie’s dream, really, but save up if you plan on going. It’s not cheap, but it’s a unique dining experience. Even if you’re a picky eater and parts of the pig I’ve mentioned don’t appeal to you, you won’t go hungry.

Eating at The Purple Pig, for me, was just another reminder of why my husband is the perfect match for me. I would never have chosen to eat there on my own, and I certainly wouldn’t have tried new foods, especially parts of the pig I didn’t think were edible, without him. He stretches me in good ways.

For breakfast the next morning, we went back to Fox & Obel for pastries. Their bakery is one of the top 10 bakeries in the country. We ordered a cinnamon swirl, a creme orange danish and a brioche tart. After shopping a bit in the grocery, we also bought egg nog lattes and took our breakfast back to the lobby of our hotel. It was the perfect way to end our trip. We sat, ate and talked without interruption. Of all the things we did, it’s hard to choose a favorite, but this was the moment I felt most connected to my husband.

Some people eat to live. At times, we live to eat. This was one of those times.

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