To tempt you, I thought I'd just lead off with one of the best meals I had when I was in Chicago this past weekend, visiting family for the 4th of July. This is The Bell Ringer from Firehouse Grill in Evanston. The weather wasn't the greatest on my trip, but it was perfect for shopping, checking out the little boutiques, and staring out the car window at some of the large, gorgeous houses we passed on the way back to their place.
It was also the ideal temperature outside for digging into a post-shopping burger topped with buttery melted cheddar cheese accompanied by sour cream and chili on the side waiting to be slathered on top. The meat was grilled and seasoned correctly; the bun-to-burger proportions were correct; and the extra toppings added to, rather than detracted from, the balance of creamy, salty, beefy richness.
Being a big burger fan, I'm very sensitive to good quality, flavorful meat being used to create my meal. I had no complaints about this one. In fact, I was dreaming about having it again the next day, and had I been able to control the agenda, we would have eaten there again.
The day after our Evanston trip, we went to Lincoln Square. Unfortunately, many of the shops were closed, as it was the 4th of July; however, luckily for me, the kitchenware store was open, and I managed to drag my brother and sister-in-law inside to have a look around. At The Chopping Block, I found the cutest and most practical Reusable Grocery Tote I've ever seen. Because I sometimes decide on my way home to drop by the grocery store, and because I hate having tons of plastic shopping bags lying around the kitchen, these collapsible, foldable totes caught my eye.
I liked them so much and the price was so right ($5.00 per bag) that I bought one of each type they had. I used them the day after I got back from Chicago for a dry run to pick up some things for breakfast. The bag definitely could have held more items, but I probably wouldn't put many additional very heavy things into it. As a plus, so that I could keep my hands free to handle things like my keys and my Blackberry, the handles were long enough that I could carry this over my shoulder.
After the kitchen store, my brother and I loitered in Urban General Store for a little bit, checking out their display of cards and assorted knicknacks. We decided to pass on buying the bacon mints and some of the other geegaws that they had there. By these time, we were feeling as though we needed to make a decision about where to eat lunch. We'd browsed a few menus at the restaurants that were open. As we were with my little nephew, we needed someplace child-friendly.
We ended up at Fiddlehead Cafe. It's a very good sign when everyone at the table thinks that there's several different options from which he/she can choose. We all thought that there were a few meal choices that would be great, whether we were on the lunch or breakfast side of brunch. My sister-in-law's smoked salmon platter looked gorgeous, and I had to restrain myself from reaching over with my fork to sample some of it. It came with the appropriate accoutrements: capers, tomato, cucumber, bagel, and cream cheese. This was a good dish for her to have ordered, as she was also helping my nephew to tackle a side dish of greasy, well-spiced hash browns. He's just starting to try real food, so it is a bit of a challenge at the moment.
My brother's chilaquiles were so fragrant that they made the whole table smell great. We even let my tiny nephew sample some of the salsa-baked tortilla chips, which he gobbled up. I opted for the handkerchief crepes with mushroom cream sauce and spinach. The sauce was wonderfully rich, but it was the plating that made the dish. The spinach was in a mound in the middle, the crepes were folded into triangles with the mushrooms in the sauce and on top. The edges of the crepes were still visible, so there was a contrast of soft interior and crispy exterior. I would definitely go back there to have these again.
The good food continued the next day, my last one in town. We headed for brunch at Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park, a local institution. While my brother and sister-in-law opted for breakfast fare, I decided to try their stuffed quesadilla to keep me going on my trek back home. I'm not sure who made the better food choices because mine tasted great, but I kept glancing over to see if there might be any stray bits of the plate-sized pancakes left.
Alas, there were not. The only person who seemed willing to share his food was our other companion, who decided first to smear the black beans across his face and then plopped his tongue out of his mouth when it was full of beans. I guess he was just enjoying his meal, too.
In just a few short days, and with a pint-sized child in tow, I think that I did well to cover several neighborhoods, and I certainly got to have some great meals. I could definitely re-visit these spots again and take in some more shopping and eating in Chicago.