23 July 2013

Chicago Food!

More about Chicago Food during the IFT Conference! Man, how I wish I could've stayed here longer to eat more!

1. Giordano's - Special Deep Dish Pizza

Here I was, jumping around excitedly like a 5 year-old at the planetarium! "Oh deep dish pizza! I've stalked you on Wikipedia and Google Images for years... and now I can finally have you!" For a busy, famous restaurant on a sunny Friday afternoon, Giordano's managed to squeeze the 12 of us into one large booth, without reservations and only a 15 minute wait. The food did take a while to arrive, which was completely acceptable. Although there were various other foods on the menu (Italian roast beef sandwiches, soup, thin crust pizza, etc.), we were all set on ordering deep dish pizza. We ordered three medium pizzas and 2 plates of fried calamari + lemon + green beans + onion(?). The calamari was good (but isn't it always?) while I found the green beans to be really soggy. After one is done with the appetizers, the waiter/ess comes and whisks away your plate. We learned this the hard way after JT's plate was nabbed, even though he had already sprinkled herbs, parmesan, and other condiments onto his plate, ready for sticking to his slice of pizza.

The medium pizza was meant for 3-4 people, so we divided ourselves up according to preferences. My group and I ordered the "Special", which was mushroom, green pepper, onion, and sausage. The other two pizzas were pesto + chicken(?) and half mushroom, half something else. Ah, I appear to have not paid attention.

The pizza arrived on a metal plate that fit over a plate-chair, underneath which there was a cake pan full of condiments. RN joked about taking away the cake pan for cooking back at Cornell.

I consumed a wondrous quarter of deep-dish pizza (with one issue)! The bottom was a thick, bready crust, topped with plenty of onions and peppers and exactly 5 measly chunks of sausage, topped with a thick layer of cheese, topped with tomato sauce. The cheese was extremely stretchy and the crust was perfectly doughy and crusty (with the bottom being noticeably undercooked and floury). However, I did not encounter any sausage until I was 3/5 done with my slice (or 4/5, if you consider only the saucy part, and not the crust). I guess they only sprinkle the sausage on the perimeter. I am not entirely happy with the fact that there were only about 20 grape-sized chunks of sausage in the entire wheel of a pizza, but otherwise, I was satisfied and rotund.

[UPDATE 7/26: My brother's friend agrees with me regarding the dearth of sausage on the pizza]

That evening, I found another pizza place but I didn't try any because I was still digesting my luncheon.

2. Portillo's - Chicago-Style Hot Dog

The next day, I went out exploring all the great grocery stores and streets of Chicago. Chicago really likes revolving doors. I happened upon Portillo's on my way to the Doughnut Vault. Portillo's is in this indoor courtyard-type place, with old-style interior design which was part barn, part street, and part sqalid close-knit neighborhood. There were ribs, frozen custard and Italian roast beef sandwiches along with the classic Chicago hot dog. Portillo's opens at 10:00, and I chanced upon it at 10:08am. By that time, there had already been 17 previous orders! 20 to 30 people were milling about, eating or waiting for their food, while cheerful swing(?) music pranced around in the background. At one table, a group of 4 ate hot dogs and drank beer from giant goblets. The person in front of me asked for ribs, only to be told that one could only get ribs at the adjacent food stand.

The hot dog sausage was very normal. Boiled. Boring. The intriguing parts of the Chicago hot dog are the poppyseed bun, the pickle spear, and the various plant items in it. Overall, the hot dog was underwhelming. Just ok.

There was also an advertisement for garbage salad.

3. Doughnut Vault - Chestnut Yeast Doughnut and Coconut Old-Fashioned Doughnut

I love the Doughnut Vault! The entire setup is perfectly comical. Outside the literal hole-in-the-wall, painted on the brick is this a bright and humble menu. I arrived at about 10:45 am. As I walked in, the letterbox on the door facing the wall had two slots - Love Letters and Hate Mail. Cute, I thought absent-mindedly, as I heard a voice say that I had just beaten the Saturday morning crowd. It turns out that the Doughnut Vault gets pretty busy in the morning, and their opening hours are determined by whether they still have doughnuts. Look at this line from two years ago! Fortunate for me, by the time I had arrived, ther were only about 6 people relaxing at the table outside the store.

To the left of the letterboxes, there was a small countertop. To the right of the countertop was a glass/mirror menu and a shelf of doughnuts hidden in a cubby. The two people at the counter were extremely friendly! The woman let me halfway past the counter to look at all the doughnuts. For a small shop, they had a wide selection of doughnuts! There were chocolate, vanilla, and chestnut yeast doughnuts, and coconut, gingerbread, and possibly some other "old-fashioned" doughnuts. I asked which kind Dunkin has (because I'm not a fan of Dunkin's Doughnuts), and she said that she didn't know.

I got the coconut doughnut, and after a small deliberation, also got the chestnut one because I've never had chestnut-flavoured non-Chinese products. I brought the doughnuts to Millenium Park to eat (but I ended up saving the Chestnut one for breakfast the next day). The smothering icing on the coconut doughnut was really good, even though I know it was probably just powdered sugar and water. There were a few shreds of coconut mingled with the icing, but the doughnut was not overall coconutty. There were small black specks throughout the icing, which could've been vanilla or some other flavouring, but whatever it added was decidedly undetectable.

It turns out that Dunkin probably does the yeast doughnuts, because I didn't particularly enjoy the chestnut doughnut texture, while the "old-fashioned" coconut doughnut was fantastically fatty and cakey.

The chestnut doughnut icing had stuck itself to the paper bag (what a pretty paper bag!) There was no chestnut flavour, so I was not a huge fan.

4. Grocery Stores! As you may know, whenever I go to a new place, I enjoy visiting their grocery stores to see what regional things they sell.
  1. Some small convenience store near The Wit, near under a bridge and possibly around some milkshake place. Here, there were Dill Pickle Lays Potato Chips, Limon Lays Potato Chips, and Honey BBQ Lays Potato Chips. I bought the Honey BBQ ones because I have tried Dill Pickle ones before in Montreal. They were a bit sweet but did not taste like honey. Overall, they weren't as salty or dark as normal BBQ chips.
  2. Dominick's

    Here, I bought some Limon Cheetos because I'm pretty sure the East Coast doesn't really have them. I have yet to try them though. Dominick's was pretty nice, overall. It's still hilarious to me that one strolls in and out of the store through a revolving door.
  3. Fox & Obel - This was a fancy gourmet market where there were gummy pandas as opposed to gummy bears. The entire place was dimly lit and there were so many confections.
  4. Trader Joe's - Felt just like the Trader Joe's in NJ and in Philly. Bought a peach because I anticipated eating no real fruit or vegetables in Chicago. While eating the peach, I got mistaken for a local. Why, thank you!
  5. Jewel Osco - I got a guacamole sample, noted the ordinary chip selection, and left.
5. The Blommer Chocolate Factory

I purposely got "lost" in Chicago. I wasn't actually lost, because I knew that if I walked towards the tall towers (specifically, the Willis tower), I'd end up in the touristy business district. On the way there, on Kinsie Street, I saw a Chocolate Factory! As I walked towards it, the I noted a bunch of trucks, and the smell of chocolate wafted towards me. A real chocolate fragrance. Unbelieveable. At the intersection (directly opposite Jewel Osco) was the chocolate shop, open to the public.

I wonder if they change the banner every year.

The shop had so many chocolate and non-chocolate items. The shopkeeper was really friendly. When I asked whether they sold dark chocolate by the half-pound and he said no, he went into the back and gave me a large chunk of the dark chocolate I had been eying. It was pretty good, and I was satisfied. He also said that all the chocolate-covered things are not manufactured by them, but they do cover the things (Oreos, nuts, dried fruit, espresso beans) in their chocolate. They had quite a selection of chips, chunks, blocks, bars, and sugar free delicacies.

I was debating between (dark?) chocolate-covered espresso malt balls or chocolate-covered brownie chunks, and ended up buying half a pound of the malt balls because I can make chocolate-covered brownies myself! They are thickly covered with this soft, compound chocolate coating that doesn't taste very much like coffee. There is only a faint coffee aftertaste. texture is more like hardened ganache than chocolate. It's not bitter at all, which is uncharacteristic of dark chocolate. The bright side is that the malt balls are NOT like Whoppers (i.e. they lack that bizarre waxy mouthfeel).
Incidentally, I met the Blommer company at the IFT Expo and they gave me (and everyone else) an ice cream bar.

6. IFT Reception and IFTSA Mixers
My take on the Chicago hot dog.
My take on the Italian roast beef sandwich. It was good.
Had my first jalapeno popper. 

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