Friday, July 8, 2011

The Weekend Gourmet Goes On Vacation: Chicago July 4th Trip...

I'm back from a fantastic vacation getaway to Chicago, and I've got lots of adventures to share with y'all! We enjoyed a few days of fun times spent with family, visits to museums and other tourist attractions, an AMAZING U2 concert at Soldier Field, and cooler summer temperatures than we're used to in Texas. Of course, this is a food you KNOW that we sampled some of Chicago's best foods along the way. 

When our plane landed last Friday, our first stop was Giordano's to have our favorite deep-dish stuffed-crust pizza. We've sampled all of the  well-known pizza joints in Chicago, but Giordano's is hands down our favorite. In fact, we ate there TWICE on this trip! The pizza isn't just deep dish, it has a top and bottom crust that's stuffed with cheese and other fillings. Then it's topped with a delicious tomato sauce and baked to perfection. One or two slices is all I can eat...this pizza is delicious, but very filling!

We had reservations at Rick Bayless's  Frontera Grill on Saturday night. This was our third time to eat there, and the food was as wonderful as ever. This was our night to splurge, so we had margaritas, appetizers, entrees, and dessert. We arrived at 800 and left around 1030, full and happy!  We started out with Topolo Margaritas...they were sweet and tangy, with a smooth flavor. They're my all-time favorite margarita. They go down so easy...especially with the appetizer sampler platter. The Frontera menu changes monthly, but this month's appetizer platter featured sublime guacamole, cheese quesadillas, ceviche tostadas, jicama/cucumber/pineapple salad, and chicken taquitos. It was a fantastic combination of flavors and textures. I especially love their creamy, delicious guacamole.

My entree was the tacos pastor: pork strips marinated in ancho chile and grilled with pineapple and crispy bacon. It was served with frijoles charro, more of the delicious guacamole, refried black beans, and homemade corn tortillas. This is Mexican street food elevated to gourmet cuisine! Our dessert was one of the best that we've ever eaten anywhere: tres leche cake infused with tequila, topped with toasted meringue. On the side were delicious local strawberries, candied pistachios, and tequila gelatin "jewels." This was dessert bliss. The tequila presence wasn't overpowering...the tequila-flavored gelatin was like a gourmet jello shot -- so CREATIVE! The strawberries were the perfect touch!

The next morning, our family took us out for Mexican breakfast at Nueva Leon in the predominantly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood. They started us out with a complimentary sample of pinto beans cooked with pork and served with a corn tortilla...simple goodness! We shared a plate of yummy nachos while we waited for our food to come. I chose chilaquiles...eggs scrambled with crispy corn tortillas, onions, and peppers. It was served with Mexican rice and refried beans. It was so good...down-home Mexican cooking done right!

Our July 4th foodie adventures found us at Portillo's, one of our go-to places for inexpensive eats! They have a huge menu, but we go there for the Chicago-style hot dogs, grilled Polish sausages, and Italian beef sandwiches. I opted for an Italian beef: thinly sliced roast beef piled into a roll and topped with sauteed peppers and picked veggies. Eating one of these sandwiches is a messy proposition, but that's why there's plenty of napkins at each table!  We shared an order of cheese fries with our sandwiches and waddled out with full bellies, ready to celebrate July 4th.  We went back to our cousin's house to watch several nearby fireworks displays from his front stoop. We had a few drinks and listened to some blues was a very low-key celebration. Fireflies were flitting about in the yard, and best of all? Temperatures were a good 20 degrees cooler than in San Antonio! It was a lovely night...

The next morning, I set out on a solo foodie expedition while the guys went to check out a record shop. My first stop was Trader Joe's to pick up a few goodies to bring back in my suitcase. Unfortunately, my box of Jo-Jo's was confiscated by Security at Soldier Field before the U2 concert, but the rest of my stash went undetected in my tote bag! My next stop was the Vosges Haut Chocolat boutique to pick up a few goodies, including a chocolate bar and some of their decadent hot cocoa.

My last stop was More Cupcake Bakery, which I heard about from my food blog friend Kim at Recipes to Run On last week. Wow...what a find! That place is like an art museum-slash bakery. She had so many creative flavors to choose from, and each one is decorated so beautifully. I only had room for two cupcakes in my bag, so I opted for the signature More and a Grand Marnier. Both were fantastic...the quality of the ingredients is evident from the first bite! The More flavor is made with Vahlrona chocolate and is filled with a white cream filling...sort of like a Hostess cupcake on steroids!

The rest of the trip featured a return visit to Giordano's for one more stuffed-crust pizza, a stop at Garrett's Popcorn to buy caramel crisp to bring home to friends and co-workers, and a lunch at Grand Luxe Cafe on Michigan Avenue before leaving town yesterday. You may be wondering how on earth I can button my pants after such overindulging the past few days. The only thing I can say is this: walking, walking, and more walking. We walked all over Chicago the entire time we were there...all that exercise really mitigated a lot of the damage. Now? We're back in Texas...we're trying to get caught up on sleep and get back into our normal routine. And? We're trying to readjust to 100+ temperatures after a few blissful days in the 70s and 80s! I'll be back with a standard blog post with recipe this weekend, but I hope you enjoyed a peek into our Chicago vacation!!

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