Tasting the Food of Chicago on a Food Tour

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I love food and when I was given the opportunity recently to do a food tour in Chicago, I jumped at the chance. I chose ‘Chicago Food Planet Food Tours’ because out of a total of 851 reviews on Trip Advisor, they had just 4 negative reviews and were rated #5 of all tours in Chicago. The tour visits 6 different locations and samples 6 different types of food while walking around the neighbourhood, learning and eating as you go.

I caught a train out to the suburb of Bucktown/Wicker park as the tour was not in the centre of Chicago. It didn’t take long and wasn’t expensive. I was instructed to meet at “George’s Hot Dogs”. Our guide introduced herself and then all 8 of us joining the tour gave a little introduction to say where we had all come from. I was the only foreigner, all others were from America. We were given a simple 4 page ‘Tour Guide’ which gave details of all the places we were due to visit with their websites, contact details and opening hours as well as a map of the tour. It had vouchers for each place in case we visited again after the tour and also included a list of other recommended restaurants.

The first stop on our tour was a traditional hot dog from “George’s Hot Dogs”. Chicago is renown for its hot dogs but not the ‘traditional’ hot dogs that you think of when you think of America. There is no ketchup to be seen on this dog. After hearing about how George and his family moved to America from Greece, we heard how his little hot dog restaurant became something of an institution in the area. So here we were educated in the ways of the Chicago Hot Dog. A hot dog roll, a sausage, yellow mustard, green relish, spicy peppers, sliced tomato, a pickle spear and celery salt. My word, it was delicious and nothing short of a full size portion – no samples here. This hot dog won the award for “Chicago’s best hotdog in 2008”. I’m not sure who has won since then – these dogs are definitely the best!

When we had all finished, we made our way up the street to the next location called “Hot Chocolate” created and run by Mindy Segal, a pastry chef with over 20 years experience. The website states: “The urban café is a marriage of contemporary food and desserts inspired by seasonal and local ingredients.” Mindy has won various awards including two consecutive years of the Time Out Chicago’s Eat Out Awards for ‘Best Pastry Chef’. This lady knows what she is doing…

We were served a cold, creamy chocolate milk with a homemade marshmallow. It was so delectable, I finished mine a bit too quickly. Others in the groups struggled saying it was a little too rich or sweet. I hadn’t noticed… We found out that you could buy packets of the mix and the first 2 ingredients to add to the chocolate powder were cream and full cream milk – gulp. My waistline is not going to be happy… but it was so worth it!

When we’re done indulging in our chocolate drink and hearing about all the decadent things one can eat at this restaurant, we headed a bit further up the street to “Goddess & Grocer”, a gourmet deli and catering business that has catered for the likes of the Rolling Stones and Madonna.

Walking in, my eyes twinkled at the variety of tasty treats available and when their websites states, “ready made salads, a fresh salad bar, sliced deli meats and cheeses, artisanal cheeses, rotisserie chicken and a selection of groceries including handmade chocolates, cookies and desserts, pastas and sauces, mustards, dressings and condiments, crackers, snack items, wine and beer”, they aren’t kidding. This is NOT the place to come to when you’re hungry!!! (or maybe it is!)

Here we were treated to a sample portion of roasted vegetable salad with goats cheese which was very tasty. The vegetables were cooked perfectly (slightly soft without being mushy) and the goats cheese provided a salty topping which complemented the salad beautifully. After looking (and drooling) at the other things on offer, we headed back outside.

With ever-filling tummies, we then headed over to Piece, a pizzeria and brewery. In a secluded part of the rather large airy restaurant, we were fed a slice of pizza and a small glass of beer. Could this get any better?

Piece opened in July 2001 after converting a roofing company garage into a pizzeria with a skylite ceiling and a sunken lounge. The atmosphere is chatty, laid back and friendly. Beer and pizza will do that to you. The brewer, Jonathan Cutler, has won 21 major awards since 2002 so if you do stop by, make sure you sample some of their beers.

A few nights a week, they offer karaoke and by the looks of some of the pictures on their website, it is an evening filled with fun and laughter.

Heading back outside again, we now explore the surrounding neighbourhood and our guide tells us all sorts of interesting facts about the buildings, the people, the parks and the history.

It’s a glorious day and we enjoy both the sunshine and cool shade. Before long, we arrive at “Sultan’s Market”. This middle eastern food restaurant was opened 12 years ago by May Ramli. She grew up in Jordan and didn’t visit a restaurant herself until she was 18 yrs old. When she opened ‘Sultan’s Market’, she had a hit from the very start with her home-made hummus. She still oversees the preparation of the food and the cash register in the restaurant.

The food in the buffet bar that we walked past all looked fresh, tasty and very tempting. The place is spotlessly clean, the atmosphere distinctly eastern with mosaic lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Walking past an impressive number of trays of baklava, our group was all seated together in a few corner tables and after hearing about how the restaurant came to be, we were served a pitta bread filled with a falafel, hummus and a cucumber salad. I was so full by this stage, I am embarrassed to say, I fished out the hummus and cucumber salad and took a few bits of the pita bread but I just couldn’t manage any more.

We are just around the corner from our final stop and with heavy footsteps and bulging tummies, we arrive in front of iCream, an ice cream cafe. What an unusual place. This is how it works…

You walk in and decide… Hmm, I really feel like a peanut butter and mango sorbet ice cream. You walk up to the counter and order it and they make it – easy! Yes, they have equipment that is capable of making your favourite flavours on the spot. With their rapid-freezing liquid nitrogen machines (which look like something from outer space) they are capable of producing your peanut butter and mango sorbet in a matter of seconds. Nothing here is pre-prepared.

So we indulge in a small tub of ice cream (far TOO small really!) and think back over the last 3 hours.

What a wonderful time we’ve had. We’ve seen and learnt about the neighbourhood (a little different from downtown Chicago which was nice), we’ve walked about 1.5 miles which I claimed as my exercise of the day and tasted not 1 but 6 different foods, all which came with a little bit of history. It felt we were really experiencing the city and seeing ‘behind the scenes’ instead of just being a tourist.

I loved the way the food tour was run. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable and made the 3 hours simply fly by. Do try their tours if you are in the Chicago area.