Sunday, August 31, 2014

Scenes From Chicago

Last spring my husband came to me with an idea. "Hey, what do you think about taking a trip to Chicago in August?"

"You mean for our anniversary?!? Honey, that is SO sweet!" He never plans ahead, so I was gleefully shocked to think he was imagining a romantic getaway for us months in the future.

"Oh, err, um, yeah. For our anniversary. And also, the Orioles will be in town."

So last week we jetted out to Chicago to see John's favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, play the Cubs...I mean, for a romantic anniversary weekend.

Either way, I was excited because it was our first big trip together in 7 years and our first time away from all three kids EVER. At this point I would be happy to go on a date to our local Chili's if it meant I could remain seated for the entire meal and not listen to a squeaky voice yell "BITE! BITE! BITE!" every time I lift my fork to my mouth (even though she has the exact same thing cut up in tiny pieces in front of her), so I was ecstatic to be able to eat meals and sleep in a bed in an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT STATE.

As I mentioned, John is not much of a planner, but lucky for him, I AM. I researched, asked friends, read blogs, made reservations and bought tickets. I typed up a color-coded itinerary for us. And printed out copies. On second thought, it's amazing he agreed to travel with me at all.

I planned your typical Chicago-tourist type things like a show at Second City and an evening at the 95th floor of the John Hancock building to take in the spectacular city view.
At the Signature Room: the dining experience was ok, the views were unparalleled. 

I planned some not-so-typical things like a restaurant where we ate dinner from a nest...
"Um, what do you mean my dinner is 'in here somewhere'?

...and a charred stump.
I believe this experience merits it's own blog post. (see here)

Some of my plans did not pan out so well, which can often be the case when you're somewhere new and unfamiliar. However, my husband (the man who never plans ahead and is never on time) is blessed with what seems to be this innate streak of good luck that causes things to naturally work out for him even better than if he followed a color-coded itinerary.

We had tickets for a riverboat architecture tour, which was cancelled. A heavy rainstorm the night before had caused the water levels to rise, making it impossible for the boat to pass under some of the bridges. Who knew?

Instead, John suggested we make our way down to Navy Pier.

Navy Pier is Chicago's number one tourist attraction and I had read reports that it can be an overly-crowded, overly-commercialized tourist trap. But, for whatever reason, on our visit that morning there were no lines, no crowds, and a delightful breeze blowing in from the harbor to cool down the August heat. Maybe the rainy forecast had discouraged other travelers from exploring the pier that morning. Or maybe it was just my husband's dang lucky streak that made it all fall into place.

Ferris wheel selfie!

I was also DETERMINED to try a Chicago-style hot dog while we were in town. I'm convinced that really good hot dogs are one of life's greatest pleasures, ranking right up there with fresh pasta and nachos. If I were on a deserted island and could only eat one food for the rest of my life, I would readily choose bun-sized, all-beef hot dogs as long as I had a grill and a variety of fresh toppings.

In Chicago, they serve their hot dogs on a poppyseed bun with mustard, onions, relish, sliced tomatoes, a pickle spear and spicy sport peppers.

Naturally, a Chicago dog is a MUST while in Chicago, and I decided that if I was going to eat a Chicago dog, it might as well be the BEST hot dog in Chicago.  All my research pointed me to a little place in the north side of Chicago called Hot Doug's. Reviewers raved about the "foie gras dog" and the "duck fat fries." "Without exaggeration, the best hot dog restaurant in the world!" one exclaimed. Hot Doug's even has a quote emblazoned on a large, hot dog-shaped sign that reads, "There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats,' my friend." I would have to agree.

The reviewers mentioned there would be a line. Unfortunately, they neglected to mention exactly how long that line would be.
I had to swipe this photo off Instagram since I was too distraught at the time to document my disappointment.

By the time we arrived at 11:30am, the line was already 3 hours long. See the itsy-bitsy red awning in the photo above? That's Hot Doug's. From where we were in line, you could not even see the awning. People brought LAWN CHAIRS and COOLERS with them to wait in line. An ice cream truck circled by to sell frozen treats to sweaty customers as they waited. I'm surprised no one whipped out a grill to tailgate before the main event. I don't know what makes people willing to spend half a day waiting for a hot dog, but Doug must have hired the Angels themselves to grind the meat and add spices from Heaven.

Sadly, I don't know what the word's best hot dog tastes like, because we couldn't wait for 3 hours. We had a baseball game to get to.

And the best part of the game for me? My husband bought me a big ol' Chicago-style hot dog.
Verdict: fresh, spicy, sweet. It's no Carolina dog, but I'd eat another. Especially if it happened to be made by meat-grinding angels.

For some reason, John was quite frustrated I kept calling this place "Wrigley's Stadium," so I must inform you that it is actually named WRIGLEY FIELD and it is a national historic treasure or something like that.
They had some cute t-shirts for sale with little bears on them, but John wouldn't let me buy one.
Other highlights included fresh pasta from Eataly; part restaurant, part gourmet grocery, part bookstore, part kitchen store. It reminded me of the marketplaces in Florence, only a LOT cleaner and without exclamations of Ciao, Bella! every 10 steps. Eataly: cheesy name, amazing place. Check it out.

We also had dinner with my sister, Katie, (a Chicago resident) at award-winning restaurant and dessertery Mindy's Hot Chocolate. The food was so good we forgot to take pictures.
But we did manage one fuzzy snapshot for our mom. You're welcome, Mom!
Finally, we did managed to snag a ride on a riverboat architecture cruise right before leaving for the airport. If you do one thing while in Chicago, this is it.

We had a wonderful time. It wasn't all romance and rose petals, we went to 2 baseball games, after all. There was even the occasional argument, like when we almost missed our departing flight. Twice. (It was John's fault.) But I attribute the success of our trip to 5 things:

1. My excellent planning
2. John's knack for winging it when my plans go awry
3. Yummy food
4. Occasionally making out
5. Appreciating the moments together, particularly those spontaneous and unplanned

Come to think of it, those are the things that make our marriage work too.

And a big, giant THANK YOU to all the grandparents who made this trip possible! Although we are currently in the throws of some serious DETOX, it was well worth it. ;)

Note: Because some have asked, all photos were taken with my iPhone and most were edited with the apps Snapseed or VSCO Cam.


  1. So excited to read this! We'll be taking a trip to Chicago next month, so I'm taking notes! Note: stay away from Hot Doug's, haha

  2. Hmmmm...the nest sounds intruiging...can't wait to hear more about that!