Monday, November 21, 2011

Chi-Town and Chinatown

Chi-Town and Chinatown = mega detox needed.

Mr P and I had such an amazing time in Chicago this past weekend.  Mr P's brother (and friends and girlfriend) are great hosts, and knew the best places take us...  places with good cheap food, and good cheap beer!  ...and we did it all with enough time to have a night "in" drinking wine and playing games.  They know us too well!

Friday night:

We started off with a few relaxing beers at Monsignor Murphy's, a pretty standard pub with lots of TVs and a chill crowd.  AND $11 pitchers!  I don't think anyone was really in a mood to drink a lot until Mr P heard those words.

After a few drinks we headed to Cheesie's, because we heard that the mac-n-cheese grilled cheese blah blah blah... I think we were sold with the idea of putting mac-n-cheese inside a grilled cheese sammich.  The last time we were in Chicago Mr P was inspired to start making pizza after having Ian's mac-n-cheese pizza... I wonder if he's going to be a grilled-cheese-making machine after this trip?

Cheesie's mac-n-cheese on grilled cheese sammich


Mr P's brother's girlfriend (KP... no that's really his name for her) recently found out she was gluten-intolerant (not sure if that's the correct way of saying it, but you know what I mean).  She wasn't sure what to think of it, and when she first found out that's what was causing her to not feel well, she wanted to only eat things that normally didn't contain gluten, because she thought that using substitutions for foods that normally contain gluten would taste "sub-par" to the real thing.  No so, my friend.  She was pleasantly surprised of the delicious "substitutions" that everyone can enjoy, regardless of dietary needs.

We started off the day at a gluten-free bakery in Lakeview near their home called Cassava.  Everything in the bakery is gluten-free, and the baked goods are made with tapioca flour (from a cassava plant).  We were impressed from the start at what was to come for the rest of the day!  This place is SOO good!  The cassava rolls were kind of gummy, almost like Japanese mochi, but each was flavored with either bacon, jalapeno and cheese, or dark chocolate. You can also get empanadas with similar fillings, and equally as delicious.  Mr P also ordered their gluten-free chili with grass-fed beef (the name itself is not exactly appetizing) but it was some of the best chili we've ever had!  It was sweet, spicy, and rich, making us want to savor every bite.

dark chocolate cassava roll

hot chocolate and cassava rolls

cassava empanada

cassava empanada

gluten-free chili with grass-fed beef

Next we headed up to Pilsen, a predominately Hispanic community (or so it seemed) on the southwest side of Chicago, to stop by a model-train shop/bar called Zientek's.  Yes, it was both, and yes, it was odd.  It was so awkward it was uncomfortable, yet comical at the same time.  We met friends there who were interested in model trains, so we thought "why not?"  The placed was locked, even though it was supposed to be open.    A man later came to the door to unlock and let us inside.  The place was cluttered with old model train parts and model train magazines.  The "bartender" had to shuffle dusty magazines off the "bar" to have a clear space for us to sit.  We all ordered a drink, chatted with the man (who really just wanted to know why a group of 20-something guys and girls in pea coats and scarves were doing at a place like that), and then checked out the model train shop upstairs.  As awkward as it was, it was pretty impressive the amount of things this man had, and apparently he had a pretty sweet model train (collection, maybe?) in the basement, but I chose not to go down there.

obsessed with Pilsen train stop artwork
We then took the bus to a more hoppin area of Pilsen and had Mexican food at Nuevo Leon.  I was sold when we were promptly surprised with a taco-like thing for each person as well as the standard chips and salsa with red and green salsa before we even ordered any food.  We let the "locals" (i.e. our friends) order the food for the table as we munched on the delicious freebies.  Not 10 minutes later we had enchiladas, tacos, and tamales filling our table.  The enchiladas were the best (even though we insisted on getting tacos because we just had amazing tacos in Philly).  They had a sort of sweet, rich mole sauce on them that i had never tasted before, and they totally got the prize for the best!  Tamales have become another favorite, with my newly-found cravings for all things made in corn flour.

freebie taco-like deliciousness

freebie taco-like deliciousness, pinch it and eat it!

freebie chips and salsa

tacos with corn tortillas (of course)

enchiladas with mole sauce


sort-of-sweet roll with chocolate on top (bakery down the street)

We headed downtown to check out the Christmas decorations being put up for the parade later that evening, but quickly realized it was too busy for us, and definitely not our cup-o-tea. We did get to see this puppet-show-on-a-bike-thing that seemed to catch the attention of at least 100 children near us, as well as our own boys, before we stopped in the Billy Goat Tavern for a drink (delicious beer btw... dark, not heavy, with a more-than-a-hint of honey taste).

Macy's never lets you down with Christmas decorations

puppet bike show?

don't mind the butt shot... he's stabilizing the bike for the show!

Billy Goat Tavern dark beers

Before heading to the Clamans' home in Lakeview, we were pleasantly introduced to Binnie's, an alcohol mega-store right down the street from Mr P's brother's apartment.  Liquor was cheap, and plentiful, the shelves full of basically any kind of liquor you wanted.  We picked up our goodies and headed in for a night filled with more food, more drinks, and super fun games!

Mr Claman himself with a machine-gun-shaped vodka at Binnie's

Mr P promised to make pretzels (after his brother talked them up so much to his friends), so we headed back to the Claman's home in Lakeview, where we grabbed our 3rd coffee of the day, and Mrs. Claman made gluten-free cake for KP's birthday and Mr P made his famous pretzels.  The cake was made with simple ingredients, and chickpeas instead of flour!  The flavor was rich and chocolaty, and the texture was right between cake, brownies, and fudge, all in one bite.  It wasn't a cake you could stab with a fork, as it was much more crumbly, but it almost melted in your mouth.

Mrs. Claman's gluten-free chocolate cake

As the pretzel dough was rising, we ate take-out from Crisp, and my Korean fried chicken cherry was finally popped.  THIS is what I was missing?!?!  How did I hide from it for so long??  I am the kind of person who enjoys wings and fried chicken, but I would never crave it (unless I smelled it of course)...  but THIS is something I will crave.  It's sort of like getting wings, but instead of the normal bbq sauce or buffalo sauce, it's spicy Korean flavors that compliment the chicken so, much, better.  You just have to try it (but beware, you will feel like a total fatty as you get your hands and face all messy and can't stop yourself from stuffing more in your mouth until it's gone).

ahhhh... Korean fried chicken....

The rest of the night we had Mr P's pretzels, drank, played drinking games, and ended the night with "the game of things".  I hereby pronounce "The Game of Things" the best game for breaking the ice at occasions when friends don't know other friends.  It was so fun, giving us all tears and tummy-aches induced by hardcore laughing.

pretzel balls beginning to bake

starting to rise and get golden

about to be taken out (yes, I stood in front of the oven the entire time watching them)

ready to be eaten!!

...we had to save some for everyone else.

happy birthday KP!

It's a good thing The Clamans live only 4 buildings down from Mr P's brother and KP... after a day like THAT, we were totally exhausted.


After sleeping in late, and KP grabbing me an amazing cup-o-joe from Intelligentsia, we rushed to Chinatown to meet with more friends for dim sum (as if we didn't feel like fatties enough already).  Some people LOVE dim sum, but Mr P and I like to go just because it's a great kind of food to eat with a big group of people.  People come around with carts of hot little Chinese dishes and you pick what you want from the carts.  I have no idea what anything is called, I just know that it's all pretty good.  It's mostly dumplings, small beef or pork or shrimp dishes, and fried goodness.  It's totally deceiving because you never have an entire table full of food, and they bring food and take it away so quickly that you just keep eating, and there comes a time that quickly smacks you in the face and your tummy tells you that you ate too much.  Every , single , time you eat dim sum, that's what happens.  We sat there for a long time catching up with friends before heading back to Lakeview to head off towards the airport.

What a whirlwind of an amazing weekend.  Excellent hosts, excellent food, and we will be back!  Next time we will have to make solid plans for ALL of those we plan to visit (who knew there were so many people in Chicago we needed to see??) especially since my cousin lives in Lakeview and it just didn't work out to meet up!! Grr...

But for now, it's detoxing with lots of gym time and lots of veggies and lots of fluids before another food-filled long Thanksgiving weekend begins on Wednesday.

thanks KP and Chris :D


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