The Chicago culinary scene gathered in celebration and recognition of the city’s culinary excellence at the 2019 Jean Banchet Awards. The prestigious honors are named after Chef Jean Banchet, a Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame inductee instrumental in making Chicago the culinary destination that it is today.
The ceremony presented by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is the only Chicago-based awards ceremony that recognizes culinary originality and talent throughout the region.
The top honors of the evening went to George Trois for Restaurant of the Year and Chef Jason Hammel for Chef of the Year.
Restaurant of the Year
George Trois is a French-influenced restaurant located in Winnetka. Chef/owner Michael Lachowitz is a third-generation chef who trained under great chefs, including famed chef Jean Banchet at Le Francais in Wheeling, IL. Each guest who books an experience at George Trois is treated to a 12-course chef tasting menu with each course delivered and explained by Chef Michael.
Chef of the Year
Jason Hammel of restaurants Lula Café in Logan Square and Marisol in the Museum of Contempory Art is known for spearheading the “farm-to-table” movement. Chef Hammel was among the first chefs to source local, organic ingredients, and build close relationships with Midwestern farmers.
The complete list of winners is listed below and with Restaurant Week running January 25-February 7, 2019 you have the perfect opportunity to visit some of the winners for great deals. I look forward to Restaurant Week every year because it’s the only time I feel like I’m getting a deal on food prices in the city (click here for my recap of last year). The pre fixe menus allow for diners to have several courses at one set price, starting at $24 for brunch and lunch, and $36 and/or $48 for dinner (excluding beverages, tax, and gratuity)
This year’s Chicago Restaurant Week will be the largest ever, with nearly 400 local restaurants participating, including over 100 first-time participants and 45 suburban restaurants.
I’ve included the links to each of the winning restaurants participating in Restaurant Week. Don’t miss your chance to get in on the fun celebrating Chicago’s excellent culinary scene!
Jean Banchet Complete List of Winners
Restaurant of the Year
Presented by the Illinois Restaurant Association: George Trois
Chef of the Year Presented by S.Pellegrino® Sparkling Natural Mineral Water & Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water: Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe, Marisol) Marisol Restaurant Week Menu
Dinner and a show at The Promontory in Chicago’s Hyde Park Neighborhood is a MUST. It’s the whole package for Chicago nightlife; A sophisticated hearth-driven restaurant with dishes from Executive Chef Carlos Cruz, solid cocktails, and live entertainment in an intimate venue paying homage to the legacy of the music and arts scene on Chicago’s South Side!
As a result of my recent evening at the Promontory for dinner and a show, I’m already planning a return! The space and vibe are right up my alley!
I was treated to all of the action happening in the kitchen from my seat at the Chef’s counter and the smells permeating the air along with my observations of the chefs had my mouth watering in anticipation. My friend and I started with cocktails and appetizers. The cocktail list is creative with flavor profiles for many palates. I ordered My Darling Clementine, and it was bomb delicious! When you sip and pause to contemplate, you know it’s a good cocktail.
I favored the smoked feta, sweet potatoes, and shishito peppers. I’m a bit obsessed with olives and the combination with the creamy and smokey taste of the feta along with the crunch of the hearth bread was divine. The hearth roasted sweet potatoes were smack yo mama good! This dish could be a side dish as well as a dessert in addition to an appetizer. The texture of the hearth roasted sweet potatoes was perfect, and popcorn and miso butter added a perfect balance of sweet and savory. I’m still dreaming about this. The shishito peppers were tasty with a slight fish flavor from the bonito! So Good!
I shared a video on my Instagram of the shishito peppers covered in bonito flakes, and many people commented asking if my food was alive. In case you’re wondering too, no. The movement was from the bonito flakes which are dried, smoked shavings of bonito fish; they’re so light and wispy the steam from the hot food makes them dance.
Shishito peppers with bonito flakes
We moved on to the entrees by ordering the scallops, lamb shank, and salmon. Watching as the chefs prepared scallops prompted me to order my own. I wasn’t disappointed. The lamb shank also stood out, it was tender and flavorful.
Promontory Music Venue
After our wonderful meal, we headed up to the 2nd-floor venue to catch the show featuring New Orleans brass band, the Abney Effect, part of the monthly Fat Tuesdays at the venue.
The energy, stage presence, and musicality had me in awe! It was spectacular! The crowd loved it; everyone was dancing and having a good time. FYI, my cocktail in the upstairs venue was again delicious. The Promontory has a plethora of culturally diverse shows for you to jam with. Click here for their full lineup and be sure add Dinner and a Show at The Promontory to your list of things to do in Chicago!
Click here for another great place to spend your evening in Chicago.
With so many fantastic restaurants in Chicago, especially in Wicker Park, it can be a challenge to stand out as one of the best.
Café Robey situated inside the Robey Hotel is a standout in my opinion. I recently enjoyed a much-needed girls night there with my friend April a.k.a The Tipsy Housewife. It was the perfect spot. When it comes to Girl’s Night, the place is almost as important as the company, lol. It’s not something that happens weekly so we choose our places wisely.
Cafe Robey checks all the boxes for food, atmosphere, wine, and excellent service. Our server was not only a conversationalist; he was also knowledgeable and excited about the menu and recommendations. The icing on the cake was The Up Room, a cocktail lounge located on the rooftop of the hotel. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic dinner!
I find it humorous that I’ve been introduced to yet another fabulous restaurant located inside of a hotel within a few months span since I’ve stated maybe too loudly in the past that I avoid all restaurants located in hotels because of past experiences with overpriced and underwhelming food. I was first blown away by Chef Caray of The Ashburn located inside of Loews Hotel O’Hare. Therefore, I’m developing a more open mind; perhaps some of the best Chicago restaurants are inside of hotels.
The Wicker Park neighborhood is a great destination for delicious food in Chicago! The Modern American fare restaurant sits at the famous 6 section intersection that gives me a pinch of anxiety every time I drive through it because you can bet your life I will misread the signs yet again and go down the wrong street. I think I’ve gotten it right once, lol.
The stunning interior and intimate lighting inside the cozy space is pleasing to the eyes and relaxing. I was glad that I dressed up! In addition, the seating is oh so comfortable, I swiftly melted into it. Adding wine to this formula made for animated and natural conversation which is what girls’ night should be; real and raw dialogue sharing all of who did or said what to you with your friends and enjoying the moment. We covered everything under the sun; business, loss, religion, family, foolishness, you name it! I intend on introducing more of my girlfriends to this place.
I recommend ordering a bottle of wine as the restaurant offers a nice variety of reds and whites. In addition, Monday through Thursday you can get full bottles of wine for ½ off. Good incentive to go out for a drink during the week. Our waiter recommended two different bottles for us and though we relished them both, the O.P.P made us stop in our tracks. I’ll be getting that every time.
Monday-Thursday all bottles of wine are half-off!
We ate a large portion off the menu and loved every minute of it. I’m more apt to remember everything I ate over everything we talked about, especially over 2 bottles of wine.
Some of the highlights from the evening were the tempura fried shrimp, it’s always a risk for me to eat anything fried since it usually doesn’t sit well with me, however, the shrimp was so light. It didn’t bother me one bit. The porchini pappadelle was another favorite. I savored the flavor of the rich gravy over the perfectly cooked pasta. The dill gave it a nice refreshing balance. The seared scallops and beef tartar were my other 2 favorites. Cafe Robey ranks as one of the best restaurants in Chicago for beef tartar in my opinion, it was definitely the best I’ve had so far.
The ganache for dessert was the perfect ending to an incredible meal. I’m not big on overly sweet desserts so this was a good option for me. Loved it!
After our fantastic meal, we headed upstairs to the UP Room for a cocktail. The lounge is on the 13th floor of the Robey Hotel. I had no idea what to expect and was beyond impressed by this discovery. This rooftop lounge has a spectacular view of the city, so anyone looking for a special night out in Chicago should check it out.
Cafe Robey is one of the best choices for restaurants in Chicago when you want the whole package. Hence, I see many girls nights here in my future as well a few date nights with the hubby.
Although April and I were hosted for dinner by Cafe Robey, we formed our own opinions and recommendations after an incredible dinner. As a result, I’ll be returning in the near future.
Milwaukee is a beautiful city and I can’t for the life of me recall why I’ve never traveled there for a getaway weekend in the past. My husband and I really enjoyed our recent visit there! Dave and I had no idea what to expect besides beer. We were pleasantly surprised during our trip and started planning our next visit to the city while still there.
We only scratched the surface during our exploration as we discovered there’s an abundance of activity to get involved in. We’re going to need several visits to really take in the history, arts, breweries, and culinary scene.
Here are a few highlights from our weekend.
Utility Box Mural
Utility Box Mural ‘Al McGuire and Marquette University’
Hilton Downtown Milwaukee City Center
Our visit was due to a business trip. Therefore, my husband’s company selected the hotel. We were both pleased with the choice of the Hilton in downtown Milwaukee. The hotel was built in 1927 and was originally the Schroeder hotel. It’s currently the city’s largest hotel. I was obsessed with architecture as there were so many attractive features and details! I can just imagine the lavishness of the guests who frequented the hotel in the 1920’s and 30’s. The preservation and balance between old and new are perfect! Also, the rooms were clean, spacious, and quite comfortable.
Hilton Downtown Milwaukee
Elevator inside Hilton Downtown Milwaukee
HIlton Downtown Milwaukee
Friday evening after check-in we headed out to dinner at Red Light Ramen, a local favorite in the east side neighborhood of Milwaukee. My husband was a bit skeptical when we arrived, but two of my Chicago foodie friends recommended this spot, and I trust their taste. The inside is intimate and seats 20 people at most. I enjoyed the vibe and the Hip Hop coming through the speakers whiled we dined. I even started chair dancing at one point much to Dave’s embarrassment! Whatever I gotta be me.
Our server recommended that I try one of their slushies as it’s a cocktail favorite and I’m so glad that I did. It was a Bourbon slushy, and it was incredible! I wanted a second, but I could only handle one, didn’t want to be asleep under the table. My husband did order a second bowl of ramen though after happily devouring the first one. The ramen was delicious so I couldn’t blame him. I made him share some of that second bowl with me.
No matter where I go, I’m brunching somewhere! We decided to hit Blues Egg to fuel up. Blues Egg is known for their pulled ham that’s pickle brined 21 days and slow roasted for 12 hours, stuffed hashbrowns, and monkey bread that allows you the option get it “crunk.” Crunk Monkey bread comes with a sinfully delicious Bourbon sauce that also goes well in your coffee.
Our server’s name was Peter, and he was delightful from start to finish. It’s obvious that he loves people and enjoys what he does. Peter offered to order for me. I don’t mess around with my food, but feeling adventurous, I handed him the reigns. He asked me a few questions and told me that he knew just the thing for me.
Dave had the Creamy Polenta; poached eggs, roasted mushrooms, braised kale, sauce fonduta while Peter chose the Far-Flung Wrap for me: scrambled eggs, house-made turkey sausage, aged provolone, curry tortilla, sour cabbage, avocado, chili hollandaise, and mushroom stuffed hashbrowns. Although I’m not big on wraps because they’re just meh to me, the flavor of this tortilla got me. It had a slight bit of heat to it and was tasty. The sour cabbage was yummy; if it were pickled, it would’ve been kimchi.
Overall, I was very happy with Peter’s choice for me and the combination of flavors. Blues Egg was my favorite meal from the weekend. In addition to the food, the atmosphere just gave me happy feelings. It could have something to do with the Motown sounds that were coming through the speakers. It just reminded me of our large family gatherings; always centered around food and music. I can’t recommend this place enough.
Our Waiter Peter and Me
Crunk Monkey Bread
Looking to get a bit of sightseeing in before heading to work meetings we rode over to Miller Town to peek around. Miller Brewery began in 1855 and is one of the oldest breweries in the United States. Driving along the roadway through Miller Town feels like you’re going back in time. We didn’t have enough time to do the brewery tour; it’s on the list for our next visit. I did pop in at Miller Inn, a Bavarian-style stein hall, to glance around. There’s a lot of history in there, and the interior is beautiful, with stained-glass windows, and artistic woodwork. The historic Miller Caves are located right behind the inn. The caves were dug in 1849 and were originally used to keep the beer cool. Nowaday’s the space is used to host beer pairing dinners.
Historic Miller Inn
Historic Caves at Miller Inn
Seeing as Dave and I are both art lovers, we sought out a few of the cities murals. My favorite stop was in Black Cat Alley in the East Side neighborhood. Once an empty alley, this destination is now filled with 30,000 square feet of artist’s murals, therefore, you’ll want to spend some time there admiring the work.
Black Cat Alley
Black Cat Alley
Several times throughout the weekend Dave or I would comment how good of a time we were having in the city and wished that we could stay another day to take in more of the sights.
Because we were so fascinated with the architecture in our hotel, we decided to stop and peek at another hotel in a historic building. The Hilton Garden Inn is housed in the 1846 built Loyalty building, and the staircase, details, and skylight are stunning!
Hilton Garden Inn
So much to see so little time! As much as I love beer, it was interesting that we didn’t hit up as many breweries as we could. But we did drink beer, just to be clear, lol. We just hung at the pub. We’re planning a brewery crawl for our next visit.
On our way home we stopped for breakfast at Mad Rooster Cafe in West Milwaukee and it’s another culinary winner! I had the Mad Omelette, and I wasn’t mad about my choice :). Add it to the list of breakfast places to dine at during your visit.
I can’t say enough about our weekend in Milwaukee, who knew! Not many! When I shared portions of our trip in my Instagram story, I received comments along the lines of “wow, I didn’t know Milwaukee was so nice!” Now you know! Tell me, have you visited Milwaukee? Where should I go next time? Inform me in the comments!
I look forward to December in Chicago every year; not because I like the cold and snow but because of all of the activities packed into the month. There’s so much to do in the month of December with many events being free or low cost so most can take advantage of them! Here’s a list of can’t miss activities happening during December in the city!
Inspired by the Christkindle Market in Nuremberg, Germany, this free outdoor market takes place in Daley Plaza. Explore German food, drinks, shopping, and entertainment thru December 24th. You can also catch the market in Naperville. Entry into the Christkindle Market is FREE.
One-of-a-Kind Show at The Mart
Browse hundreds of handmaid one-of-a-kind items from over 600 artists at The Mart December 6-9th! Tickets start at $12 or choose from ticket packages starting at $18. Pro Tip: If you sign up for emails from some of the featured artists you can score free tickets. Shoppers will have the opportunity to meet and engage with participating artists to learn about them, their creative process, and their work while shopping art, fashion, jewelry, wood, photography, glass, furniture, home goods, pet products, bath & body, and so much more! Everything you’re looking for in one place!
This free display happens Wednesdays-Sundays from 7-9pm. Hang out on the Chicago River Walk as the Merchandise Mart turns into the largest digital art projector in the world. Thirty-four projectors will showcase the works of four renowned contemporary artists during the 2-hour shows. The Mart spans two city blocks and is over 25 stories high, don’t miss this spectacular display
Hop on the Jolly Trolley to shop the Blocks of West Town during Winterfest on December 8th. Over 20 retailers will feature special promotions, one-of-a-kind items, and trunk sales. The guided tour lasts 3 hours, features all the shopping blocks and provides a “checked shopping bag” service, so you don’t have to worry about your gifts while you shop. Receive a $20 Gift Certificate when you purchase a $10 Jolly Trolley ticket. Adult beverages are provided during the trolley ride.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
The one-of-a-kind experience offers fun, free, family-oriented festivities, and hundreds of dynamic displays all under the glow of 2.5 million lights. Zoolights is free entry.
Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo
Ride the Polar Express
Hop on board AMTRAK’s Polar Express taking off from Chicago’s Famous Union Station! This is the only time it’s acceptable to wear your pajamas in public, since guests are encouraged to come dressed in their PJs, lol. Each 3-hour memorable ride includes live entertainment, delicious hot chocolate, a cookie, and a keepsake.
Navy Pier’s Winter Wonderfest
Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier is an annual Chicago winter event, featuring 170,000 square feet of carnival rides, giant slides, holiday-themed activities, and Indoor Ice Skating Rink, and more.
Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Aboretorum
Walk a mile long paved path amid a multitude of colors as interactive lighting effects highlight the beauty of trees in winter. Enjoy seasonal music, stare in amazement at the ever-changing, interactive lighting designs, and warm up by a crackling fire with a cozy drink or roast marshmallows for s’mores. Purchase tickets here.
Fast-casual restaurants are the bridge between fast food and full table service restaurants. These days options in The Loop are much more exciting than in years past. Finally, there are more unique offerings where one can sit down for a quick meal or pick up food to go without sacrificing quality instead of the usual chains.
Here’s a list of my ten favorites to visit when looking for a quick bite in the middle of the workday or when in need of refueling while shopping.
1. Gayles Best Ever:
Gayles was recently ranked in the top 20 of grilled cheese sandwiches in the country by the New York Post. The grilled cheese is simply amazing! She uses freshly baked sourdough bread and sources fresh locally made cheese, butter, meats, jams, and vegetables for her sandwiches. Trust me; you can taste the difference! You can find Gayles Best Ever in Block 37 in the Pedway Monday-Friday 7:00-6:00 p.m.
I only recently discovered Boar’s Head Cafe even though it’s only a few blocks from my office and has been open for two years. Boar’s Head, a family-owned company, has been in business for 110 years! Plainly stated, they believe in high service and high-quality ingredients without the use of fillers or msg. Two local Chicagoans own the café in The Loop. The sandwiches are made fresh and packed with flavor. Everything in here screams quality, from the gluten-free kettle chips to the locally made, all natural cookies. I was majorly impressed with how clean the restaurant is; I mean it’s pristine! Food is much more enjoyable in a clean environment. Hang out for a while or grab n go. This place is excellent, get in there already! Monday-Friday 6:30-6:00 p.m.
Made Fresh to order
Grab N Go
3. Roti Modern Mediterranean, 80 E. Lake St.
Roti’s purpose is ‘ to serve food that loves you back,’ it’s nice to have healthier fast-casual options in The Loop! Roti sources the best ingredients and prepares them straightforward so that all of the tastes come through. They practice sustainable sourcing. Their chicken is antibiotic free, their beef is grass-fed, and their salmon is always fresh, never frozen, and filleted by hand in the mornings. The lamb meatballs are the bomb! Open Daily 11-9 p.m. weekdays and 11-8 p.m. weekends.
BienMeSabe is a Venezuelan fast-casual restaurant that recently opened its Loop location. The original location is in Ravenwood. The interior is small, so you may do well to get your order to go. It packs up pretty fast. I darn near broke out in song and dance when I bit into one of their Arepas named the After Party. It was stuffed with roasted pork, Gouda cheese, and avocado slices. Holy SMOKES!!! Love at first bite is correct! On Wednesdays, you can get their arepas for $5.99! BienMeSabe is open Monday-Saturday 11-10 p.m. weekdays and 11-7 p.m Saturdays
The After Party
Love at First Bite
5. Sweetgreen: 1 N. Dearborn St.
Uncomplicated, seasonal, healthy food is what Sweetgreen is all about. It’s probably my favorite fast-casual place for salads near the office. I love the premium options offered, not many fast-casual places where I can get shrimp on my salad. Sweetgreen is the place to go when you want to know exactly where your food came from. This place gets pretty crowded, I usually order through the Sweetgreen APP and grab n go. Monday-Friday 10:30-8:00 p.m.
Sweetgreen: 1 N. Dearborn
6. Revival Food Hall: 125 S. CLARK ST.
Revival Food Hall
Revival Food Hall is your fast-casual fantasy; a massive, 24,000 square foot gourmet food hall that’s sure to overwhelm you with choices on your first visit. I can’t even begin to convey the excitement I felt when this spot opened in 2016! It features 15 fast-casual stalls of Chicago restaurants in a grab-and-go setting. It’s perfect for groups of picky eaters. My co-workers and I don’t always agree on where to lunch; Revival makes us all happy. Options include Nashville hot chicken, Detroit style pizza, Ramen, seafood from Brown Bag Seafood, desserts from Mindy’s Hot Chocolate and much more! Open Monday-Friday 7-7PM, Bar open til 9 p.m.
Mindy’s Hot Chocolate
Revival Food Hall
Brown Bag Seafood
Union Squared Pizza
Revival Food Hall
7. Frontera Fresca: Macy’s 7 on State, 111 N. State St.
Frontera Fresca dishes fresh gourmet Mexican food. The quick-service restaurant, located on the 7th floor of Macy’s on State St is the creation of acclaimed chef Rick Bayless. Hungry customers can choose from tortas, tacos, soups, salads and a fresh-made guacamole bar with a choice of toppings. Monday-Saturday 11 a.m to 3 p.m.
8. Beatrix Market: 23 E. Jackson Blvd
The offerings at Beatrix Market consists of self-serve salads, hot food bars, deep dish pizza, grab-n-go sandwiches, fresh fruits, snacks, coffee, and a pastry counter. There are 2 Beatrix Market locations in The Loop. I prefer the DePaul location on Jackson St. since a full-service bar and pizza counter are unique to that location. There’s also a Happy Hour from 2-5 p.m. Monday-Friday 7AM-7PM
9. Halal Guys: 172 N Wabash Ave
Halal Guys began as a hot dog cart in New York City and expanded into 2 NYC restaurants. Chicago is the first market outside of New York to experience Halal. The menu is simple. Halal certified beef and chicken, and basmati rice with special spices. Every day their chicken is seasoned with spices, marinated for 24 hours, and grilled. Their gyro meat is cooked on a cone, sliced, chopped fine, and then grilled to a golden brown. Customers can choose from either a sandwich or a platter, select their protein, and pack with toppings of choice. There are also 3 sauces to choose from including their famous white sauce! I tried to get the scoop on their seasonings but their lips were sealed. Halal Guys is open daily from 11-10 p.m.
10.Brightwok: 21 E. Adams St.
A newer addition to the Loop, Brightwok is a healthy, fast-casual, Asian restaurant that’s vegetable-focused. The restaurant marinates and grills their meats, prepare and mix sauces, and chop their vegetables every morning to deliver the freshest flavors. I usually go for the build-your-own bowl of stir-fry with a bit of heat. Their menu is gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free and all of their homemade sauces are vegan.
When it comes to Instagrammable places around Chicago, Cloud Gate and the Skyline backdrop come to many minds, rightfully so. It’s no secret that Chicago has a beautiful skyline that’s deservingly photographed by millions each year and appears all over social media, namely Instagram. However, there’s plenty of other Instagram worthy places to snap and post from around the city.
I was told this place gets pretty lively at night. However, our tour stopped in late Saturday morning for appetizers and cocktails. Space is plentiful and cozy with a large fireplace as a focal point for photos. The wall of greenery makes a beautiful backdrop too. Not only is the interior Instagrammable but the cocktails are too. They make a delicious Bloody Mary; the Jalapeno Passion Margarita is also a winner. Bottled Blonde would be a fun spot to gather and chill with friends. There’s also plenty of TVs for sports lovers. You must try the Mac N Cheese; it’s fantastic. All of our appetizers were good. We munched on the burrata, Tartufo fries, chicken wings, and as mention mac N cheese. If their other menu items are as good as the appetizers, you can’t go wrong.
2. Flamingo Rum Club Mural
You’ll find the Flamingo Mural in Chicago’s River North neighborhood on the corner of Wells and Ohio St. I’ve been an admirer of this mural for a long time. Its fun and colorful, with fanciful detail.
601 N. Wells St.
3. Paradise Park
Paradise Park in Wicker Park is a trailer park themed pizzeria and an Instagrammers paradise! Everything about this place screams snap and post on Instagram! The outdoor garden has a trailer parked with the same folding chairs that made appearances at all of my family picnics growing up, lol. The astroturf and flamingos add to the nostalgia vibe. We learned that the patio would be covered soon so that guests can enjoy the outdoor garden year round. The interior has an eclectic flashy feel while still being cozy. Can’t go wrong with a blinged out wall and neon lights. The cocktails are clever with names like Dirty Like your Mom, Trashy Tea, The Hooch, and Pink Flamingo. Do yourself a favor and order the Mercenary pizza, it’s outstanding!
4. Greetings From Chicago Mural
One can’t list Instagrammable spots of Chicago without mentioning the Greetings From Chicago Mural in Logan Square! Created to resemble a postcard, this famous street art captures the essence of the city beautifully and is one of my favorites. Creators, muralist Victor Ving, and photographer Lisa Beggs travel the country designing artwork that captures the pride of locals for their hometowns while sparking the interests of visitors.
C – Deep Dish Pizza & Chicago Style Hotdog
H – Gold Coast / Downtown Skyline
I – Chicago Flag & Illinois Centennial Monument in Logan Square
C – Abstract artwork by Amuse126 depicting the extremes of Chicago weather
A – Chicago Professional Sports Teams
G – Muddy Waters & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Water Tower
O – The Bean Sculpture
Logan Square: 2226 N Milwaukee Ave
5. Robin Williams Mural
The mural of Chicago native Robin Williams results from a collaboration of artists Jerkface and Owen Dippie. I’ve desired to pay a visit to this touching tribute for a while. Robin Williams was a genius who made us laugh while battling inner darkness due to mental illness. His death is heartbreaking and a reminder that more discussions need to take place to build mental health awareness and remove the stigma associated with it.
The mural is located in Logan Square: 2047 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Just a glimpse into the treasures located in some of Chicago’s neighborhoods. Chicago’s downtown is terrific, but there’s much more to see beyond there. It’s very walkable here. I stumble upon many new spots just strolling or biking through the numerous city neighborhoods. Hope that you’ll visit some of the other communities and get a peek.
If you’re looking for a tour that allows some walking along with driving while visiting the city, check out Chicago Safaris. The fun starts as soon as you step into one of their luxury vans!
IfONLY’s curated activities are perfect for those of us always on the lookout for new experiences when traveling or playing tourist in your hometown. When in a city like Chicago, it’s a disservice, in my opinion, to eat at the same restaurants over and over or visit the same places. There’s too much to see and learn here. I have that same attitude when I travel, oftentimes reaching out to travel bloggers or locals via connections or social media to see where they recommend I go during my visit.
I learned of IFONLY when they reached out encouraging me to try one of their unique experiences. They arrange one of a kind activities in some of the best cities in the world. Experiences tailored to the adventurer, foodie, wine follower, music lover, an admirer of fine art, fitness lover,….the list goes on and on. There’s an assortment of experience and prices, so it’s affordable for most everyone. For example, there’s multiple tours and private experiences in cities like New York, Boston, California, and Chicago for less than $50! Or if you want to splurge, you can select to have a private wine session with a sommelier, meet your favorite band or celebrity or live like a local in Paris for four days with your very own personal stylist for the experience of a lifetime!
Also, a portion of proceeds from each of IFONLY’s experience gives back to a worthwhile cause! We spend money on things every day, good feelings flow when you know that some of the money you’re dropping is benefiting others in need. I prefer seeking out businesses and organizations that give to others.
It took a while for me to settle on a choice. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t select something to do with food though, lol. I’d decided to try the 4-course Spanish dinner prepared by Chef Ashlee Aubin of Salero located in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. It’s not too often that I get Spanish food and I love paella.
I thought Salero’s rustic-chic interior was gorgeous! It would be a lovely spot to meet up with girlfriends for drinks or date night. The restaurant serves Spanish cuisine with a modern twist.
Interior of Salero Salero restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop
Committed to eating whatever was put before me no matter what, I was quite excited for what was to come!
Here’s a picture story of our dishes; it felt more like an 8-course meal. We were bursting by the end; although there were plans to go out after dinner, the food coma put us to sleep by 8:30 pm, lol. For the amount of food you receive and the price, you can’t beat it.
My stand out favorites from the evening were:
El Bulli, I had no idea what it was and was totally taken off guard. I loved the salty burst of olive.
Pan Con Tomate: I don’t like anchovies and it took a minute for me to put this in my mouth. It was delicious!
Halibut with sweet corn soup and roe; I hope that they add this to the regular menu
Flan de Queso Fresca: It was amazing! I don’t like flan and would never order it; this was the first time I enjoyed it and ate it all! I even recommended it to the couple sitting at the table next to us.
Got my paella fix too! So good and packed with seafood!
Look into IFONLY if you’re up for a new endeavor, I’ll surely be looking them up again!
Quimet y Quimet: Smoked Salmon, fresh cheese, truffle-hone, balsamic and crisp bread
Smoked Pork Croqueta: mojo verde and pickled peppers
Pan Con Tomate: heirloom tomatoes, marinated white anchovies, shallots, and garlic aioli on grilled country bread
Grilled Shishito Peppers: sherry-honey, fried shallots, Espelette, sea salt
Halibut with sweet corn soup and roe
Sea Scallops a la Plancha with baby zucchini and squash puree
Need a quick meal or appetizer for yourself or family? These no-fuss open-faced Mexican sandwiches or Molletes are easy to make and tasty! I discovered Molletes while observing Chef Diane Davila prepare them during a 15-minute chorizo challenge with Chef Rick Bayless during Chicago Gourmet. Mexican food is the BEST and this challenge was one of my favorites moments from the day.
It was quite enjoyable watching the banter and interviews conducted during the demonstration. The passion both chefs have for food intertwined with their recollections of family meals in Mexico took me back since I too have tons of family memories centered around food.
My fondest are those feelings I’d get when I’d hear my grandparents moving around the kitchen and the smells that followed. My grandparents made everything from scratch and with love and meals at their home were my favorite! As a child though, those meals seemed to take forever to make, lol. I rarely prepare the kinds of dishes that my grandparents made, only on special occasions. Quick and easy is my route nowadays. Therefore, when the chefs stated that they wanted to show families how to make simple meals without sacrificing taste and quality, I was all for it. I’ll share Chef Bayless’s 15-minute black bean soup recipe with fried plantains on a later post.
Chef Davila was very personable and all smiles as she spoke about mollettes, referring to it as the original brunch dish of Mexico. Both chefs chose to use Mexican chorizo in their dishes because, as Chef Davila recalled, whenever she’d awaken to the smells of chorizo cooking in her home, she knew it was going to be a good day; chef Bayless concurred. I don’t remember having chorizo when I was growing up, however, I could relate those happy feelings to waking up to the smell of bacon!
Chef Davila spoke about her desire to convey those same feelings she had as a child at her restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojería in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. It was named as one of Bon Appetit ‘s best new restaurants of 2017! Describing the atmosphere and cuisine she stated “it’s home, something that you need…a mother’s nurturing food…it reminds me of my fondest memories growing up, it’s a small place that opens the door for everybody to enjoy what they’re eating, relax, and have a glimmer of what it’s like growing up Mexican.”
Since it was my first event of the day, I was pretty hungry and salivating over the smells. As a result, I couldn’t wait to make them. It truly was easy. My husband requested that I make them for breakfast every Sunday and I’m fine with that. You can also make them as an appetizer or dinner. This recipe is a keeper.
I came, I ate, and I rocked the fork at this year’s Chicago Gourmet, the nation’s premier culinary experience!
Chef Rick Bayless
The festival, sponsored by Bon Appetit, is aimed at promoting Chicago’s dynamic culinary scene and takes place every September in Millennium Park.
The best of the best throughout the city show why Chicago is called the culinary capital of the United States. This year’s theme ‘Rock the Fork’ combined two of my absolute favorite things; food and music! Incredible food and great music to dance to, what could be better? Well, celebrity chefs, flowing wine, and bomb cocktails take it to the next level. A friend aptly described it as ‘Lallapalooza for foodies!’
Millennium Park Chef and Author Carla Hall
No wonder, the event, now in its 11th year, attracts passionate foodies from all over the country who travel to Chicago specifically for the culinary festival.
The celebration kicked off with ancillary events leading up to Saturday and Sunday’s main event.
On Wednesday guests partook in the Italian Feast, a one-of-a-kind Italian dinner on the Chicago Symphony Center stage prepared by top chefs. Thursday’s Blues, Brews, and Bites highlighted another Chicago gem, the Blues, celebrated by musically talented chefs who can get down on the stage and the kitchen. Hamburger Hop on Friday had guests grooving to throwback jams while chefs competed for the title of best burger in Chicago! There were even after party events and a morning yoga brunch. The ancillary events created many opportunities for everyone to take part in the festivities, especially if one couldn’t make the weekend’s main events.
The main event at Millennium Park featured two stages with live cooking demonstrations, two spaces featuring expert seminars, over 250 gourmet tastings, Book signings by internationally renowned chefs, master sommeliers, and winemakers and over 600 different wines and spirits for guests to enjoy throughout the park.
I started the day off at the chorizo cookoff with chefs Rick Bayless and Diana Davila, They both showed that easy 15 minute meals could be delicious, and impress the family. I made Chef Davilla’s molletes for my husband and son for brunch, and my husband requested that I make it every Sunday. I’ll be sharing that recipe here soon. Her restaurant Mi Tocaya Antojería is located in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and was named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants in 2017.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and ABC 7’s Steve Dolinski
Kamehachi: Smoked Kanpachi Nigiri, Oshinko Maki
If you attend Chicago Gourmet, I recommend that you have a plan mapped out. The lines can get pretty long, but with a little pre-planning, you can hit all of your favorite spots. Pro Tip: Get there early and head straight to the seafood tent. That was my plan, but I got distracted and didn’t make the first tasting. I did, however, make it for the changeover later in the day though. The sushi from Kamehachi was incredible. Also, a wine lanyard is a must! It got tricky balancing my wine glass with a plate of food, although the plate design was smart. At the end of the day, I realized that I didn’t have ANY dessert all day! I will plan better next year.
Even for the most enthused foodie like me, it was impossible to hit up every booth, but I’m proud to say I put forth my best effort and created a beautiful food baby.
I had an amazing time, and I highly recommend adding Chicago Gourmet to your foodie bucket list! This was my first year in attendance at Chicago Gourmet, and I’m already planning for next year! Save the date for Chicago Gourmet 2019 Sept 27 – 29, 2019!
Top Chef Alumn Katsuji Tanabe and Chef Carlos Gaytan
I spent a lovely evening taking in the fall menu at The Ashburn restaurant inside of Loews Chicago O’hare hotel in Rosemont, IL. My experience led to a conversation with a few friends as to whether restaurants located inside of hotels should be obvious choices or only last resorts when there aren’t any other options readily accessible. The views were mixed.
One piped up to say hotel restaurants had some of the best culinary delights. Another stated that the best steak she had in her whole life was at a random hotel restaurant in Florida. Most of the table stated that hotel restaurants were misses. My opinion was while there have been a few hotel restaurants where I’ve enjoyed an exceptional meal, more often hotel restaurants were overpriced, and the food wasn’t great.
My dinner at The Ashburn restaurant located inside of Loews Chicago O’Hare hotel in Rosemont had me singing a different tune; it was exceptional and I can’t stop speaking on it!
I was invited along with about 15 other Chicago foodies to preview the fall menu. The Ashburn, inspired by Chicago’s first flying field, serves Classic American Cuisine with a twist.
Chef Jose Garay, affectionately referred to as Tiny, was born and raised in Mexico City and firmly believes in farm to table from-scratch food. The restaurant partners with many local farms and companies to provide the highest quality and freshest ingredients for dishes. He’s very proud of his team at The Ashburn and raves about working with them. Chef Garay stated that he’s a bit shy and not the best at speaking in front of a room of people. I felt that his presentation was great, he spoke from the heart and his enthusiasm for the evening and dishes was contagious. He was tickled as he gave us the inspiration behind his dishes.
Executive Chef of The Ashburn Jose Garay Chef Jose Garay says being a chef is in his blood
Chef Garay says being a chef is in his blood and credits his family with encouraging him to take up the culinary profession. His father is a chef and his mom and sister sold food on the streets of Mexico. He absolutely loves what he does and it shows! Fun fact: Chef Garay is also a musician who played in a Mariachi band before coming to the U.S. from Mexico. He occasionally sings and plays guitar at local gatherings.
Regarding diners at The Ashburn Chef Garay states:
Every single guest brings a different experience…..I look at their faces, if I see a smile from my guest, that’s my best experience!
There were a lot of smiles in the room that evening and EVERYTHING was fantastic! I took home leftovers and couldn’t wait til the next day to tear into to them. I actually ate the Guinness beer braised short ribs, one of my favorites dishes from the evening, for breakfast the next day. Another favorite was the Cajun Shrimp and Cheesy Grits; that dish was perfection! Seriously, start to finish, I don’t think there’s a wrong choice here.
Take a peak at the fall menu and stop in at The Ashburn! Tell me about your experience in the comments.
Culinary Fight Club is a lively, interactive cooking competition that brings chefs together to duke it in the kitchen. Each event is unique as various themes are explored.
I had the pleasure of attending the Final Plate here in Chicago where 20 Culinary Fight Club champion chefs from 9 cities battled for the title of Final Plate Champion and the prize of $10,000.
The high energy 2-day competition held at the gorgeous Morgan MFG in Chicago’s West Loop Neighborhood did not disappoint!
The best part about Culinary Fight Club events is that 20% of proceeds from the competition benefit Fight 2 Feed a 501(C))3 charitable organization whose mission is to reduce food waste by partnering with chefs, food trucks, and restaurants to provide food for the hungry.
During the first day of competition, Culinary Fight Fest, the chefs presented their best bites to guests who cast their votes for their favorites; the top 4 chefs from the day advanced to day 2, the Final Plate.
The finalists included:
• Chef Ryan Rondeno, Los Angeles: Chef-Owner Rendeno Culinary Designs
• Chef Kris Schoenberger, Chicago: Chef-owner bbq’d productions
• Chef Josh Reeves, Atlanta: Executive Chef River Club
• Chef Gregg Brackman, Boston: Chef-Owner of G Bar and Kitchen
Cheferees made sure the chefs were following competition rules.
The Final Plate
The chefs were given a basket with secret ingredients and forty-five minutes to prepare their best dish. If that wasn’t enough pressure, guests and judges were in the mix firing off questions while they cooked. It was quite intense for the chefs.
It was exciting to watch! I especially appreciated how friendly the chefs were and the camaraderie shared between them. Although they were competitors they were each supporting the other. Great sportsmanship!
Spectators were questioning the chefs as they created their dishes Wonder what’s being discussed here, lol!
The evening’s judges included
Mark Nureddine: CEO/Founder Bull Outdoor Products, Inc.
Bo Jackson, All-Star in Baseball and Football as well as the founder of Bo Jackson’s Signature Foods
After each of the chefs presented their creations, the judges gave comments and scores. The scores from the judges counted towards a large portion of overall points. However, the next phase involved a four-course meal with each chef serving a course with the audience casting votes for their favorite. The votes from the audience were then tallied along with the judges’ scores to determine the winner.
Final Plate Courses
Course 1 Chef Kris Schoenberger: House rubbed butter and cream roasted potatoes topped with tomato bruschetta, balsamic glaze, and fried chicken skins Course 2, Chef Greg Brackman: pork and pepper salad, brined pork tenderloin with pickled beet and pepper sauces served over red oak and romaine with apple vinaigrette and finished with crispy potato Course 3, Chef Josh Reeves: Bi-Bim Bop Bulgogi beef knuckle, garlic rice, bok choy, kimchi, fresh cucumber kimchi, emoji egg, and garlic pickled beets Coure # 4, Chef Ryan Rondeno: apple fritter served with a charred blueberry compote, rose gastrique, finished with apple chips
I was torn between Chef Greg’s Pork and pepper salad. And Chef Ryan’s Apple fritter. In the end, I went with Chef Ryan’s Apple Fritter. The fact that he could get me to fall in love with a dessert over a savory dish is a big deal. I was blown away by the fritter. It was excellent with a perfect balance of sweet along the tart of the blueberries!
In the end Chef Greg was crowned winner of the night!
My son and I enjoyed the evening and new experience; I’d definitely recommend others go if the tour comes to a city near you!
Remember that 20% off proceeds benefits Fight2Feed
Access their calendar here to see if they’ll be in your hood
Use CLUBCFC2018 for $50 off events!
Culinary Fight Club Winner’s Trophy Final Plate Winner Chef Gregg Brackman
When looking for things to do in Chicago, look no further than 360 Chicago!
360 Chicago has everything; stunning views, interactive experiences where visitors can learn about the city’s rich history, and the thrilling TILT! It’s one of the coolest things to do in Chicago! Before visiting, be sure to check the online schedule for the day’s activities as there’s always something fun happening on the 94th floor!
Before I give you the scoop on the happenings, here’s a bit about the 360 Chicago Observation Deck.
Located on the 94th floor of the iconic John Hancock building, 1,000 feet above Michigan Avenue; the observation deck offers stunning 360-degree views of the city’s famous Skyline and scenic Lake Michigan to guests the moment they step off the elevator. On a clear day, individuals can see as many as four states and as far as 55 miles. Marvelous! Aside from the views, guests can also learn facts about Chicago neighborhoods and architecture through 18 stations of interactive touchscreens and info kiosks.
The biggest attraction that will get everyone’s heart racing is the one-of-a-kind TILT experience!
View of Chicago from the observation deck
360 Chicago TILT
TILT is an enclosed moving platform that tilts you out and over the edge of the John Hancock building, 1,000 feet above The Magnificent Mile! The movable platform holds up to eight visitors per cycle. Although my heart was racing from fear and excitement, I took the plunge! It was both thrilling and scary! I did it a second time, still scary! Not a third time, though, twice was enough, lol. It’s a unique, fun-filled experience that is worth the try.
Photo: 360 Chicago
TILT Photography enthusiasts are encouraged to take advantage of tripod Mondays, the only day tripods are allowed at the observatory.
The new 360 Sky Series offers guests bonus activities, seven days a week, free with paid observatory admission. So for one admission, guests can take in the stunning views, experience TILT, interactive education, plus the bonus activity for the day. Residents of the city of Chicago will receive a discounted rate as a thank-you from 360 Chicago. Anyone with an ID with a 606 zip code gets into the observation deck for 50% off the regular admission price.
360 Chicago Schedule
Saturday Morning 360 Sky Yoga Class:
$15 includes entry into 360 Chicago Observation Deck plus a 1-hour yoga class for yoga lovers of all skill levels. Meditation and gentle flow movements will awaken guests senses before being led through a series of stretches, breath-centered movements, and morning salutations. Advanced registration is required, and classes are limited to 50 participants. You can sign up on 360 Chicago’s website.
360 Sunday Funday:
Fun activities designed for families with free TILT for kids from 9:00 a.m.-4 p.m.
360 Architectural Tour
360 Tripod Monday:
Photography buffs are encouraged to visit all day long and invited to bring their tripods onto the observation deck floor to capture shots of the skyline, low-lights, night scenes, stormy skies and more. Throughout the year special classes will be offered along with insta-meets, and social media activations. Follow the hashtag: #360TripodMondays and @360Chiviews on Instagram to learn more about upcoming events.
360 Sky Guide Tuesday:
Volunteers from the Chicago Architecture Foundation will provide a birds-eye view tour of the skyline. These volunteers love what they do and are excited to share their knowledge of Chicago as they guide you through all four views from high above the city.
360 Sky Art Wednesday:
Artists are invited to bring their easels, materials, and creativity to capture the view of the city from above.
My contribution to the arts. This canvas painting will be hanging on the observation deck upon completion. Let me know when you see it. Chicago artist DeMarcus
Guests will find new releases and favorites from Revolution Brewing on special while listening to a live DJ from Mode Events. Revolution Brewing is the largest independently owned brewery in Illinois and in 2016 was named one of the top 50 brewing companies in the United States by the Brewers Association. We were among the first to try their new beer Sun Crusher Hoppy Wheat Ale at the event. It was literally canned the day before at the brewery. I must say; I’m a fan!
360 Sky Trivia Fridays
Trivia runs every Friday from 6-8pm during the months of March-June and September-December. Be sure to pre-register to secure your spot. Registration is free and includes admission to the Skydeck.
With so much to offer, 360 Chicago Observation Deck is a win for the whole family and a must for Chicagoans and visitors alike. Afterward be sure to check out some of the other neighborhoods in the city.
Feel free to tell me about your visit in the comments below!
John Hancock Building Facts
It takes two men 40 hours each to change all the light bulbs in the Crown of Lights, on the 99th floor.
With the nation’s fastest elevators, you’ll arrive at the Observatory in 39 seconds
There are 1,632 steps from the main lobby to the observatory on level 94.
The observatory has the only open-air viewing deck in Chicago.
The building has 1,250 miles of wiring, with enough power to supply a city of 30,000 people
Guests can see four states from 360 CHICAGO – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin!
Only open-air viewing deck in Chicago 360 Chicago 360 Chicago
More than thirty of the country’s finest chefs gathered for The Great Chef’s Event at Revel Fulton Market in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood to showcase their culinary creativity in the name of charity. The result was an evening full of exceptional bites and most importantly monies for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation! This was the first I’d heard of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and I was deeply moved by Alex’s story.
Photograph courtesy of Steven E. Gross Photography
Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation
Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation or (ALSF) is a national childhood cancer foundation dedicated to raising funds for research of new treatments and cures for children battling cancer. They also provide emotional, financial, and logistical support for the families of these children.
Services such as these are a source of refreshment for families during extremely worrisome times. I’ve seen firsthand the relief that provisions from such charities bring to families in need.
Founder, Alexandra “Alex” Scott was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer, shortly before her first birthday. It was doubtful that she’d ever walk again even if she beat her cancer, but she proved to be a determined and courageous child who was an inspiration to others. By her second birthday she was crawling, able to stand with leg braces, and working towards gaining the strength to walk. Unfortunately, within the next year, her tumors were growing again. During a hospital stay shortly after her fourth birthday Alex told her mom that she wanted to start a lemonade stand once she got of the hospital so that she could raise money to help other children going through the same thing. Her first stand raised over $2,000. Alex and her family continued to hold yearly lemonade stands and by the time she passed away at the age of 8, Alex, with the help of others raised over $1,000,000 to aid in the fight for curing childhood cancer. Her family and supporters around the world continue her legacy through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.
Photo courtesy of Steven E. Gross Photography
Great Chef’s Event Chicago
Over 700 guests attended the hugely successful event hosted by Chef Paul Kahan, Restauranteur Donnie Madia Gianfrancisco, and Chef Tony Mantuano.
My favorite bites from the evening included:
Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation
I’m so happy that I learned about this admirable foundation and the work they’re doing. If you’d like to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, you can start here
You can also spread the word about this important cause.
Chef Stephanie Izard of The Girl & the Goat Top Chef Season 15 Winner Joe Flamm, right