Take a trip: Eat your way through Chicago

The most defining aspect of many of the best trips is the food. While it is always exciting to spend time with family and witness momentous events, the sensory details give a moment its uniqueness and cement it permanently in memory. The food was definitely a highlight of my recent excursion to Chicago with my manfriend Kevin.

Our adventure began at Portland International Airport. Around noon, our flight having been delayed, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch of a broccoli-cheese baked potato and a triple-decker burger thing from Wendy’s at the airport. I didn’t think anyone actually ate those.

Once in the air, we were dismayed to learn that the airline was making us pay for the food. I was so hungry I didn’t care, and spent $3 on a box of packaged food devoid of nutritional value: bagel chips, a muffin bar and some craisins.

Things started looking up once we finally got to Chicago, or more accurately to suburban Illinois. Friday night before my cousin’s bat mitzvah we went with my family to an unlikely French restaurant creatively named “La Petite Cr�perie” in Woodstock, Illinois, the town where “Groundhog Day” was filmed. We had tasty savory cr�pes and escargot. My aunt made me talk to the owner in French, which was completely mortifying.

At the Oneg (Hebrew for “meet-and-greet with cookies and wine”) after the bat mitzvah service we celebrated with banana bread, chocolate chip and sugar cookies, bundt cake and biscotti, complemented with the obligatory sweet kosher wine. Mmm.

Saturday we went into Chicago and split up. While Kevin went to spend man time with an old pal, I went with my family to do touristy stuff and shop downtown. We ate dinner at Berghoff’s, a notorious, 100-year-old, German, old-man restaurant where my Zaydeh used to go on his lunch hour during his long career at Roosevelt University. The whole place was polished wood and fancy old-man waiters. The bathrooms had really nice hexagonal tile. Oh yeah, the food. We had sausage with sauerkraut and vinegary potatoes, whitefish from Lake Superior and some of the best creamed spinach in the world ever. Good stuff.

Heading back to the ‘burbs we swung through Wicker Park and picked up Kevin at the restaurant/brewpub where he’d eaten with his friends, Piece. He jumped into the car gushing about how good the white pizza with spinach, garlic and chicken was. I ate some of his leftovers – he was right.

The gustatory highlight of the trip by far was brunch at the Barn of Barrington, the brunch buffet favored by the well to do of Barrington, Ill. Now, when I say brunch buffet, I don’t mean a waffle bar and scrambled eggs on a steam tray. Out of control doesn’t even begin to describe it. The buffet tables took up two rooms and were organized into departments. One long table held about 10 types of fish including salmon, trout, mussels, oysters, crab salad and shrimp. Then there was an omelet bar, a mashed potato bar, a table of hot food like blintzes and coconut shrimp, every kind of meat you can imagine, and a giant dessert table covered in rows of cakes, pies, petit-fours, bread pudding, swan-shaped cream puffs, jiggly flan and the crown jewel, a four-tiered chocolate fountain with a dozen kinds of fruit and pastries to dip in it. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was so absurd. Everything I tried was beautiful and delicious, but the best things were the steamed mussels, ambrosia salad with marshmallows, and bread pudding with warm custard sauce. I wanted to stay and eat all day, but we had a plane to catch.

We took real Jewish deli corned beef sandwiches to eat on the plane. They were so good. Then we were in Portland and I wrote this story and went to bed.