So I went to Chicago this past weekend with my husband and a friend of his because my husband has family in there - which by the way - they are the most hospitable people I have ever met. They make you feel right at home from the moment you land.
One of the things I love about staying at their home is that there is always food around, every gathering revolves around food - food that I am barely familiar with because it is all traditional Polish food. I learned to love kielbasa (google that one), and all sorts if Polish salads, and yes their famous pierogi always take a central stage.
This time I was particularly happy to go to Chicago because for years I have been wanting to take a food tour with Chicago Chicago Food Planet. I have heard amazing reviews online and so this was my chance to experience it all.
I brought along my husband who is not a huge fan of taking tours but he came along and that was dear to me, he made the effort and just came along for the ride.
It was raining but I did not let that ruin our Chicago culinary journey - which by the way the guide took rain ponchos out of her bag and gave them to the group (now, that's nice).
We met outside a Jewish deli (and I love Jewish food). A very gracious and smiling girl came out to greet us and said happily "folks we will soon begin"
Minutes later she gathered the group of 11 people right outside the Ashkenaz deli (our first food stop), and handed out a sheet of paper with all of the food stops we were about to experience. I very much enjoyed the introduction she gave us as it was a short and straight to the point ... A snapshot of what the near north food tasting and cultural walking tour is all about.
We went right into Ashkenaz deli where a small table in the corner was set up for the group. We all gathered around standing and our guide explained every element that would go on the sandwich. All of the different ingredients where served at the table for us to put together the sandwich (they were not ready made) but I like this idea because if there was an item you did not like, you didn't need to add it on your sandwich (smart). The Reuben sandwich was not my favorite but I appreciated learning about it and trying something new that I never had before. As far as the ashkenaz deli, it was nothing impressive but I like the fact that had that neighborhood deli feeling - where what you see is what you get.
As everyone finished I noticed our guide took a moment to clean up everything from the table, helping the deli staff as when we left she had already cleaned up everything.
We were off to the next stop. I have to say, Chicago is so different from Miami - so for me this was a delightful walk admiring the very different architecture of the area while our guide sparkled the day with her smile and commentary.
I have had dreams of the deep dish pizza (seriously). In my mind it has always been a pie stuffed with dripping deliciously melted to perfection cheese at a tongue burning temperature (I love very hot salty food), but the deep dish pizza we tried was not the one I have always dreamed of (unfortunately). Now, I am no one to judge because this was my first deep dish pizza experience. At this place our table was very well set up and was waiting for us and the slices came right out (no waiting time and that is something I expect to have on a food tour, wouldn't you?) The guide kept us entertained, informed and engaged.
While we were all having this very famous Chicago bite (well, not really a bite because the pizza slice was a generous portion), she kept telling us the story behind it. At one point she told the group "I will let you have sometime to enjoy the food" and she quietly disappeared. (Thank you, I appreciated some resting time).
Seamlessly we found ourselves at a tea store, a tea store like no other, believe me, this place was special, a tall cold glass of flavored tea was waiting for us, the story our guide covered was interesting (and I am not even a tea person). Again, our guide made it special. The place is called Teagschwendner. She made it special because she was truly passionate about this tea and I am not a tea person but this iced tea was packed with an exquisite flavor that I became instantly hooked. I could have this tea 24/7!
Now, off to the Spice House. Although interesting and one of a kind place, nothing was here to be tasted - needless to say this stop complemented the tour for its uniqueness - and again, the guide made this stop a place where everyone kept engaged to her stories.
We kept walking through the most quaint streets and even though at one point it was pouring down, it did not matter. Well, I have to say that as soon as it started to rain at the Spice House, our guide asked who wanted a poncho, I thought this was very nice for Chicago Food Planet to have their guides equipped with some rain ponchos, and although there weren't enough for everyone, some people on the tour came prepared, not me, which I am ashamed to say. I put on the poncho and my husband went without one, but he never complained so we kept walking.
At one point I was a bit lost because we stopped in front of what it looked like to be a theater, the guide explained that all the big celebrities came here at one point - she also pointed out some restrooms and my husband and I (and I believe some others on the group) went up some stairs, I went to the restroom and when I came out I was not able to find anyone, I was lost.
Found the group a few moments later. We kept walking on the rain but I was excited to what was coming next; Old Town Oil.
I love olive oils and any type of good oils (my mom used to say that you should only buy cold press). Our guide pretty much said "go wild," try anything you like and combined it with their 20+ selection of exquisite vinagers. The store was elegant, with oil aluminum barrels in the front and vinager barrels in the back. I tried their lemon olive oil with some type of berry vinager (can't remember which one) because I think I had about 10 sample combinations, I literally thought that everything here was so delicious I could spend a whole afternoon at this place.
Now it was time for all things sweet. We went to the Fudge Pot and were taken to the back of the store. The employees here did not even noticed we walked in, it was strange, maybe it is because Chicago Food Planet runs daily and even I think 14 food tours on the weekend so maybe for the Fudge Pot employees are used to seeing large crows coming in.
The guide explained that this place was one of the oldest places crafting chocolate confections in the country, there was a tray in the middle of the table ready for us.
We left the Fudge Store and off to a Polish deli. Here we all stand and tried one pierogi and two little sweet pastries. The guide told us interesting stories about the Polish culture and their food. She kept smiling and had enough energy to keep us all entertained even after 3 hours.
The tour ended at the Polish deli, she covered all of the food stops we experienced and graciously gave the good byes. Chicago Food Planet Food Tours delivered exactly what I was looking for; get to know a neighborhood through its diverse culinary offerings. My husband and I left happy, with a full tummy and knowing a thing or two about this great city.