Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chicago Recap

As I mentioned in my last post, Chef Sue and I went to Chicago this past weekend to attend the wedding of good friends Nora and Michael.  Before I get into the culinary adventure, a few words about the wedding.  I can't tell you how impressed I was with the simple elegance of this wedding.  Although you may want to discount my bias imparted by being part of the celebration for our friends, I will honestly tell you this was a beautiful event.  The wedding bypassed some of the grand flourishes of limos, huge flowers, dresses worn once, and the like found at many of these ceremonies.  I found the simple focused approach refreshing and elegant.  Nora was stunning, and Michael could not have looked happier.  Nicely done Nora and Michael!  Best wishes for a long and loving life together.

Now on to the food.  With only two days, our culinary excursion was clearly limited, but we did our best. I'm quite sure I regained 5 of the 10 pounds I recently lost.  Our first stop was the Billy Goat Tavern.  Fitst, I will tell you that a visit to the Billy Goat Tavern is not about the food.  A stop at the Billy Goat Tavern is more about history, tradition, and curiosity.  The Lincoln Tavern was purchased in 1934 by Greek immigrant William "Billy Goat" Sianis and eventually renamed to the Billy Goat Tavern after Sianis adopted a goat which fell off a passing truck and grew a goatee resulting in the nickname Billy Goat.

Sianis and his pet goat Murphy hold a special place in Cubs baseball history.  According to the Billy Goat Tavern website:

"October 6th, a sad day in Cubs history. The Cubs entered game four of the World Series leading the Detroit Tigers 2 games to 1, and needing to win only two of the next four games played at Wrigley Field. A local Greek, William "Billy Goat" Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern and a Cubs fan, bought two tickets to Game four. Hoping to bring his team good luck he took his pet goat, Murphy, with him to the game. At the entrance to the park, the Andy Fran ushers stopped Billy Goat from entering saying that no animals are allowed in the park. Billy Goat, frustrated, appealed to the owner of the Cubs, P.K. Wrigley. Wrigley replied, "Let Billy in, but not the goat." Billy Goat asked, "Why not the goat?" Wrigley answered, "Because the goat stinks." According to legend, the goat and Billy were upset, so then Billy threw up his arms and exclaimed, "The Cubs ain't gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field." The Cubs were officially cursed. Subsequently, the Cubs lost game four, and the remaining series getting swept at home and from the World Series. Billy Goat promptly sent a telegram to P.K. Wrigley, stating, "Who stinks now?"

The Billy Goat Tavern also gained fame in 1978 in the SNL skit featuring John Belushi, Dan Ayroyd, Bill Burray and Loraine Newman.  Anyone watching SNL in the era is sure to remember the line "cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger, no pepsi...coke.  Of course, we both had a cheezborger, chips and a coke - no pepsi.

After the Billy Goat, we set out to find a Chicago hot dog.  With plenty of advice including impromptu street interrogation, we ended up at Portillos where Chef Sue had a traditional Chicago hot dog, and I had a char-grilled Maxwell Street style Polish.  Chef Sue's dog was good, but she did not find it memorable.  On the other hand, my Maxwell Street style Polish was an event in a bun.  Simple and delicious, it features a grilled Polish sausage with mustard and heaped with grilled onions.  On it's own, this is worth a trip to Chicago.

Our next stop was breakfast on Sunday morning.  This stop at Eggsperience was more a matter of hunger than a unique experience.  The notable part of this breakfast was the HUGE midwest portions.  It is common for Sue to eat most of her meal, and I do the cleanup.  In this case, neither of us could finish.  It was solid home cooking, but twice the volume necessary.

Our final stop came as we were walking through Oak Park and appreciating the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Just as we were finishing our walk, hunger pangs growing, we came to a corner and were overwhelmed by the wonderful aromas of Indian food.  We stood on the corner using our noses to guide us to the source.  A puzzled resident walked by with a quizzical look on her face as our noses worked like divining rods.  She asked if we needed help, and we asked where we might find the source of the wonderful fragrance.  She pointed us to a small restaurant around the corner.  Bingo!

We decided to continue to the last stop on our walking tour - the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Unity Temple.  We returned to the Indian restaurant after touring the temple to great disappointment - it was closed.  In the end, this turned out to be good fortune.  We looked across the street and found a Greek restaurant named Papaspiros.  We were very pleased with the find - we had Greek food on our list for things to do in Chicago - and we were not disappointed.  As we entered Papaspiros, we found lines of tables drawn together to accommodate the large groups.  We felt as though we were intruding on a large Greek family dinner.  Everyone was Greek - the clientele, the staff, the cooks - all Greek.  We were in the right place.

I quickly targeted the braised lamb while Chef Sue decided on the Greek combination plate.  I then set my sights on the wine list - all Greek wines.  As I was considering the wines, the waiter stopped by and said "what do you want, red, white, dry, off-dry?"  I replied I was looking for a dry red.  He said "stop reading, I will bring you wine."  I decided to play along and let destiny run its course.  We were rewarded with a brilliant Greek Nemeo.  I was not familiar with this grape, but was gushing with pleasure after the first sip.  Sometimes it is good to simply take advantage of chance and coincidence.  The restaurant was entertaining, the food spectacular, and the wine a beautiful surprise.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.


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