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The Publican (Chicago, IL)

While the Death March may have made us a little weary of walking, it didn’t completely satisfy our hunger. And Kevin still had some places on his “Chicago Bucket List” to check out before moving to Syracuse. So the morning after the Death March, we celebrated a successful March with brunch at The Publican (and my college friend Brian joined us again). The Publican is located over in the West Loop, in the Fulton Market Meatpacking District (literally across the street from a meatpacking place). The basic idea of The Publican is a celebration of two concepts: beer and meat products…

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Great Lake (Chicago, IL)

We walked. We ate. We drank. We even suffered a bit. But 22.6 miles after starting our journey, we hit the end of the Death March by arriving at Great Lake Pizza. The interesting thing about “pizza” and “Chicago” is that most people instantly assume that if you are talking about both of these in the same sentence, you’re talking about deep dish pizza. And hey, while I like a good deep dish pizza (although it’s not necessarily something I mentally file with my other pizza thoughts, to me, deep dish pizza and regular neo-Neapolitan pizza are like lasagna and spaghetti; there’s a lot of similarity, but it’s really a different foodstuff…), there actually is quite a bit of excellent pizza activity going on around Chicago that doesn’t involve deep dish. For every Lou Malnati’s or Gino’s East, there’s a decent place in Chicago that’s also churning out a classic thin-crust pizza, and doing a great job at it. One of the best is Great Lake Pizza.

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Redhot Ranch (Chicago, IL)

As we continued our March through Chicago, about 1/3 of the way through our Milwaukee Ave segment we made two stops. The first was at The Map Room for a beer. The second was at Redhot Ranch for a hot dog. I’ve always had a like for Chicago-style Hot Dogs, and you can read my writeup of several notable Chicago dog places here. While there’s definitely some difference between different vendors, there’s a widely-respected view that a proper Chicago Dog has some basic requirements: A Vienna Beef hot dog (preferably of the 6 per lb ‘Jumbo’ variety, with natural casings), celery salt, onion, that neon-green relish, tomatoes, a pickle, and, most importantly, sport peppers. Most any place that’s serving up a proper Chicago dog serves it up with exactly those ingredients, and as a result, there’s not a lot of difference between one place’s Chicago dog and another’s (mostly, the difference whether the dog is a char dog or not, and how carefully it’s assembled). But that’s actually talking about the “proper” Chicago dog, and it’s important to mention that a few places focus on a slightly more pedestrian variant of the Chicago dog: the “Depression Dog”. Redhot Ranch is one of these places…

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Hoosier Mama Pie Company (Chicago, IL)

After our stop for Italian Ice, the Death March continued through the UIC campus, and then downtown to the Loop. After brief stops to check out The Bean and Block 37 (for restrooms, and Beard Papa Cream Puffs, which have been on all three Death Marches), we walked through downtown on State Street to Chicago, and started heading west. At the beginning of the March, our Chicago host Kevin posted: “Today, friends, Richard Kaszeta, Carol Kowalski, Martin Puller and I shall embark on an event that swallows the weak: a 23-mile walk that few are expected to survive, one that challenges the gastronomic capacity of man. And there will be pie. Oh yes, there will be pie.” But here we were approaching the halfway mark on the March, and we hadn’t yet had pie. Sure, we’d already had pastries, carnitas, Italian beef sandwiches, Italian Ice, and cream puffs… but we were promised pie. Where was the pie? Well, after bit over a mile of westward walking on Chicago Ave, just after we passed Ashland, we arrived at the much-celebrated pie stop: Hoosier Mama Pie Company…

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Mario’s Italian Lemonade (Chicago, IL)

I’ve always liked Italian Ice as a treat. While I’ve always had a love for ice cream, there are times when I really am not craving a dairy treat, primarily due to weather or activity (others may vary in this, but for me, the combination of “parched” and “dairy” isn’t at all pleasant). A simple frozen dessert made with fruit, water, sugar, and little else, this dessert goes by a lot of names. Around the East coast it’s often called “water ice”. Growing up in Arizona, there was no standard name for it, but I always fondly remember trips to Sno Oasis (in Tempe, now long gone), or Eegee’s (in Tucson, still a solid regional chain) for a nice frozen snack with real fruit flavors (and possibly some food coloring…). In Chicago (and most of the Midwest), however, these go by the names “Italian Ice” or “Italian Lemonade”… and there’s one well-recognized place to get them in Little Italy/Taylor Street, and that’s Mario’s Italian Lemonade, which was Stop #4 on the Death March. We stopped at Mario’s for several reasons. First, Mario’s has location. Located in what used to be the front yard of one of four townhouses, Mario’s is literally across the street from Al’s #1 Italian Beef, and makes a perfect stop for a light dessert to offset the rather heavy, and somewhat messy, Italian Beef sandwich that you just ate from Mario’s.

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Al’s #1 Italian Beef (Chicago, IL)

You know, we all have those food items we crave, that we always look forward to being able to have again. They aren’t always fancy. I particularly crave, amongst other things, Waffle House hashbrowns, Pepe’s Pizza, and Chicago-style Hot Italian Beef sandwiches. Alas, none of these can be had around my corner of rural New Hampshire. In the case of some items, I’ve learned to cook them myself, but for some items that’s not really possible. The Hot Italian Beef, that Chicago delight of shaved beef on a crusty Italian loaf, swimming in juice and giardinera, is one of these; the local economy even lacks the ingredients for making these. Sure, we’ve got beef. But we don’t have the right sort of crusty Italian loaves. And we certainly don’t have condiments like hot giardinera available here (although I have a healthy supply in my own cupboard, sent by a friend in Illinois). I have tried my hand at it, with reasonable results, but this was mostly like methadone; it softened the withdrawal. But, mostly, I satisfy my cravings with a stop at Gold Coast Hot Dogs on one of my many, many connecting flights through Midway, since they have a reasonably serviceable sandwich. So when the Chicago Death March was in planning, a key stop for me was one of the iconic Italian Beef stands. And, helpfully, the route that Kevin came up with delivered very nicely. Stop #3 on the Death March was on Taylor Street, at Chicago’s oldest Italian Beef stand: Al’s #1 Italian Beef.

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Carnitas Don Pedro (Chicago, IL)

The Chicago Death March proper started at 8am on May 5th, at the 18th Ave station on the El’s Pink Line. After a mere 30 minutes of walking (and one stop for pastries), we got to our first major food stop: Carnitas Don Pedro. The entire Pilsen neighborhood is filled with various Hispanic grocery stores and convenience stores, several of which had the pleasant smells of roasted pork coming out of them. But as we approached Carnitas Don Pedro, I could start smelling an intense roasted pork smell almost a block away. As we arrived at the fairly plain storefront of Don Pedro, it was clear, we’d arrived at the epicenter. Walking in the door, the first two things I noticed about Don Pedro is that the interior is cramped, and it’s warm. Right inside the door, it’s a fairly narrow aisle between two serving counters, one to the left with tacos and stews, and one to the right that’s purely for ordering the meat products. The latter of these is the really interesting one, since at any given moment the meat counter has a giant tray of chicharrónes, the wall behind it has an impressive array of chorizo hanging up, and the carving station in the front window a giant pile of carnitas. And when I mean giant, I mean giant, with probably 60-80 pounds of meat on it (see below)…

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Sun Wah (Chicago, IL)

The night before the Chicago Death March, we continued the tradition of going out for dinner and drinks before the March. Our Chicago host, Kevin, is soon leaving Chicago for New York State, and had a number of Chicago institutions have been on his “bucket list” to finally try before he leaves. One of them was Sun Wah. A long time Chicago institute over 25 years old (although it’s only been in it’s current Uptown location for a few years, having previously been located in a small spot on Argyle Street), Sun Wah is basically your standard Cantonese-style BBQ joint (or in proper parlance, a “Siu mei” place): several different meats (chicken, pork, duck), put on a spit, glazed with a thick marinade and roasted rotissery-style for hours until fully cooked. The result is a rather pleasant combination of juicy meat (the glaze seals in most of the moisture), deep flavor, and a really crispy and yummy fried skin. They’ve also got an extensive menu of side veggies, soups, cocktails (I opted for their “MSG” cocktail, which in this case stood for “Momma-Slappin’ Giger”, a nice little cocktail loaded to the brim with ginger), rice dishes, and some fairly standard Chinese-American fare…

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Cafecito (Chicago, IL)

There are those times when you’re in a bit of a hurry. You’ve got only a limited amount of time to eat lunch before heading off to your next destination, and you can’t be spending a lot of time with an elaborate meal. This is exactly where the sandwich comes in. Sandwiches are quick. They are generally self-contained and not too messy (although I can think of some particular exceptions, like the French dip and the Italian beef). And the the world of sandwiches has a lot of options. To me, two of the best options for a quick sandwich on the fly are the Cuban sandwich (or simply, a “Cubano”), and the Vietnamese Banh Mi. In this case, I was in the mood for a Cubano. Roasted pork and ham served on a Cuban-style French roll (slightly more airy and less crusty than a traditional French baquette), with cheese and pickle, all pressed and toasted to perfection. I always like a good Cuban sandwich, although my travels don’t often take me to a place where I can indulge (a quick check of the blog shows my last review on a place featuring Cuban sandwiches was Puerto Sagua back in 2008…). But on this particular trip to Chicago, my hotel was kitty corner from one of the better-rated Cuban sandwich joints in downtown Chicago: Cafecito.

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Luxbar (Chicago, IL)

Luxbar Benedict I’ll start out with a disclaimer on this post: My meal at Luxbar was essentially free, so I’m going to be honest and say that it probably effects my review. But read on…. When I was first planning our trip to Chicago, I asked the authors of another blog I follow, Passport Delicious (who is currently based in Chicago) for some recommendations for Sunday brunch. One of the places she recommended that might be fun was Luxbar, a Near North bar known for it’s burgers, small plates, and somewhat trendy scene (and, IIRC, it’s run by the same folks as Hugo’s Frog Bar down the street, where I seem to have been at least a half dozen times as part of conferences in Chicago). It looked interesting, but then discovered that our group already had other plans for brunch at The Publican (which I’ll be reviewing in a few days), so we had to change our plans. We ended up deciding to go to Luxbar for breakfast on Friday instead. While Luxbar has been doing Sunday brunch for a awhile, they are actually fairly new to the weekday breakfast scene (more on that below). The menu is pretty much your standard breakfast fare, with omelets, pancakes, French toast, eggs Benedict, and the like. Nothing terribly fancy (aside from a few smoked salmon dishes), but they have the breakfast basics well covered. Gravlox Benedict Myself, I opted for the eggs Benedict, since it’s one of my favorite dishes when done right, and always a good way to judge a restaurant. It’s basically a simple dish, but there are a lot of ways to both mess it up, and to make something wondrous. Well, Luxbar’s Benedict was a mixed bag. They got the two most difficult components pretty much perfect: the eggs were perfectly poached and silky, with the yolks warm and runny, while the hollandaise sauce was the perfect blend of tangy and creamy. But like so many other Benedicts I’ve had, it started to fall apart after that. The meat in this Benedict was a thin, cold layer of fairly lifeless Canadian bacon that really didn’t add anything to the dish, and that actually surprised me. For a city known both historically for pork products, and more currently for several good charcuterie places, I was really expecting something better. The English muffin wasn’t much better, served cold with […]

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