Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chicago Part III - From Dolls to Dawgs

Tulips on the Magnificent Mile - Chicago

Goodness. It's been a while hasn't it? Sorry, that wasn't my intention, but being under the weather and extremely busy with work for the last few weeks hasn't left me a lot of time to write. It's actually kind of a shame, because I have some things I've been wanting to tell you. First though, let's wrap up Chicago, shall we?

Tulips on the Magnificent Mile - Chicago

Our last day in the Windy City was spent walking up the stretch of Michigan Avenue known as the "Magnificent Mile" and back down to the Chicago Art Institute. The "Mag Mile" is reknowned for its shopping, though these days, somewhat depressingly, it's just full of the same mall stores you see everywhere else. The tulips were its saving grace.
Tulips on the Magnificent Mile - Chicago

Gorgeous, endless beds of them were planted on the City's major thoroughfares throughout the months of April and May as a sort of public art exhibition. They lined the full length of the Magnificent Mile and the riverfront along Wacker Drive, and huge beds of them filled Millenium Park. Each bed was carefully designed and color coordinated like an enormous flower arrangement. It was truly something to behold.
Tulips on the Magnificent Mile - Chicago

We didn't do a lot of actual shopping on the Magnificent Mile, but my mother could not resist the American Girl Place doll store.
American Girl Place - Chicago

I'm not much of a doll person myself, but even I fell for some of the more elaborately costumed ones and their furnishings, like the Swedish table and chairs set below. I was gaga over the "Josefina" doll's jade green bed with woven Mexican blanket and sheepskin rug - and the seventies "Julie" doll with her roller skates and lunch box with miniature Hostess cupcake.
Dolls at American Girl Place - Chicago

Upstairs they have the "regular" dolls - which come in different colors, hairstyles and features to offer the owners their best chance at finding a match for themselves. These come with pink hoodie sweatshirts and other less elaborate but still adorable "modern" outfits. Also on this floor was the tearoom - which had a surprisingly elegant menu, and plenty of tables available even though it was Mother's Day.
The tearoom at American Girl Place, Chicago

We also saw the doll "Hair Salon," where you can get your doll an updo or ponytail for around $10.00 - and the Doll Hospital, where a box of tissues sat on the counter next to the debit card terminal.
The Doll Hair Salon at American Girl Place - Chicago

Moving on down Michigan Avenue, we decided to stroll into the Drake Hotel, one of Chicago's oldest and grandest, to see what was going on. Mothers' Day brunch was being served in the ballroom and tea was being offered in the lobby, complete with costumed Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. I love old classic hotels, and the Drake just has that feel of one of those hotels that has always been and still is in the middle of the action - like the Plaza in New York or the St. Francis in San Francisco.
Mothers Day Brunch at the Drake Hotel - Chicago

On the way back down Michigan Ave. I snapped this photo of a classic "gangster moll" gown in the window of a nearby shop. It truly looked like it belonged in Chicago and nowhere else.
Window Shopping on the Magnificent Mile - Chicago

We made our way back down Michigan Avenue to Millenium Park and and the Chicago Art Institute. Sadly we were a week too early for the opening of the new Renzo Piano designed Modern wing - and by extension the new fancy restaurant. We ate a surprisingly forgettable lunch in their basement cafeteria. Normally I love museum cafes, but this one was the pits - as my mom likes to say.
American Gothic at the Chicago Art Institute

After lunch we toured the galleries and saw some of the most famous artworks of our time. Did you know that American Gothic is supposed to depict a farmer and his daughter? All this time I thought they were a couple. Oops.
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, at the Chicago Art Institute

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper was one of the works I most looked forward to seeing. It's so evocative and has wonderful color and dimension.
Sunday on the Grand Jette at the Chicago Art Institute

This is probably the crown jewel in the museum's collection - Georges Seurat's Sunday Afernoon on La Grande Jatte. It even inspired the Sondheim musical "Sunday in the Park with George." It's lovely in person - I especially like that the woman on the far right has a monkey on a leash. We also saw several original Toulouse Lautrec posters and works. I got a little overdose of those in the 90's, but they're still spectacular in their full size original versions.
Art Deco furniture on display at the Chicago Art Institute

I especially enjoyed the stunning design and decorative arts collections. The skyscraper art deco bookshelf in the background and modern furnishings are still cool...
Gorgeous Viennese Art Deco Coffee/Chocolate Set at the Chicago Art Institute
and I just loved this Viennese coffee service.
Art Deco Entrance to the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago

After soaking up as much culture as we could stand, we walked back down Michigan Ave to our hotel on the riverfront. Chicago is chock full of these amazing art deco office buildings that once housed the offices of companies (even whole industries) that no longer exist. For example the Carbide and Carbon building which has been converted into the Hard Rock Hotel. Thankfully all of the stunning art deco details of these buildings have been preserved - just look at those light fixtures, would you?
Cafe Spiaggia - Chicago

Dinner that night was at Cafe Spiaggia - the slightly less expensive and more casual wing of the Obama's favorite Chicago restaurant, Spiaggia. It's a little hard to find, up a couple of floors in a rather nondescript office building on the North end of Michigan Avenue. The cafe is a warren of hallways and narrow spaces. Ask for one of the tables in the window bays - they're much more comfortable. (The photo above is of our 1st table - sandwiched between the bar and a party of six - which we left when one of the window seats came available.)
Chicken under a Brick at Cafe Spiaggia - Chicago

The service wasn't the snappiest, and the atmosphere was a little loud and cramped, but the food we ate at Cafe Spiaggia was some of the best of the trip. This chicken under a brick (which I believe they also serve in the main restaurant) was as crispy as duck confit and served with a nicely balanced vinegar-spiked demi glace over spaetzle - slyly adding some distinctive German flavors to an Italian dish. I think that might even be rosemary on top - normally it's my kryptonite, but this dish was so good I didn't even notice.
Pasta with Asparagus and Egg at Cafe Spiaggia

Our second dish was a carbonara-like pasta, topped with a softly poached egg and tossed with asparagus and crisp prosciutto. The housemade pasta was al dente yet tender and though it had cooled a tad too much by the time I got a bite (already holding its curled shapes) the flavors were nicely balanced and the egg was perfectly cooked.
Polish Sausage with Everything from Gold Coast Dogs

One of my biggest regrets as we got ready to leave the next day was that I didn't make it to Hot Doug's - the hog dog stand out in the suburbs that specializes in duck fat fries. That will have to wait for another trip (and there will be another trip) but I did manage to squeeze in a pretty respectable Chicago dog at Gold Coast Dogs at Midway Airport. (By the way - can I get a hell yeah for Sluggos - the Chicago dog place that used to be in La Jolla and UTC back in the 80's? I miss them like crazy.) I had a Polish dog with everything, and I have to say, it was a lot better than the one I had from Superdawg on the other end of the airport on a previous visit. Nice snap, good charred flavor, plenty of condiments - very satisfying.
Gold Coast Dogs at Midway Airport

After we finished our dogs, at my mom's urging, we got in line for popcorn at Nuts on Clark, just around the corner. I was skeptical - after all, packaged cheese and caramel corn is usually pretty stale - but the line doesn't lie. If you're flying through Midway - after your Gold Coast dog - do yourself a favor. Ignore the chocolate and nuts and get yourself a bag of mixed cheese and caramel popcorn for the plane - maybe a few gift bags too. You'll pay a little more for it than you really think you should, but I'm willing to bet you'll be darned glad you did when that drink cart comes rolling down the aisle.

Cafe Spiaggia
980 N. Michigan Avenue
(312) 280-2750
dinner only - recommend the Chicken Under a Brick

Gold Coast Dogs
Loop Location (check their website for others)
159 N Wabash Ave
(312) 917-1677

Nuts on Clark
Original location:
3830 N. Clark Street
also at Midway Airport, Union Station and Water Tower Place.


  1. yes, you must try hot dougs! it's SO good. and doug is so nice! love all your pics!

  2. I went to Chicago recently as well. I had some okay food while I was there... one amazing meal at "Chalkboard" in the Lincoln Square area. Like you, I was crushed that I didn't make it to Hot Doug's, especially since it recently appeared on Bourdain's "10 places to eat before you die" list!! Fox & Obel was fun to look around in too.

    I was disappointed with Michigan Ave. Several years ago it was much more fun to browse, but it has been taken over by all of the big chain stores that you can find anywhere.

  3. Awww looks like you're having SO much fun!! I was just in Chicago with Chels and we seriously had a blast in the American Girl Store. But found the hair salon SO creepy. Imagine doing that for a job (career??). Crazy!


  4. I was in Chicago a few months ago and am sad I didn't make it to Hot Doug's. Next time!

  5. Lovely......and I will when I fly again. Welcome home.

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  7. great post, I love the idea of duck fat fries! mmm.
    great blog, btw!

  8. hot doug's isn't actually in the 'burbs. it's on the near west side and is definitely worth the trip.

  9. Hot Doug's not in the suburbs, it is good and there is almost always a line. Only open for lunch - for next time.

  10. OK, that messy hotdog with the pickle spear looks DELICIOUS! yum yum gimme some!

  11. your two posts about Chicago were wonderful, and it is always nice to see your city from the viewpoint of a visitor. i plan to get out and take advantage of my city and stop by some of places you mentioned!

  12. It's been two years since I was in Chicago and I hope to return. The food (especially the poached egg carbonara) look delicious, but the confetti-coloured tulips are really eye-catching.


  13. i've never had hot dougs before but it SURE looks delicious!

  14. I found your food blog going through a few links. Glad I ran into it. Didn’t know that the food blog/recipe community was so big online. I love your posts!

    I was wondering if you would like to exchange links. I’ll drop yours on my site and you drop mine on yours. Email at or stop by my site and drop a comment. Let me know if you would like to do a link exchange.


  15. I still can't believe I have never been to Chicago! It looks like it has been a great trip so far. I am curious about Hot Doug's ... sounds like reason enough to make a trip east!

  16. I love the gangster moll evening gown, but I prefer to call it so Carol Lombard!

  17. I really enjoyed reading about your trip to Chicago. I live about 30 minutes away from the city and haven't gone and visited in a while! I worked in the city for two years after college and loved it, in the summer, but since I got a new job closer to home, I really don't go down there much. I missed out on all the tulips, I'm glad I got to see your pictures!

  18. I just want to make a comment about SuperDawg in Midway Airport. The original Superdawg is on Milwaukee and Elden on the north side and it is the only other Superdawg. The owner started it back in grad school and he dropped out to run his own hot dog joint. It is somewhat hard to get to (sortof like Hot Doug's). When they renovated Midway, Mayor Daley made it a big point to have local Chicago joints in the airport. He pleaded with Superdawg to put a place there and he really didn't want to do it. I assume something went down because it is there. But his biggest complaint is the employees are not his employees they are the airports employees. As such, he tries and trains all the employees there but the turnover is generally so high that the quality is so poor. I do recommend not judging Superdawg based on the Midway spot. I love Superdawg and think the whoopskidawg is one of the best encased meat products served on a bun in the US. I grew up in Chicago and live in SD but do whatever I can to eat it. As for Hot Doug's, the line usually starts at 10:30 or so and wraps around the corner. Its not really in the burbs too (as others have stated). There is a twitter account ( that will allow you to tweet the wait times for your favorite chicago joints. Check it out when you go back. Also, Kuma's corner is right around the corner, as well as Urban Belly (so you can make it a lunch trifecta if you can get in).

  19. Alice, Thank you for mentioning San Diego's beloved Sluggo's Chicago Style est 1981 in PB and in La Jolla est 83. My father Billy would have been proud!