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[If you missed Day 1 of our unplanned trip to Chicago, click HERE if you would like to find out what we did.]
I’m so glad I remembered that Mario Batali’s renowned Italian superstore Eataly has a location in Chicago. I told David we HAD TO GO and see what it was like. So as soon as our feet hit the pavement on Sunday morning, we headed to Ontario Street to Eataly.
We were greeted at the door with a dedication to Ernest Hemingway. This was pretty ironic, because we visited Hemingway’s beautiful home last year on our anniversary trip to Key West Florida.
Eataly had just opened for the day and it was already a little crowded, but wasn’t crawling with people yet. As we browsed, the more my jaw dropped. I CANNOT express what a foodie paradise this store is!!
This place is overwhelming. So many places to eat, a Nutella bar, hundreds of cheeses, cuts of meat, so much food! You’ve got to love the part where you can drink your booze while you shop. This is probably the coolest place I have ever been into. At first it is shocking…overwhelming…and large. But then as you start exploring you are just mesmerized by everything that is going on inside.
“Eataly Chicago’s Cheese Counter offers the best selection from Italy, including Grana Padano DOP, Parmigiano Reggiano DOP, and from the United States. We believe that where you come from matters, and through each piece of cheese we want to tell the story of the animals that produced it, the people who crafted it and the land that gave it life.”
The amount of cheese in this place amazed me to no end. Half of them I had never even heard of. You could get really constipated trying all that cheese!
Seriously though, to watch the artisan make homemade fresh mozzarella was really cool. You could tell this guy genuinely loved his job and making the cheese.
We didn’t browse very long before we were starving. We hadn’t eaten breakfast before coming in. David was on the verge of “Hangry“. He spotted the Eataly Chicago Housemade Bread bar serving fresh breads and pizzas. Without hesitation, he jumped into the line to order. We both got some wonderful slices of pizza made on a really thick Focaccia style bread. Mine was a basic margherita pizza with tomato sauce fresh mozzarella and basil. David’s slice had fresh cheese a prosciutto. We washed it down with a bottle of Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water and split a huge chocolate chip cookie for dessert. AMAZING!
Eataly is like Wegmans and The Fresh Market on Steroids. I wish I could have spent hours in this place. This is a must-visit place when in Chicago! Eataly only has two locations – one in Chicago, and the other in NYC; they definitely need to expand to more cities in the USA, because I left there saddened that I couldn’t purchase anything I could take home and cook. I did buy a ravioli cutter as a memento and plan on using it very soon. I haven’t made pasta in way to long, so stay tuned…
From Eataly, we walked east towards Lake Michigan and Navy Pier. I had done a little research and learned that we could possibly get on a jet boat for a tour of the city and a short high-speed ride out along the shore of Lake Michigan.
Before we got to the pier we walked out on the beach from the Lakefront Trail for a few minutes.
There was a strong north-east wind coming off the lake and it was frigid cold, but it was so pretty. So clean and so blue!
I even had to touch the water. Yep, COLD!
THE FERRIS WHEEL RIDE
We continued our journey to the pier. As the giant ferris wheel came into sight, I started talking David into riding on it with me. For some reason he is scared of them. This one is a doozy, reaching 150 feet into the sky, this iconic Ferris Wheel is a signature Navy Pier attraction in Pier Park. Here’s a little history about the world’s first Ferris wheel:
A Ferris wheel saved the fair from financial ruin.
Despite the money raised by private investors and the U.S. government (through the sale of the commemorative coins and stamps), squabbling amongst the organizers and numerous construction delays resulted in a huge budget deficit. Another costly mistake was the refusal to allow showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and his troupe of sharpshooters, cowboys and Native American performers to appear at the fair. A disgruntled Cody brought his Wild West extravaganza to Chicago anyway, setting up shop right outside the fairgrounds and siphoning off visitors. The fair’s precarious finances received a boost in June 1893 with the long-awaited debut of a new invention from Pittsburgh-based bridge builder and steel magnate George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. Intended to rival the highlight of the 1889 fair in Paris (the Eiffel Tower), Ferris’ 264-foot-tall wheel was an engineering marvel. It could fit 2,160 people at a time, and cost 50 cents to ride—twice the price of a ticket to the fair itself. The world’s first Ferris wheel proved so popular it was moved to Chicago’s North Side, where it remained in operation for 10 years before it was sold to the organizers of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.
We didn’t see the jet boats right off and it was still kind of early. David agreed to get on the Ferris Wheel with me. He managed to get over his fear and enjoy it. The views were pretty awesome from 150 feet up in the air.
Don’t let the sunshine fool you. It was windy and cold!
While on the Ferris wheel, we were able to spot where the jet boat rides were. As soon as we got off the Ferris wheel, we headed over to see when the next boat was leaving. The next boat out was leaving in an hour and we had an hour to kill. No problem!
David had eyeballed the put-put course and wanted to play anyway, so we played 18-holes of put-put to kill time. The course was a little shabby, but we were at the beginning of “touron” season and things in Chicago were just beginning to wake up from winter hibernation.
David was happy he won the round of put-put, especially after the bird incident (all I have to say about that was it was a good thing he had on a hat). We finished up just in time to take a pit-stop in the bathroom before heading down to board the boat for our tour.
75-MINUTE RIVER & LAKE CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE TOUR
Seadog Chicago‘s River and Lake Architectural Tour is the only tour to take you from the lakefront, through the locks and along the Chicago River all the way to the famous Willis Tower! Departing from Navy Pier, this 75-minute architecture cruise is the best way to get up-close to all of Chicago’s most famous buildings and unique architecture. It combines amazing views, entertaining narration and an exciting ride along the lakefront. Welcome aboard – Woof!
- A passage through the historic Chicago Locks and up the Chicago River
- Up-close views of all the famous bridges of the Chicago River
- An entertaining docent who’ll share amusing stories, facts and tidbits on Chicago’s interesting history
- Fascinating stories about some of Chicago’s most famous buildings including the Tribune Building, Willis Tower, Lyric Opera and the Merchandise Mart
- An exciting speedboat ride along the lakefront featuring views of Chicago including Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, beautiful Chicago Harbor, Chicago’s Museum Campus and much, much more!
The Chicago River Locks System: Before entering the city portion of our tour we had to pass through the locks. The locks does two things: they keep river sewage from flowing into the lake, which is obviously pretty important, and they keep too much of the lake from flowing into the river, which is very important also. Constructed in 1936, 36 years after the river was reversed. The river’s direction was changed not by raising the lake end, but by lowering the other end.
We floated right by our hotel. You can see it in the picture below, the first building on the right (Hotel Monaco).
Once again we had to wait for the locks to let us out of the river.
This tour was amazing! We learned so much about Chicago and the speedboat ride was exhilarating and FREEZING-ASS-COLD!! We thought our heads were going to freeze, but we warmed up a little once we slowed back to cruising speed. The sun was full strength and beaming. If you don’t believe me, ask my face when we got off the boat. Wind and sun burned, but totally worth it!
We worked up quite the appetite while on the tour. The tour guide mentioned that Navy Pier had its own Margaritaville, but David and I didn’t see it and both of us thought he was joking. Stepping off the boat we laid eyes on the restaurant and popped in for a quick bite to eat. We wanted a light appetizer to fill the void, but not to overfill us, because for supper we were going to The Chicago Chop House for supper for steak!
We ordered the KEY WEST CHICKEN QUESADILLA: Griddled flour tortilla, Oaxaca and Monterey Jack cheese served with lime crema, guacamole and pico de gallo.
David washed his quesadilla down with a beer from the tap and I washed mine down with a margarita. Sorry, I don’t recall the name of the particular margarita I had. I ordered one and the waitress told me I should get a different one. I agreed, but to be honest it wasn’t good. Way too heavy on the salt!
DYLAN’S CANDY BAR
From the Navy Pier we decided to hail a taxi to take us back near the hotel. We wanted to get out of the wind and sun for a little while. We were dropped off near the Wrigley building. We went to Dylan’s Candy Bar for some candy.
I got some gummy bears, and some flavored Tootsie Rolls. David got some Bridge Mix, a gum cigar and candy cigarettes (when was the last time you saw those in a store). Dylan’s is pretty cool, because they have all the candy you remember as a child that doesn’t get sold anymore at most stores. The store was extremely busy. Everybody loves candy!
As we made our way back to the hotel, we came across a cool display of team helmets. The NFL Draft was in a few days and Chicago was boasting about it. There were people crawling all over the helmets taking pictures and we joined in. Of course, David and I do not agree on football teams. So we just have to tolerate the other and be kind and sportsman-like to get pictures.
After the NFL helmet pix we went back to the hotel room for a little wee siesta before heading to the Chop House. We slept a little longer than intended, but we passed out as soon as we hit the bed. All that fresh air, sunlight and miles and miles and miles of walking wore us out! We missed the wine social in the lobby, but the nap is what we needed to charge us back up for more adventure on the streets.
CHICAGO CHOP HOUSE
After our nap we freshened up a bit and bundled up and set out on a mission for a great steak. Steak was another reason why David and I wanted to go back to Chicago. When we visited 10 years ago, we ate at Shula’s Steakhouse, which was excellent. We chose the same pizza place, but this time we wanted to try a steak from another steak house.
To understand our steak mission, you may not know this, but from the Civil War until the 1920’s Chicago was the country’s largest meatpacking center and the acknowledged headquarters of the industry. Chicago is known for excellent steaks and just like the power players of Chicago’s yesteryears, you can eat dishes that embody the flavors that made Chicago one of the best dining experiences at the Chicago Chop House. They have an all USDA Prime menu of awe-inspiring steaks. They are also one of the few restaurants to offer Mishima cuts. Although we didn’t try the Mishima, they are a unique and succulent beef known for its delicate flavor and tenderness. David and I both agree 100% on steak. Ribeye cooked medium rare, which come in a Short Bone: Wet Aged, Dry Aged Mishima and a Long Bone Tomahawk: Dry Aged, Mishima that will “bathe the senses in prime-aged flavor”.
David chose the Dry Aged Long Bone Tomahawk ribeye and I got the short bone, dry aged ribeye. We split a loaded baked potato. To wash down all this wonderful beef, I had a glass of full-bodied Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon and David had the local Chicago beer called 312 Urban Wheat Ale. Tonight was all about the meat!
The restaurant staff was very friendly and knowledgeable. Our Greek waitress was a sweetheart and one of the hostesses came over and struck up a conversation about David’s hat and we chit-chatted a bit. We told her where we were from and what we were doing in Chicago. I also had to ask her why there is a huge Christmas tree on the front of the building. I knew there was a story there, because the illustration of the restaurant on the front of the menu had the tree on it. So I asked the hostess:
“I have a question, why is there a huge Christmas Tree out front? I thought it was laziness, but after seeing it on the front of the menu, there has to be a story there.”
Here’s the story:
In December it is a Christmas tree, but 11 months out of the year it is an Irish Heritage tree. She proceeded to tell us the real reason there was a Christmas tree outside. Many years ago, the owner wanted a giant Christmas Tree put of for Christmas and received pricing. He agreed to the price and the Christmas tree was put up on top of the front of the building. What the owner did not know was that the price did not include taking the tree down. So, it stayed and now stays in place year round.
So they weren’t lazy about taking the Christmas decorations down, they were just didn’t want to pay for. I totally get it! I’m a tightwad myself…
Ok, back to our supper… (I apologize for the lousy photos, but it was just about dark in the restaurant for ambiance or something…)
We started off with an appetizer of Seared fresh Ahi Tuna, served with a with Tropical Mango Salsa, Mixed Greens tossed in a champagne vinaigrette and Sweet Potato Frites with a side of Kiwi Wasabi aioli.
This was my first experience with a champagne vinaigrette and I am here to tell you, I would eat a salad everyday if I ever figure out the brand or how to make it like what they serve at this restaurant. Amazing!
Then the moment we had been waiting for, our steaks!!
David’s Dry Aged Long Bone Tomahawk Ribeye:
My Short Bone, Dry Aged Ribeye:
Both steaks were topped with a single onion ring and they were cooked to perfection. Tender, juicy and succulent! Everything we imagined a steak should be. The baked potato was baked to perfection and the bacon that adorned it was heavenly!
After we couldn’t stand to eat anymore, the table was cleared. A few minutes later, I noticed that our waitress came up behind David’s booth chair and tried to hide what was in her hand. I then saw a flicker of light as if she was lighting a candle. She then proceeded to the table with a little chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream with a single candle on top. The hostess told our waitress that we were celebrating our anniversary and they sent out a complimentary dessert. How Sweet?!?!
To go along with the cake I couldn’t resist the word “cappuccino” when it came from the waitress’ mouth. It was delivered to the table completed with a rock candy swizzle stick. Total Bliss!
At this point we were just about in a food coma and they brought our check to the table. I will be honest, this was not a cheap meal. Year to date, I believe it was one of the most expensive meals we ever sat down to. Oh well, you only live once!
We paid and waddled back to the hotel room. Needless to say after this day of adventure we slept like babies.
To be continued… [Click HERE to go to Day 3]