OK, so there’s not much that’s worse than when a blogger apologises for not having posted for a few weeks due to the constraints of their ‘busy rock-and-roll-life’ (after all, who isn’t ridiculously busy nowadays?) But, as you may have guessed from the radio silence around here recently, things have been…well…a little hectic. A week of ridiculous deadlines was swiftly followed by a business trip to the USA, which saw me travelling between Chicago, Las Vegas and L.A. in the space of eight days. All great fun if you enjoy surviving on a diet of adrenalin, caffeine and french fries, and you ignore the jet lag, sleep deprivation and the incident where I called my Mum from Las Vegas and cried “I’M IN A PYRAMID, I HAVEN’T SLEPT PROPERLY IN FIVE DAYS AND EVERYTHING IS GOING WRONG” down the phone.
Las Vegas wowed me by charging $52.00 for three drinks in the Hard Rock Hotel and L.A. saw me commandeering a taxi to take me to the nearest branch of In-n-Out burger. But it was Chicago that really won my heart. Everything about it transfixed me, from the elevated trains running above the streets, rattling over my head when I went out for breakfast each morning, to the gigantic skyscrapers that scrape the landscape and make you feel like you’re walking through the pages of a Marvel comic. While I didn’t get to experience the place fully during my four day stay there, I did manage to shove some excellent meals down my ever hungry maw. These mostly came in the form of sandwiches. For if there is one thing I learned about Chicago during my time there, it’s that it is land of the exemplary sandwich.
A perfect example was this bad boy, an Italian Beef from the rather nondescript looking Max’s Chicago. While the decor left a bit to be desired, the food didn’t. A giant sub roll was stuffed full of thin, slightly fatty slices of beef, giardiniera – a mixture of pickled carrots, cauliflower and courgette and served ‘wet’, meaning that a thin beef gravy was spooned over the roll before it was served. All of those delicious meaty, briny juices soaked into the sub roll, suffusing it with flavour as well as making it perilously difficult to eat in a ladylike manner. I have no idea if this is a particularly good example of the species; I just know that on a cold Sunday afternoon where I was tired, hungry and terrified of skidding on the huge piles of snow littering the pavements, it hit the spot.
Special mention should also go to Ada’s Famous Deli on Wabash, a small Jewish deli I frequently lunched at during my stay. Go for their giant Reuben sandwiches (a $12.00 lunchtime treat that could easily feed two people, but which I decided to eat by myself because I am a giant glutton) and stay for their amazing dill pickles, which are as thick as a baby’s arm. The limp beef rolls I buy from the sandwich shop next to my office will never look the same again.
And then there were the snacks. Numerous people told me that I couldn’t visit Chicago without trying a bag of Garrett’s ‘Chicago Mix’ – a mixture of caramel and cheese flavoured popcorn that sounds utterly disgusting, but tastes amazing. Made fresh in front of you, it’s the perfect conglomeration of salt and sweet – crisp, tangy and oddly addictive. Its neon orange dust also stains everything it lands on, which, in my case, was hotel pillows and duvet covers. I found myself eating gigantic handfuls of the stuff at 5am on a Monday morning, plagued by jetlag, watching awful news reports on CBS (“Are council employees watching Hula-Hooping strippers on YOUR tax dollars?”) I’m not entirely sure that it’s the kind of serving suggestion that the makers would suggest themselves, but it certainly gave me comfort when I needed it.
Honorable mention should also go to The Gage, an ‘upmarket tavern’ I visited on my last night in the city. I ate their restaurant week menu and, while certain elements of it disappointed, (such as a soup which tasted like a cup-a-soup with an egg plunked in it) I was pleasantly surprised by their meaty, punchy – if slightly overcooked – Scotch Egg, adored their amazing bread and butter and was utterly wowed by a White Chocolate Sponge. I’m not a white chocolate fan, but this cake was infused with a warm, spicy cardamom syrup that will haunt my dreams.
Sadly, work constraints meant that I didn’t get to see as much of Chicago as I would have liked to. Oh, I had well laid out plans of where I’d go and what I’d see, but by the time I’d finished work each day, I had just enough energy to consume a few cocktails and an easily accessible meal before passing out in my hotel bed in front of the TV. As I have discovered, the problem with work trips is that you actually have to work. However, I’m already planning my next trip back so I can explore more of this amazing city. Oh yes, and get my hands on more of that popcorn.