Thanksgiving Visit to Chicago - 3 reviews
Five of us - me, MrsMe, BigDaughter, SmallDaughter, and Nanny - drove from Toronto to Chicago to enjoy the weekend. We were blessed with perfect weather and had a good experience overall. Based on what I've read on this board and where we were staying, we tried Gino's East, Lawry's, and the Rosebud. Here's what happened:
First, we stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn on Walton, a few steps east of the Drake. I highly recommend it; our two-bedroom suite was quite comfortable, with a full kitchen (including pots/pans, etc.), not just a mini-fridge and microwave. The complimentary breakfast buffet includes make-them-yourself waffles with fresh fruit, cereals, a wide variety of breads and bagels, eggs, and a different breakfast meat (bacon/sausage/ham) each day. Given our plans to see the parade on Thursday, and the inevitable shopping on Friday, this was quick, convenient, and while not a gourmet experience, certainly more satisfying than many $20 continental breakfasts I've had at Hyatt/Marriott/Four Seasons in the past, and for the price ($0), a very good value. They also offer, Monday to Thursday, a "social hour" in the lobby, which, for example, on Thursday, included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry, etc. A nice little nosh if you have late dinner reservations.
As we drove in, I saw Gino's East on Rush, and since it was just a few blocks from the hotel and a place consistently mentioned on this board, we thought we would try it out. Unfortunately, when we walked over that evening (leaving SmallD at the hotel, as she was feeling queasy after the long drive), we found this location was closed. Note to the owners: if you are "closed for renovations" as your sign said, why don't you put up a note with directions or even an address for your other location? We asked five or six locals in the area where the other location was; no one knew. We finally hailed a cab, and even he had to look up the address for the Ontario/Wells spot.
We arrived, and were seated promptly. A quick perusal of the menu resulted in MrsMe and Nanny splitting a thin crust pie (declaring they were not fans of deep dish based on previous Toronto experience), a small deep dish for BigD, and a meatball sandwich for me. The order was placed, and our waiter wanted to make certain that we wanted all items to arrive together. "Sure", we replied.
We didn't see him again for 15 minutes. At that point, he told us things were a bit backed up in the kitchen. In the event, we didn't receive our meals until almost 35 minutes after ordering - for pizza?? Now, having worked as a waiter for almost five years putting myself through university, I would have thought he would have told us right at the start there would be a delay, and/or recommended we order a starter to keep us occupied. But no...
When the entrees arrived, BigD enjoyed her deep dish, and MrsMe and Nanny found the thin crust very good. I was not so overjoyed with my meatball sub. First, the tomato sauce was just a touch acrid, which provided a constant sour note. The meatballs and cheese were fine, but the whole thing was out of proportion. When I order a meatball sub in Toronto (or NYC), I get a 10-12" bun with lots of small meatballs - a size I can pick up and handle. Gino's was on a smaller bun - 8" maybe? - with huge meatballs. I had to eat this with knife and fork, which is not what I was expecting. I also had half a slice of BigD's pie, which I found very tasty (ham, bacon, and pineapple), with very big pieces of all the toppings.
Overall: service: 9 for friendly (no attitude at all), 3 for helpfulness (no info up front about the delay, although he did update us twice about it afterwards); 7 for food (both pies were good but the sandwich not so much). Interesting decor! But truth be told, when we go back to Chicago (please note: not "if"!) we will try some of the other places suggested here before returning.
Thursday, very early breakfast at the hotel, and off to the parade. We brought folding chairs, and found a vacant spot south of Randolph. Settled in, and read papers/did puzzles/etc. until the parade arrived. MrsMe's comment: "People in Chicago are much nicer and friendlier than people in NYC". I concur. Parade was fun, and we returned to hotel, where we used the kitchen to heat up leftovers from Gino's (saving salsa from the breakfast buffet helped overcome some of the acrid sauce). Some walking around sightseeing in the afternoon (and to those who have never been to the Chi, the architecture alone is spectacular), and then back to base for our visit to Lawry's.
Now I know many regulars here will laugh at Lawry's, but I visited over 20 years ago, and I remember enjoying the atmosphere, the style, and the food. Plus, SmallD is picky - she doesn't like steak, burgers, hot dogs, veal chops (I think she's mine..) - and when I phoned, Lawry's told me they had a turkey dinner option on Thanksgiving. So there we went..
Our reservation was for 5:30; we were seated a little after 6:00. I understand why this happens, having worked in the business. Trying to explain the reality of restaurant scheduling, customer behaviour, and traffic theory is an exercise guaranteed to drive Daddy mad.
Again, having been in the business, I know how a ritual like the spinning salad can get (for the server) very old, very quickly. But,
jjust as actors are expected to deliver their lines freshly with
every performance, I wanted more from our server, especially when he
saw two young girls - clearly, they had never seen this before, and bbased on my previous experience, I expected him to play everything up. Instead, he was boring and bland. Regardless, we all enjoyed the salad.
In addition to the offered items, we ordered a baked potato, and some asparagus The trolley arrived, and we all enjoyed watching the cutting of our individual servings. However, it took repeated prompting to our waiter to deliver the baked potato and the asparagus. When you only have a few things to remember, why should it take so long?
Now, this is what made me personally angry: I'm diabetic. I need to keep food intake down. I ordered the smallest cut of roast beef, which I found very tasty, and after eating half (8 oz of 16 oz), I said I was done. I didn't expect our waiter's reply, which was on the lines of "My son and I both finished this cut yesterday; what's your problem?"
Everyone else had enjoyed their meal (as did I), so I didn't make a federal case about it. But I was angry. I don't think waiters should be intimating their customers are lesser men because they don't stuff themsevles beyond their hunger.
It's late; I'll finish this tomorrow.
The reason that there were no signs is that Gino's East/Geno's places have no relationship whatsoever.
Gino's East has two locations. One is on Superior about a block east of Michigan. The second is on Ontario at Wells.
Your experience at Lawry's was typical. It is no longer a destination for those of us who live here. For similar food, there are numerous places that do it far better, including Keefer's, Chop House, Capital Grille, and Gibsons.
Most Chicagoans know that deep-dish or stuffed pizza normally takes over half an hour to make. Maybe they thought you were a native. ;) (And no offense, but Chicago-style pizza didn't establish its reputation based on meatball sandwiches.)
I agree with Skeeter regarding Lawry's. There are many places where you can get better steaks and prime rib. (Carson's www.ribs.com is still excellent for both, as well as for barbecue ribs, and their River North location is still open.)
I agree, when we return to Chicago and order deep dish it's always a 35 to 40 min wait. Do like I do, enjoy that second pitcher of beer while your waiting. I'm not sure they would do this at Gino's but if I'm going to be in a hurry I will order ahead and have it ready or near ready when i arrive.
The wait for the deep dish is probably why they asked if you wanted everything at once. Most places mention the wait on the menu but the waiter should have been more specific.
I thank everyone for their replies. I wish I'd known that deep dish required the long wait; we would have ordered an appetizer to make it tolerable. I didn't see it mentioned on the menu, but truth be told, our table was so dark, I actually picked up the menu and walked to a brighter area to read the menu.
Our final dinner was at the Rosebud on Friday. I'd originally booked Gibson's, but MrsMe thought our 5:30 reservation was too early, so she made me find something closer to 9 pm (she expected to be shopping from 6 am; she actually started at midnight in Aurora). Gibson's was unable to accomodate the change, so we tried the Rosebud which was only steps from our hotel. We arrived at our reservation time of 8:45; we were seated at 9:00. For appetizers, we ordered oysters, bacon-wrapped scallops, a Ceasar for BigD, and a wedge salad. The bread basket was very good and we ended up requesting a second. The oysters were fine, BigD liked her Ceaser, and I enjoyed my scallops (second choice as lobster avocado was sold out). But the wedge salad was definitely something I hadn't seen before: a quarter head of iceberg, some sliced onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Since I was splitting this with SmallD, I asked our waiter for a second plate, and he very nicely sliced the lettuce into two smaller wedges, and divided everything into two plates.
I really was unsure about how to eat this; I eventually chose to cut off slices of tomato and cucumber, then slice off a chunk of lettuce, impale all of them, and dip into the dressing. Interesting experience, but not something I would order again.
Mains: SmallD, a picky eater, chose the pasta ribbons Bolognese, BigD had a small filet, MrsMe the double veal chop, Nanny the strip steak, and I had the skirt steak. Since almost everyone's order came with frites, I passed on the giant baked potato, and we ordered corn as the only side.
I ordered my steak "black and blue". It came rare, but with no char. Meanwhile, Nanny and MrsMe were both unhappy with what they felt was excessive char on their steaks. (Note: they didn't express until the next day, so I give no foul to Rosebud on this; how can they fix it if you don't complain?)
I found my steak very tasty, even though I could only finish half of it. (I enjoyed a very "luxe" version of steak and eggs the next morning, with my skirt and some of the veal chop to go along with the eggs from the hotel buffet.) SmallD enjoyed her pasta, although she only finished about a quarter. Once again, we had to remind the waiter we had ordered a side dish; it took a few extra minutes for the corn to arrive.
As a boy, at our cottage in Quebec, my mom would put a pot on to boil, and send my father and I to get corn. We would drive up the road for a few minutes, pull the ears off the stalks, and drive back. The shucked ears would go directly into the pot, and be eaten within minutes. Sweet, crunchy, and satifying. Now, I don't know how they do this in November (in Toronto, the fresh corn season ends in September), but this corn was really sweet, and obviously cut off the cob. It was a 99 if my childhood corn was a 100. We took the leftovers home and enjoyed them with breakfast the next day. (Also, SmallD's pasta was quite tasty as a side to breakfast sausage/eggs.)
I was surprised; I thought our overall experience at Rosebud was better than that at Lawry's but MrsMe, Nanny, and BigD all demurred.
Overall: we want to come back. We'd like to spend more time at places like the Art Institute, Field Museum (SmallD and I spent six enjoyable hours at the Shedd Aquarium this trip, where I found their cafeteria reasonable and tasty - pizza for SmallD, a salad with turkey, ham, and cheese for me and prices quite reasonable), Navy Pier, etc. We found Chicago to be like NYC without attitude. Next time, we want to explore more ethnic restaurants (Polish, Mexican, etc.) that we don't have in Toronto. Look for another report next summer!