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NYC Hound Coming Back to Chicago for ~48 hours in August

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Coming back to Chicago...again! We just can't stay away. And this time, we've scored tickets to the Tour of Thailand at Next Restaurant and will be taking a family member along, who's never been to either Next or The Aviary. So both of those are musts and immovable from the schedule.

On previous trips, we've visited the Bongo Room (brunch), Publican (dinner only), Hot Doug's, Xoco (breakfast and lunch), The Gage, Frontera Grill, Sepia (only for brunch), Lao Szechuan, Purple Pig, Sable, Heaven on Seven, The Aviary (loved it so much, we went three times), Girl and the Goat, Julius Meinl, Next, and Big Star.

You might be able to tell from that list above but we are fans of Paul Kahan, Rick Bayless, Grant Achatz, artisanal cocktails, adventurous dishes, raw bars, pork, local vegetables, charcuterie, tapas, offal, eggs, small plates, anything David Chang touches, etc. Husband is not a fan of Chicago-style pizza ("that's not pizza, that's bread with s**t on top") or Italian beef sandwiches, so those are off-limits.

We only have 48 hours so it's a surgical strike w/ some previous favorites mixed in.

TUESDAY

Our train arrives at 12:30pm.

Late lunch at Topolobampo (reservations at 2pm)
- Any recommended dishes here? I'm eyeing the ceviches, the queso fundido, the carne asada.

Drinks at The Aviary
- Anyone been recently and tried some of the new menu items, like the sangria?

Dinner at the Publican (reservations at 9pm)
- Husband has requested we go back. We've not been in a year, anything new and notable on the menu?

A nightcap at Sable, if we're feeling up to it

WEDNESDAY

Brunch at Jam

Snack at Big Star
- Husband has requested we go back for some pork belly tacos.

Drinks at The Aviary
Tour of Thailand at Next at 9pm :)

THURSDAY

Breakfast at the Doughnut Vault
- uhockey's report has me interested and hopefully the wait won't be too bad on a Thursday.

Lunch at Gramwich? Sable? Purple Pig? Balsan?
- Any thoughts about Gramwich? The grilled cheese caught my eye.
- Other contenders: Sable, Purple Pig (again), or Balsan -- I assume no reservations will be needed for weekday lunch at Sable or Balsan?

Our train departs at 3:15pm.

Previous trip reports:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/715732
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/794636

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Hot Doug's
3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Bongo Room
1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

Frontera Grill
445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

Topolobampo
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

Heaven on Seven
600 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

XOCO
449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

Girl and the Goat
809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661

Purple Pig
500 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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  1. >>Lunch at Gramwich? Sable? Purple Pig? Balsan?

    I wouldn't use one of your few lunches to go to Grahamwich. I thought it was ok, although I didn't have the grilled cheese, but think you can find better spots for lunch. I also prefer Sable at dinner v. its lunch menu. Much less options for small plates at lunch than dinner, but if the menu interests you might be a good choice. I really like Purple Pig too, but know you have tried it before, so you may want something new.

    If you like seafood, I'd recommend GT Fish and Oyster. I haven't been for lunch yet so I'm not sure how the lunch menu varies to the dinner menu, but we really liked it for dinner. Small plates, pretty much all seafood and same owners as the ones behind G&TG.

    -----
    Purple Pig
    500 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

    1. >> Husband is not a fan of Chicago-style pizza ("that's not pizza, that's bread with s**t on top")

      Honestly, that sounds like a description from someone who has only tried Sicilian pizza as you'd find on the East Coast, NOT Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, on which the crust is not at all bread-like.

      >> Late lunch at Topolobampo (reservations at 2pm)
      - Any recommended dishes here? I'm eyeing the ceviches, the queso fundido, the carne asada.

      I like everything, haven't found anything I'd put in the "absolutely do not miss" category.

      >> Lunch at Gramwich? Sable? Purple Pig? Balsan?
      - Any thoughts about Gramwich? The grilled cheese caught my eye.
      - Other contenders: Sable, Purple Pig (again), or Balsan -- I assume no reservations will be needed for weekday lunch at Sable or Balsan?

      I haven't been to Gramwich. I don't know about reservations; you could always make them, or at least call the restaurant to ask whether there's likely to be much of a wait without them.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Maybe "bread" is not the right descriptor but he dislikes it when the crust is too thick or too thin. He grew up near Milwaukee and did business in Chicago off and on for several years (and has had Chicago pizza many times), and whenever I bring up Chicago style pizza, I get an "eh" at best.

      2. It seems like you've already got one heck of an itinerary! I don't know how much more to add, but I'll go ahead and say this:

        WEDNESDAY
        Have you been to The Violet Hour, across the street from Big Star? This was the city's first really innovative cocktail bar and I think they've still got it. Nearly every other cocktail bar in the city is run by someone who worked at Violet Hour. It would be a bit much for me to go from Violet Hour to The Aviary and then Next, but maybe you would want to keep it in mind? The Violet Hour opens at 6pm and I don't think you would have any problems getting in on a weeknight with plenty of time still to get to Next by 9pm. I know you said you are absolutely in love with The Aviary, but I thought I'd mention it in case you wanted to try something else, albeit at the expense of visiting The Aviary.

        Also, Big Star recently added a huitlacoche taco. It's great and I hope it sticks around for a while!

        THURSDAY
        Grahamwich opened to pretty ambivalent reviews, in part based on the price of the sandwiches. A few months ago, they revamped the menu (in terms of items and prices) but I don't think many people were inclined to go back and give them another shot.

        -----
        Violet Hour
        1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

        6 Replies
        1. re: danimalarkey

          As I probably posted the last time you were on this board, given what you say you like I would recommend iNG and Balsan.
          Since you already have most of it booked, perhaps the best you can do it look in on iNG when you are at Next / Aviary since it is basically next door.
          If you can do Balsan for your open lunch spot I would do it.
          The Publican was a little better than I had remembered it when I went recently. I still find that I salivate when I look at the menu and am invariably a little disappointed with what I actually get served. I don't think it is in the same league as the Girl and the Goat, Balsan and the Purple Pig.
          I did try Sable recently and found it to be good, but not very exciting food-wise - I gravitate towards offal, forcemeats and unusual preparations and the menu was a bit too mainstream for my liking. The drinks list was amazing though so hitting it for a cocktail is the right approach I think.

          1. re: Chihab

            Thanks for the feedback. Given that we are staying at the hotel where Sable is located, I'm sure we'll find ourselves there at least once or twice!

            1. re: kathryn

              You've already been to Sable so you know what they have to offer. Personally, I think the food at Sable is outstanding. No, Chef Heather Terhune doesn't specialize in organ meats, but her preparations are creative and delicious nonetheless. I absolutely love her sweet corn creme brulee, a savory riff on the classic dessert, and the way she has the cracked sea salt on top as a nice counterpoint to the caramelized sugar underneath.

            2. re: Chihab

              iNG was somewhat of a disappointment when i was there last. We did the 2 hour tasting and honestly the best part was the desert...I would only go back for that, and even then I think it might have only been cause it was the "breakfast" desert and I honestly found it quite interesting visually....with the other places the OP listed i wouldnt substitute if for any the ones listed already

            3. re: danimalarkey

              We've been to the Violet Hour a few times before, actually, on previous trips to Chicago; we're also blessed in NYC to have some ex-VH folks around, like Troy Sidle. And since my in-laws live in Milwaukee, we try to drop in on Nick & Ira of Bittercube as much as possible.

              -----
              Violet Hour
              1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

              1. re: kathryn

                Glad to hear you've made it to the Hour already! It really does make a great (albeit dangerous and expensive) 1-2 combination with Big Star being across the street.

                I'd really reccomend trying out The Whistler on a future trip. Located in Logan Square, the drinks are every bit as innovative as at Drawing Room, Sable, the Hour, etc. but in a much more casual atmosphere. No food, but there are a few great options nearby, such as Longman & Eagle and Lula's.

                -----
                The Drawing Room
                937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

            4. Husband has asked that (to my surprise) we have some Chicago pizza before we leave.

              Our last experience was at Gino's East and while it wasn't very good, we were watching No Reservations a while ago, and he thought that Burt's looked quite good and I've mischaracterized his opinion. "It's not that I dislike Chicago pizza, it's that I was more interested in other food on previous trips." Indeed.

              While I don't think we'll have time to get out to Burt's (or Great Lake) this trip, but I feel that Pizzeria Uno or Due might be in our future given that it is so close to our hotel.

              Revised itinerary:

              TUESDAY
              Train arrives at 12:30pm
              Check into hotel at 1pm and change for lunch
              Late lunch at Topolobampo (reservations at 2pm)
              Drinks at The Aviary
              Dinner at the Publican (reservations at 9pm)
              Nightcap at Sable

              WEDNESDAY
              Brunch at Jam
              Snack at Big Star
              Drinks at The Aviary
              Dinner at Next

              THURSDAY
              Breakfast at Doughnut Vault
              Lunch at Pizzeria Uno/Due
              Train back to MKE at 3:15

              Is there a preference for Uno over Due? Will either be more or less amenable to walk-ins on a Thursday afternoon?

              -----
              Pizzeria Uno
              29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

              Topolobampo
              445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

              Great Lake
              1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

              Gino's East
              2801 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

              10 Replies
              1. re: kathryn

                >> Is there a preference for Uno over Due? Will either be more or less amenable to walk-ins on a Thursday afternoon?

                I don't think so, on either count. Some people have claimed that there's a slight difference in their deep-dish, but I haven't noticed it.

                Also, someone here recently posted that they don't let you phone ahead with your pizza order, so allow 30-45 minutes for it to bake (I think you can place your pizza order while you're waiting to be seated, IIRC).

                If you'd like another alternative for great deep-dish, the Lou Malnati's location on Wells is right near the Doughnut Vault.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Go to Lou Malnati's if at all possible - it's the best deep dish in Chicago, IMO (having had Giordano's, Gino's East, Pizza Capri, Uno and Due).

                  -----
                  Gino's East
                  2801 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

                  1. re: biondanonima

                    Can you elaborate as to why Lou Malnati's over Uno and Due?

                    1. re: kathryn

                      As nsxtasy said, the differences are minor, but I prefer the crust at Lou's over that of any other deep dish joint - there's just something extra buttery and delicious about it. Their sausage (which I believe is proprietary) is also amazing. I've had good pizzas elsewhere in Chicago of course, but now that I've tried them all (more or less) I stick with Lou!

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        >> I prefer the crust at Lou's over that of any other deep dish joint - there's just something extra buttery and delicious about it.

                        All three places have a richness to the crust that is especially delicious.

                        Incidentally, Lou Malnati's offers an optional "butter crust". I've tried it, and even though I'm normally a big fan of the taste of butter, it just didn't appeal to me, so I normally order my Lou's with the regular crust.

                        1. re: biondanonima

                          Thanks! The choice may end up based upon where we are at the time.

                        2. re: kathryn

                          BTW, I've been reading this thread with interest because I'm headed to Chicago over Labor Day weekend - my brother (who is a chef) is in charge of the restaurant itinerary. We're headed to Big Star and the Publican for sure, perhaps GT Fish. He is also a big fan of Longman and Eagle - and after looking at their menu I am intrigued. Topolobampo is a possibility for us too.

                          -----
                          Topolobampo
                          445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

                          1. re: biondanonima

                            >> Topolobampo is a possibility for us too.

                            Maybe not, unless your brother has connections. Most of us would have a tough time getting into Topolobampo on short notice, especially for a weekend night. They start accepting reservations three months ahead of time, and dinners are full within a couple of weeks. At this point they are almost certainly full for dinner on Friday and Saturday (although it wouldn't hurt to try).

                            Frontera Grill is a bit different, because they hold most of the dining room for walk-in traffic. You can get there before they open the doors to avoid the long waits, otherwise it's 90-120 minutes or more to be seated. If you eat at the bar at Frontera, you can order off either menu (Frontera Grill's or Topolobampo's), but you'll have to wait just as long to get a seat there as in the dining room.

                            Here's my advice, assuming you can't "pull strings" there. If you want to eat at Topolobampo, you can make a reservation RIGHT NOW for lunch on Friday of Labor Day weekend; there's an opening at 11:30 on Opentable. If you're willing to eat really early, go to Frontera Grill 15 minutes before they open. Otherwise, go to one of our other creative provincial Mexican restaurants. Carlos Gaytan is creating terrific Mexican food with a subtle French influence at Mexique in West Town. Mundial Cocina Mestiza in Pilsen is consistently outstanding. And Mixteco Grill in Lakeview is solid as well. Mexique and Mundial both accept reservations via Opentable as well as over the phone; Mixteco does so only over the phone.

                            Frontera and Topolobampo are both closed on Sundays and Mondays. Mexique, Mundial, and Mixteco are all open Sundays and closed on Mondays. Frontera serves Saturday brunch but again wait times are horrendous. Mexique, Mundial, and Mixteco all serve brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays.

                            Enjoy your visit!

                            -----
                            Mundial Cocina Mestiza
                            1640 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

                            Frontera Grill
                            445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

                            Topolobampo
                            445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

                            Mixteco Grill
                            1601 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

                            Mexique
                            1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                            1. re: nsxtasy

                              thanks nsxtasy! I don't know if my brother knows anyone at Topolobampo, but since they're closed Sun/Mon we probably won't have time anyway. I'll check out the other Mexican spots you suggested though!

                              -----
                              Topolobampo
                              445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

                        3. re: biondanonima

                          I don't see a huge difference between the pizza at Lou Malnati's, Uno and Due (downtown Chicago only), and Pizano's. And that's not a coincidence. Malnati's and Pizano's were both founded by sons of one of the main characters in the early decades of Uno and Due, and they all grew up working together at Uno and Due for many years. They may not be precisely identical, but they're so similar that if you like one, you'll like all of them. So the differences may come down to location/convenience. They all have great pizza!