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Short Chicago Trip Report: The Aviary, Great Lake, Annette's Italian Ice, Alliance Bakery, Portillo's Hot Dogs

pane Aug 15, 2011 03:47 PM

I had a 48-hour window in Chicago (from San Francisco); for this, my first visit, I had too much great stuff to eat, including:

Alliance Bakery
I tried the kouign amann here, which I was surprised to see among cartoon decorated cakes. In case you haven't tried it, it's a Breton pastry made with caramelized croissant dough; mine had raspberry filling. The crust was sensational--crispy, sticky and sweet (but not too). Loved it, and wish I had Alliance in my neighborhood back home.

The Aviary
We had a 6 p.m. reservation, and by the time we peeled in at 5 of, there were about 40 people waiting outside. I assume because the drinks are so time-intensive, they staggered our entry, and while the scene outside was always crowded, the room we entered was never even half full. We tried three cocktails: one rooibos (with a fancy chemistry gear set up that boiled the liquids up into the lemon, verbena and tea suspended above), a Hemingway and a rhubarb cocktail. Taste-wise, the straightforward Hemingway was the favorite. Lookswise, the rooibos was impressive but no one loved the taste much--the friend who ordered it adores that tea but found the cocktail too heavy; she also assumed the tea would have been made and cooled in advance, but it is served hot. I liked my rhubarb cocktail, which came packed with bitters "bullets"--dozens of round ice cubes (prepared, naturally, by the "ice chef") made of bitters; they changed the flavor of the drink as they melted.

Great Lake
We've experienced a pizza renaissance in San Francisco over the last couple of years, so I'll warn in advance that I'm hard to impress. I adored the flavor and texture of the frame, which is much heartier than what you see in our parts and can hold up to heavier ingredients. My friend voted for the Margherita, and afterward I'd wished we'd ordered a pie with more substantial ingredients so that I could appreciate the possibilities with sturdy crust. This was the only place that I wasn't impressed by Chicago's value--with tip, we paid more than $50 for a single pizza and a tiny simple salad (greens, squash shavings, a buttermilk dressing, about a half cup of salad per person).

Annette's Homemade Italian Ice
I happened to be wandering around the Armitage area on a hot day and saw this window, so I ordered a small, split between watermelon and lemon. I like my italian ice with a silky texture, so I liked the watermelon but not the lemon, which arrived with distracting lumps of peel and pith.

Portillo's Hot Dogs
A native Chicagoan back home recommended a few dog vendors, but when I saw that Hot Doug's was too far out of my way and Gold Coast had a lot of negative reviews, I skipped over to Portillo's, where I enjoyed a fast moving line, friendly service, and an all-beef dog with a pleasant snap.

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

Annette's Italian Ice
3124 Glenview Rd, Glenview, IL 60025

Great Lake
1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640