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Chicago Trip - Advise Needed

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A group of 3 to 4 friends are coming to Chicago for a foodie restaurant run. Thursday night is El Ideas. Friday morning is exploration and museums followed by lunch not sure yet. Friday dinner is Schwa with backups at Senza and Blackbird in case Schwa is cancelled. Saturday morning we plan to explore the city some more and then brunch at The Publican. Saturday night we will be having dinner at Alinea followed by cocktails at The Aviary. Sunday brunch is open, followed by some more exploration and then a late lunch trip to check out Hot Doug’s after which we will be flying out that night. I am having seconds thoughts about the line up, mainly El Ideas. Considering we are doing Schwa the next night and I have heard some say El Ideas is a “grown up” version of Schwa, would it then be better for us to look elsewhere? Do you all have any advise as to where to go? I have been looking at Elizabeth but since we are doing Alinea Saturday night is it a good idea to do them back to back or maybe save it for the next trip. Do you all have good lunch spots you can recommend? Furthermore two of my friends are avid Belgian beer fans. I hear The Map Room and Bad Apple have the best selection and I was wondering if there are any other notable ones in Chicago.

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  1. I have nothing to suggest ... except can I join you?

    1. That is a great line up you have planned!

      El Ideas is an amazing dinner and experience; while the ambiance is like a refined version of Schwa, the style of food is quite different - so I think you are OK doing both. Personally I find El Ideas to be a tad superior to Schwa, so if I was cutting one it would be Schwa, but both are outstanding choices. Elizabeth is also amazing and is quite different from Alinea, so if you opt to sub out El Ideas or Schwa, Elizabeth would be an excellent alternative.

      For Friday lunch you might want to consider Embeya (modern Asian fusion in the West Loop) or Blackbird. For Sunday brunch my two favorite options are North Pond (beautiful setting in the heart of Lincoln Park overlooking the pond and Chicago skyline - more of a lunch oriented than breakfast oriented brunch) or Jam in the Logan Square neighborhood (outstanding brunch menu; combination of breakfast and lunch items ran by a chef who worked at Charlie Trotters; it is casual, but the food is like a fine dining version of typical brunch foods).

      If Schwa does cancel (seems to be happening a bit less of late, but still does occur) I would recommend Senza over Blackbird. Blackbird is solid, but Senza is a new venue that is really firing on all cylinders and an all around great experience (friendly staff, nice space, amazing food). I think Senza would prove a more interesting and memorable meal than Blackbird.

      Another outstanding cocktail lounge to try if you have the chance is the Berkshire Room (near the Magnificent Mile area). If you enjoy bourbon based cocktails be sure to try the Weston - my favorite cocktail ever (wheated bourbon, pipe tobacco essence and Dark Matter coffee essence).

      As for beer, I believe that Hop Leaf has a huge selection of Belgian beers, but am not 100% certain on this; they do have a ton of beers on tap.

      Have a wonderful trip and would love to hear your impressions afterwards if you get a chance to report back!

      4 Replies
      1. re: Gonzo70

        Thank you so much for all the great advice. This is why I love this community so much.

        1. re: Gonzo70

          Being from out town, I am not very familiar with what store would have a great selection of beers and wines that we could shop at to pick up out BYOB's before El Ideas and Schwa. Do you have any recommendations? It does not have to be a one stop shop, we are willing to go to a beer store with better foreign belgian beer selections for the beer and then a wine store for wine.

          1. re: Kmister

            Binny's is the dominant chain, with a good selection and many locations.
            binnys.com

            1. re: Kmister

              Binny's would be a solid place to start -- they have several locations throughout the city and the Lincoln Park store (1720 N Marcey St, -- not far from the North/Clybourn Red line stop) has the largest selection.

              If you wanted to seek out a smaller store that might have some harder-to-find/limited beers, I would make the trip to West Lakeview Liquors. Huge selection of great imports for such a small store.

          2. Hot Doug's is closed on Sundays, so if you're set on going, you'll have to pick a different day. If you're flying out of O'Hare and planning on using the CTA, though, there are tons of choices along the Blue line -- Lula's and Longman & Eagle are two favorites that come to mind, though only the former takes reservations.

            In the same general area of Hot Doug's is Honey Butter Fried Chicken. Very casual and very, very good. They open at 5pm and would also make a good spot for dinner before heading to the airport. They're located very close to Revolution Brewing's Tap Room -- my favorite brewery in the city at the moment and a wonderful place to spend some time and drink some beers (they also offer free tours - check their website for a schedule).

            A Hot Doug's alternative is Franks 'n Dawgs in Lincoln Park. I remain an ardent fan of Hot Doug's but the location and lines make it hard to justify if you're short on time. FnD is very good and you can definitely fill up on a huge variety of encased meats (they're also BYO).

            Gonzo70 is spot on with recommending Hopleaf. For Belgian-style beer, there is no better option. The food is solid, too. Map Room is very good, too, but their focus is more on local/regional beers, some of which may be Belgian-style. No food, though. Bad Apple is all right - very good burgers and a generally strong beer list. It's also across the street from Half Acre, one of Chicago's better craft brewers (they have a tap room with ~10 of their beers; no food). Hopleaf and Map Room keep their draft lists pretty well updated online, too:
            http://hopleaf.com/menus/drafts/
            http://maproom.com/beer.htm

            1. Kmister, I might be the person who described El Ideas as being a "grown up" version of Schwa. What I meant by that was the restaurants are similar in that both restaurants offer sophisticated, creative, and well-executed tasting menus, BYOB, in off-the beaten path locations but that El Ideas is "grown-up" in that (a) its the management is much more responsive to customers in terms of having a workable reservation system, and (b) the atmosphere at El Ideas is a bit more sedate (i.e., no head-banging music).

              Like Gonzo, I like El Ideas better. And, if I were selecting only one of the 2, I'd probably pick El Ideas -- also because of the potential that Schwa might cancel on you. But I also agree with him that, both in terms of food and vibe, they are sufficiently different that you could do both.

              1. Friday, for lunch, you might want to check out Purple Pig if you find yourself near Magnificent Mile/River North during your exploration.

                Make sure you check out the brunch menus at the Publican beforehand -- the Saturday menu is different from the Sunday menu. The dishes vary and only Saturday has oysters on the menu... don't know if that is a dealbreak for your party.

                Definitely don't go to Hot Doug's on Sunday (as they are closed). Don't forget that they are cash only and often closed randomly or for holidays. Check their web site beforehand.