Chicago offers an embarrassment of riches culturally, architecturally, in sports, and most of all, in food. If you have limited time, like Vegetarian TravelingMom, a great way to sample a wide variety of what this city has to offer is to take a food tour. Chicago Food Planet provides a way to taste Chicago’s best, with tours that include local history and insight. And the walking tours let you burn a couple of calories to boot.
Chicago for Foodies
On my last trip to Chicago, I had only 48 hours to cram in as much local color as possible. On a perfect summer day, my husband and I took a walking tour of Chicago’s best through Chicago Food Planet. Our three-hour tour through the Gold Coast and Old Town neighborhoods gave us a peek at Chicago’s Near North neighborhood.
Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
If you ask most people about Chicago food, they will exclaim, “deep dish pizza!” So of course our foodie tour started at Lou Malnati’s, one of the originators of the style. The surprise here was that deep dish pizza is not synonymous with a thick crust. Sure, it’s thicker than a thin crust pizza. But what makes it deep dish is a high edge, so lots of sauce and cheese can be used. Meat eaters on our tour got a slice of sausage pizza. We vegetarians were accommodated with plain cheese pizza.
Our group of 15 included a few children, who get a reduced rate (we were provided with complimentary tickets). And while allergies and food sensitivities are noted, this tour was heavy on the bread and cheese, so gluten free or lactose intolerant people might want to choose a different tour. One woman who couldn’t eat cheese simply gave her daughters her unwanted food.
After pizza, we walked a few feet to TeaGschwendner, a specialty tea shop based in Germany. It has two Chicago branches. We learned about different types of tea and each got a cup of iced tea to go.
TravelingMom Tip: there was no time built into the tour for shopping, but the places were pretty close if you wanted to come back after the tour and buy something. We did stop along the way at some interesting sights: the first Playboy mansion for one. Also, the home of the famed Second City comedy and improv theater that launched the careers of Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, John Belushi and others.
Chicago’s best treat for the nose
The next stop was a scent overload, a spice shop called The Spice House. On this gorgeous day, we were invited to the lovely garden where we sniffed a variety of spices, including several types of cinnamon. In the shop, you can taste spices and specialties such as crystallized ginger. Spices are ground in house and kept fresh. You may know to toss old spices at home, but you don’t necessarily know how ancient they are when you first buy them.
All those tantalizing smells reawakened our hunger, so we were ready for the falafel at Old Jerusalem. The homemade hot sauce perked up the fresh falafel. [Note: the Old Jerusalem stop alternates with a sushi restaurant].
On to the sweet – Chicago’s best chocolate?
Next we stopped by The Fudge Pot, where treats are made by a third generation chocolatier. The Fudge Pot specializes in butter toffee, dipped in chocolate. We got a couple of pieces of this.
Old Town Oil is one of the newer Chicago gourmet food purveyors, opened in 2007. We dipped pieces of baguette into flavored oils and vinegars. The baguette came from a local bakery, La Fournette.
Back to savory – and sweet
La Fournette was our final stop. The bakery, owned by an ex-pat from France, makes macarons, those delicate, colorful cookies. We each got a bag of two, perfect for saving for later.
First, we had either a croque-monsieur or the vegetarian alternative, a slice of quiche. The croque-monsieur looked excellent, with lots of cheese oozing from thick slices of brioche. But it also had ham. Our quiche was fine, but nothing special. We did pick up some croissants for breakfast the next morning, and they were flaky and perfect.
Disclosure: Chicago Food Planet provided us with free tour tickets. Opinions and happy, full belly were all my own.