Gluten-Free Travel - Chicago, Illinois
I swore I would never go back.
After enduring -6 degree weather in Chicago for a business trip last year, I swore up and down with many a hand gesture that my ass (pointing at ample behind) would not go back to Chicago ever again for any reason. Period.
Clearly I don't stick to my convictions.
I wasn't really planning on going back to Chicago, yes the food is good, and there is LOTS of it to be had almost anywhere, but after freezing my butt off in heels and getting a parking ticket on a rental car because I couldn't put money into the snow buried meter, I was over it...until I heard about the Nourished Food Blogger Conference.
It was too tempting to pass up, so I pleaded insanity and booked a trip to Chicago. I convinced Mr. misterbelly that this was the perfect opportunity for a family trip and didn't give him a chance to say no as I began selling in all of the wonderfulness Chicago has to offer to my toddler, who didn't (and still really doesn't) know a damn thing about Chicago and thought that was where Elmo lived so therefore she simply had to go.
With the husband and tot on board, the real planning began. Where to eat?
Any gluten-free eater out there knows what an incredible pain in the ass it is to find restaurants to eat at that have more than just a few leaves of lettuce as a gluten-free option. Why is it that nine times out of ten, the gluten-free option on a menu is also vegetarian? Restaurant people listen up, just because I don't eat wheat doesn't mean I don't eat meat. Quote that, go ahead.
Anyway, it's like planning a wedding whenever I have to figure out where to eat. I bitch and moan about it like it's going out of style, but I secretly find it fun too. I guess I'm just a masochist.
Still, I don't see the point in hoarding the goodness for myself and if my Virgo-induced compulsion of finding the RIGHT place to eat at all times benefits you, then hallelujah.
Chicago, quite fortunately, is progressive when it comes to food. You can find all sorts of ridiculously upscale madness, like *cough*, Alinea. But if paying big bucks to eat one pea served on a huge plate isn't your thing, then great, because I have you covered.
Keep in mind I was traveling with a toddler who's idea of culinary greatness is Mac & Cheese, so we had yet another layer of difficulty added to the restaurant search, but nothing insurmontable since the kid will eat chicken, rice and olives (strangely enough), which in some form or another were in plentiful abundance wherever we ate.
As soon as we got to Chicago and dropped our things at the hotel we made our way over to Frontera Grill, a place I didn't have the opportunity to visit during my first trip. I've heard amazing things about Rick Bayless, have seen him on TV countless times, and have even tried a few of his recipes. I expected nothing less than Mexican perfection and sadly I got far less than that.
First, let me start with the menu. It's massive. There is every conceivable Mexican dish you could think of. As I waded my way through the menu trying to find gluten-free options, the server took our drink order. I read on Yelp that the margaritas were outstanding, so I ordered one. Sadly, it came to me in a highball glass, with salt on only half of the rim, and was watered down and sweet. I was not impressed, and hoped that this was not a harbinger of things to come for the meal.
To read more about my experience at Frontera Grill, click here.
For dinner we went to the Publican, which I heard great things about. I loved the dining space, which has several long communal tables in the center and private booths along the wall, each with their own doors. This was beyond perfect for us since we had the tot in tow and one of my dinner time coping mechanisms (for her and for me) is to bring an iPad to entertain her so mommy can enjoy her wine in peace. It was nice to have that bit of privacy for us and to not disturb others with our utter yuppiness.
To read more about my experience at The Publican, click here.
Breakfast the next day was a brief stop at the C-House in our hotel, Affinia, to fuel up on caffiene, eggs and bacon before I hit the road for the Nourished conference.
The conference took place on Friday the 13th, and I definitely had some freaky Friday moments as I was driving from the city to Lombard when my Google phone navigation turned off not once, but three times, causing me to get lost and go out of my way. Good times!
To read more about my experience at the Nourished Food Blogger Conference, click here.
I love the space at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba. The bar area has several serrano hams hanging from the ceiling and the main dining area is a large space with a glass roof, which made it feel contemporary and open.
The gluten-free menu at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba is not as extensive as their regular menu, but still had a lot to choose from. They are very conscientious about gluten-free eaters and will prepare your food in a separate kitchen upon request. We enjoyed the Paella Valenciana, Patatas Bravas, and Gambas al Ajillo.
To read more about my experience at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, click here.
Saturday morning started off well enough, I had plans to head to the Gluten and Allergen Free Expo in Lombard, but wanted to have breakfast at this cute place I happened upon online - Tweet.
Located Uptown, Tweet is a cafe/bar that has a pretty robust gluten-free menu with everything from pancakes to oatmeal and even eggs benedict. We arrived as soon as it opened and there were already a few people queuing up for seats - always a good sign.
To read more about my experience at Tweet, click here.
We piled into the car, collectively groaning as a family and made our way to the convention space for the expo. I don't know why I didn't think of it before, but realized as I walked into the expo that I would be sampling food and the last thing I wanted to do was eat. What can you do right? I stopped at all of my favorite brands and you better believe I got some samples and crammed them into my face. The variety and quality of gluten-free foods was incredible.
To read more about my experience at Gluten & Allergen Free Expo, click here.
Chicagoans, you have a fine gluten-free bakery on your hands with Sweet Ali's Bakery (and Rose's Bakery too from what I tried at the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo). I LOVE Sweet Ali's pound cake. The tiny taste I had at the expo only whet my appetite for more, and that's saying a lot since I was not hungry in the slightest .
To read more about my experience at Sweet Ali's Bakery, click here.
You'd think that I would stop my food escapade there, but no. Purple Pig was next on the agenda, and I was determined to stop by.
Any place that celebrates the beauty of pork is a fine establishment in my opinion and Purple Pig was just that place. It's set right off of Magnificent Mile, making it a bit of a tourist spot, but the atomosphere was chic and comfortable. It was a lovely day, so we say outside at the communal table and like the gluttons we were, proceeded to order several things from the menu. Now, we were having "lunch" at about 3 PM by this point and I had dinner reservations for 6:30, making this somewhat of a ridiuclous stop for us when I think back on it, but I'm so glad we ate there because the food was fantastic.
To read more about my experience at The Purple Pig, click here.
We went back to the hotel room to nap off the food and that's where my dinner plans fell apart. I had reservations at Da Luciano's, which has an extensive gluten-free menu of Italian fare including lasagna. It was reviewed favorably on Yelp and they were at the expo, so I was excited to be having dinner there. What I didn't realize was that they are located about 20 miles outside of downtown, which by that point was a non-starter for us. The thought of driving 30 minutes each way to go eat more heavy food was just not tolerable. We couldn't just not eat dinner (despite being full I knew I'd be hungry around 9 PM) so after a search on Yelp I was able to find Quartino, an Italian restaurant which also has a gluten-free menu.
Quartino is not the type of place I would normally visit. It's loud, touristy and huge. I was grateful for the gluten-free menu though and despite feeling not the least bit hungry, ordered a few shared plates including quinoa pasta, roast chicken and a filet medallions, you know, keepin' it casual.
To read more about my experience at Quartino, click here.
I'm pretty sure I gained at least 5 lbs during my trip to Chicago, but it was well worth it. What started off as a poor first time experience for a work trip, was turned around completely by an enjoyable trip with my family centered around food and drink. Which, let's face it, is how we should be living life every day!