Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This is not my Chicago.

On my way home after visiting with my Aunt Barb,
shot from the train, somewhere near La Grange, IL.
Autumn 2009

...but maybe it's better. Oh, I'm just not sure.

There is often a struggle between my adventurous side and my sentimental side. For instance, the new Millennium Park is great, but I miss the original Petrillo Band Shell and the old Grant Park of my childhood. I'm sure most would disagree, Millennium Park is a big hit, but my Chicago past holds a very special place in my heart and the old run down Grant Park is part of that past.

That being said, my trip "back home" did not include one Chicago-style hot dog. There was not a poppy seed bun in sight. Those delicious Italian beef sandwiches, the type they used to sell in the shop below my grandmother's apartment, the tasty treat I used to earn by peeling potatoes for the owner's french fries. Nope. I didn't eat one. Chris took our new friend from London to Pizzeria Uno for a deep dish pie, but me, I was not along for that ride.

These were the Chicago standards I grew up adoring, but during this trip I focused in on some new favorites.

The Publican. It's a great place. If you visit Chicago, go. If you live in Chicago, why am I telling you about this place? Although I was incredibly fond of the pig paintings on the walls, I loved their housemade pickles, the pork rinds were out of this world, and the beer selection was spectacular--it was the suckling pig, yes, that Fairbury, IL pig from Slagel Family Farm that truly won my heart. When we quickly perused the menu and ordered suckling pig as one of our many shared dishes, we'd imagined a large and somewhat messy platter piled high with rough chopped pork. This was not the case. I don't know where I came up with this idea, I've never eaten suckling pig. When it arrived, well, we all frowned a bit. That's it? It was a tastefully arranged dish (broccoli, delicate little grapes, and almonds--plated upon a small serving of creamy grits) , quite beautiful really, but we'd anticipated that messy overflowing platter... We were sitting in this enormous beer hall filled with long communal tables, pork rinds as big as your head, and grand pig portraits decorating the place. We were thinking BIG. Long story short, the suckling pig was exquisite and my favorite dish of the trip. Order it.

Next on my list is the best almond croissant I have ever tasted. It was made at Vanille Patisserie, a small unassuming storefront off of Clybourn Avenue, just north of Webster. Vanille seems to be more about wedding cakes, chocolates, and beautiful little cakes and tarts. The croissants appeared to be second class citizens, but don't be fooled. This croissant was perfectly crisp on the outside and had I've-died-and-gone-to-heaven layers of pastry and almond goodness on the inside. It was fabulous. Try the chocolates and cakes if you like, but please, indulge in at least one of these almond croissants.

Last, I will talk briefly about Intelligentsia. I'm a little uncomfortable with this one (the sentimental thing again...). I'm confused. Intelligentsia has been around. It was there, on Broadway, when I left Chicago in 2000. It had been there for about 5 years. I really liked the place. Back then, it was just a place, not a brand. They made great coffee. I loved to camp out at a table with a book and sip my cappuccino. It was quiet. It was cozy. Honestly, no one besides the loyal locals seemed to really care that it existed. I never knew anyone outside of the neighborhood who had even heard of the place. Now Intelligentsia is a brand. They have a detailed website and a definite look. They've opened locations in Silver Lake and Venice (CA), New York, and the guy at the counter told us they'd recently purchased a struggling brand in San Francisco. When I rode the train to the suburbs to see my Aunt, they were selling Intelligentsia coffee inside the tiny train station--they are everywhere. They look good, the coffee is still great, the owners will surely retire happier, but I miss that unpretentious and independent little coffee place on Broadway.

Before we departed, after all of the food and drink, we visited my favorite place to find peace in Chicago. My beautiful escape. A place I've gone to find solace more times than I can count. A seemingly never ending body of water that touches Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Probably the first body of water I ever observed, the same one I watched as I rode in the little bike seat on the front of my father's bike when he used to take me along with him on his lakefront bike rides. Just past the Lincoln Park Zoo (my first zoo, the only FREE zoo I've ever visited, the place my parents took me when I was a tot), right where Fullerton hits Lake Michigan. Beside Theater on the Lake. One of the best spots in Chicago. It hasn't really changed at all. When I arrive I see standing in this spot still overwhelms me with peace. It is still my Chicago.

Lake Michigan at sunset.
Autumn 2009


  1. gorgeous shot - I've visited Chicago and had the uno's but none of the other things - it makes me want to come back again.

  2. I know what you mean.

    Maybe the adventurous side needs *new* places altogether - it can't really go where the sacred, sentimental places rest...

    I can completely identify with this.

    It's funny because what I think of most readily is about the publishing world and how it is changing... And I realize everything changes - it's the nature of things, of life.... Change that's positive is good, it's evolution; but change that makes everything even more fleeting and starts to erase our ways of documenting stories, histories, in ever-less-permanent ways... I'm not so sure that's progress...

    Anyway. A bit side-tracked, I realize. Change can be a tricky thing. But maybe I'm just starting to show my age. And the fact that I've always been a bit sentimental. But...What are we going to do when we've erased all of our escapes with replacements that are not as permanent, though..? In the way we build, in the way we consume, in the way we record our words..?

    So. I know what you mean.


  3. What a charming self portrait. Multiple entendres intended.

  4. It is always so very surreal to return "home," to go back to a place once familiar and see the shifts.

    I love that first image... so very haunting. I feel as if I need to go on a train ride myself some day soon. Perhaps just me + a book of poems.


  5. i love the images you include with this post and i dream of returning to the city where i was born to photograph it and to see it from my adult eyes. thank you for this post.

  6. Hello there...

    Char, Chicago is a wonderful place to visit. My advice, if you haven't done so already, would be to venture beyond the downtown area and into the neighborhoods. I miss the beautiful autumn leaves already...

    Maria, I agree, change is tricky. It can be good and it can also be sad. As you know, I'm can be quite sentimental, and you make a good point about the adventurous side and *new* places. Don't even get me started on the publishing world. I need my physical books and cannot imagine a world without them. No real revelations or answers here...just thoughts.

    Cookiecrumb, It is a self portrait, isn't it? I suppose all we do, say, and write is a self portrait of sorts.

    Molly, I've taken many solo train rides and I highly recommend them. The Aurora-Chicago line in Chicago is great, mid-day. The high-speed trains in France were really nice and the trains that plodded along between small towns in Italy were beautiful too. Add a book of poetry and I believe you've created an ideal space for contemplation. Keep me posted!

    tvgraham, I hope you make your dream come true.