Part One is here.
1) Giordano’s – Chicago, Illinois
Deep dish pizza – one of two obligatory Chicago food purchases (the other is the Chicago dog, but that features three of my least favorite ingredients – pickle, tomato slice, and mustard – so fuck you, Chicago dog). There’s green pepper, sausage, and a whole mess of cheese in that slice pictured above. It should go without saying that it was delicious and – in it’s excess – totally up my gastrointestinal alley (it would go down my gastrointestinal alley shortly after this picture was taken). But it was a bit much – one slice is enough to fill you up for a while (which didn’t stop me from eating a second slice). Afterward, you’re left with a bunch of leftover pizza that begins to lose its appeal the longer it remains in the hotel mini-fridge (it stayed there for a day-and-a-half). As much as I enjoyed it initially, the thought of eating any further clumps of stretchy cheese made me queasy. So it was left behind in the mini-fridge – my de facto tip to the hotel maid since I totally forgot to leave an actual monetary tip.
So Chicago or New York-style pizza? Though the Chicago-style seems like it was tailor-made for me, I’m still gonna go with the New York style – it’s thinner, greasier, nicely-foldable for on-the-go eating, and two slices won’t put you in an all-day food coma.
2) Wildberry – Chicago, Illinois
Pictured above is (a) an omelette with figs, scallions, bacon, and havarti cheese, (b) hash browns, and (c) a banana crepe. The omelette was terrific - I can’t remember the last time I had figs (my sister used to eat Fig Newtons a bunch when we were wee ones, but for some reason I never wanted to try them), but now I want more of them. The hash browns were hashy and browny. The crepe was nothing special.
3) Pho 777 – Chicago, Illinois
Not to be confused with Pho 888, which is just around the corner. My pho featured strips of beef, brisket fat(!), meatballs, and tripe(!!). I’d never eaten tripe before. It was spongy and tender, but – since it had been soaking in the broth – I couldn’t really discern a specific taste. It was just kinda there – much less flavorful than the strips of beef and the meatballs. The whole dish, though, was awesome, as were the pork-and-shrimp spring rolls that were devoured before the main dish.
4) Kingsbury Street Cafe – Chicago, Illinois
Another omelette, this time with turkey sausage, gouda, and roasted peppers. Sadly, no fig. Still good, though.
5) Island Breeze Cafe – Nashville, Tennessee
After having some jerk pork at a Jamaican place in Ann Arbor a couple weeks ago, I had been craving any type of jerked food. This place didn’t have jerk pork, but they made do by serving a very hefty portion of jerk chicken with rice and plantains. It was so much food that it served as lunch, dinner, and lunch the following day (because I ate my friend’s leftovers, too).
6) Jim N Nicks - Nashville, Tennessee
A generic, chain bar-b-que place. We went here because our preferred BBQ option had a bit of an air conditioning problem and it was hot as hell inside (it was hot as hell outside, too). The BBQ pork links were surprisingly well-made – the rest was blah.
7) Germantown Cafe East – Nashville, Tennessee
My friend ordered the Eggs Benedict, which came with black forest ham, poached egg, and cayenne hollandaise, served on an English muffin. I had the East Benedict, which came with beef tenderloin, poached egg, and horseradish hollandaise, served on top of some bacon bread pudding. If the beef tenderloin had been any good, my choice would have been the better one. It was dry and flavorless, though, so the regular Eggs Benedict was the way to go. The bacon bread pudding was really good, though.
8) I Dream Of Weenie – Nashville, Tennessee
Chili dog with onions – can’t go wrong with that.
9) A Burger King Somewhere On Interstate 80 In Western Illinois
I’m listing this one because I wanted to point out that their new mango smoothie is really, really good. I had an all-natural, hippiefied mango smoothie at a block party in Madison, Wisconsin two weeks ago – it was awful (handy tip if you want to make a living selling mango smoothies: PEEL THE FUCKING SKIN OFF BEFORE STICKING IT IN THE BLENDER!). This Burger King one was exactly what I was hoping the hippie Madison one would have been.
10) Cracker Barrel – Naperville, Illinois
I ordered the chicken tender dinner with fried okra, mac n cheese, and hashbrown casserole. The chicken tenders were pretty disappointing, especially since I’ve ordered them many times at Cracker Barrel and they’ve usually been well-worth it (which is why I’ve ordered them many times). These were small, dry, and seemed to consist primarily of breading. All the side dishes were great, though, which helped to temper my disappointment.
11) Portillo’s – Addison, Illinois
Look at that picture above. Look at it again. Isn’t that beautiful? It’s the Char-Grilled Maxwell Street Style Polish Sausage, served with grilled onions and mustard. Remember the very beginning of this post where I listed mustard as one of my least favorite ingredients? This was an exception – it blended perfectly with the onions and the sausage and oh god I want another one right now.
I also had their Italian beef with hot peppers. I had one of these at Wrigley Field and the beef was dry and tasteless, so I was hesitant to give it another chance. I’m glad I did, though, as the one from Portillo’s was just awesome.
Here’s another handy tip: If you go to a ballgame and you’re hungry, stick with the hot dogs, brats, etc. Everything else – seriously, everything – is going to be a disappontment.
12) Taco Depot – Merrillville, Indiana
Friday night, I left my hotel in search of some dinner. I was hungry, but – as is usually the case when my stomach’s really rumbling – couldn’t decide what I wanted (this is why I end up at so many buffets). For a half hour, I drove up and down the main road in Merrillville, but nothing seemed good. After getting completely fed up with myself, I resigned myself to hiting up the Arby’s next to my hotel. Prior to getting to the drive-thru menu board, I looked over and saw the Taco Depot. I decided to give it a shot, even though I rarely crave Mexican food.
Turns out, I ended up eating the best chicken quesadilla I’ve ever had. I also had a much-bigger-than-I-was-anticipating pork burrito that was also divine. It was so good that I went back the next day, having another chicken quesadilla and the steak fries pictures above. Once again, the chicken quesadilla was amazing. I have no idea why I ordered the steak fries – though pretty good, it was a bit much.
I had several PBR’s while in Nashville, mainly out of habit.
Here’s an exercise you should try: drink a bunch of PBR for several months or years – then don’t drink any for a couple months (switch to something better or give hard liquor a try) – with your PBR palette fully cleansed, go ahead and order a PBR – take a sip – I guarantee you it will be the worst-tasting sip of beer you’ve ever had.
Other boozing: I bought another case of Trader Joe’s wine before arriving in Nashville, to serve as a ‘thank you’ for my friend letting me stay with her (my apartment is currently sub-leased). I had at least 3 of those 12 bottles during my stay. They were much better than PBR. I also had several spiced rum and cokes at my hotel in Naperville – they were dandy.
Time to head east. I’m taking Interstate 80 from Indiana through Youngstown, Ohio. Beyond that, I’m not sure yet, but I’ll definitely be ending up by the Atlantic fairly soon.