First there was UNO, then there was Due.

My baby, Allison, was starting Vet School in Illinois and had her “blue coat” ceremony, a ceremony to celebrate t he start of vet school and the students get their blue lab coats (yes, in vet school they are blue). As the ceremony was being held at the college, I decided to fly into Chicago and drive back with Jamie and Quinton (her now fiance’!)

Allison, her boyfriend Ashton and my niece Amber who also attends University of Illinois picked me up at the airport and we set out to enjoy a day in Chicago. We decided to maximize our day, and maximize what we could do, we opted for a bus tour of the city. It makes stops all over the city, you can get off at any stop and stay as long as you’d like, and simply just catch the next one. We made sure to stop at all the places that give out free gifts like Giradelli’s chocolates. For lunch, I wanted some traditional Chicago style pizza. I had heard of Pizzaria Uno, as everyone knows it is one of the landmark Chicago Pizza joints. (Not to be confused with Uno Pizza of Sterling Heights).

We knew the restaurant, which is fairly small surprisingly, would fill up quickly. We made our way over when it opened and snagged a cozy table on the small patio overlooking East Ohio Street.

We ordered a small deep dish, with spinach, onion and green pepper and a recommended side of garlic bread.  The bread was amazing, Warm, cheesy and had the best dipping sauce which was, I assumed, the pizza sauce, it was warm and full of flavor. After waiting patiently for our pizza (the deep dishes take some serious time to cook) it finally arrived. We were a bit worried that the 6 pieces would not be enough for the four of us, but as each piece was so thick, filled with so much cheese, we were more than stuffed.

Back on the bus and we enjoyed a day of strolling through the streets of Chicago, visiting the bean, walking to the fountain and window shopping. An overall great day, amazing weather and I was able to truly explore a city that I had previously only breezed through. The day was fun, great food, great company, great sites!

I would highly recommend a stop at Pizzaria Uno, or its new sister restaurant, right down the street, Pizzaria Due.

Took the Hooligans to Houlihan’s

Allison had her blue coat ceremony today, with Jamie, Quinton, Amber and myself in attendance. The ceremony was held at the I-Hotel and it only made sense to dine at the hotels restaurant, Houlihans. The restaurant, I assumed to be along the lines of of a Bennigan’s, Chili’s or other pedestrian style chain restaurant, I wasn’t setting my expectations high. The restaurant did have a lovely outdoor dining area, and as it was a beautiful August day, so that’s where we chose to sit. The menu was eclectic, and more “gourmet” than I expected.

We started our adventure with Parmesan Frites, and if you know me at all, you will know that tiny, crispy fries, with a variety of different aoilis are my weakness. The fries did not disappoint. Thin, crisp, covered in a buttery Parmesan, with chipotle aioli, tangy tomato & garlic parmesan dipping sauces. They were delicious.

We set in to order our entrees. I ordered Chipotle Chicken Nachos, Nachos with all the fixins and a chipotle-cheese sauce. Quinton chose the Korean chicken, with gochujang (a savory, sweet, and spicy fermented red chili sauce), charred pineapple brown rice, pineapple relish and garlic green beans. Amber ordered a chicken breast, stuffed with garlic-herb cream cheese, veggies, and a huge pile of mashed potatoes. Ashton opted for the Southern California Fish Tacos, which were panko-breaded North Atlantic cod, with a chipotle mayo, napa cabbage, honey cumin dressing, and sour cream. Allison, to whom we were celebrating, ordered a french dip along with more of those delicious french fries.

The food was really good, but a bit on the pricey side. Averaging about $12 an entree, it is a bit more expensive that local restaurants around here, but the food was good, and the service was exceptional. The most unusual thing we had was the pineapple infused brown rice that came with Quinton’s entree. The pineapple made the rice dish more sweet than savory, but still an interesting compliment of the spicy Korean Chicken. The ambiance of the patio was nice and we enjoyed a nice evening. I would recommend a stop if you are even in the area. Not sure why you may find yourself in the burbs of Champaign-Urbana in the shadow of the University of Illinois, but if you are, stop into Houlihans,

Went to the Dog House

Lunch was difficult in Chicago. I was so conflicted, being torn between Pizzaria Uno, which we opted for (and you can read HERE) and Portillo’s, Chicago’s famous hot dog joint. How excited was I that when we arrived back in Champaign-Urbana that they opened a new location right there in town!! Deep dish Chicago style pizza and Chicago style hot dogs all in the same day? Yes please!

The first Portillo’s opened as a hot dog stand known as “The Dog House”  in 1963 on North Avenue in Villa Park right in the heart of Chicago. Owner and founder Dick Portillo invested $1,100 into a 6′ x 12′ trailer without a bathroom or running water. To get the water he needed, he ran a 250 foot garden hose from a nearby building into the trailer.

In 1967 they renamed to “Portillos” and moved into their first building. 1983 they opened their first drive thru, and soon became known for their drive thru speed and efficiency. Now they boast over 50 locations all across the US.

All I know is I had to get me one of those dogs. The drive thru at this location was what looked to be a mile long, and the parking lot was packed. This location has become a favorite of the “fighting Ilini” and it is always packed with college students and families alike.

It is laid out sort of cafeteria style, where you place your order, move down the line, pick out your beverage, and move down to the cashier who gives you your “number”. You then proceed to patiently wait while order after order is carefully filled and delivered. Once I finally got my order, we sat down to enjoy our dogs. Chicago dogs are different than what we are used to here in Michigan. Get a Chicago-style hot dog with everything and it will includes mustard, relish, celery salt, freshly chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, kosher pickle and sport peppers piled onto a perfectly steamed poppy seed bun. Chicagoans call this “dragging the dog through the garden.”

The hot dog did not disappoint. It had everything a hot dog should. carefully steamed bun, crisp snap of the skin, and crunch of the pickle. Accompanying this masterpiece was krinkle cut fries, similar to Ore Ida, which I kinda have a weird love of. If you ever have gotten fries from White Castle, they are very similar.

All I can say is if you are in Chicago, visit Portillo’s. There is a location right in the heart of the city and if you opt for the tour bus like we did, it drops you off right in front. May I just say though, make sure you order everything you want the first time through. Going up later because you decided you wanted say, more fires, well that is a time consuming task. Get dog, get some fries. Get a second dog, because the lines get long. Enjoy and happy eating!