Adventures in the Sloop

A few weekends back, we decided to spend some time in a neighborhood neither of us know too much about: Chicago’s South Loop. The Sloop, as at least one teen refers to it, is the up-and-coming area home to Printer’s Row (formerly the center of the Midwest’s publishing industry), the Museum Campus, and many new, modern apartment buildings and condos. We wanted to get a feel for what it would be like to live in that area, so we decided to spend the weekend getting acquainted with our equal parts trendy and rough around the edges downstairs neighbor, Sloopy. (At least she’s quiet at night.)

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We kicked off Saturday with a brunch for the books: Chicago Waffles. Holy. Bananas. If ordering a Waffle Flight is wrong, we don’t want to be right. It came with four mini waffles: red velvet topped with strawberries and strawberry whipped cream, liege topped with bananas and Nutella, chocolate topped with walnuts and chocolate drizzle, and green tea topped with candied ginger. Morgan stated the red velvet was “life changing” while Mandy was more into the green tea and liege. We split this entrée and another: the Irish Beny” – a toasted english muffin topped with corned beef hash, sautéed tomatoes, two poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce. While the corned beef hash could have been crisper (and the english muffin perhaps less crispy), the flavors worked great together and we left the restaurant incredibly happy. It didn’t hurt that they have Intelligentsia Coffee on their menu, which is arguably one of the best Chicago-based coffee roasting companies around.

Later that day, we decided to pop into The Scout, a sports bar, for a quick drink. Not a ton to report as we only stayed for a beer, but we dug the upscale ambiance. It was also at this bar that we noted the South Loop to be much more diverse than many other neighborhoods we frequent in the city. That’s definitely something we like about the area.

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After The Scout, we were really hoping to check out the microbrewery and taproom Vice District Brewing Company, and tried to visit, but by the time we arrived, it was literally packed to the gills. Not only could we not get a table, but there was hardly any standing room for us. We were bummed not to hang out longer, but this just gives us a reason to make another trek down in the near future.

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A little while later, when evening-time rolled around, we were in search of a light bite and a good selection of brews. First Draft to the rescue! With a large craft beer selection (many of which were on draft), this place met every desire we had down to the menu. Being the pub rats we are, we split the fried brussel sprouts and fried pickles, and they were equally delicious. From the warm atmosphere and kind wait staff to the killer bar snacks and delicious beers, this place felt very homey and “us.”

On Sunday, we were more low-key. Starting off the day feeling mildly hung over after a night out not in the South Loop, bagels were needed. Hero Coffee has a handful of locations in the city, and after reading many good reviews, we were looking forward to giving it a try. Morgan ordered the “Usual Suspect” on a sesame bagel and Mandy ordered a “Veggie” on jalapeño cheddar, and to their credit, what we got was fantastic. However, Morgan received a “Usual Suspect” on jalapeño cheddar, and Mandy got a “Sunnydale” on sesame. Truth be told, we were too hung over and in too much of a rush to fight our wrong orders. Plus, they were delicious anyway, as were our coffees (a cold brew, which was on tap, and a “fast” drip).

Midday, we were in search of another snack (and still staunchly against alcohol), so we ended up stopping at a local Nando’s, and probably for the first time in the history of all of their chicken-craving visitors, just ordered the hummus plate with veggies. It’s by no means an “only in South Loop” restaurant, but it was there, it was healthy, and the veggies were needed.

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Overall, we had a great weekend experiencing this new-to-us neighborhood. And what’s even better? We by no means exhausted what’s there. There’s still so much more of it we’d like to check out, and now that we know all it has to offer, we think we’ll do just that.

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Ramen & Rabbis

It was a typical Friday night. Or at least that’s what we were going for. We had a busy weekend ahead, so when we were planning out last Friday evening, we were shooting for as “low key” as we could get.

With the cold (albeit kind of off-and-on) Chicago temperatures, ramen just sounded good. Oiistar in Wicker Park, a ramen joint we had gone to together once before, felt like the right spot to satiate our craving. Morgan ordered his favorite, the Oiimen classic, which includes braised pork belly, ground pork, bamboo, wood ear mushroom, bean sprouts, a soft boiled egg, and chili garlic oil. Mandy tried something new, the Chaldomen, made up of brisket, ground pork, kimchi, bean sprouts, a soft boiled egg, and cilantro in tomato broth. Our verdict in this case: it paid off to play it safe. Morgan’s dinner hit the spot by both of our standards, and Mandy’s was just fine (a little greasy, but with good flavor). Morgan took home both leftovers.

After dinner, we thought it would be fun to keep it casual and grab a quick drink at one of those combination bar/liquor stores (slashies? taprooms?) that Chicago is known for. Enter Loop Tavern in West Town, a cash-only packaged good store that smells like a urinal and whose niche market seems to be 60+ year-old, blue-collar men. Although we wanted nothing more than to fit in, we didn’t. About half a drink in, we were approached by a Chilean rabbi who wasn’t observing the Sabbath because his daughter was in town (but not with him at the bar). After buying a round of drinks for the bar regulars, he approached us because we stood out from the crowd. He was curious as to how we, clearly not of the prime demographic of the bar, ended up there, and we were curious as to how he, clearly not of the prime psychographic of the bar, ended up there. We exchanged conversation, finished the drinks he bought us (as he sipped on a Bud heavy), and eventually left the loud Latin American music of Loop Tavern behind us.

A chill Friday night? Absolutely. A typical Friday night? We can only aspire to such.

Saturday’s Speakeasy Double Date

Last month, we had our first official double date with a couple friend–actually, the couple who introduced us to each other! We stuffed ourselves with pasta and wine at a wonderful Italian dinner, and to cap off the night, our friends invited us to a neighborhood speakeasy of which they were members. We fell in love with it instantly. So much so, that we basically recreated the date and are in the process of applying for membership at the speakeasy, just less than one month later. We never said we weren’t copy cats.

So last weekend, with a different couple friend of ours, we courted them in a similar fashion–pasta (at a different Italian restaurant, for the record), drinks, and live piano music at the same speakeasy: Room 13.

Room 13, which is a part of/directly underneath the Old Chicago Inn, is a true to form 1920’s era speakeasy. To get in, you need to know the password, accompany a member, or be a guest of the Inn. It’s pretty legit. After stating the nightly password through a small window in their door (you know, Wizard of Oz style), you’re granted access to the secret lounge. From their suggested dress code (jackets/no jeans), to their decor and alcohol selections (no draft beer, vodka, or anything that wasn’t around in the roaring 20’s), this speakeasy feels authentic to the era. The drinks (most of which include gin, rye, or champagne) were stiff, the piano made for elegant background music, and the whole place was pretty chill for a Saturday evening. In fact, we closed the place down.

Overall, we would (and do!) highly recommend checking it out, if the opportunity to visit Room 13 ever presents itself. We think it would be an exceptionally fun and different place to take out-of-town friends/family/colleagues when they visit the city. As we mentioned, we’re in the process of applying for membership, and definitely look forward to more dates of all kinds there (double, business, etc.)!

A Beautiful Wednesdate

This week in Chicago, there was a point that with windchill, it “felt like -25 degrees.” In our opinion, that warrants double-pants, hot toddies and staying within five feet of the fireplace. However, we do have day jobs that force us to brave the elements and interact with other humankind outside of our homes. (It’s a gift. Truly.)

So on Wednesday of this week, we decided to look past the frigid temps and get cultured–specifically by some mediocre bar food and one of Beautiful’s last performances at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. If you don’t know, Beautiful is about the early life and career of chart-topping legend Carole King. As a fun throwback note, Mandy and her parents tried to see this musical the year it opened on Broadway (2014) when it starred Jessie Mueller. The rush tickets ran out four years ago, but thanks to TodayTix in 2018, we scored inexpensive, central seats for a fraction of what they would have cost by buying directly from the theatre. We highly recommend this service to Chicago theatre-goers (or any place TodayTix has a presence–check out their site!).

Before the show, we grabbed a bite at Randolph Tavern, which is conveniently located directly across from the theatre. In full transparency, their location may have been the best part of the experience. The menu was overwhelming (including barbecue, Mexican, and Asian foods, oh my!), and the waitstaff didn’t exactly help narrow down the selection; however, the food we chose was decent (Morgan enjoyed the brick chicken and “The Loop” drink, Mandy devoured her “dry” shrimp tacos and Daisy Cutter beer, and they both dug the “bacon & eggs” starter). In a pinch, or simply for convenience, we’d go back, but likely only to accompany a show across the street.

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical runs until January 28 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. If you’re into jukebox musicals, the 1960’s, and/or heavy Brooklyn accents, get your tickets and Feel the Earth Move today!

Taste Talks 2k17

So, to start out with, we’ll be blogging about some of our real-time dates as well as a few from the archives. As we post, we’ll be sure to let you know which is which. This entry features a date from last fall…in case the greenery and lack of clothing layers weren’t a dead giveaway. 😉

Taste Talks, a national series of food festivals produced by Brooklyn-based media company Northside Media, took place on September 8-10. Each festival, which happened in four cities in 2017, brings amazing chefs, restaurants, and cultural figures together with everyday food enthusiasts through symposia, awards, tastings, dinners, and parties. For Mandy, it triggers a bit of nostalgia, as she worked for the company during their Taste Talks Chicago debut in 2014 (hi, Nside fam!).

This was our second year attending together, and it was just as tasty as the first time around. The All Star Cookout, which historically takes place the last day of the festival, features 10+ booths that pair the hosting city’s top chefs, usually with another celebrity chef or restaurant, and create unique tastings for the event. A few of our favorites from this year’s event at Palmer Square Park include:

Although half of us may be slightly bias because of the folks who put the festival on, we think it’s safe to say no one leaves the All Star Cookout with loose pants.