Category: Chicago (Page 1 of 2)

Two Places To Walk For Pancakes From The Hotel Lincoln

We stayed at the Hotel Lincoln in Lincoln Park, Chicago the weekend before Christmas and walked for pancakes.

For breakfast and brunch, the hotel’s dining options cover both ends of the spectrum: A coffee cafe and a high-end restaurant. What we were searching each weekend morning was an affordable, hearty pancake breakfast to fill us up for much of the day. Elly’s Pancake House and The Original Pancake House are located equal distances away from The Hotel Lincoln on opposite sides of Clark Street. A 5-10 minute walk will take you to both.

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Notes Upon Staying At The Hotel Lincoln In Chicago

This post is not sponsored. We paid for our own accommodations at full-price. 

This beer with a view is the only photo I took during our two-night stay at Hotel Lincoln because I hadn’t planned on writing a blog post.

Now that I’m home, I’ll share my thoughts in case it helps someone with their trip planning. We’ve visited Chicago a few times together and Lincoln Park is an area we like to stay. It has an energetic neighborhood feel. DePaul University is also located in Lincoln Park which means there are plenty of boutiques, bars, and dining options in every price range. When we visited Chicago on our honeymoon, we stayed at a bed and breakfast called Villa D’Citta. This time Jake chose the lodging. He’s less of a bed and breakfast type of person and prefers hotels. Plus, a hotel was more conducive for our gathering with friends.

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The Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture Boat Tour Is Totally Not Boring

As part of the North Iowa Bloggers, I was provided a free Architectural Tour by Shoreline Sightseeing. All thoughts and opinions are 100% honest and my own.


Near the beginning of the Shoreline Sightseeing architecture boat tour, our guide stated, “If you’ve never seen Blues Brothers, than shame on you. It’s a great American classic,” with a straight face. I knew we were in excellent hands.

Now, I must confess, guided group tours and boat rides aren’t usually my thing. When I learned Shoreline Sightseeing invited us to go on a 75-minute long architecture cruise with a group on a boat, I felt apprehensive. An architecture tour could be really boring, but this was totally not. Shoreline’s boats cruise up and down the Chicago river, through the heart of its downtown. The river provides the perfect passageway from which to view the city’s most notable buildings.


To board the Evening Star, we walked from our hotel to the Navy Pier area.


We chose seats along the side rails and some grabbed cocktails and beer from the downstairs floor. I was surprised to learn they were affordable (and strong) at about $5 each.


As the boat began to move down the river, our tour guide Victor introduced himself and shared that he’s currently an architecture student. His passion for Chicago architecture shone through and felt contagious. He not only identified notable buildings and shared interesting facts about them, but did so in a humorous and engaging way. Buildings are steeped in so much history and provide a fascinating backdrop to learn about a community’s dynamics.


A few of the buildings and spaces we passed were unoccupied. Victor shared his hopes for how these spaces could be used to both maintain the city’s beauty, and meet its residents needs.


I left the boat tour feeling very pumped about architecture.


 Overall, I found learning about Chicago architecture on a boat and watching the sun set to be a very a pleasant and (interesting) way to spend an evening. As the tour ended, Victor  left us with some words of encouragement.

“Don’t forget to look up. Even if the building is only two stories, there’s something interesting about it.”

Before You Book: Tickets cost between $35-39 for adults, $18-20 for children, and infants are free. According to the website, booking online gives you a $5 discount per ticket. If it’s a sunny day, don’t forget to bring sunglasses or a hat. The top of the boat has no canopy or shade to interfere with viewing buildings. However, you can move to the bottom level of the boat for shade, restrooms, or beverages.

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza At Lou Malnati’s River North

I was provided with lunch at the Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria to facilitate my review. All thoughts are 100% honest and my own.

Welcome back to the fifth part of my six-part series about traveling to Chicago with the North Iowa Bloggers and the Clear Lake Chamber. This post is about that iconic Chicago food known as deep dish pizza.

This trip also marked my sixth visit to Chicagoland. Upon my first visit to Chicago with my family in grade school, our relatives advised us to order deep dish pizza at Gino’s East. Not just any Gino,s either, but the Gino’s East location on Well’s Street. For a suburban, Twin Cities kid, Chicago deep dish pizza tasted utterly fascinating. We were intrigued by our sausage pizza which came with an entire layer of sausage, and its rich, yellow crust.

Lou Malnati’s invited us to enjoy a meal during our trip, so we stopped by their River North location for an early lunch after touring the Skydeck glass ledges (I wrote about my experience here). I asked my cousin, a Chicago resident, about his thoughts on Lou Malnati’s and replied that out of the big Chicago deep dish chains, he prefers Lou’s.


A hostess led us upstairs to a large table in a corner nook and our server Jason greeted us warmly. He was obviously a seasoned employee who knew the menu inside and out and kept up with our banter. After examining the menu, we chose our own deep dish pizzas in the “personal” size and one group member added the Trio of Dips With Pizza Chips appetizer to share. Since so many of us ordered a side salad, Jason recommended a family-sized house salad instead.


I had planned to order my own side salad and felt apprehensive about sharing because I wanted to eat a lot of salad and not feel bad about taking too much. We’ve all been in those situations where someone asks us to share or split something and you oblige even though you totally want to eat your own. Eating enough fruits and vegetables on trips is challenging. When I’m away from home, I realize how off-balanced my body feels when I don’t eat as many vegetables as I do from cooking my own meals.

Jason was right. The large house salad was huge and provided more than enough for all eight people. I even went back for seconds. He brought us ramekins of four salad dressings including red wine vinaigrette, creamy lemon garlic, gorgonzola and ranch. The group’s favorite was the creamy lemon garlic which they sell by the bottle. I thought the red wine vinaigrette was especially well-balanced.


The trio of dips included spinach artichoke dip, hummus topped with giardiniera, and roasted garlic.


I wanted to leave room for the pizza, so I just took a small taste of each dip. If I hadn’t anticipated a plane ride later that day, I would have polished off the roasted garlic. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it tasted like pure, roasted garlic puree.

My pizza arrived topped with pepperoni and hot giardiniera (spicy pickled vegetable relish). This turned out to be my ideal combination. I wish I could order pepperoni and giardiniera pizzas everywhere. The giardiniera had a pleasant heat and was super chunky with carrots, celery, and olives. I liked how the pickled vegetables helped to cut the richness from the cheese and provided some textural contrast.


In writing this post, I learned that Gino’s pizza crust does not actually get its golden hue from cornmeal, but yellow food coloring and corn oil. Lou Malnati’s advertises a signature Buttercrust. Some Lou’s prepares some of their pizza combinations on Buttercrusts, you can upgrade their regular deep dish to a Buttercrust for $0.75.

In 2004, Eater Chicago wrote a feature on Lou Malnati’s and interviewed Lou Malnati’s son Marc Malnati. Malnati shares how their recipe for dough has remained the same 42 years. Each batch of Buttercrust is fermented for 48-hours and really does contain butter. Other interesting facts I learned from this Eater feature is that the restaurant makes the sausage from lean pork without fennel (since Malnati feels fennel is overpowering), and sends staff to California each year to personally approve which tomato harvests will be picked and canned.


Donna ordered a gluten-free personal-sized pizza with a sausage crust (Lou Malnati’s also offers gluten-free thin crusts). Like Gino’s East, Lou Malnati’s sausage is above average. It’s the complete opposite of those sausage pellets we find so often on cheap pizzas. While I enjoyed the flavor of this gluten-free pizza, I don’t think I could eat more than once slice during a meal.

gluten free pizza

Photo courtesy of Beth at It’s Just Life.

All in all, Lou Malnati’s serves a craveable deep dish pizza in a crust that tastes lighter and more crisp than it appears. I also learned that spicy giardiniera is my ideal pizza topping, which is inconvenient given that I’ve never seen it offered anywhere that I’ve lived. Spicy giardiniera looks like it’s easy to prepare, so I’ll have to whip up a batch before I make my next batch of pizzas at home. Lou Malnati’s did provide us with a gift certificate, but I examined the prices and found them to be reasonable. My personal pizza with two toppings costs about $9 before tax and tip and provided enough for a leftover slice. The family house salad costs $10.85 and fed our group of eight with leftovers.

Touristy or not, Chicago deep dish pizza is delicious. We can’t find it in North Iowa, so I’m looking forward to trying Laura’s recipe for deep dish which is flecked with cornmeal.  On this weekday, the restaurant was packed with local business people and tourists, alike.

Thank you Lou Malnati’s for treating us to lunch & a cookie pizza and to Jason for providing excellent service to our big, loud, enthusiastic group. 

The Glass Ledges At Skydeck Chicago: A Review

I was provided with the opportunity to tour the Skydeck Chicago before hours with an optional audio tour device and  participate a photo session to facilitate my review. All thoughts are 100% honest and my own.


I’m typically afraid of heights, but did just fine at the Skydeck Chicago observation deck located in the Willis Tower (also referred to as the Sears Tower).

This trip to Chicago along with seven North Iowa Bloggers in partnership with the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce commemorated my sixth visit. During grade school, I first visited Chicago with my family and have faint memories of the Willis Tower. I was enamoured with the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and wanted to lean against the observation deck windows just like he and his friends did. You can find a guide to the Chicago locations featured in the film here here. Back then, the glass ledges didn’t exist, for they were built in 2009. You can just make them out gazing at the building from a distance.


Currently, the Willis Tower is the highest observation deck open to the public in the United States and receives more visitors than the Hancock. It’s the eighth tallest building in the world, tallest building in Chicago, and home to the American Airlines corporate headquarters. According to this recent New York Times article, the Blackstone Group recently purchased the Willis Tower in March 2015 for $1.3 billion. The Blackstone Group’s Global Head actually grew up in the Highland Park area of Chicago. This article notes that the building sits 20% vacant and adds that the Blackstone Group plans to spend $150 million to renovate the tower’s retail space and Skydeck.

The John Hancock Building ranks as Chicago’s fourth tallest and their observation deck is now known as 360° Chicago. It looks like the Hancock is remodeling and has added some sort of tilting glass observation box feature. Jake and I visited the Hancock in 2010 before this was added. The Hancock also features a cafe and bar on the observatory floor and a restaurant called the Signature Room on the 95th floor.

The Skydeck staff invited us to visit before their official opening hour on a Friday. The weather became stormy in the afternoon, but we enjoyed a beautiful morning. Since there was no one in line, we quickly moved through security and took the elevator up to the 103rd floor. Our ears popped.


Our reflection on the elevator’s ceiling.

In between the front entrance and elevator to the Skydeck, we walked by what appeared to be exhibits and theater presentation people could view as they waited in line. I’m guessing that the line can grow rather long, hence the waiting space and option to purchase a FASTPASS.


We took advantage of the empty Skydeck by admiring all of the views and stepping onto the ledges. I found the glass ledges less scary than I had anticipated.



Loni, Donna & I playing on the ledge. Don’t look down!

The glass booths provided fun places to take photos. Many selfies were taken.



Fun with selfie sticks.

A photo station run by a staff member is located in one of the glass ledges. The photographer this morning provided our group with a photo session.

Skydeck Ledge

Image courtesy of Skydeck Chicago

Soon after we finished taking photos, a huge group of grade schoolers entered the SkyDeck. I’m guessing the Willis is a popular destination for field trips. I learned that the Victoria’s Secret Pink apparel line is still a thing!

Let’s talk pricing: A regular adult pass costs $19.50 and a FASTPASS, which allows guests to bypass the exhibits and theater presentation, costs $45. There’s also a day/night ticket package and reduced ticket pricing for children ages 3-11, except for FASTPASSES. Children under three receive free admission. For an additional $5.50, you can purchase an audio tour device that looks like an old school flip phone. One side of the device displays pictures and text. The audio tour provides some Chicago history and helps you identify 20 locations from the Skydeck.

Finally, you’ll find nice bathrooms and a gift shop located on the Skydeck and a larger gift shop upon exiting.


All in all, I enjoyed my time on the Skydeck, despite my fear of heights. When I travel on my own, I usually stay close to the ground, but if observation decks are your thing and you want to walk in the foot steps of Ferris Bueller, check out the glass ledges at the Willis. In case you’re curious, the Skydeck and Hancock observation decks are similarly priced. Before you visit the Skydeck, keep in mind that it’s a popular tourist attraction. Depending on when you visit and whether many school groups are present, anticipate possibly waiting in line for a while before reaching the elevator to the top. We were very lucky to visit before the opening hour and have the whole Skydeck to ourselves.

Thank you Skydeck Chicago for your generosity and warm welcome. 

Occasionally receives free products for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own and were not influenced by any form of compensation. This disclosure is done in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission 10 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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