Tag: Chicago (Page 1 of 3)

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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Let Me Tell You About The Four Best Burgers I Ate This Year 2015

Burgers are one of my endearing passions. As I look back over the past year, these four burgers stand out above the rest:


1. The Galley Boy at Swensons Drive In, Cuyahoga Falls, OH


This is the burger I waited over 10 years for. Lebron James totally likes this burger, too, and mentioned Swensons is the first place he stops when we returns to Akron. He took his Trainwreck co-stars Amy Schumar, Judd Apatow and Bill Hader to the drive-in for Galley Boys and shakes when the film premiered in his hometown.

Akron isn’t my hometown, but almost feels like it. We visited often to see our grandparents and always stopped at Swensons. This fall I road tripped to Cedar Point for a conference and made a burger pilgramage. I’m happy to report that the car hops still sprint to your car and the Galley Boy tastes like it always has. The bun’s buttered and toasted and the two burger patties taste like they’re seasoned with a hint of brown sugar.

What really makes the Galley Boy unique is the combination of sauces. One tastes like BBQ and the other like tartar, which may sound strange, but totally works. And then there’s the cheese. Finally, it’s garnished with a big, green olive so that sort of makes it like a burger martini.

2. Blue Cheese Burger, Jimmy’s Pro Billiards, Minneapolis, MN

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I was invited to join Heavy Table on this leg of their Central Avenue Food Crawl. Our last stop landed at Jimmy’s Pro Billiards. The interior opened into expansive pool tables. We perched at high tops near the grill window. I think it’s safe to say that we were all surprised by how much we liked the burgers. Soon after, HT Writer Amy even returned to Jimmy’s wrote this piece focusing on the burgers.

The young woman who took our order also cooked our meal. She was friendly and hospitable. We didn’t specify burger doneness and they did arrive cooked-through. Still, they were tasty and prepared with care. This blue cheese burger sandwiched between a toasted bun and homemade blue cheese dressing was my favorite.

The hand-cut fries were sprinkled with a seasoning salt with a intriguing hint of sweetness that made me want to return for more even though I was really full. One member of our party ordered a side of ranch dip that was less like salad dressing and more like a sour cream dip. With french fries, it made a delightful combination.

3. Cheeseburger at R.J. Grunts, Chicago, IL

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This cheeseburger just barely snuck onto this year’s “best of” list last week. While staying at the Hotel Lincoln, we walked down the street to R.J. Grunts for pre-Star Wars burgers. Inside the tables and booths were arranged closely together and every inch was packed with customers like the other restaurants we visited that weekend.

I was surprised to learn that R.J. Grunts is the oldest restaurant in the Lettuce Entertain You empire that also includes chains like Big Bowl and Maggiano’s Little Italy, plus non-chains like Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba and Tucci Benucch in the Mall of America. RJ Grunts has a very non-chainy vibe that reminds me more of Cheers than a soulless, over-produced concept. We loved our server, a woman who’s worked here for 34-years. She’s featured in this Eater article highlighting restaurant industry “lifers.” The menu is charmingly illustrated and to-the-point. Ordering is a breeze and diners don’t have to listen to scripted up-sells or promotions.

I ordered a simple cheeseburger with American cheese and it was a stand-out. In fact, everybody’s burgers were. This juicy burger arrived perfectly medium-rare as ordered. I understand the risks of rare beef and take them anyway. Heck, I’d even sign a waiver. I figure if R.J. Grunts has been serving burgers since 1970, it’s a pretty safe place to order medium-rare beef. Everyone in our party of eight ordered burgers with different toppings and stated how each might be the best burger he or she has ever eaten.

Also notable is the salad bar. It’s really, really big and a meal in itself. I found nearly every type of raw veggie and crispy-crunchy topping, homemade salad dressings, roasted beets, tuna pasta salad, and a non-throwaway creamy tomato soup that also tasted scratch-made.

4. Cheeseburger, O’Connell’s Pub, St. Louis, MO

O’Connell’s chargrilled burger was so satisfying, it inspired my post Everything I’ve Ever Wanted To Say About Burgers. We visited in the evening when the lighting was too dim to take a pretty photo. Like R.J. Grunts, O’Connell’s has existed at least since the 70’s. We admired the wall taxidermy and found seats at the big, wooden bar. Service is refreshingly hospitable in a no-nonsense manner.

The cheeseburgers we ordered arrived on paper plates and tasted like our mom and dad grilled the perfect backyard burger but just didn’t screw it up.

Did you enjoy any memorable burgers this year? Where did you find them and what made them worth a shout-out? 

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.

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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. 

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