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Becoming Chicago

September 11, 2018

Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to a great 5779!

Yesterday was Rosh Hashanah. That meant it was all about going to the synagogue, joining the congregation in prayer, and listening to the Torah reading and commentary for a few hours. Of course it was preceded and followed with festive meals.

Since the celebration began on Sunday night, I wanted to make sure I woke up on Sunday morning in my own bed. That mean my trip to Chicago was limited to four days. Most of that was spent in Yelp meetings. Some of it was Yelp team building. But both Yelp meetings and team building have a way of involving food.

I’m not going to share it all, because that would be far too long, but I am going to give you the highlights. Especially since after going to Chicago a handful of times, this was the first trip where I actually fell in love the city.

Why was this trip different from all other trips?

The biggest difference was that this was the first time I’ve been to Chicago since living in Albany. And for those of you who have been following along with the blog, I’ve now been in the Capital Region for over ten years.

Gone is my big city cynicism and snobbery. Plus, having just been to Philadelphia a few weeks prior, I was amazed by the cleanliness of Chicago. Seriously, Philly is so filthy.

More than anything, this trip was a descent into the immoderate.

I had started off so well. There was this diner I went to for lunch at BWI, and I ordered a vegan entree. At a diner. In the airport. And it was totally tasty. The food made me feel good. It filled me up, didn’t weigh me down, and I was ready for drinks and snacks with my team before dinner.

Except drinks and snacks turned into dinner. Because when you show up for snacks with the Yelp crew, it’s wave after wave of flatbreads, followed by wave after wave of wings, with a giant platter of more sliced meats and cheeses than the total of us could ever eat. And really, I think I did a pretty good job at staying moderate.

Thursday morning, I knew there would be breakfast at the office, so I just popped over to the hotel’s breakfast for a little something to get the metabolism going. That meant a small box of Total cereal and some black coffee.

Breakfast bagels were brought in. Even though mine had egg and cheese on it, there was no meat or heavy creamy cheese slabs. It was as moderate as I could get.

Lunch was also catered, and it too was designed to be light and healthful. I made sure to grab some of the vegetable crudité. Plus I avoided the refined grain in the pasta.

All of this was thoughtfully arranged because dinner was an epic pizza tour. And that’s when the floodgates opened. We were told from the get go about how much pizza would be on the tour. And we were warned to pace ourselves. But Pequods was first, and that pan pizza with sausage and pepperoni was just fantastic. I didn’t have a full second slice, but I did eat more than one. Sure, it was a bad idea. However, my only regret was that I didn’t eat more.

Then it was off to a Chicago thin style place called Flo & Santos. We had three different flavors of pizza there, including one with kielbasa and sauerkraut, and another one with Italian beef and giardiniera. I don’t know why I was so full. But by the time we pulled into Pizano’s for the deep dish, I was sweating. Quite literally, I was barely able to eat one bite.

My capacity was hit. My tolerance was tapped. I went to the bathroom to wash my face, stand up and get some air. After taking one bite of the cookie and ice cream sundae, I was able to reset my palate enough to entertain one final bite of the pizza.

Instead of getting back on the bus, I opted for a walk back to the hotel, and then a hunt for a glass of ouzo to help settle my stomach. My colleagues were at a bar without ouzo, so I had to settle for sambuca. Sure, it was my second choice, but it did the trick.

Friday, we were all a bit pizza hungover. But that didn’t stop us from eating the grilled breakfast sandwiches that were brought in to the office for breakfast, or the donuts from Stan’s. I grabbed the Boston Cream and it it all by myself. Plus I had a nibble of a buttermilk bar, and a corner of a Nutella-stuffed square. Lunch was Small Cheval for a serious bacon double cheeseburger, since we didn’t have the time to make it out to Au Cheval in between sessions.

Whatever moderation I had been enjoying on Thursday morning was a distant memory.

Thankfully, the sessions ended without any more food. And Friday night I was able to get to the one spot I wanted to eat in all Chicago. Actually, I had no idea until Greg K. told me it’s the one place I should go if I had the chance. Tac Quick is a Thai place with a “secret menu”.

Ordering just off this open secret, two of us split the Kuay Teaw Reua “Boat Noodles” in addition to a cold and spicy seafood noodle salad called Yum Woon Sen Talay. And for good measure we also got the Prikking Crispy Pork. Each dish was fantastic. The broth on those boat noodles was amazing. And the brightness of the noodle salad was fantastic.

There were other people at the table, but they were less adventurous. I would have loved to order more, but we couldn’t finish what we got.

Then more beers. Then karaoke. Then more beers.

Saturday I woke up hoarse from singing, checked out of the hotel, and went to visit some old friends who now live in the suburbs. That meant taking the regional rail out to northwest Chicago. And at the train terminal they had a food hall.

I couldn’t say no the the little French gnocchi shop. Nor could I say no to pouring brie fondue on these little potato clouds. And as long as I was going for the gusto, I thought I might as well add some jambon into the mix.

There was a juice bar. I could have juiced. But once moderation leaves the building, it’s hard to get it back.

In the burbs, we grilled lamb chops in Greek olive oil, and topped them with parsley and lemon. I was told I could not leave until we finished all the chops. I made an effort, but I just couldn’t do it.

What I could do, amazingly, was eat one last thing in the airport before leaving town. I blame ADS for this, since he planted the seed about the Italian beef place in the Southwest terminal at Midway. And I hadn’t had an Italian beef sandwich this whole trip. The “Italian beef” pizza didn’t count.

So I got a sandwich that consisted of a grease soaked roll filled with a charred Italian sausage, hot roast beef, and giardiniera. Somehow I wolfed down every last morsel at the gate. It was a greasy mess, and I attacked that thing like an animal.

I wasn’t even hungry.

Chicago. I guess the city has a way of doing that to a person. Or maybe it’s just me. Regardless, I’m back home. It’s a new year. And although we don’t make resolutions, I’m going to try and be extra good this week.

Which is hard, because it’s Troy Restaurant and Craft Beer Week. But at least at home, I’ve got access to clean, fresh, and healthful ingredients. Today, it’s a CSA day, and I’ll get a new load of veggies from Roxbury. I bet they will go great with some of that Greek olive oil I brought back from Chicago.

It was a wonderful trip to a remarkable city. But before I return, I’ll have to lose some weight.

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