Chicago Food Tour

One of my favorite activities in Chicago was going on the Chicago Food Planet Food Tour last Thursday. Over the course of three hours, our group of 11 tourists and 1 tour guide walked to 7 restaurants and shops, sampling specialties and learning about food.

Ashkenaz Reuben

We began our tour at Ashkenaz Jewish Deli in the Gold Coast neighborhood. We built our own Reuben sandwiches using marble rye, Vienna Beef pastrami (the brand is essential!), sauerkraut, cheese and Ashkenaz’s special dressing, which is pink from the beets it contains. I loved the pink dressing. It tasted absolutely delicious.

 

Tea Gswendner Iced TEa

The Reubens made us thirsty, so we were glad to drink Cranberry Mango Iced Green Tea at our next stop, Tea Gschwendner. This international German tea shop sells high quality bulk tea. While we were sipping our tea, the store manager and tour guide taught us about the differences between different types of tea and how to brew tea so it doesn’t become bitter.

Spice Merchants

Stop number three—The Spice House—took us to the Old Town neighborhood. As we stepped inside The Spice House we were overwhelmed by the smell of cinnamon, cumin and other spices. After smelling and sampling different spices, we learned about the different types of cinnamon and pepper. Fun Fact: Did you know that ground spices only last 12-18 months, but whole spices can last for 25 years? That’s a good case for buying spices whole and grinding them yourself.

Old Town Oil

(I forgot to take a photo at Old Town Oil, our next stop, so this photo of The Spice House's back garden will have to do instead.) A couple doors up the street we stopped at Old Town Oil, a shop selling specialty oils and vinegars. We were set loose to mix and match different olive oils and vinegars samples as we pleased. In addition to the standard olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars, we sampled flavored oils and vinegars, such as roasted walnut olive oil, Persian lime olive oil, fig balsamic vinegar and strawberry balsamic vinegar.

 

The Fudge Pot

The balsamic vinegars were sweet, but the toffee we sampled at The Fudge Pot was even sweeter. Stepping behind the counter to the refrigerated table where the Fudge Pot makes its famed fudge, we talked about how chocolate is made. Though The Fudge Pot doesn’t make their own chocolate, they cast Chicago’s Blommer’s chocolate into fun-shaped molds like cats and airplanes and create other chocolate-covered treats.

Pierogi and Kolachkis

A few blocks up the street at Delightful Pastries, a European style bakery. Nodding to Chicago’s large Polish population, we tried pierogis stuffed with potato & cheese and kolachkis, a piece of pastry dough folded over a spoonful of jam. True to the European tradition, the kolachkis were not overly sweet.

Bacino's Stuffed Pizza

Our last stop took us to Bacino’s Pizzeria in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood. We ate their famous Stuffed Spinach Supreme pizza. Remarkably, the hefty slice of pizza wasn’t as heavy as I thought it would be. In fact, it has been recognized as a heart-healthy pizza because of the skim ricotta, tomatoes and spinach it contains. While it probably isn’t something to indulge in everyday, an occasional slice will make you heart-happy.

 

My two favorite stops were Ashkenaz Deli and Tea Gschwendner. The Ashkenaz dressing on the Reuben sandwich tasted really delicious, and I loved exploring all the different teas at the tea shop. I didn’t take a Reuben for the road, but we did bring home three types of teas from the tea shop.

If you are visiting Chicago, San Francisco or any big city, I highly recommend going on a food tour. Not only were we able to discover some hidden gems of restaurants and shops, but the wealth of information from our tour guide was invaluable. Sure, we could have looked up the food tour stops and gone to them on our own time, but then we would have missed out on the interesting anecdotes and historical information related to the tour that our guide shared with us.

Go on a food tour! You won’t regret it.

11 Thoughts on “Chicago Food Tour

  1. Brenda on July 27, 2010 at 3:39 PM said:

    Looks fun. Just wonder if anyone has done a San Francisco food tour?

  2. That pizza looks sooo delicious! You’re making me hungry. =) I hope you and Sam are having a wonderful time in Chicago!!

  3. I just drooled on my keyboard a lot. Surprised it’s functioning, in fact :P For the love of all that is foodie, you look to have had an AMAZING trip from the one afternoon of grub alone!!

    • andrealein on July 28, 2010 at 10:39 AM said:

      LOL! Yes, the food tour was an excellent way to pack in lots of Chicago food in just a few hours. And it was a nice change of pace from visiting the Chicago museums and seeing the other tourist attractions.

  4. Erica on July 27, 2010 at 10:22 PM said:

    So what is the key to making tea not bitter? (Love the post- I’ve never heard of a food tour, but sounds like an EXCELLENT idea! :)

    • andrealein on July 28, 2010 at 10:45 AM said:

      Well, Erica, I’m afraid you’ll have to go on the food tour to learn the key to making tea not bitter. ;) Just kidding! Bitterness occurs when you steep your tea too long. So you either gotta pull your teabag out right away or strain the loose tea from the pot.

      At Tea Gschwendner they’re big fans of loose leaf tea. In fact, they nicknames tea bags and balls “tea prisons.” If you think using loose leaf tea is too big a hassle, just Google “miraculous tea maker” to learn about Tea Gschwendner’s solution. (He he! I sound like an advertisement!)

      Lastly, you don’t need to worry about steeping herbal teas too long b/c they’re actually not true teas, meaning they’re not made from the tea plant. But you’d be best off keeping an eye on the clock when you make white, green, oolong or black tea. And if you like stronger tea, simply add more tea to the pot instead of letting it steep longer. Whew! Hopefully there will be no more bitter cups of tea. :)

  5. Katy on July 28, 2010 at 9:33 AM said:

    Andrea – can you recommend any SF food tours? Sounds really cool! Great post.

    • andrealein on July 28, 2010 at 11:13 AM said:

      Hi Katy! I’ve never been on a food tour in SF, so I can’t say whether one is better than the other. I did a little research on Yelp, however, and was really impressed with the “Gourmet Walks” and “In the Kitchen with Lisa” tours.

      “Gourmet Walks” has a Hayes Valley Tour, a chocolate tour and a chocolate and wine tour. “In the Kitchen with Lisa” has a chocolate tour, Mission Tour, Ferry Building Tour, Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto Tour and West Marin/Sonoma Tour.

      I’m also aware of Chinatown tours and Little Italy tours, but quite frankly, the food scene is happening in the other districts.

      Also, the SF tours are generally more expensive than the Chicago tour. The Chicago tour cost $42, but the SF tours range from $45-$75. Keep in mind that all the samples generally do add up to a full meal and the more expensive tours include alcohol (and I’m a bit biased…I think the SF restaurants are a bit better than the Chicago restaurants).

      So yeah! I hope this helps. I’m glad you asked because this has made me excited to explore more of the food scene here at home!

  6. Hi Andrea,

    Thank you so much for going on our Near North tour! We’re glad you had a blast!

    Ismael
    Community Manager
    @chifoodplanet

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