chicago, part 3: the food!

Just a word before I get into my dinin’ out over a week in Cheese-n-bratland. I visited a friend’s place on the North Side and saw this on the front door of his building. (OK, it was the wrong building—he lived next door—but we thought it was his building so while we waited for him to answer the damn buzzer I shot this fuzzy photo.)

save our pets
Awesome idea. Whether you’re not home or unconscious due to smoke inhalation, the firefighters will know you’ve got critters in your apartment. In my building of more than 100 units, I think the doors would be completely covered. But we live in a super-new building with sprinklers and big automatic fire doors and stuff, so fingers crossed, I guess. Or everyone could have one on their individual doors, which would also help in the case of repairfolk. Hmmm.

navy pier bird
On to the food! My first full day there, after accompanying my mom to a couple of medical institutions, we headed to (where else?!) Chicago Diner for take-out and shot down LSD to Navy Pier, where this friggin’ bird would not leave us alone. Others came and went, but he just sat there, fluffin’ his feathers, lettin’ out a little birdy bark now and then. Nope, I didn’t share, no matter how he begged. It’s Navy Pier, there’s tons of stuff for him to eat.

navy pier CD burger
So here’s the basic Chicago Diner burger. I can’t believe I’ve never had one before. It’s pretty tomato-y (think Field Roast) and tangy, and between that and the mound of sweet potato fries, I could only eat half. (But the rest was great for dinner!) My mom got the black bean burger but she put—gasp!—real cheese on it so I refused to photograph it. She also got through about half, which is pretty darn good for her. She got the potatoes and said they were perfect. As if the food we couldn’t get through wasn’t enough, we also split a strawberry shake. Since we weren’t at the restaurant and didn’t have a menu in front of us, I freaked out a little over the shake. It was so rich and creamy and soy-taste-less that I started to wonder if it was vegan. Today, if I were to drink a dairy shake, I imagine it’d give me quite the tummyache. Oh, I kept drinking it. When I got home, I checked. The shakes are indeed vegan. How do they do it?!

chicago diner cake
I went back to Chicago Diner with a friend later in the week. I’d told them about Veggie Thing, and how the ravioli had made it to the Top Choices page, so Chef Kim said the next time I was in, dessert was on her. Oh my friggin’ frig. This is the Raspberry Mocha, and it’s not really that pink. That’s just how the photo turned out. Whatever, I like it. And that’s my friend Amy on the other side of it. She’s omni, but she dug into that thing as fiercely as I did. Again, how do they do it?!

green zebra shitake rolls
And on to Green Zebra. I cannot tell you how amazing this dish was. Looks totally simple, right? It’s slow-roasted shitakes and cabbage in crispy potato, like a spring roll, in a broth with more shitakes and cabbage. As you can see, there’s not much here, so it killed me to give up a single bite, but I had to share with my friend so she could experience the savory roundhouse kick this thing was hiding in its little crispy potato wrapper.

Green Zebra is vegetarian, aside from one seafood dish, and they have at least one vegan item per course. They’re small plates and they will cost you. If you’ve got the tummyspace, the $55 tasting menu is actually worth it. I ended up spending almost that on a cocktail (rum, berries, and mint), this, a side of grilled corn on the cob, regular ol’ coffee, and dessert. Worth it.

green zebra strudel
And what was for dessert? Blueberry strudel, peach granita, sliced peaches, and candied pecans. The flavors all worked amazingly together, and it was the perfect size. It was the perfect end to a perfect meal. If you’re in Chicago and have an excuse or an expense account…

big fat vegan burger
Finally, an old favorite from the omni days, Leona’s. They’re sprinkled throughout the city, and apparently my parents live in close-enough suburbs to have one near them too! We met my brother for lunch, and while he got a grease-drippin’ meatburger, I got the Big Fat Vegan Burger. You never know what you’re going to get when you order the vegan burger. If it doesn’t say Boca or Gardenburger, you could get one of those squishy things that you end up eating with a fork. Not today, my friends. This held up pretty well, and it tasted like stuffing. My mom didn’t believe me so I gave her a taste. Agreed. Thanks-friggin’-givin’ stuffing. With roasted mushrooms and onions on this pretzel roll, I was in burger-lovin’ heaven. Again, only made it through half and the rest became dinner. Thank you, old friend, for having this for me.

So that’s it. Last Chicago round-up. Until next year at least.

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