A Birthday Brunch-Day, Chicago Style
I always believe that when celebrating a birthday, very few rules apply, (i.e. ice cream is an acceptable appetizer, calories will not be counted, there’s no such thing as “too much.”) After a totally amazing (mind-blowing!!! religious???) gastronomic experience at Alinea, I decided to spend the next day sampling delicious, down-home fare at some of my favorite Chi-town haunts.
One of my favorite “touristy” activities in Chicago is the riverboat cruise architecture tour. It’s a fun way to get a feel for the city’s rich architectural history by floating past impressive, visually stunning skyscrapers – a juxtaposition of the old and new, while capturing photos like this one:
and this one:
Did I happen to mention (and perhaps this is the reason I’m such a loyal customer) that these architecture cruises happen to offer some truly MARVELOUS Bloody Marys?!!
I’m going to deviate for a moment here. A number of years ago, I spent THE coldest, rainiest summer imaginable working in the Windy City. One morning I made plans with visiting friends to join them aboard the architecture cruise. I jumped on my bicycle and headed along Lake Michigan from my Lincoln Park digs towards Navy Pier. Out of nowhere, a torrential storm appeared, throwing down sheets of rain so thick and blinding I could barely see. I was down below street level, riding along the lip of the lake and gusts of wind were slamming the bike with such force I had to fight to keep myself from being blown into the lake. I kept riding through the storm in order to reach Navy Pier, my friends and shelter. By the time I arrived at the boat I was soaking, shivering and probably bordering on hypothermia. Instead of enjoying the cruise with my friends, I spent the entire ride in the women’s bathroom huddled beneath the tiny automatic hand-dryer. My friends kept popping in to check on me, armed with multiple Bloody Marys. I may have missed the entire cruise, but those drinks saved my life that day.
So this year, my birthday brunch-day would commence with a Bloody Mary (or three) on the boat. I chatted with the bartender, relayed my famous monsoon/hand dryer story and enjoyed a much sunnier day this time on the Chicago River.
There’s no hot dog like a Chicago dog (though my heart belongs to the Icelandic Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur) and The Wiener’s Circle on North Clark is home to my favorite Chicago-style dog. Boasting an intentionally short-tempered (from abrasive to downright abusive) counter staff, The Wiener’s Circle is not a dine-in establishment. Comprised of just a few enclosed square feet, you can feel a blast of heat from the grill against your skin when leaning across the counter to place an order. Several picnic tables litter the small parking lot. A popular late night post-drinking locale, The Weiner’s Circle has been know to stay open, turning out “char-grilled” dogs and burgers ‘til dawn.
For those of you who do not know what makes a Chicago-style hot dog, it comes down to the toppings. Here’s a breakdown: mustard, onions, neon green sweet pickle relish, tomato slices, dill pickle spears, tiny hot pickled “sport” peppers, and celery salt. Does not disappoint. The cardinal Chicago rule: Ketchup is UNACCEPTABLE. So leave your Heinz at home, kids. Your dressed-up dog should look something like this:
And this hot dog made for an excellent, messy, tasty treat. Chicago has a million (okay, that’s an exaggeration) hot dog vendors, and each one of them believes their hot dogs to be the bee’s knees. For me, the Weiner’s Circle evokes a wistful nostalgia for that cold, rainy summer. There’s terrific people watching, a chance of being verbally abused, and the dogs are delicious too.
Only a few short blocks North of the Wiener’s Circle is one of my favorite local pizza joints, and the final stop on my birthday brunch binge.
Renaldi’s is a family-run pizzeria/red-sauce joint offering a variety of plates and pies: deep dish, thin crust, by the slice, etc. They pride themselves on “old world” recipes and fresh ingredients.
I have to be honest, I’m not the World’s biggest fan of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I’ve tried all of the “famous” institutions: Uno’s, Giordanos, etc., but nothing truly impressed me until I tried Renaldi’s. The secret? It’s in the sauce. Homemade red sauce with fresh herbs goes a long way with me. The pizzas I tend to fall in love with all have a terrific sauce in common. The thick, crisp-bottom crust is stuffed with gooey mozzarella and topped in tomato red. It’s everything you’d expect from a traditional deep dish; it’s huge, thick, greasy and ridiculously caloric…but it sure is pretty!
Chicago Architecture Tours: http://www.cruisechicago.com/tours.php
The Weiners Circle is located at 2622 North Clark Street, Chicago IL
Renaldi’s Pizza is located at 2827 N. Broadway, Chicago IL
2010 Mileage Total 32049