A Much Needed Escape to the Windy City.

The month of April was a long one. Justin was out of town three of the four weeks for work and frankly I had milked Madison for all it was worth. When I found out he was going to be gone I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to head South, but I hadn’t anticipated needing it so badly. So, on a Thursday morning I woke up early, grabbed a coffee and a Batch Bakehouse marzipan croissant from Johnson Public House, and headed out.

After a quick stop at Ikea, I met Ms. Tiffany Skemp on her lunch hour at the Chicago French Market. A lovely indoor market with a couple of great little places to grab a bite to eat. While Tiff was grabbing her lunch at Pastoral’s lunch counter, I was hanging out with the cheese guy eating as many samples as he would give. Out of the handful of cheeses I tried the one I was really taken with was a chevre frais from a place called Dutch Girl Creamery in Nebraska. It was delicious and creamy, not terribly sharp, but exactly what I think a chevre should be. After T.Skemp ate and we parted ways I stopped at Vanille Patisserie and grabbed a pretty impressive looking morsel. Vanilla custard essentially covered in a raspberry jam IS as incredible as it sounds.

I had forgone lunch with Tiff at the market because I was on to bigger and better things. A couple of months ago the James Beard awarded Fulton Market restaurant, The Publican, had opened a casual delicatessen right across the street called Publican Quality Meats that I had been salivating over since hearing of its inception. As I expected, it is designed to the nines: stark white tiling with beautiful hardwood and vibrant blue accents. Really busy, but really hip and clean at the same time. You are met with three large cases of beautiful meats of all kinds, carefully prepared and beautifully displayed. Baskets of bread and jars of accouterments line the floor and fill the shelves.

I was seated immediately despite it being during a packed lunch hour, as I was alone. They have five communal tables, which is both charming and perfect for a habitual eavesdropper like myself.  The menu looked great and I ended up ordering a roast beef sandwich with maytag blue cheese, butter lettuce, and smoked onions on country bread. Instead of a bag of chips I opted for the radish salad, which was raw radishes with a wonderful vinaigrette. Perfect! I rounded my lunch off with a Victory Prima Pils, from their small but impressive beer list.

I may even go as far as to say that I like this spot more than The Publican. Yeah. Way more.

After lunch I headed to MCA where I stumbled around in amazement for a couple of hours, working up an appetite. I was fortunate enough to take in an incredible exhibit called “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980’s”. It was really interesting, subversive and beautiful and right up my alley.

When the museum closed I headed North to meet my friend Tiffany for dinner at a place called Uncommon Ground. They have two locations in Chicago, and unfortunately the one that was near the theatre was not the location with the rooftop farm (and in Wrigleyville). However, right up the road from the restaurant I discovered an incredible used book store called The Bookworks. After picking up a few great finds, I went and grabbed a table.

I stumbled upon this place a while back, but neither location is near much of anything I generally find myself doing while I’m in town, so I hadn’t had the chance to try them. The menu was pretty contemporary, albeit not terribly unique. I really wanted to give this place a chance for two reasons: the first of which being I am endlessly fascinated by urban farming and for whatever reason this organization is the only rooftop farm in Chicago. Secondly, you really have to give a place credit for presenting an entirely organic menu. One thing that really caught my attention about this place is that while we were there, there were two separate children having a birthday dinner with friends and their family. Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a Chuck E. Cheese, but the menu and atmosphere is very family friendly. Which doesn’t always appeal to me, but I can certainly appreciate it.

Uncommon Ground is incredibly charming, despite it having sort of a chain feeling. The staff was incredibly helpful and friendly, but not the most professional. Like I mentioned, the menu wasn’t terribly creative but there were some tasty sounding things on it. I started with a lemon, ginger, and vodka cocktail with candied ginger. A delicious, but pretty standard combination these days. As an appetizer we ordered a baked artichoke with goat cheese and pesto dip that was served with crostini. Accessible, a slight deviation from the norm, and absolutely delicious. But then again, it is goat cheese. As a main course I ordered ricotta ravioli made with ramps, asparagus, tomatoes in a roasted garlic cream sauce. Very good, nothing I couldn’t have made at home, but good.

After dinner, Tiffany and I took in a play I had been waiting a while to see. “Freud’s Last Session” has been playing off Broadway for a couple of years now and I have kept my eye on it, never having the opportunity to catch it. A few weeks back it opened in Chicago, and lucky for us, the New York cast came to the Midwest for a few weeks to open it. The basis of the play is a meeting between C.S. Lewis, an adamant believer in God, and Sigmund Freud, who was famously atheist. The dialogue was so smart and so impressively non-biased and SO fascinating. If ever you have the opportunity to see it, I suggest you make that happen.

The play wrapped up around 9:30, and after a couple hours of photo boothing at a lovely Logan Square watering hole called Weegee’s (yes, named after the amazing photographer) it was back to Madison with me.

What a delicious and perfect day. God dammit, I love Chicago.


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