Monday, September 12, 2011

come on babe, why don’t we paint the town?

Hey so I went to Chicago?

Here’s what happened: Steve had a family wedding. (Well, Steve had a family wedding RECEPTION for the couple who’d already married a week earlier in Arizona. But I think he promoted it to wedding to get me to go). It was Labor Day weekend. And he and his sis Jordin were road trippin’ it to Illinois, my boy’s ancestral home. So I said, what the hey, nothing’s stopping me, I’ll join them. 12 lovely hours later (may I recommend NPR? We got to listen to all of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!) and a hurried change of clothes in a 7-11 bathroom (…), we were there.

And there was a tower of cupcakes, that was nice.


I have seen a good number of cupcake towers in my time, but this cupcake tower was extremely impressive because it was topped with a giant cupcake. A real, frosting shellacked, GIANT CUPCAKE. Not a cake. A GIANT CUPCAKE.


I started off the wedding feeling a little nervous and awkward because I am always a little nervous and awkward. There was also a lot of beer drinking (it was outdoor and laid back and the groom wore shorts) and I don’t like beer but wanted to fit in so I got one and sort of… pretended to sip it every once in awhile. A prop beer.

But fortunately I loosened up and got to hang out with Steve’s relatives. Which is nice because he’s been up to his ears in my relatives (metaphorically…?) and I really wanted to get to know his family as well. And later in the evening a band showed up and started playing Beatles and Van Morrison so that was lovely as well.

And THEN I went back to Steve’s house, dragged myself up to the guest room, and found myself in accomodations that far exceeded a four star hotel. The decor was lovely enough, but Steve’s mom had laid out an entire Bed Bath and Beyond of supplies to ensure my comfort.


Plus Steve gave me a really long back rub. So I was a happy camper, basically.

I was an even HAPPIER camper the next morning after a blissful night’s sleep in the extremely comfortable bed. My aching legs rejoiced at being able to move around as Steve and I strolled through his hometown, a suburb of Chicago for which he feels ambivalence but I found super cute and small town-y. And as he pointed out, it was kind of awesome that he and I saw each other’s elementary schools in the course of a single week (on, I might add, kind of spontaneous trips).

Then we went back home and he made me and his mama some lovely, egg-drenched french toast. His mom had whole wheat Italian bread! Something I must seek oat. Steve said his secret to good french toast is getting it hot in the pan before he batters it. And by getting it hot in the pan, he means… kind of already frying it in butter. It’s great stuff :D


Ever the health vigilante, I put together a bowl of some nice fruit Steve’s mom had- peaches, strawberries, and blueberries- and nuked them til just warm.


For condiments we had a mini mock-Southern Comfort bottle that turned out to contain real Vermont maple syrup as well as some huckleberry honey (! The huckleberry love affair continues!) that his parents had picked up on their vacation earlier in the summer.


I did half and half of both of them on my toast, along with a healthy glob of fruit (and I went back for more fruit!).


Loyal readers may note that this looks like a puny portion size for me, and I just want to state for the record that if you sit in a car for more or less an entire day, suddenly your appetite more or less disappears. Which was okay at the wedding, since the food was… Midwestern :D Fried chicken, pulled pork, rolls for the pork, lasagna, spaghetti with sauce, and potatoes. Oh and Caesar salad which was generally drizzled with Caesar dressing in about a 1:1 ratio. Tasty but perhaps a bit heavy on the starch.

Anyway, going back to breakfast, it was delicious.

Midnight thought so too. I immediately ingratiated myself to Steve’s cat (who’s missing a leg and much of his tail and ears from disappearing in a blizzard, being unable to smell his way back home, and returning four weeks later to his still-waiting family in a story that Disney movies are made of) by feeding him scraps of egg. He LOVED me.

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Then it was off to Wisconsin! This trip was crazy. I went to two brand new states in the course of a weekend. Our destination was the Lauderdale Lakes, where Steve’s uncle and his family have a house.

I have kind of resigned myself to the fact that my boyfriend is an adrenaline junkie. And watching him waterski (… five times!) was fun. Seeing as it was gloomy and overcast the whole time we were out, I didn’t want to take off the sweatshirt his aunt had graciously lent me, let alone allow myself to be splashed with water while in a bikini… if I managed to make it out of the lake.

But he was great! On one ski, no less.


Even more impressively, his dad did it too!

We had fun hanging out with a nice small, low-key group, enjoying the view of the water, some tasty eats (I just felt too awkward photographing my plate), and the company.


(hahaha, the guy with the stick is Kenny. He did like three different batches of mini-sausages on a stick, diligently roasting them over the fire until finally- finally- a batch was deemed sufficiently crispy. Fortunately, many people were totally happy with insufficiently crispy bites!)

Where’d that roasting happen? A fire pit! I want one of these guys for my ROOM!


There was a sweet hammock, but it was prime territory. And people harass you if you take their spot :D


One food picture I *did* get (we… er… not food per se) was this:


No idea the last time I had orange soda, but it was probably when I’d say “I do I do I do-oo”. As everyone should when they drink orange soda, right Kel? It was such a fun novelty to try it again.

And thus my four and a half hours in Wisconsin, another new state, ended.

Throughout our trip, it definitely boggled my mind at how… stinkin’… flat the Midwest is. When the storm rolled in for the wedding reception (poor bride… she was a little stressed), I turned my head around in the car and could see it stretching out for miles. Plus, you know, I started thinking about how I was in Tornado Alley for the first time in my life and it was lookin’ a little grim out there.

There was more pretty scenery than I gave it credit for (not to be a total snob who uses the term “flyover country”… but yeah, I use the term “flyover country”) (In my defense, my born-and-raised Midwesterner boyfriend isn’t all that crazy about it either). Wisconsin was… flat. But verdant!

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And then, as the highways got bigger and the city got nearer, I started picking out familiar slices of skyline from postcards, opening movie scenes, and the like.

Chi-town! I’m gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings down! (No I didn’t do that.)

I felt the familiar city excitement at big shiny buildings, taxicabs teeming, honking and sirens and yelling and all of the great stimuli that just invades your senses.


Knowing how little time we had (a single evening), we headed to Navy Pier, which stretches out onto Lake Michigan and has dorky tourist stuff but also killer views.

Photo op!


You walk in to lights, smells, shops, and tons of people.

Steve, you are no doubt very pleased that my camera chose to focus on the guy in the Cubs jersey.


And then we made our way to the ferris wheel! I hadn’t been on a ferris wheel since I could remember, and I still had that giddy little kid excitement waiting in line, looking up at the lights.


And then once aloft I obviously felt compelled to take a gazillion pictures. Apparently Chicago brings out the dorky tourist in me.

As I pointed out though, we’ve done the sights in my current town (D.C.), we’ve explored my hometown (Spokane), and it was genuinely fun to have Steve get to play tour guide. And Chicago is such a cool city to see! Ideally next time for longer than four hours.

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Throughout the course of the afternoon, there had been a serious, ongoing conversation about one major thing: deep dish. Having never been to Chicago, I had never experienced proper deep dish (Steve’s cousin solemnly intoned, “You haven’t lived”), so I was gonna.

Deep dish is Steve’s favorite food. Ever. So you could also say I did not truly know my boyfriend.

Everyone had an opinion to contribute about which pizza place was the best. Then Steve, who’d had a plan in mind to take me to Gino’s, his favorite, started getting in his head about everything. “Which place is the most historic?”, he queried, “The most…” (a meaningful pause) “… Chicago?” Then everyone in his family was peer pressuring him to take me to Uno’s, not that god-awful place you see in strip malls and such but the actual, original Uno’s where apparently people in Chicago actually eat.

Anyway, we get in the car and he’s all distraught and I brusquely dispatched with his family pressure and said “Steve! Take me to eat deep dish where YOU like to eat deep dish!”

So he did. Gino’s it was.


I didn’t get a good picture of it, but the inside is a giant graffiti wall- everyone who comes is encouraged to sign, which means every surface is covered with layer upon layer upon layer of names. Those in the know bring white out and other things to make their names pop on the dark walls.

Lots of celebrity pictures, too :D


(It says “Yes We Can Deliver”)

So we sat down and immediately ordered a deep dish. Being a total virgin and clueless, I gave Steve total freedom to order what he wanted, which means he got all his favorite toppings (as you’ll see) and the largest size they had (despite even he saying that most people can only eat a single slice of deep dish since it’s so thick and dense.)

And then the waiter told us that it’d take 45 minutes to cook, as we knew it would. So our waiting game began.

To wile away the cooking time, we talked a lot. Recounted childhood memories and the like.

We also amused ourselves by racing each other at the challenges on the menu: I slaughtered him at the word scramble but he owned me on the maze. So we’ll call it even, and hope we are not a commentary on men and women cause yikes.


Steve ordered a Goose Island 312 and I had a few sips and, guys, I enjoyed a beer. This says good things about Chicago (Goose Island is a local brewery; 312 is the Chicago area code!) It tasted like beer, but had the most fantastic bread-y, sweetish aftertaste. SO good!


We asked to split a house salad and thus assumed it was a mistake when we each got a big mountain like this in front of our place. Then the waiter went, “No, I just halfed it.” Midwest portions, baby!

The salad was of the iceberg variety but dannnnnnng the dressing was good.


Now… something started to happen.

No, something didn’t happen. Our pizza didn’t show up. The minutes ticked and ticket and ticket… it seemed like it would be any minute, but it wasn’t. We were getting hungry. I was saying things I didn’t mean about hitting people with golf clubs. It was not a proud moment, but we’ve all been hangry in our time.

Finally as our waiter kind of meandered by and he was, I think, just tired of me being hungry-mean, Steve asked him how long our pizza would be. “Soon! Soon!”

Then he disappeared for awhile.

Then he returned, his walk markedly… conciliatory. Oh no. “Hey guys, there was a little bit of a mixup in the kitchen. Totally my fault. But we’re getting your pizza, it’s just going to take longer. It’s going to be another-“

Oh dear God. Another 45 minutes?!

“- ten minutes or so.”

It was nearly eleven at this point, we had another twelve hour car ride ahead of us to go home the next day [which turned into 14.5 but that’s another story], we still had to make the almost hourlong drive to the burbs… seriously?!

Finally, finally, the pizza arrived.

The water split it into eighths using a brawny and powerful skinny spatula.


Steve looked apprehensively into my eyes and said, “It looks a little wet”. [We suspected then, and still do, that they kind of just Frankensteined another pizza, ripped off its sauce partway through its cooking time to add our toppings, put on a new layer of sauce, and threw it in the oven for a few more minutes]

If it wasn’t good, I was ready to go back to Steve’s and just go to bed.

However, on it went onto my plate… one eighth of a large deep dish pizza topped with patty sausage, mushrooms and spinach, cheese and tomato sauce.


And now… may I present…

Falling in Love with Deep Dish in Three Glorious Steps

1. Love at first bite. Your initial taste is hot cheese. HOT. THICK. GOOEY. CHEESY.. CHEESE.

2. Love deepens. You taste the tomato sauce and savor its complexity of flavor on your tongue. The tomatoes are sweet yet assertive, and enhanced with a perfect balance of herbs.

3. This is true love. You realize how effing good this crust is. GUYS. I LOVE CARBS SO MUCH YOU KNOW THIS. But the deep dish crust is such a revelation. It’s doughy in the middle, crispy at the bottom. It’s slightly sweetish and rich in flavor (does the yellowish color come solely from oil? Is there some kind of corny component? Is there a hint of dairy tenderizing within? Where does the magic happen?). It’s also an incredible vehicle for everything atop it- the sausage richness soaked in at its edge, it’s a heavenly implement for scooping up any unattended tomato sauce, and it’s JUST SO CHEWY AND CARBY AND HEAVENLY.

So… we got over it.


For those of you unfamiliar with deep dish, a lesson in topography: it’s crust at the bottom, then cheese, then toppings, then sauce on top.

Because it is so intensely dense and huge, you eat a lot less of it than you would a regular pizza. I had one slice plus an additional sliver, and I was good. And even Steve, my mammoth-appetited man, had only two.

And actually, I was glad that I was really hungry. This is not the kind of food you want when you’re just feeling peckish. This is formidable.


And the real specialty when you get deep dish is patty sausage. Rather than crumbles of sausage that you’d see at a normal place, it’s just a sheet of meat. A slab. A huge layer that you can pick off in a single piece. Which was good, since though I like the flavor it imparted to the rest of ingredients, that big hunk of meat was just too much for me. So I peeled my slab off and gave it to Steve. And he did a layer of crust-cheese-meat-veggies and sauce-more meat! He was delighted. 


And now… I sit in Virginia, where it has rained for four days. And it rained for my two Midwest days before that. And it is scheduled to rain for another three days. And then, at last, we will get a day that is merely partly cloudy.

I take in the gloom of this weather and my employment situation and the global economy… and I sure wish I had a hot slice of deep dish.


Jess@atasteofconfidence said...

I just went to Ginos East about a month ago. So good!

Shannon ~ My Place In The Race said...

That giant cupcake is insane :)

I love that kitty! What sweet looking fella!

Looks like you had a great time! Back rub = AWESOME!!!

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that you had the chance to come to Chicago, it is my hometown and I love deep dish pizza too! :D