Breezing Through the Windy City – Chicago By Fork

My first trip to Chicago a few years back only whet my appetite, thus I couldn’t turn down the chance for a quick layover in September to grab a few more bites and explore the delicious side of the windy city.

A welcome sight – heading in to Chicago. The unwelcome part: Rush hour traffic was just ahead.

Oh, what to do with 8 hours in Chicago! The hardest part? Paring down my choices to just a few select gems, rather than doing my usual do-it-all-and-rest-when-I-get-home strategy. Having been to Chicago once before and knowing the breadth of what this dynamic city offers just made the choices harder. The struggle is real, people! So rather than to pick from my personal pocket of this gorgeous city’s offerings, I crowd-sourced from few local faves:  A favorite Facebook group (Seattle Foodies) instead. What a goldmine! I diligently researched every suggestion made – both through the Foodies group and from my faithful Twitter fans. I knew I wanted a get-down-and-get-local experience, as I’d done the “touristy” thing a few years back. Leaving no stone unturned, the suggestion of Logan Square’s Longman & Eagle caught my eye and intrigued me immediately – enough for me to jump online and book my night. And so the story goes …

Longman & Eagle’s restaurant boasts a Michelin-star chef (surprising with a local Seattle tie-in from Quinn’s). Their accommodations were right up my alley: A tiny selection of six unique rooms above a lively whisky bar. Once there, L&E checked every box of what I enjoy: Creative food (a no-brainier for me); location (in an up-and-coming ‘hood on Chicago’s north side); community and charm (yup, that too!). The best part? Once my car was parked, I had nothing left to do but explore this quirky neighborhood and eat. Two of my favorite things!

Decade’s old plank flooring, perfect lighting … and an in-room shower. Not for the modest! 😉

After dropping my bags on weathered plank floor of my room, I asked the innkeeper for a few local suggestions. His first mention was just around the corner: Billy Sunday. Since this recommendation mirrored one from a Chicago-native gal-pal,I knew it was meant to be and set off across the square in search of a libation worthy of driving cross-city during rush-hour traffic for.  I positioned myself on their outdoor patio on an unseasonably warm fall day (96 degrees, if you can believe it!), and from my sidewalk perch I lured-in friendly pooches, eyeballed an urban hammocker across the street, and marveled – not only at my bartender, Sarah’s, mad mixology skills (she mixed a perfect Old Fashioned) – but at the story of my ice cube.

Integral ingredients for a perfect Old Fashioned: Local bourbon and a hand-honed ice cube.

*Editor’s note: Here’s where I go off on a bit of a tangent:* I’ve been trying for months to create perfectly-round, bubble-free ice cubes from those goofy silicone molds from Bed Bath & Beyond. I’ve tried the distilled water thing. I’ve even boiled it (twice!). Alas, I’m still plagued with spheres full of tiny bubbles (which, if you’re an ice aficionado, you realize makes your cubes melt faster).  Sarah’s trick? They purchase huge clear ice blocks from a local vendor, then chainsaw them down into glass-sized cubes. From there, she pulls out her trusty Japanese chisel (for real!) and whittles the blocks down to beautiful spheres. After lusting after her sweet orbs, and of course appreciating the time and skill represented in these icy beauties, I relished in how even just a block of ice in a glass can enhance an otherwise simple experience.

Let’s just put it this way: If you’re not traveling solo, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re with someone you’e comfortable with. 😉

But I digress … I bid Sarah and her crew adieu, strolled back through the park and adjacent square, pumped my legs high in the sky on a rogue swing, then went back to more thoroughly check out my digs for the evening. The short story? Longman & Eagle’s design group got things right. SO right, I just kept on noticing small detail after detail that set them aside from most other inns where I’ve stayed. Original wood floors quietly whispered the story of the building. The glass in-room shower exuded whimsy (though clearly not for the modest) and water remained hot for the duration of my Olympic-level shower. Tokens for whiskey shots downstairs were a welcome touch (and were quickly pocketed). I even cranked up in-room cassette player (very 1970s!), sat back and read about art curation and history. And despite a few reviews to the contrary, the symphony of whisky-fueled laughter, excited conversation and clinking barware below was just the soundtrack I needed. Nothing was typical here – and I loved it!

Citrusy, but with a spicy chimmichurri, it’s no wonder L&E’s bone marrow’s a hit!

Down in the restaurant a warm, friendly theme prevailed. Service was exceptional – from check-in and seating, to spot-on dining suggestions made by the bartender. A special this night was a perfectly-prepared squab ravioli – a lovely mate for their sought-after bone marrow. The former sang on my palate with sweet-grilled, late-season Midwest corn kernels and a complex broth – the latter under a short-sheathed blanket of citrusy chimichurri glided onto delicately-browned sourdough. Both paired nicely with an homage to my home in Seattle – Westland Distillery‘s American whiskey.

THIS! Pork belly Benedict with andouille hollandaise, giardiniera, and sweet peppery jelly. OMG!

The next morning’s pork belly eggs Benedict continued with a theme of creative, delicious fare. Anyone who knows me knows I’m on a lifelong search for the perfect rendition of this morning favorite, and that more times than not I’m left disappointed. This Benny was worth the trip. If there’s a holy grail for eggs Benny lovers, this is it. It makes me a tiny bit sad to know the bar has been set, and I may never find another that has all the traditional elements, and a few non-traditional, that marry in a way I’ve never experienced before. And while this is NOT a post about eggs Benedicts, if you’re ever in Chicago you simply must add them to your list. (You can thank me later).

Throughout my time, L&E’s staff couldn’t have been more perfect. They were accommodating, but not effusive. They made suggestions with a real desire to get things right. I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that everyone working in their establishment seemed to genuinely enjoy what they do – and it showed!

Undoubtedly, I’ll have another trip to Chicago in my future, and I’ll struggle not to simply hit REPEAT on my travel player and head straight to Longman & Eagle again.  Here’s to adventurous eating, artisan ice cubes, and people who get things right.

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