Chicago Foodie

Can you guess where I was in August?

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I spent a girls weekend in Chicago with few friends and my sister. It was a great weekend in a city that I love. It also happens to be a city with really good food.

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Ansley, me, and Jenna in front of Cloud Gate (aka The Bean).

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Chicago is known for their architecture. We took an architectural boat tour and learned all about the city’s fantastic buildings.

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Skyline from the north end of downtown. You can see one of the great lakes is right next to the city creating an interesting combination of urban city center and beach.

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Allison, me, Ansley, and Jenna in front of the Art Institute. We also spent a morning at the Art Institute of Chicago. They had a great exhibit on impressionism and fashion. It was very interesting and really well done.

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Jenna really wanted to see the zoo, so we walked (4 miles from our hotel!) to the zoo one afternoon. It was great (and free!) but most of a lot of the animals were asleep because it was the middle of the afternoon.

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We went to the Field Museum (which was a total bust!). We did get a picture with Sue the t-rex though.

Every day, we walked between 4 and 8 miles to get to sites and restaurants. This certainly led us to work up a big appetite and the food did not disappoint! My friend Julie lived in Chicago for grad school and sent us lots of delicious suggestions. Thanks, Julie! I didn’t actually take a lot of pictures of my meals (probably because I was too busy eating them!) but I snapped a few.

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The best lemon blueberry ricotta pancakes ever at Bongos.

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Garrett’s popcorn – cheese mixed with caramel for the perfect blend of sweet and salty.

IMG_2206Cheesy popcorn fingers!

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Lunch at Sweetwater Tavern – I was introduced to a good local brew and fried cheese curds.

IMG_2119 IMG_2118One evening we went to Millennium Park and had beer, bread, and cheese while we listened to a concert.

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Yummy local brew and the beer opener I charmed off the beer and wine guy at Fox and Obel’s Food Market.

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The Bean at night. Beautiful.

Other places we ate included Cafecito (the best Cuban in Chicago), Lou Malnati’s (deep dish pizza with a delicious crust), and Waffles (green tea and red velvet and waffle breakfast sammies – oh my).

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I love these girls and I love Chicago. It was a great weekend and I look forward to many more fun and fantastic girls weekends (with great food!) shared with these ladies in the future.

A White Family Christmas

An alternate title for this post could be “The One with the Epic Sangria” but I’ll get to that in a few minutes.  This Christmas, Artie’s parents suggested that in lieu of gifts we take a family vacation.  We considered several potential destinations and decided on Tampa.  A few of my friends asked me “Why Tampa?”  I guess the idea that a Central Florida native  would vacation there seemed foreign to them, but it was actually a great place to go and since Artie’s family isn’t from Central Florida, there was a lot that they wanted to see and do.  We stayed at the waterfront Embassy Suites which was right across from the downtown trolley.

The trolley runs from downtown over to Ybor City and makes stops along the way at the St. Pete Times Forum and the aquarium.  With the exception of a quick trip to the mall, we didn’t have to move our cars at all during our trip – we just hopped on the trolley.

We went to a Lightening game where they beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5 – 1.  It was a great game!

We went to the Florida Aquarium (where Keri pretended to be a conch shell).

But the most epic part of the vacation?  Dinner and the flamenco dancing show at The Columbia Restaurant.  I don’t have any pictures of the flamenco dancing (they asked the audience not to video or take pictures during the show) but I do have a few pictures of the delicious food.

We started with a pitcher of sangria (between the five of us, we polished off two!) which the servers prepare at your table.

I stuck to two small glasses.  It was rich and fruity and wonderful and packed a little bit of a punch.  See that little pat of butter in the corner?  That was consumed with warm, crusty, chewy Cuban bread.

For dinner, I had the “1905” Salad with shrimp and a cup of black beans and rice.  I didn’t get a picture because they room was darkened for the flamenco dancing show, but the food was amazing!  The black beans were salty and had a delicious bite from the raw onions on top.  The salad was dressed in a garlicky dressing and had the perfect mixture of flavor and texture: crisp iceberg lettuce, briny green olives, tomato wedges,  thin slivers of good quality cheese, and perfectly cooked shrimp.  I had talked about the salad so much that day, I convinced Artie’s mom, dad, and sister to order it, too.  It did not disappoint.

I made sure not to finish my bread, black beans, or salad because I wanted to try one of their desserts.  Artie’s parents got the churros (I tried a bite – not bad) and Keri got a flaming strawberry sponge cake thing (also not bad, but not my favorite).  Artie and I shared got a white chocolate break pudding with rum sauce.

Be still my beating heart.  We each had a few bites and then shared with the table.  It was hands down the family favorite.  It wasn’t too soggy, like some bread pudding can be.  It was warm and dense, cinnamon-flavored, and sweet without being too sweet.

Overall, I think Ybor City is a dive, but if you are in the Tampa area, you should check out The Columbia.  They are Ybor’s self-proclaimed hidden gem and the food lives up to it’s reputation.  Artie’s mom got us The Columbia Restaurant Cookbook so I might be attempting to recreate this bread pudding in the very near future…