The Stops & Stories:
Mercat a la Planxa (photo: Gary Colyer)
Stop 1: Mercat a la Planxa
638 South Michigan Ave., Chicago
The Dish Trip team and Iron Chef Jose Garces have something in common — we collectively call Philadelphia our home. As luck would have it, our local culinary champ happened to be visiting his splashy Spanish spot as we chomped through Chi-town, hosting an exclusive release party for his new cookbook, The Latin Road Home. As fans of cooking-the-book, Garces welcomed us into the kitchen for a vibrant how-to featuring a Lima, Peru-inspired recipe for tuna ceviche made memorable due to his no-fuss finishing touches — spiced popcorn and crunchy corn nuts.
But with Mercat as a whole, Garces brings the Barcelona touch to the South Loop, as his menu highlights elevated Catalan-style cuisine in a mod-Medi setting (think vibrant orange colors, colorful patterned glass, rough-hewn wood finishes). The menu itself acts almost as a passport, allowing you to choose your own small plate journey. We jump-started with tapas of Serrano ham and chorizo croquettes and soon, we were slurping saffron-scented soup with chorizo, shrimp and artichoke confit, while dipping house-cut fries in smoked paprika aioli. Since burgers are always on our brain, we finished off our enticing affair with a Black Angus eight-ouncer — one dressed with red wine onion jam and Padron peppers. Take note: You should never skip sloshing your Mercat experience with housemade sangria — we repeat, never.
Stop 2: Publican
837 West Fulton Market, Chicago
Feeling so snack-inclined, we escaped to Paul Kahn’s (one of the major Chicagoan culinary players) Belgian beer hall-inspired haunt in the Fulton Market neighborhood, a one-stop shop for eye-catching cured meats, fine-tuned pickled veggies, fried pig’s skin, and oysters on the half shell. We cozied up (and suggest you do, too) in one of the chest-high booths lining the perimeter, with swinging doors attached, and became acquainted with the incredible beer-centric beverage program. Touting a craft beer list that’s switched up two to three times a week, we took the opportunity to sip brews that aren’t as easy to get to within the Philadelphia market (although, delighted to see friendsVictory Brewing Co. rounding out the list and their Prima Pils being selected as a must-pair pour for the day’s oyster selection). Our favorite? The Zes Zes Zes from local beer gods, Three Floyds, a beautiful saison brewed in collaboration with the Netherlands’ Brouwerij De Molen.
Stop 3: Publican Quality Meats
825 West Fulton Market, Chicago
We’re crying salumi-scented tears of joy remembering our visit to this West Town full-service butcher shop and house-meat market, a wonderland of prime charcuterie and house-made sausages. Downstairs is where all the house-processed, custom-cut meat magic happens, and with a peek inside their subterranean depths (read: meat locker) with chef Cosmo Goss, we’re certain that this high-quality, locally-sourced carnivore’s delight daringly shapes up to be one of the country’s best artisan spots.
Stop 4: Moto Restaurant
945 West Fulton Market, Chicago
Moto’s Chef de Cuisine, Richard “Richie” Farina, is a culinary daredevil and also a Top Chef alum. Together Richie, Exec. Chef/owner Homaro Cantu, and Moto’s talented chef extraordinaires are redefining the way you understand and approach food, deconstructing and reinventing dishes into new, innovative displays of edible art. Theatrical dinner plate stunts aside, the behind-the-scenes eco-strides put into the avant-garde eatery put the entire output on the sustainable map — composting, edible packaging included. During our in-the-kitchen visit, we were able to explore the one-of-a-kind, step-by-step process of crafting the Fallen Log course (part of their latest 15-course tasting menu). As a dish symbolic of a walk through the forest, each plate begins by being graced with a branch hand-picked from Richie backyard (we kid you not!), followed by a smear of sweet potato puree, sprinkle of oats, and a finishing trio of wood pigeon, quail and foie.
Stop 5: iNG Restaurant
951 West Fulton Market, Chicago
Homaro Cantu’s sister restaurant iNG, situated directly next door to Moto, celebrates the exotic Miracle Berry — a fruit that offers the ability to morph individual’s taste buds, twisting one’s perception of sweet and acidic foods. So, taking the restaurant’s prized jewel into consideration, you can expect an inventive dining experience similar to Moto at this future-of-food spin-off restaurant. During our visit, the evening’s feature was a themed multi-course dining experience celebrating the god of film, Martin Scorsese. That’s right, we tackled ten, sensory courses symbolic of films like The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Color of Money, and Aviator. Our favorite course? Number six — a savory dish stylized as if it were a cannoli, packed with shredded veal, onion jam and whipped mascarpone.
Stop 6: Hot Doug’s
3324 North California Ave., Chicago
As our number one pick to visit while DishTripping in the Second City, we literally sunk our teeth into an incredible plethora of options at Doug Sohn’s corner shop, officially self-titled as his “Encased Meat Emporium.” Doug himself is the man behind the corner, giving charming facetime to each individual customer, without fail. Picking his brain on what would be the ultimate tasting experience, our sausage sampling included the following: the traditional Chicago-Style Hot Dog with all the trimmings (usual dill pickle spear, yellow mustard, slices of tomatoes, peppers and celery salt; all loaded atop the dog in poppy seed bun), the rockstar Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and Fleur de Sel; the hearty Veal Saltimbocca Sausage with sage mustard and fried prosciutto, and the cheesy Pork Belly and Lamb with anchovy goat butter and Gouda.
Hot Doug's (photo: Gary Colyer)
For the record, we devoured every last bite of Doug’s encased meats because honestly, that’s the only way you should play a visit to this sausage superstore.
Stop 7: Sprinkles Cupcakes ATM
50 East Walton St., Chicago
Late this past summer, Chicago received its first 24-hour cupcake dispensing machine. Fully stocked all hours of the day, with a fine lineup of flavors to choose from — always, a lively “brava!” is in order. Yes, there is a sweet treats god!
Gracing the exterior of the mini-cake storefront in the Near North Side shopping ‘hood is the pretty-in-pink ATM, which comes equipped with a sweet-as-candy jingle blaring the second your order begins to dispense. We opted for the seasonal Caramel Apple variety — a perfect choice for fall punched with apple chunks. Oh, and for all you nerds out there: the entire ATM experience is rather epic, showing you a live video feed of a mechanical arm retrieving your selected cupcake box immediately after you make your flavor decision on the touch screen.
Pequod's (photo: Gary Colyer)
Stop 8: Pequod’s Pizza
2207 North Clybourn Ave., Chicago
Two words: burnt crust! The Lincoln Park-based pizzeria’s caramelized cheese perimeter is the selling point of this high-quality, true-to-form deep-dish rendition. The crust is crisp and thick throughout, and the first-rate ratio of sauce to cheese makes for an overall authentic (and enjoyable!) Chicago pizza experience. And, we get it — like Philadelphia and the cheesesteak, Chicago natives have their religious deep-dish favorites, and for this trip, Pequod’s ranked significantly high on our videographer’s pizza-loving scale.
With an Overnight Stay at: The Renaissance Blackstone Hotel
636 South Michigan Ave., Chicago
Among downtown Chicago accommodations, the Renaissance Blackstone stands out as one of the most elegant, historic stays. Lucky for us, it was connected to our first stop on this Dish Trip — Mercat a la Plaxa, making satisfying eats only steps away from our cozy, sophisticated boudoir. This Sage Hospitality property is within striking distance of Grant Park and a three, quick blocks from Michigan Lake, making it convenient for us to fill up on local flavors and acting a prime location to explore the local sites (and burn off calories). This classic and chic hotel is also mere minutes away from The Chicago Institute of Art, Navy Pier, Millennium Park and the Field Museum.
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