My career as a Chicago Greeter was only 1 visit old before I had been asked to conduct my first-ever food-focused tour (apparently, when you tell the people in charge that you have a food blog, they tend to steer the foodie tours your way). A young couple from Toronto was all set to go on a "non-touristy" dining jaunt with me on a Sunday afternoon, perfectly timed to hit the street taco vendors at the new Maxwell Street Market (allegedly the best in town) and the tail end of the weekly Pilsen Farmer's Market (probably more good tacos, plus exotic fruit drinks, Latino baked goods, etc.). My stomach quivered in anticipation as the day approached. Unfortunately, on the morning of the tour, my guests had to cancel due to injury (a sprained ankle kept one of them laid up in the hotel in lieu of pigging out). Luckily, I had already been scheduled for a 2nd food-only tour later in the week, this one taking a young medical student from Australia around to find deep-dish pizza, ice cream, and some example of our varied ethnic cuisine (a broad topic, for sure). While not quite as adventurous as my earlier planned tour, I was still eager to take up the challenge of crafting a dining itinerary for us that seemed to fit the bill.
My guest and I left the Chicago Cultural Center (C3) on a sunny Tuesday afternoon and hopped on the Brown Line towards our first destination. Although you can get deep-dish pizza in lots of places around the city, I discovered that very few of them sell it by the slice (and as much as I wanted to indulge in a whole 5,000 calorie pie in a single sitting, I thought it prudent not to do so). One of them is called Art of Pizza (AOP) (3033 N. Ashland), which happens to be a favorite of ours from our city dweller days way back when. The restaurant is located in a strip mall only about 6 blocks away from the Paulina stop in the Roscoe Village neighborhood. When we arrived about 2p, the place was pretty much empty and we had our pick of the deep dish pie selections rotating in glass cases behind the counter. My guest went for the cheese and pepperoni, while I opted for cheese and sausage. By the slice, AOP only charges $3.50, even for deep dish, which is clearly the best deal in town. The pizza was just as good as I remembered, delicious crust, sauce, and cheese, well-balanced and studded with tasty pieces of sausage. Although Australia guy didn't say much about it (too happy enjoying his slice), he seemed very pleased with my recommendation. Since I anticipate that lots of out-of-town visitors will be jonesing for our local specialty pizza, I suspect I'll be making AOP a regular stop on my food tours.
From pizza blistonia on Ashland, we hopped on the No. 9 bus southward to Armitage Ave., then walked about a mile westward through Wicker Park until we reached one of Chicago's better 6-corner intersections for foodies (that would be Milwaukee, Western, and Armitage). To satisfy my guest's ethnic food request, I tried to kill 2 birds with 1 stone by bringing us to Belly Shack (1912 N. Western), a self-styled Korean-Puerto Rican Fusion cafe with casual eats and a hipster vibe. Founder and chef Bill Kim is Chicago's answer to David Chang, finding a niche in taking traditional Korean food and making it accessible to the uninitiated locals in more well-known forms (such as meatballs, hot dogs, and barbecue). We both chose the #1 Special, succulent slices of Korean barbecue beef served with kimchi, ssam paste, scallions, and flatbread on which to make little sandwiches. Everything on the plate had amazing depth of flavor and I had difficulty stopping myself from clearing my dish (still needed to save room for ice cream, you know).
Feeling pretty full, but in obvious need of a palate cleanser, we walked a short distance north to the historic Margie's Candies (1960 N. Western), one of the city's best-known ice cream parlors. In business since 1921, Margie's was a favorite haunt of both Al Capone (alleged) and the Beatles (not alleged - the Fab Four stopped in after their 1965 show at Comiskey Park with some female "fans" they picked up to get a few atomic sundaes). When we entered the store (which is much smaller than I expected), we saw dusty cases filled with Beatle memorabilia and other bric-a-brac collected over the years (reminding me very much of the old basement decorating style seen at Burt's Place). Other than the candy counter and a few booths, there really wasn't room for much else. Decor issues aside, my guest and I each ordered small sundaes, which arrived at our table in white clamshell-type dishes and, of course, were much too big for the $5 or so that each cost. I stuck with the traditional vanilla ice cream, dipping my spoonfuls (and the complimentary wafer cookie stuck into the sundae like a lightning rod) in the sinfully-good hot fudge/marshmallow sauce mixture in a little gravy boat next to my scoops. I quickly ran out of steam, but was totally satisfied by the experience and made a mental note to bring the progeny by at some point (they're both ice cream aficionados). Just in case we were still hungry, I had lined up a 4th stop on the food tour (Barcito in River North for some Basque-style tapas); however, we agreed that this wasn't necessary (burp) and began making our return towards C3. Hopefully, word will get around Australia that Chicago food tours are now in effect and I'll be getting requests from many visiting Aussies for nosh enlightenment....